The mission of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce is to be the representative voice of county for-profit and non-profit businesses
in working to improve the county economy and to address pressing county socioeconomic issues.
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Welcome to the Chamber
For dining, lodging and other tourism information, Visit Cook County is your best authority. Go to visitcookcounty.com or call 218-387-2524. The Cook County Chamber's focus is on public policy and economic development. Visit Cook County focuses on tourism.
Winners of Chamber's 2020 Annual Business Awards
The members of the Cook County Chamber have voted, and the winners of our 2020 Annual Business Awards have been chosen. Ordinarily these awards would be presented at the annual Fall Gala, but for obvious reasons there will be no Gala for 2020. Yet if there ever were a year when these awards were deserved and should be presented, this is it.
You can hear the winners announced by tuning in to WTIP at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 28.
The Chamber Board also has decided to honor someone with the Norman Deschampe Community Service Award, which is awarded only on the occasion of extraordinary public service.
Please tune in to WTIP at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 28, to hear who will win these important honors.
All of the nominees are listed below, and all would deserve to be honored with these awards. They epitomize the best of the community spirit that makes Cook County such a caring and wonderful place to live.
Nominees for Entrepreneur of the Year, both heartily deserved for helping feed the community and its visitors through this hectic summer:
1. Abby and Sam Hedstrom, Kate and Jeremy Keeble for overcoming great odds to get The Fisherman’s Daughter restaurant up and running in the old Dockside space.
2. Christina Conroy for hard work, persistence and good humor in starting her Rebel Girl Community Minded Catering lunch delivery business as well as the Bad Seed food stand, and her wedding catering.
Nominees for Business of the Year:
1. WTIP received two nominations, both citing the radio station’s dedicated efforts to keep the community informed and entertained, with a special emphasis on its public information role during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Grand Marais State Bank for working quickly and intensely to qualify to provide COVID-19 related Paycheck Protection Program loans to local businesses, then making the loan application process “really easy” when many other banks made it difficult. The bank helped county businesses qualify for $6.5 million in PPP loans.
3. Voyageur Brewing Co. for its extraordinary hard work in remaining safely open and available to serve the community during the pandemic.
4. Johnson’s Big Dollar Food Store for “consistently being there for the community,” including during the pandemic.
5. Latz Properties, Lutsen, for the contributions to community made over decades by its owner, Jeff Latz, who will be retiring this year after many years as the heart and soul of “downtown Lutsen.”
Nominees for Community Business Leader of the Year:
1. Matthew Brown, general manager at WTIP, who also serves on the board at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, volunteers at Ruby's Pantry, North House and many others.
2. Susan Prom, co-owner of Voyageur Brewing Co., who has “basically working herself to the bone throughout this whole pandemic.”
3. Dennis Rysdahl, owner until months ago of Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts in Tofte. Over the years Dennis has served on just about every community board there is. He and his resorts also have been extraordinarily generous with financial contributions to community organizations.
4. Chris Callender, former chef at Wunderbar, for making “something like 3500 meals over several months during the shutdown just on his own time, and donations from random meal eaters as well as the Wunderbar kitchen space for him to work. Pretty cool.”
The Cook County CARES Business Assistance Team (Mary Somnis of the EDA, Pat Campanaro of SBDC and Jim Boyd of The Chamber) has more than $100,000 in additional CARES Act funding that must be spent quickly. The team’s intent is to focus on the critically important business sector that is most vulnerable to pandemic-induced failure: restaurants and other food-serving businesses, from the most temporary, mobile pop-up food stand to the formal resort dining room.
To focus spending and ensure maximum bang for the buck, the team needs help identifying restaurants’ most urgent needs. If you are a restaurant owner or manager, please answer the two-question survey the team has devised. The survey can be found by clicking on this link and will remain open only until Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 6 p.m.: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3TTSRZT
Changes announced to state regulations for size of party, seating at indoor gatherings
From Steve Grove, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development:
In the past several months, we’ve spoken to hundreds of leaders and business owners in the restaurant and bar industry. We’re reaching out with an update today on table size restrictions.
Effective today, the Minnesota Department of Health released updated guidance increasing the table size for restaurants and bars.
The guidance includes the following specific points:
Limits party size in dining rooms to 10 people.
Limits party size in bar areas to 4 persons.
Requires patrons in all areas to be seated.
The change to parties of 10 or fewer, while continuing to social distance at least six feet between tables, will allow restaurants more flexibility to optimize space as they serve customers. We know based on your feedback that with the weather getting colder and the holiday season approaching, this change will provide some new revenue opportunities for restaurants.
