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.
... read more

Welcome to the Chamber

CARES Act grants available for Cook County Businesses

A new source for $200,000 in grants for Cook County businesses has come available from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which established a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for distribution to state and local government.

Minnesota was allocated $853 million, from which Cook County will receive$730,087.00. This funding must be used to support services and grants to businesses, hospitals and individuals impacted by the pandemic.

Of the Cook County allocation, $200,000.00 will be used for grants to Cook County businesses to reimburse expenditures in response to COVID–19.

Cook County/Grand Marais EDA, Cook County Chamber of Commerce, and Northeast Minnesota Small Business Development Center will administer the grant program.

The grant program Application and Guidelines can be found on the EDA website at under the tab “Programs & Projects”.

Guidelines to apply for a grant
· For-and-Non-Profit businesses that employ fewer than 10 Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) are eligible to apply.

To determine the number of FTEs add total hours worked by all employees in 2019(full and part time) and divide by 2080.

Cook County Public Health and Human Services is hosting a separate program for programmatic expenses for non-profit organizations providing social services.

Preference will be given to those businesses that have applied for and not received COVID-19 grants or loans from federal and state governments.

Grant requests must be between $500.00 and$2,500.00.· Expenses must be in response to COVID-19.

Business expenses including, but not limited to, such items as computers,software and other hi-tech goods, linens, protective gear, cleaning equipment,alterations to building structure and grounds, Plexiglass barriers, and new outdoor seating, as examples.

Applications must include copies of invoices or receipts for expenditures that have already been incurred. If these expenditures are planned for future purchase, include cost estimates or quotes and timeline for purchase. If applications are approved for planned purchases, funds will be released when invoices and receipts are submitted.

Non-eligible Expenses:

Lost Revenue
Expenses for which you have received other reimbursement
(“Double-Dipping” is not allowed)
Property taxes
Payroll Expense

Grant Program Timeline

Grant program announced and open for applications: August 1, 2020

Applications must be received by EDA by 5:00PM August 14, 2020

Grant awards announced: August 31, 2020

All funds must be spent: December 30, 2020

If there are funds remaining available after August 31, 2020, the Cook County CARES Task Force may announce a second round.

Contact for Questions: EDA Executive Director Mary Somnis. Email:
Telephone: 218-387-3112



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.”


Free Hand Sanitizer for Cook County businesses

The Cook County Office of Emergency Management has secured two barrels of hand sanitizer, which it is offering free of charge to Cook County businesses in amounts up to 3 gallons each. If you have your own containers, please bring them to be filled. If you do not have containers, Emergency Management has about a dozen, already filled, it can provide.

Distribution of the hand sanitizer will run from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. next Tuesday, July 28, and Wednesday, July 29, at Cook County Community Center, 317 West Fifth Street, Grand Marais.   


Minnesota Workers and Employers: An online matchmaker

Many Cook County employers are suffering through summer with an inadequate workforce, the result of a quick, if partial, rebound for our economy, plus the absence of our traditional cadre of international workers.

But the anticipated end to enhanced emergency unemployment insurance benefits on July 25 may suddenly swell the ranks of Minnesota workers available for Cook County jobs. 

While these benefits, which provided an additional $600 weekly federal benefit to workers receiving unemployment compensation, played a  beneficial role in preventing Americans from falling into poverty and privation, they also inadvertently made it more difficult for employers to find workers when the economy began to rebound.

With the expiration of those benefits July 25, income for many will fall suddenly and severely. It will become an urgent priority of the state to match unemployed Minnesotans with employers seeking workers.

As one answer, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is promoting its free, online  job bank as a terrific place for Minnesota employers to find the Minnesota workers they need, and vice versa. DEED Commissioner Steve Grove talks about the services available in a recent blog post here.

To take advantage of the online DEED job bank, each Cook County employer will need to create an account at and follow the required verification steps before they can post their jobs.

Cook County residents looking for work also can use the DEED job bank by registering on the same website,

This is potentially a great way for Cook County employers to connect with people in other areas of Minnesota who are seeking work. Our hospitality industry appears to have rebounded more quickly than in the state's urban areas, leaving a pool of unemployed Minnesotans who know hospitality and may be available to take jobs in Cook County.


