News and Events

Organizational Updates

Friday, February 07, 2014
APEX is Hiring
APEX is looking for a Business Developer to join our team. The Business Developer, based in Duluth, will be responsible for attracting new businesses and expanding key strategic employers within the region. The APEX Business Developer will report directly to the President/CEO and work closely with the Director of Business Development of APEX.

For a summary of qualifications, responsibilities and compensation package, or to apply please see the position description available on Craig's List.

Visit Duluth
Congratulations to APEX's Elissa Hansen, who recently joined the Visit Duluth Board of Directors. The 2014 Board of Directors for Visit Duluth also include:

Gerry Goldfarb, Chair - Holiday Inn & Suites
Ken Browall, Vice-Chair - Duluth News Tribune
Scott Keenan, Funding Chair, Special Events Representative
Jim Paquette, At-Large - Canal Park Lodge
William Burns - Hanft Fride Law Office
Sean Flaherty - Perkins/D & S Development
John Goldfine - ZMC Hotels
Elissa Hansen - APEX
Tom Hanson - Duluth Grill
Briana Johnson - Duluth Area Attractions Council
Emily Larson - Duluth City Council
David Montgomery - City of Duluth
Branden Robinson - South Pier Inn
Dan Russell - DECC
Kristi Schmidt - Essentia Health
David Vipond - Olcott House Bed & Breakfast Inn/B & B Association
Tom Werner - Duluth International Airport

Visit Duluth, the city's convention and visitor's bureau, is Duluth's only officially-recognized destination marketing organization. Chartered in 1935, as a non-profit corporation, the organization represents over 400 businesses that make up Duluth's tourism industry. The organization is dedicated to promoting the area as one of America's great vacation and meeting destinations while providing comprehensive, unbiased information to all travelers.

APEX Attraction Updates

Friday, February 07, 2014
The APEX team continued to travel extensively to promote the region's capabilities and assets in January.

In January, APEX President and CEO, Brian Hanson, attended the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is the largest and most comprehensive "shooting" trade show for sports, hunting and law enforcement industries. The SHOT Show attracted more than 1,600 exhibitors and attendees from 50 states and more than 100 countries. Hanson attended the show with a team led by the IRRRB and partners including Northspan, DEED, NRRI, East Range Joint Powers Board and the Entrepreneur Fund.

Midwest Real Estate Journal Conference
On January 22, 2014, APEX Director of Business Development, Elissa Hansen, attended the Midwest Real Estate Journal’s 12th Annual Real Estate Forecast Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Nearly 1,000 people attended the event. At the event, APEX co-sponsored a lunch panel that discussed Minnesota data center development strategies. The panel, moderated by Tom Lambrecht, with investor-member Great River Energy, included representatives from Mortenson Development, ViaWest and Neutral Path Communications. While in Chicago Hansen also met with several prospects and site selectors to discuss the region's competitive advantages.

Direct Reduced Iron Company Assessing Superior

Friday, February 07, 2014
On January 16, the Douglas County Board of Supervisors approved a Cooperation Agreement with the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Superior (RACS) on behalf of Reston, Virginia-based International Metallics Corp (IMC). IMC is interested in acquiring the Parkland industrial site in Superior to move forward with the Company's project plans to construct a Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) plant on the site. The agreement is the first step in the acquisition process for IMC.

Over the coming weeks, RACS will consider granting IMC an option to purchase the site at fair market value. Once the option to purchase is completed, IMC will proceed with feasibility analysis and project financing. The Company will then begin the next stages of development, including environmental permitting, financing and construction.

At full operation and capacity, IMC's manufacturing facility would annually produce an estimated 2.5 million tons of Hot Briquetted Iron (HBI). HBI is a form of DRI better suited to long distance shipments to steel producers. Using HBI in steel results in higher quality, purer steel, especially in the electric arc furnace. As proposed, the $800 million facility would begin operation in 2017 and would employ approximately 100 people at full capacity.