Minnesotans have a strong sense of the common good. They know that taking commonsense health and safety steps help to slow the spread of COVID19, and in turn save lives. This change to allow more people at a table or in a party is based on this strong sense of personal responsibility to our community and, we are confident that Minnesotans – young and old – will do the right thing to keep themselves and others safe.
We believe this small change will provide restaurants a needed degree of flexibility without markedly increasing the risk. We’ll continue to partner with our colleagues at the Minnesota Department of Health to monitor the trajectory of the virus in Minnesota and respond accordingly.
Please share this information with your networks. I look forward to continuing to work together in the weeks and months ahead.
Results of our Fall 2020 Cook County Business Health Survey
We have just finished our Fall 2020 Business Health Survey for Cook County. We received 76 responses, which represents roughly 20 percent of Cook County businesses, so a good sampling from which it is reasonable to draw some conclusions. The responses also appear to represent a good sampling of business sectors and areas of the county.
You can find the results here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-XBXMQJ8P7/https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-XBXMQJ8P7/
As you will see, the pandemic has affected Cook County businesses in dramatically different ways. It’s reassuring that 85 percent of businesses are quite confident they will still exist in six months, but worrisome that the remaining 15 percent are only “somewhat” confident or not at all confident of survival. Similarly, while it’s great that more than 40 percent of businesses report revenue of 100 percent or more so far this year compared to last, another 40 percent report revenue of 80 percent or less compared to a year ago, and a very worrisome one-quarter of businesses report revenue of 70 percent or less.
There obviously are a number of businesses that will need our support through this coming winter if we want them to survive. If you hear of any that are in trouble, please provide whatever support you can.
One very large red flag stands out in the survey: More than 50 percent of businesses reported their summer staff was insufficient. The effect of this staff shortage was most apparent in the number of businesses –especially restaurants – forced to close in the middle of each week so their staff could rest from the extreme workload it was forced to bear the rest of the week.
Inadequate workforce is a chronic problem for Cook County,but not to the extreme experienced this pandemic summer. And this despite an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent in June, 7.4 percent in July and 6.2 percent in August. A year earlier, the rate was less than 2 percent.
Clearly, a sizable number of employable county residents declined to work this summer, a decision that generous federal unemployment benefits helped make possible. Two strong reasons for staying home were the need to care for children who lost access to child care because of the pandemic, or concern about elevated personal vulnerability to the COVID-19 virus because of age or compromised physical condition.
But the staff shortage focused the spotlight most brightly on
just how much we depend on international workers holding J1 and H2B visas. In a typical summer, Cook County employers hire several hundred of these workers,and they were almost totally absent this year. This summer proved that we can “get by” without them in a pinch, but at the price of retarded business activity and an unhealthy work environment for resident workers. No one we know is at all eager to repeat the summer of 2020 anytime soon.
The link to the survey results provided above does not
include comments offered in response to the last question, about how well local leaders have done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the comments were quite generous in their praise of local leaders, and it seemed that most business leaders were well satisfied with how the pandemic has been handled. There were scattered criticisms, which have been shared with those who were their focus.
Honor the State Mask Mandate
The Cook County Chamber urges residents of and visitors to Cook County to take seriously the statewide mask requirement Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday.
“This is about protecting our workers and our businesses,” said Jim Boyd, Chamber executive director. “By reducing the incidence of virus transmission, masks help improve the odds that our most vulnerable businesses will be able to remain open and survive the horrible disruption of this pandemic. Even one positive test in a business can have disastrous consequences.
“However resentful we may be about this dent in our personal freedom,” Boyd said, “most of us surely can agree that it is worth the sacrifice to ensure workers in our businesses remain on the job so they can feed and clothe their kids, pay the rent and keep gas in the car. That is especially true with the enhanced federal unemployment compensation scheduled to end in a few days, pushing many off a frightening financial cliff. Unless there are jobs coming online from an increasingly open economy, many American families are going to be in bad financial shape. And wearing masks is an important key to keeping our economy out of lockdown and providing the jobs these workers need.“
Another reason the governor’s mandate makes sense, Boyd said, is that it creates uniformity. “When mask requirements vary from town to town and business to business – encouraged but not required in some places, required in others and not mentioned at all in still others, -- then customers frequently are confused, frustrated and angry,” he said. “When the requirement is uniform in practice and in messaging, everything works better for everyone.
“No one signed up for the hardships this pandemic has imposed on us all,” Boyd said. “But by wearing masks we can help ensure that our local hardware store, restaurant and grocery have the best possible chance of surviving to provide us many additional years of service and employment.”