Mask Up, Please

As the number of summer visitors in Cook County increases, so do the number of incidents involving people who refuse to wear masks when they are around others. That is really too bad, especially when the anti-mask folks get angry and abusive.

If you are a store owner or employee and this happens, please consider reporting the incident to the Cook County Sheriff at 387-3030. You have the right to require that masks be worn in your establishment.

We truly love our visitors and work hard to make them feel welcome here. We want this to be a special place they enjoy and return to. The goal of wearing masks is to keep them safe and us safe, not to infringe willy nilly on their freedoms. They're not likely to feel very friendly toward a place that infects them with a deadly virus.

Mask wearing has been embraced by an overwhelming majority of county residents, and there is good reason for that: They work to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus and other pathogens.

Here is the lastest on the issue from the Centers for Disease Control: 



Unified Chamber Message on Economic Reopening

Cook County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

Unified Message Re-Opening Businesses, June 2020

The Cook County Chamber of Commerce welcomes our visitors to enjoy a safe and respectful return to our community as we re-open for business.  We encourage local businesses to re-open, in their own time, when plans and staff are ready.

Thank you, business owners, for your compliance with the Cook County Travel Advisory, as we worked together to create a new way of providing hospitality in this time of COVID-19.  Local government, business and health care leaders have been diligently preparing Best Practices for the physical, mental, and financial health of all residents and guests.  Our small businesses are creative and thoughtful, with the goal of keeping our community safe while ensuring their own viability and providing income to their employees.

Businesses are opening carefully and with new precautions.  We have an economic need to prevent widespread personal and business bankruptcies.  Everyone should take the precautions that they feel are appropriate given their age and health in their own conduct and to avoid contact with others who may be more vulnerable.   With respect to age and health, everyone should take the precautions and conduct themselves in ways to avoid contact with others who may be more vulnerable.

Special thanks to our health care and public health professionals who have provided great insight and guidance to the private sector.

Based on economic data and formulas provided by Explore MN Tourism the overall economy of Cook County, when virtually closed in the month of April, lost $191,666 per day.  These losses impacted businesses in lodging, dining, shopping, transportation, and recreation.  In May, the losses were $383,064 per day.  If we continued in this way through June, the losses rise to $762,500 per day.  If we continue to be closed in July and August, the losses would be over $1,000,000 per day.  These figures represent only the new money coming into Cook County; the amounts that visitors spend when they travel here and open their wallets.  After those new dollars come into the economy, they are multiplied when local businesses and their employees buy products and services from other local businesses.

We encourage all businesses to re-open in compliance with Best Practices for their unique operations.  The Guide created by Visit Cook County, with support of health care and public health leaders can be found online at:

With the Governor’s lifting of the Stay at Home and transitioning to the Stay Safe MN order, we must work together to preserve and protect the privilege.  If necessary, we will comply with turning back the dial.  With hard work and carefully following the protocols of Best Practices, we can continue to move forward in a good way. 


6/8/20 Find sufficient workers to get through the summer

Dear Chamber Members:

It’s welcome news indeed that our Cook County economy is springing back to life this summer more strongly than many expected. But that quick rebound has caught a number of employers without the staff to fully benefit – a difficulty highlighted by the unavailability of many workers in the J1 and H2B visa programs.

The Chamber wants to help. Starting last year, we developed a program for recruiting hospitality industry workers from Puerto Rico. They are American citizens who require no visas, and their industry has been severely damaged by hurricanes and earthquakes. Unfortunately, just as that effort was gaining traction,  the pandemic hit and it was put on hold.

Now we want to restart and expand that program. Laura Muus, our workforce recruitment specialist, will be going back to work and redoubling her effort to help find workers for Chamber members. Not only will she look for workers in Puerto Rico, she also will seek them in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in Minnesota and nearby states – anywhere there are workers available to take the jobs waiting for them in Cook County. Laura will employ every effective avenue she can in an effort to quickly help employers fill out their staff.

For now, there is no cost to gain Laura’s help. We will use the funds left in the original Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation grant that was secured to underwrite her Puerto Rico effort. Until those funds are exhausted, membership in the Chamber is all you need to avail yourself of Laura’s assistance. She may be contacted at or at 370-2410. If we do exhaust the grant funding, it may be necessary to charge for Laura’s services, but it is quite unlikely that will happen this summer.