The Parkland site was selected by IMC based on proximity to suppliers of iron ore pellets, natural gas supply and the robust logistics infrastructure in the region. "This is another example of our local economic development partners coming together to support a Company that intends to leverage our local infrastructure, supply chain and workforce," stated Brian Hanson. APEX is working with several partners to assist IMC in the pre-feasibility process, including Barr Engineering, Krech & Ojard, Giant Voices, Superior Water Light & Power, the Development Association, City of Superior, Douglas County, RACS, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Panel of Champions

Friday, February 07, 2014
At the conclusion of the business meeting, Peter Hedstrom moderated a panel of speakers that included three of the original founders of the organization – Nancy Aronson Norr, Bruce Stender and David Gaddie. The panel provided insight on the original vision and what has led to the success of the organization over the past 10 years.

Bruce Stender provided the historical background to investor-members on the genesis of APEX, citing research from the 1960's and personal accounts from the 1970's, which demonstrated that Duluth and the surrounding region did not have the strength in the private sector compared to cities and regions of similar size across the country. In 2001 an economic summit hosted by the City of Duluth, was attended by more than 500 private, public and philanthropic representatives. This event was ultimately where the concept for the organization was born. It was clear there was a need for private sector-led regional, intentional and coordinated economic development efforts.

In January 2003, after an initial attempt at a public/private partnership, the founders decided to "go it alone" as a privately led organization and began fundraising. Later that year, the bylaws were formed and the founding CEO, Rob West, was hired.

Over the course of the past 10 years, through attraction, expansion and retention efforts, APEX has impacted over 3,500 jobs in the region, resulting in an annual regional payroll of over $128 million and contributing to over $17 million in state and local taxes annually. There are countless regional partners that have been part of APEX's success. The importance of public, philanthropic and private partnerships and the financial support of the APEX investor-members were mentioned as critical, both in the early stages and well into the future.

Norr, Stender and Gaddie closed their remarks by thanking the investor-members for their willingness to participate both financially and through contributions of time. The staff was also recognized for their passion, dedication and leadership.

"It was inspiring to hear from the key APEX founders. Our team's objective is to continue to deliver on this vision. We are honored to be part of the results-driven organization they had envisioned," stated APEX President and CEO, Brian Hanson.

New APEX Members

Friday, February 07, 2014
At the annual meeting, APEX welcomed the first new 2014 investor-members, TKDA and Bayfield County Economic Development Corporation.

TKDA is a full-service engineering, architectural and planning firm headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota with offices in Duluth, Irvine, CA, Chicago, IL, Tampa, FL and Kansas City, KS. The Company is 100% employee owned and provides services in a variety of segments including architecture, transportation, government and energy solutions.

Bayfield County Economic Development Corporation
Bayfield County Economic Development Corporation is a public/private organization that provides assistance to companies that are looking to launch a new business, or grow an existing business through leveraging workforce assistance or funding resources within Bayfield County, Wisconsin.

APEX Celebrates 10 Years

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Area Partnership for Economic Expansion on Jan. 30 hosted its annual Board of Directors meeting and celebrated its 10 year anniversary. The keynote speaker was Matthew Godfrey, CEO of Better City, a developer of economic development strategies.

After the Board of Directors meeting concluded, Peter Hedstrom of US Bank moderated a panel that included three of the original business leaders responsible for the formation of APEX, including Nancy Aronson Norr (Minnesota Power), Bruce Stender (Labovitz Enterprises) and David Gaddie (Republic Bank). The panel provided insight on the original vision and what components have led to success for the organization during the past 10 years. The need for, and importance of, private sector-led regional, intentional and coordinated economic development efforts was cited several times by Norr, Stender and Gaddie as the key to APEX’s strong presence in the region. The importance of public, philanthropic and private partnerships and the financial support of the APEX investor-members were also mentioned as critical to the organization’s success. “It was inspiring to hear from several of the key APEX founders. Our team’s objective is to continue to deliver on this vision. We are honored to be part the results-driven organization they had envisioned,” stated APEX President and CEO, Brian Hanson.