As you would expect, bringing workers into Cook County during this pandemic imposes special obligations on employers. We have attached to this email a document laying out guidance for handling the arrival and housing of employees from outside Cook County. Please be aware that you will be required to provide housing for any workers you are able to recruit through this program. Conversely, if you are an employer who has excess housing to rent, please let Laura know.


Managing the arrival and housing of employees in Cook County  during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Numerous Cook County employers run seasonal operations that employ college students and other summer workers who come from all over and reside in shared housing during their stay.

There are two types of shared living situations that will involve different risk-mitigation strategies.  One is “dorm-style” living in which employees socially distance from one another in common areas but having their own room/bathroom.  The other is a “household” scenario in which employees share a cabin/yurt/etc. as well as bathrooms and other common areas.

“Self-quarantine” involves separating oneself (either as an individual or as part of “quarantine group”)  from the public for a period of time and monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 (including taking one’s temperature twice a day)

Housing employees together poses some unavoidable level of risk for COVID-19 transmission.  The following strategies can help to mitigate that risk.

Arrival of seasonal staff into the community:

At this point, it is up to each individual business owner to decide whether to require employees quarantine who are travelling in from other parts of state and the world.  As a business, it is prudent to let new employees know that it is okay to delay one’s start date if an individual needs to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19 (either the individual tests positive, is awaiting test results, or has been told that they are a high risk contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19).

When recruiting staff, ask that they follow recommended public-health hygiene prior to traveling to Cook County: Wear face coverings whenever you are away from home. Wash hands frequently (or use hand sanitizer) and especially after handling anything outside the home. Remain at least six feet apart from other people when outside the home. Avoid all contact with anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

Request that staff avoid use of mass transit (buses, planes, trains) and to travel by car. If they do not own a private vehicle, recommend they rent one and drive to Duluth, where the employer can pick them up. 

Require that they observe proper health and safety procedures during their travel, including use of cloth face coverings in public spaces, frequent hand washing (or use of 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available), and social distancing in public spaces.

If a staff member is in quarantine, they should only prepare food for themselves or, in a communal living situation, others who are also in the same “quarantine group”

Consider what to do if a staff member leaves Cook County during the season.  Depending on the situation, you may ask that the employee quarantine upon re-arrival to the worksite.

How to manage staff in the workplace during the pandemic:

Conduct health screening each time employees enter the facility. You may also opt to conduct temperature screening if it can be done with proper social distancing, protection and hygiene protocols. However, temperature screening is not required.

 If a worker or visitor answers “Yes” to any of the screening questions, they should be advised to go home, stay away from other people, and contact their health care provider.

Health Screening Questions:

Have you had any of the following symptoms since your last day at work or the last time you were here that you cannot attribute to another health condition?

Please answer “Yes” or “No” to each question. Do you have:

 Fever or feeling feverish?

 Chills?

 A new cough?

 Shortness of breath?

 A new sore throat?

 New muscle aches?

 New headache?

 New loss of smell or taste?

How to manage shared living quarters:

Spread staff out to the greatest extent possible so there is a lower density of people in a shared living space.

Stay at least 6 feet apart from others with whom you do not live.

Wear cloth face coverings in any shared spaces (if living in a dorm), not including your room.  If you live in a shared cabin/bunkhouse/other facility in which you and others are in close enough contact to be considered a “household,” then this does not apply.

Employer should provide COVID-19 prevention supplies in common areas, such as soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are at least 60 percent alcohol, tissues, trash baskets and cloth face coverings that are washed regularly

Make shared areas off-limits to all who do not live there/are not considered part of your “household”.

Ensure schedules are developed that assign someone to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces at least daily (depending on use): door knobs, countertops, phones, light switches, faucets, most bathroom surfaces.

In shared kitchens, dining rooms, laundry rooms, bathrooms, limit the number of people who can be in the space at one time so that proper distancing may be practices (this applies to dorm-style living rather than “household” style shared housing).

In dorm-style living situations, people who are sick, their roommates and those who have higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should eat in their room rather than in common areas.

In dorm-style living situations, do not share dishes, glasses, cups or eating utensils. Non-disposable food service items should be handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water, or in a dishwasher.

Guidelines for doing laundry and handling dirty laundry should be posted.

Sinks can be a source of infections. Do not lay toothbrushes directly on a sink counter. Use a tote for personal items so they do not touch bathroom counters.

Each employee should be instructed on how information related to COVID-19 will be transmitted: by email, by text message, by flyer, etc. Employees should be instructed on how to contact local medical facilities if that need arises.

What to do when a worker in shared living develops COVID-19

Anyone showing common symptoms of COVID-19 should be isolated in a room or facility with its own bathroom, apart from others in the household.  This individual should be tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible. Until the test results are known, those who reside with the ill person also will be isolated, but away from the person with symptoms.

If someone tests positive for COVID-19, their isolation will continue in consultation with local medical providers. In a “household” shared living situation, all other members of the household will need to quarantine for 14 days

Thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces in the shared living area.

Take precautions such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation while cleaning.

6/3/20 When Employees return to work


6/3/20 Is Smoking allowed in outdoor dining areas?

Grace Grinager of Cook County Public Health was asked about smoking in outdoor dining areas. Here is her response:

"Neither the County nor MDH regulate smoking in outdoor areas.  As a business, you have the power to put your own restrictions on smoking in outdoor areas if you choose to do so.


"There is specific language about what constitutes an “outdoor area.” If an outdoor dining area was in a tent with a ceiling and more than 50% of its wall space covered, it would not be an outdoor area anymore, and smoking would not be allowed.  According to the MN Clean Air Act: “Indoor Area” means a space between a floor and a ceiling that is 50% enclosed by walls, doorways or windows (open or closed) around the perimeter. A wall includes retractable dividers, garage doors, plastic sheeting or any other temporary or permanent physical barrier. A (standard) window screen is not a wall.

"These days people are not used to dining around smoking unless they are smokers themselves. If you have enough space and are considering allowing smoking, you may want to have two separate areas.  If this is not possible, from a public health perspective, I’d advocate for not allowing smoking in a shared outdoor seating area since some customers may have asthma or other lung conditions, and sitting in a smoking area (even outdoors) would be detrimental to their health through exposure to secondhand smoke."

Grace also reported that she can get "No Smoking" signage for businesses for free from the American Lung Association for non-smoking areas if you are interested. If you would like "No Smoking" signs, please email



Grants Awarded for 2020 Great Place Project initiatives

Great Place Project (GPP) grants have been made to seven Cook County entities in an effort to offer the community something positive to enjoy this difficult summer, Jim Boyd, executive director of the Cook County Chamber, has announced. The grants come from the Cook County Business and Civic Partnership, the 501c3 arm of the Chamber.

“When the pandemic first shut everything down so completely, we paused the GPP process because it did not seem possible that these projects could be completed this year,” Boyd said. “Even getting the necessary signatures on the grant checks involved a great deal of effort.

“But as things progressed and settled into something of a routine, we reevaluated,” Boyd said. “It seemed a good thing to go ahead with the grants as a positive celebration of community. Heaven knows, our Cook County community can use a few celebratory moments this summer.”

“We did not have a great deal of grant money available this year,” Boyd said. “Ticket sales on the wood-canvas canoe we offered last year were modest. It was a great canoe, and creating it was a terrific group effort. But  few people actually grasp the significance of wood-canvas construction and its iconic place in the history of the Boundary Waters.

“Fortunately,” he said, “we had three anonymous donors come forward with $3,000, which allowed us to top up our grant fund and also have enough left to pay for construction of a new canoe, which is being built by Josh Tolkan, North House boatbuilder extraordinaire.

“We still need to figure out how to do a raffle on the new canoe. We have sold a few tickets, but it seems impossible to sell enough this summer to justify a raffle this fall – especially for the incredible, one-of-a-kind canoe Josh is building. So we are contemplating a two-year raffle: selling some tickets this summer and requesting those who purchase them to hold on to them until the fall of 2021, when the winner will be drawn. There will be more to come on this topic shortly.’

The seven projects which received funding for 2020 include:

North Shore Winery for a whimsical metal bike rack crafted by metal artist Greg Mueller.

Joy & Co. for creation of a decorative, welcoming front entrance on First Avenue West.

Sivertson Gallery for plantings and other elements of a welcoming Wisconsin Street entrance.

Cook County Community Center for materials to finish  playground for tots.

Chik Wauk Museum/Gunflint Trail Historical Society for new trailhead signs to help visitors navigate the Chik Wauk trail system.

Cook County Historical Society for plantings to enhance Bill Bally Blacksmith Shop and Johnson Heritage Post.

Bethlehem Lutheran for a publicly accessible outdoor patio/seating area near pollinator garden and monarch butterfly way station.

This is the first year of operation for a Great Place Project advisory committee, Boyd said. Its members are Jack Stone, Beth Poliquin, Gary Latz and Duane Hasegawa. “Having these folks available to help made the process a great deal more fun,” Boyd said. “I am hopeful that the committee’s energy and fresh ideas will help refresh and improve the Great Place Project so it will be even more sustainable going forward.


Project Backstop: Grants for Cook County Businesses

Clarified Schedule

The Cook County/Grand Marais EDA (EDA), with a gift from a generous funding partner, has created an $80,000 Project Backstop Relief Grant fund to provide critical relief for small businesses within Cook County struggling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Small businesses are the driving force of the Cook County economy and are also the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The objective of the fund is to provide immediate relief for small businesses while they navigate the various Federal and State programs.

This fund is designed to be used for immediate needs only. The funds may be used to pay employees, rent, utilities or other expenses necessary to keep your business operating while awaiting state and federal aid.

It is the desire of the EDA to aid as many small businesses as possible with the available funds. Therefore, as a condition of the grant, recipients will agree to donate back, if able, all or part of their grant. A business’ ability to donate back to the fund and the timing of that donation will be determined at the business’ sole discretion.

Grant Size:   Up to $2,500


Businesses in Cook County

Be an existing small business with 6 FTEs or less

Businesses where timing is critical

Required Documents: 

Project Backstop Grant Application

The purpose of this fund is to ASSIST in:

• Preventing permanent closure of our small businesses during and after the pandemic.

• Restoring affected businesses back to financial health as quickly as possible.

• Recycling funds to continually help those in need.

• Help businesses avoid risk of closing above and beyond existing resources.

• Leverage local, regional, state, and federal resources to get businesses back on their feet.

• Providing funds in a quick, efficient manner from application to distribution.

The EDA has the sole responsibility for reviewing applications and awarding of grants. Project Backstop Relief Grants will be reviewed on the following schedule:

First Round Opens: April 15, 2020

First Round Application deadline: Friday, April 17, at 5:00 p.m.

First Round Decisions: April 20, 2020


Second Round Opens: April 17, 2020

Second Round Application Deadline: Monday, April 20, at 5:00 p.m.

Second Round Decisions: April 24, 2020

Future Rounds Open: TBD

Future Decisions: TBD

Future application opportunities will be contingent upon availability of funds.

Submit your application and all attachments to Mary Somnis at Questions can be directed to Mary Somnis or Pat Campanaro .










Most current information regarding COVID-19 and our business community can be found at the tab "Stayin Alive: Getting your business through COVID-19."





WCCO recently did a short report on the legislation we have introduced to set a reasonable tax rate for short-term rentals. It features Judy Erickson, our representative in St. Paul. 

You can watch the clip here.

Here is the fact sheet that has been crafted by our team in St. Paul to help inform legislators and the public on this issue:








Dear Chamber Members:

Meet Camila Mercado Michelli - December 19, 2019
Camila is with CLUES in the Twin Cities, providing employment and housing services to Hispanic people.  She came to Minnesota from Puerto Rico.  We were introduced to her by Grace Grinager at Cook County Public Health and Human Services, who worked with CLUES in the past.  Camila will be on her first-ever trip to the North Shore.  We are looking forward to working with her on recruitment of Puerto Rican people who are already in Minnesota, looking for opportunity. 
Puerto Rican people already in Minnesota do not need to go through the Puerto Rican Department of Labor or American Job Center.  You can straight-up hire them, just like any other US citizen.  We hope you can join us, meet Camila and explore the possibilities of employee recruitment with her. 
Following are the CLUES “employer partnership requirements” from Camila.
Employer partners need to meet at least 3 of the following for CLUES to share their job postings:
·         $13.00/hr. lowest salary rate
·         Offer PTO
·         Offer Holiday Pay
·         Health Benefits
·         Retirement plans
·         HSA
·         Education Reimbursement
·         Maternity Leave
  We understand that businesses who wish to work with CLUES will only be able to recruit for permanent, full-time positions that fit the description above.  Perhaps we can discuss with her whether we can create something unique for Cook County employers.
Thursday, December 19
Meet and greet with any businesses who can and should attend, Grand Marais City Hall.  Hear about what CLUES can do for you, ask questions, gain understanding if this is an opportunity for you.  Open to all who are interested in learning about the possibilities.




Norman Deschampe Community Service Award Presented to One Roof Community Housing

Shown in this photo are Jeff Corey of One Roof Community Housing; Anna Deschampe, daughter of the late Grand Portage Tribal Chair Norman Deschampe; Mary Somnis, director of the Cook County-Grand Marais EDA, and Julie Petrusha, also of One Roof.
The Cook County Chamber Board created a new award this year that will only be given on the occasions when a person or business or group does something truly exceptional in service to the Cook County community. The board named this award the “Norman Deschampe Community Service Award.” It honors our good friend and charter member of the Chamber Board, Norman Deschampe, long serving tribal chair of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who passed away this past February.

The first presentation of this award was made by Mary Somnis, director of the Cook County-Grand Marais EDA, and by Anna Deschampe, Norman Deschampe’s daughter. It went to One Roof Community Housing, the organization that has developed a single-family workforce housing project in Grand Marais and a workforce rental housing project in Lutsen.
The award to One Roof read:

“For perseverance in the face of many difficult obstacles in a successful effort to bring the Cook County community badly needed workforce housing. A housing shortage has bedeviled Cook County leaders for decades, but One Roof found a way to solve the puzzle. With rental housing in Lutsen, single-family homes in Grand Marais and more to come, One Roof is contributing enormously to the wellbeing and prosperity of the people of Cook County.”    

Hearty congratulations to the outstanding winners of the Cook County Chamber’s 2019 Business Awards.

 From the left, first comes Kate and Jeremy Keeble, winners of the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Their award certificate read:

“For bringing to both their hostel and their taco house an incredible level of creative energy that they somehow are able to sustain even as they also nurture their young family. Kate and Jeremy are truly showing how to do it all with good grace, good humor and good sense. Cook County is fortunate to count the Keebles among the young, up-and-coming business folk who will sustain this community through the coming decades.”

Next is Charles Skinner of Lutsen Mountains, winner of our 2019 Business of the Year Award. The award certificate for Lutsen Mountains read:

For sustaining a key economic engine that keeps Cook County prosperous. Without Lutsen Mountains, Cook County would not have a strong winter economy – nor, truth be told, as robust a summer economy. In a risky, rapidly consolidating industry, Lutsen Mountains owners Charles Skinner, Tom Rider and their families have shouldered a large financial burden in order to ensure Lutsen Mountains grows and survives, and the county continues to prosper.”

Finally comes Buck Benson, who has recently sold Buck’s Hardware in Grand Marais. Buck was the recipient of the 2019 Community Business Leader of the Year, an award that goes to someone who has shown extraordinary community leadership. Buck’s award certificate read:

“For long service and commitment to many community organizations, especially North House Folk School, WTIP and the Cook County Local Energy Project. And for his successful, and almost single-handed, effort to develop the North Shore Dragon Boat Festival in Grand Marais harbor. In addition, for more than three decades, Buck held and honored a deeply felt responsibility to the workers and families his enterprise sustained. Buck is a wonderful example of community leadership and service at its best.”

Raffle Canoe Won by New London, MN, Family

When the winning ticket in the Chamber of Commerce’s canoe raffle was drawn Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the 2019 Fall Gala, it bore the name of Toni Koch of New London, Mn. In an exchange of emails that ensued, Chamber executive director Jim Boyd learned the story of how Toni Koch and her family came to visit Grand Marais and purchase a canoe raffle ticket. For the second time in three years, the winning ticket was sold at Java Moose Espresso Café, which is beyond amazing!

In a charming note, Toni wrote, “Back in August my husband and I, along with our two young boys, took a family vacation. In preparation for vacation we created a list of places that we had not visited and Grand Marais was on the list. 