Godfrey addressed the importance of purposeful economic development strategy and partnerships and highlighted what elements of economic development drive prosperity and the private sector’s role in business development. He was 29 years old when elected to his first term as mayor of Ogden, Utah. He was the youngest mayor to be elected in the history of the city and was the youngest full-time mayor in the country. He served for 12 years and recruited more than two dozen outdoor company brands to Ogden, revitalized more than 150 acres of downtown, attracted more than $1 billion of private investment and brought in more than 8,000 jobs. In his last year in office, his community led the nation in job growth.

“Today’s economic development success stories are generated in communities that are industry focused, strategic in their efforts and partnerships and are committed to putting in time where others are not,” Godfrey said. Long-term commitment to staying the course and taking on controversy when necessary were also stated as necessary measures of effective economic development partnerships. “APEX and the organization’s partners have clearly found a formula that is working in this region. The concentrated industry focus, willingness to do the work, creativity and private sector influence have all played a role in the organization’s success to date and will into the future.”

At the annual meeting APEX membership elected the 2014 Executive Committee of the Board of Directors. The chair position remains open. Elected vice chair was Dan Markham of Capstan Corp.; Al Hodnik of ALLETE, Inc. is immediate past chair; Nancy Aronson Norr of Minnesota Power was elected secretary; John Strange of St. Luke’s was elected secretary; at-large board members include Mark Hubbard of Lakehead Constructors, Mark Emmel of Labovitz Enterprises, Dr. Daniel Nikcevich of Essentia Health and Andrea Schokker of the University of Minnesota Duluth.

APEX Recieves Award from Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Area Partnership for Economic Expansion has received kudos from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for its work in the Northland.

The Duluth-based agency received an award for being a leader in the chamber’s GROW Minnesota program and for its efforts to keep businesses in the region. Known simply as APEX, the private sector agency serves as an engine for business development in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. Its investor members include some of the most influential companies in the region. The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce also was recognized for its contributions in the early years of the GROW program.

As part of the GROW Program, APEX representatives meet each year with regional companies to gauge the local business climate and determine how the companies are doing. The findings go to the state chamber, which reports these and other regional findings to state policymakers and business leaders to encourage policies that promote business development.

In 2013, APEX visited 72 businesses in the Northland as part of the program. They found that local industry leaders were optimistic about sales, new hires and market expansion, said Brian Hanson, APEX president and CEO.

More than 80 percent reported increased sales while 5 percent reported fewer sales and 15 percent reported stable sales. More than 90 percent expected hiring to remain stable or to increase this year. And 32 local companies had either launched new product lines in 2013 or planned new products or capital improvements in 2014, APEX found.

The survey results were similar to those found in other parts of the state.The findings also are used by APEX to identify emerging trends in the region’s industries.The information that APEX has gathered over the years has provided needed information to keep businesses here and to formulate strategies to expand manufacturing, information technology and clean energy industries in the region, Hanson said.

APEX Receives EDAM Excellence in Economic Development Award

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Duluth, Minnesota: The Area Partnership for Economic Expansion (APEX) announced today that the organization received an award from the Economic Development Association of Minnesota (EDAM) for Excellence in Economic Development Marketing.

EDAM presented the Excellence in Economic Development Awards at the organization's annual winter conference held in Minneapolis on January 23-24. APEX was recognized for the organization's strategic Lake County data center marketing initiative. "APEX has invested considerable financial and human resources in a sophisticated data center attraction strategy," stated Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO. "It is exciting to be recognized by our peers and colleagues for that investment."

APEX was recognized for the marketing and communication tools the organization developed to support the strategy; including two brochures, short and long versions, highlighting the region's competitive advantages specific to data centers, a video focused on the region and the Lake County site and an iPad app. "The strategic marketing tools we have created allow us to directly market to specific data center industry professionals," stated Elissa Hansen, APEX Director of Business Development. "The tools have opened many doors for introductions to our region as a great location for data centers."

APEX has played an instrumental role in data center attraction in the region over the past decade. The organization was a key partner in the attraction of Involta, the region's first data center. Involta is a multi-tenant data center owner and operator with facilities across the country. In September 2012 Involta opened a world-class, Tier III data center in Duluth. In addition, in April 2013, APEX was awarded a contract by Lake County to execute a strategy to attract a data center to the County.