“Duluth & the Apostle Islands are a couple of our favorite places but we had never driven all the way up the north shore to Grand Marais. But, it quickly became another favorite.
“We are a young family from New London, Mn., and we enjoy all things nature. We live on the Crow River and take our children canoeing and kayaking multiple times a summer. So when we were visiting Grand Marais in August and saw the wooden canoe on display, we decided it would be so fun to win this beautiful canoe and support this quaint town in northern Minnesota that we fell in love with instantly. 

“We purchased our raffle ticket at Java Moose Cafe while grabbing our morning coffee to enjoy by the majestic Lake Superior.

“My husband and I plan to make a date weekend in Grand Marais to retrieve the canoe.

“Grateful & Blessed,
“Toni, Charlie, Henry and Harrison Koch”

Jim Boyd responded: “How wonderful that our community canoe will go to a young family. We are very glad it will have such a terrific home.”

Boyd also expressed gratitude to the crew that made the canoe possible: “This never would have  happened without the vision and persistence of Jack Stone of Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply,” he said.

“Jack had the idea and then persuaded North House Folk School and instructor Jeanne Bourquin of Ely that it was a good one. North House graciously waved the tuition for the class during which the canoe would be built and assigned Josh Tolkan, artisan in residence at North House and experienced boat builder, to be the main builder. To assist Josh, Jack assigned his staff to work shifts at North House on the canoe rather than at the store on the retail effort. With a strong assist from Jack’s manager, Beth Poliquin, the staffing not only came together, but everyone had a grand time. I spent four days working on the canoe and wished I’d been able to do more.”

Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply also offered tickets for sale all summer, for which Boyd said he is very grateful.

Boyd also expressed thanks to Sarah Hallberg and Becka Jorgenson at Java Moose for hosting a ticket sales point, to Tyson Cronberg and Austin Oullis at Beaver House, where most of the tickets were sold, and to Buck’s Hardware, which also offered tickets for sale.

Proceeds from the raffle will be used to fund new Great Place Project grants next spring.


2019 Great Place Projects

 Each year, the Cook County (MN) Business & Civic Partnership raffles off a canoe and uses the proceeds to fund small grants (up to $1,000) to groups, businesses and individuals to create small Great Places in Cook County. The Partnership is the 501c3 charitable foundation arm of the Cook County Chamber.

A small Great Place might be a handicapped accessible picnic table, or a bench built and set out explicitly for pedestrians. We had a public ping-pong table for the lawn of the library one year, and it is still going strong; balls and paddles are available free on request within the library.

One of the most imaginative projects this year was a cute gallery of felted animals mounted on trees along a forest trail that children from the school frequent. Here is the moth:

Another project is a mural on the side of a building that will probably take eight years to complete. Each year the artist, Mila Horak, draws in pencil the paint-by-number outlines of a scene on weatherproof board. The public then is invited to paint in the numbered spaces during the annual Grand Marais Arts Festival.

The canoe raffle, now in its third year, was the brainstorm of Jack Stone, a local businessman who owns Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply. This year he came up with the idea that we should build our own canoe – during a canoe-building class at North House Folk School. The course would be taught by Jeanne Bourquin of Bourquin Boats in Ely, Mn., and Tom Healy, one of the founders of North House.

Jack took the idea to North House, and they liked it. They waved the $2,750 tuition for the course and designated an artisan in residence, Josh Tolkan, the person who would oversee construction of the raffle canoe.

To take the course, you must have at least two people. Jack Stone solved that by paying a number of his employees to work on the canoe.

This is an intense 14-day project. Days typically stretched from 8:30 in the morning to 10:30 at night.

A wood-canvas canoe is an iconic craft in the North Woods. Its history goes back more than a century. It was the European approach to creating a craft that could equal the birchbark canoes crafted by the Ojibwe and other Native Americans. It is said to paddle quietly and track exceptionally well. It starts with ash ribs steamed and bent over a form, followed by thin cedar planks.

Our canoes had both white and red cedar. Once the ribs are attached, canvas is spread tightly over the frame. A special “filler” paint full of silica is then spread over the canvas and rubbed until it is dry and smooth, a process that takes two hours at least. Then the canoe is left to “cure” for a month, after which it is sanded inside and out, with the inside getting five coats of varnish, and the outside an equal number of coats of marine paint.

Most days this summer, the canoe can be seen outside the Beaver House, at the corner of Broadway and Wisconsin in Grand Marais. Help us honor this community canoe project and invest in the future of the Great Place Project -- plus get a chance at winning the canoe:Purchase your raffle tickets now.

Workforce Recruitment Program


Laura Muus. Photo by Rhonda Silence, WTIP



The Cook County Chamber has hired Grand Marais resident Laura Muus to help Chamber members recruit workers from Puerto Rico and other spots in the United States with high unemployment. Laura is available to work with all Chamber members at no cost.

Laura brings a wealth of experience and a terrific set of skills to this job – not least that Spanish is her first language. As a former student worker from Peru on a J1 work & travel visa, she knows very well the challenges facing someone coming here from a Latin-American, Spanish-based culture. As a worker for various Cook County employers, including several that depend on an international workforce, she understands the challenges confronting employers as they search out available labor.

Laura’s  initial focus will be on learning all she can about the process a Cook County employer must navigate to be certified for recruiting workers through the Puerto Rico Department of Labor.

Although Puerto Rico residents are U.S. citizens who are free to come to the mainland, there have been instances of mainland employers taking advantage of Puerto Ricans desperate to find work following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017. As a result, the Department of Labor in Puerto Rico has established a rigorous certification process that each employer must finish if they wish to gain access to workers through the DOL job centers. Laura’s first job will be to help employers get that certification.  She will then help them connect with job applicants.

Laura also will focus on identifying resorts in Puerto Rico that might be willing to establish a reciprocating relationship for seasonal workers who could work in Puerto Rico during the winter and in Cook County during the summer.

The Chamber’s workforce recruitment program, funded in part for the next year by a grant to the Cook County-Grand Marais EDA from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation of Duluth, seeks to discover and develop new pools of workers to supplement county employers traditional dependence on international workers.

Over the years, Cook County employers have been very grateful for the international workers who come here on J1 work & travel visas and H2B work visas. No one has anything but praise for the workers in both programs. But the J1 and H2B visas are vulnerabl e politically these days, and the H2B program is both very expensive and grossly oversubscribed. Prudence requires that we seek to also develop alternative sources of seasonal labor. Our economy requires it.

Although the hospitality industry in Puerto Rico will be an initial focus of Laura’s work, she eventually will be looking in other places and for workers in other job categories – in health care, for example.

Laura is married to Jacob Muus, manager at Johnson’s Foods. The two are proud parents of seven-month old Matteo.

Chamber members who are interested in working with Laura can contact her at 218-370-2410 or at

Businesses interested in joining the Chamber can find information on doing that on the Chamber website:


Below is a link to an excellent report by WTIP News Director Joe Friedrichs on Luis Cortes, who is now working as executive chef at Bluefin Bay in Tofte and will bring his family to live permanently in Cook County before Christmas.

Cortes' recruitment by Bluefin was part of an experimental program developed by the Cook County Chamber, the Cook County/Grand Marais EDA and others, spearheaded by Bluefin Bay owner Dennis Rysdahl, who is a Chamber board member. Rysdahl now has six Puerto Rican employees.

Worker recruitment in Puerto Rico requires that Cook County employers go though an extensive process to get qualified with the Puerto Rico Department of Labor. The department seeks to ensure that Puerto Rican workers are treated fairly by mainland employers. Several local employers now are working to become qualified.

Residents of Puerto Rico are American citizens, so they do not need visas to work in Cook County. While foreign workers on J1 or H2B visas will continue to be critically important to the Cook County economy, the Chamber is committed to finding alternative sources of potential workers in the United States, including Puerto Rico. The visa programs are complicated, can be expensive and are vulnerable to political manipulation. 

Here is the link to the WTIP report: 


Upcoming Events and Happenings | view calendar

Current News

Measuring our Tourism Economy - By the Numbers
Just-released figures from the Minnesota Department of Revenue demonstrate again how important... read more
Here's a link to a good explainer on workforce housing
You may need to copy this web address and paste it into your browser. This information comes... read more

Cook County Economic Dashboard

Website by Katherine Hellner and Sandra Schutte of Two Dogs in the Web, LLC