EDAM is professional association of individuals and organizations throughout the state of Minnesota with a mission to advance economic development in Minnesota. EDAM members are leading economic developers in the state of Minnesota. EDAM consults with the state on public policy issues related to economic development and helps continually define and improve the profession.

For more information on the APEX data center strategy, please contact Elissa Hansen at (218) 740-3667. The APEX Data Center video can be publicly viewed at the following YouTube link:

APEX Receives Recognition from Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Monday, January 20, 2014
Duluth, Minnesota: The Area Partnership for Economic Expansion (APEX) announced today that the organization, along with the Duluth Chamber of Commerce, was recognized by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for leadership and commitment to business retention and assistance as a GROW Minnesota founding partner. As part of the local GROW program, APEX representatives and investor-members meet annually with regional companies to thank them and assess input on issues related to the local, regional and state business climate. The information is collected and reported to policy-makers and business leaders throughout the State to help drive public policy relating to business development.

In 2013, APEX visited 72 businesses throughout northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin as part of the organization's program. "The results of our regional visits are consistent with the positive trends that the public, private and philanthropic industries in our region are experiencing," stated Elissa Hansen, APEX Director of Business Development. When asked whether sales had increased, remained stable, or decreased over the past 12 months, more than 80% of regional companies indicated that sales had increased, 15% sales had remained stable and 5% sales had declined. Innovation and new product launches were also sited by 32 local companies who have either launched new product lines in 2013 or plan to invest in innovation, new facilities, or new equipment purchases in 2014.

Job growth and employee recruitment predictions for 2014 also remained positive with the regionally surveyed companies. More than 90% predict that hiring will remain stable or increase. "There's obviously no way to predict what 2014 will bring to our economy with respect to job growth. However, local industry leaders continue to convey optimism with respect to sales, new hires and market expansion; often that optimism is a major component in the momentum required to continue upward trending," stated Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO.

In addition to using the information from the GROW program visits to provide insight to policymakers, APEX also assesses the feedback to look for emerging trends in the industries that are strategic to the region. "The information we've gathered over the past years has provided the background and analysis for business retention and expansion strategies relating to manufacturing, information technology and clean energy industries," continued Hanson.

Since the program's inception 10 years ago, approximately 60 chambers of commerce and local economic development organizations have visited and revisited more than 8,000 companies to thank them for their investments in their communities and the state. More than 215 companies have been assisted in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin since APEX began conducting their GROW program visits.

For more information from the GROW Minnesota! visits throughout 2013, go to Regional businesses that would welcome a GROW visit from APEX should contact Elissa Hansen at

Positive Partnerships Move our Community Forward

Thursday, January 09, 2014

As the new year begins, two recent articles highlight positive economic trends for the Northland. David Ross, president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce pointed to unemployment and foreclosure statistics that are significantly lower than state averages in an article he wrote for the Duluth News Tribune.

"As we enter 2014, Duluth is ideally positioned to experience a record year for construction and economic growth. This success is fostered by the private and public partnerships that are moving our community forward. These partnerships have fueled an unprecedented spirit of entrepreneurship and collaboration. They have concurrently increased our collective confidence in our business community. It is an exciting time to work and live in our Zenith City. Our shining city on the hill has never shined more brightly." Duluth has also seen an increase in new jobs, especially from our member businesses AAR, Altec HiLine, Enbridge, Barr Engineering Company and LHB, all of which are aggressively adding employees.

The 2014 year will be a year of challenges and increased economic growth, according to Drew Digby, a member of the Duluth Planning Commission. "Unemployment is at the lowest level since 2007 and private-sector job growth has been steady since 2010. Many of the new jobs are good-paying jobs in health care, engineering and other professional sectors, and projections by the state of Minnesota show those key industries growing for quite some time." In just five years in Duluth, there has been a double-digit increase in the number of households with incomes of more than $50,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The challenge this year will be to attract new talent and meet the additional housing demand that the job growth requires. The high-skill economy also poses challenges. We need to do everything we can to develop, attract and retain the talent we need."

To view the articles: