News and Events

Marketing and Organizational Updates

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Marketing and Attraction Activities

Nick Larson, APEX Business Developer, explained there are traditionally two seasons that APEX engages in a sophisticated and targeted conference approach to business recruitment - spring and fall of each year. This spring the APEX team attended seven conferences throughout the Country including the following:

  • Select USA Summit in Washington, DC: This was APEX’s first time in attendance at the foreign direct investment conference. Investors, economic development professionals and government officials were brought together to facilitate investment in the US.
  • Progress Minnesota Awards – Minneapolis, MN: Hosted by Finance & Commerce, this event recognizes individuals, entrepreneurs, businesses and organizations that are driving business growth and economic development in Minnesota in innovative ways. Congratulations to three regional businesses which received awards at the event, Cirrus Aircraft Corp., maurices and AAR, Corp.
  • SME Conference – Duluth, MN: APEX exhibited at the local Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration conference in February. The conference provided APEX with the opportunity to reconnect with a promising light manufacturing and testing project that has advanced their timeline.
  • International Biomass co-located with Heating the Midwest – Minneapolis, MN: The International Biomass conference is the largest gathering of biomass professionals in North America. APEX connected with several high-potential prospects, and learned about enhancements in technical processes and platforms for biomass-related products.
  • Zenith Social Media Conference – Duluth, MN: APEX attended the local event that draws national industry-leaders and attendees for this social media-centered conference.
  • RevAmerica – New Orleans, LA: APEX attended the domestic outsourcing show with economic development partner, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. APEX continues to evaluate and promote the opportunity for regional businesses to benefit from the “onshoring” outsourcing of information technology and business processes.

New Intern Joins APEX

APEX is pleased to announce that Rose Lindquist has joined as the newest intern. Lindquist is from Eden Prairie and currently attends the University of Minnesota Duluth. Majoring in political science, she has extensive experience drafting grant proposals, fundraising and lobbying the legislature as a member of the Legislative Certificate Program. Lindquist will be assisting in both business development and administrative work for APEX.

NORTHFORCE Builds Momentum

Thursday, May 21, 2015
NORTHFORCE Intern Lydia Komatsu with APEX Business Developer and NORTHFORCE Marketing Coordinator Ian Vincent.

In 2015 to date, the NORTHFORCE team has directly facilitated more than a dozen new hires and added over 500 new employees and job-seekers to the roster.

Additionally, a cumulative total of over 12,000 job opportunities have been delivered by email to suitable candidates. These customized emails average a 36% click rate, well above the 21% industry average.

The year kicked off with a career-fair tour through northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin, the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. NORTHFORCE continues to maintain a strong presence at regional events, among them the Zenith Social Media Conference, UMD Dinner with Champions, Leadercast 2015 and the Northland Human Resources Association (NHRA) Spring Conference.

As sponsors of the 2015 Homegrown Music Festival, NORTHFORCE launched the #NorthByChoice Homegrown Talent Contest, asking social media fans to articulate why they choose to live in this area. The powerful quotes and pictures resulting from the contest will be repurposed throughout the coming year.

On the administrative side, the team continues to work diligently on developing alternative funding streams via contracted services and streamlining the website for a more mobile and user-friendly experience.

NORTHFORCE by the numbers:
  • 396 regional employers
  • 73 companies who have elected for NORTHFORCE to send them resumes directly (24 of these are APEX investor-members)
  • Over 800 matching candidates connected with prospective employers
  • 1,385 total job-seekers (60% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher)
  • Over 12,000 job opportunities delivered by email to suitable candidates

For additional information about NORTHFORCE contact Ian Vincent.

Investor-Member Spotlight: Monaco Air Duluth Expansion

Thursday, May 21, 2015
A rendering of the Monaco Air Duluth expansion

As investor-member Monaco Air Duluth looks to celebrate its 10-year anniversary later this year, the company is undertaking a significant expansion project. The $3.8 million private investment, spurred by Monaco Air’s growing international service offerings, will more than double the facility’s square footage and vastly improve the amenities offered by the full-service fixed-base operator (FBO).

Monaco Air Duluth, located at the Duluth International Airport, provides 24-hour aircraft, crew, and passenger services for airlines, military, and private aircraft. Services include fueling and deicing services, hangar services, aircraft maintenance, and international arrival services including an array of amenities to the pilots, passengers and guests they serve. Passengers include business executives, recreational travelers, government officials, dignitaries and royalty. “We aim to create a superior experience for the clientele who choose to use our facility,” commented Don Monaco, principal owner of Monaco Air Duluth.

“Since taking over operations in 2005 we have been bursting at the seams. To continue to increase our market presence, it was time to invest in more sophisticated amenities and offerings. We need to be more attractive than our competition and still provide the essential services that are expected of FBOs,” continued Monaco. Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO, commented, "The first-class service provided by Monaco Air welcomes people to Duluth in a unique way and leaves a positive, lasting impression of our region. This investment will only serve to strengthen that welcome."

The first floor of the existing facility will become a dedicated U.S. Customs General Aviation Facility for United States Customs and Border Protection to clear visiting international passengers and crew. The newly constructed adjacent facility will include a large customer lounge, fully-furnished kitchen, two conference rooms and larger restrooms. The second floor of the new facility will include an expanded lounge for pilots and crew, a fitness room (a rare offering for FBOs), executive offices and a large conference room equipped for media events.

“We are working closely with the Duluth Airport Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration on compliance and regulatory procedures relating to building on Airport property,” stated Monaco. Monaco Air has engaged several local firms in the project, including Johnson Wilson Constructors, DSGW Architects and investor-members Republic Bank and The JAMAR Company.

Expected completion of the FBO is scheduled for January 2016 with the Customs facility to follow shortly thereafter.

For more information about the Monaco Air Duluth project, contact Don Monaco or Mike Magni at 218-727-2911.

2015 Steel Study Preliminary Results

Thursday, May 21, 2015
Steel casting pour at Hibbing’s CAST Corp. foundry.


With regard to business development, APEX efforts should focus on encouraging and seeking additional structural steel fabrication capacity, deemphasizing casting sourcing and continue to examine steel supply and sourcing.

These key takeaways emerged from the recent 2015 APEX steel study. The study was initiated late in 2014 with the encouragement of diverse stakeholders in the region’s industrial community. A strategy session with a dozen steel-market investor-member stakeholders assisted in defining the study scope and outreach plan.

Study objective:

Investigate three areas of concern within the region’s steel market in order to identify potential supply shortages and market needs – information that promises to be valuable for steering future business development efforts.

Areas of study:

  1. Structural steel fabrication
  2. Steel castings
  3. Steel sourcing (commodity-grade sheet and structural steel)

Methodology and survey respondent profile

The study process took approximately three months and involved 40 precisely targeted regional companies – both providers and utilizers of steel. The overall response rate of 75% reinforces a substantial degree of confidence in the survey results.

The balanced array of respondents included manufacturers and fabricators (52%), construction and general contractors (19%), foundries (13%), machinists (10%) and other (6%).

Respondent summary and highlights:

  • Average of 75 full time equivalents
  • 40% intend to expand their physical footprint by 2017
  • 80% report steady or growing revenue and made capital investments in 2014


Structural steel fabrication

The annual regional market for steel fabrication is greater than $13 million. Sourcing takes place within an average of a 600 mile radius from each fabricator.

According to information gathered, there has been a significant gap in the region’s supply chain since the closing of Dynamic Steel in 2010. With the region lacking a state-of-the-art 3D modeling structural fabrication system, lead times have increased, resulting in low regional satisfaction.

Data and feedback suggest that the region maintains adequate demand to sustain a single, nimble structural steel fabrication shop or expansion effort. However, further attention to this market opportunity is warranted.

Steel castings

This study segment yielded a low number of respondents with only seven total utilizers, including three monetary respondents and two sourcing respondents. While this small sample population may not be an accurate representation of the region’s casting industry, it became apparent from the data gathered that castings are not a major market driver for the regional economy. This area does not appear to be a fruitful prospect for business development efforts at this time, as regional needs are being met.

Steel sourcing

The annual regional market exceeds $32.5 million, consisting of a conservative annual tonnage of 17,000tn commodity-grade sheet and structural steel. The average sheet order size is 55tn. Sourcing takes place within approximately a 500 mile radius from the region.

With recent mining industry closures and foreign steel delivering a severe blow to US steel prices, combined with the region’s relatively low tonnage demand, a major overhead expansion or attraction effort dedicated to the inbound commodity side of the steel sourcing market is not warranted at this time. Company responses supported this conclusion. However, there may be opportunity to capitalize on transportation infrastructure serving the Duluth Port to expand outbound steel services to markets outside the region.

With that precedent established, APEX will continue to work with the Port of Duluth and other partners to evaluate numbers and potential development leads.

Additional information

Contact Ian Vincent if you would like additional specifics about the APEX Steel Study. A presentation containing additional information and survey details may be downloaded by clicking here.

Board Meeting Recap – In Case You Missed It

Thursday, May 21, 2015
Mark Bell, Principal with Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors, addressed the APEX Board of Directors in May. Bell is pictured on left with Nancy Norr, APEX Chair and Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO.

The most recent APEX Board of Directors meeting convened at the Duluth Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites on May 7th. APEX Chair Nancy Norr welcomed investor-members and highlighted those recently recognized throughout the region for accomplishments. These acknowledgements and additional features or articles on investor-members can be found in the “Investor-Members in the News” section of the APEX website.

The APEX meeting featured speaker Mark Bell with Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors, as he spoke to his firm’s approach to development and stewardship. The meeting also included a review of APEX’s 2014 audit by Steve Licari, Principal with Licari, Larsen & Company, an update for investor-members on the preliminary results from APEX’s regional steel supply study, a summary of several marketing and attraction activities and a review of the most active projects on the deal sheet.

For questions relating to the Board of Directors meeting in general, please contact Sandy Johnson.

APEX Announces 2015 Executive Committee members

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On January 29, 2015, the Area Partnership for Economic Expansion (APEX) hosted their annual Board of Directors meeting at the Kitchi Gammi Club. More than 100 regional, public and private sector leaders were in attendance for the annual meeting and to hear guest speaker, Cathy Wurzer, host and anchor of MPR News’ Morning Edition, author of Tales of the Road: Highway 61, and Emmy-winning co-host of Twin Cities Public Television’s Almanac.

During the business meeting, Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO, reviewed the organization’s accomplishments and the region’s business growth in 2014.

The aviation and energy sectors are thriving. AAR completed its 100th airplane delivery and signed a five-year contract with Air Canada. Ikonics announced a second manufacturing facility. Northstar Aerospace continues to grow. Cirrus Aircraft is prepared to launch the Cirrus Vision SF50 (the world’s first “personal jet”). Lake Superior College’s Center for Advanced Aviation added Hangar 103 to its facility. Energy sector growth was led in large part by the growth of Enbridge, which filtered an increase of business to Lake Superior Consulting, LHB, Barr Engineering, Krech Ojard and Associates, and others. Additionally, APEX has been managing an impressive list of LNG (liquefied natural gas) developers with interest in our region.

Growth is occurring across a variety of other industries as well. The new headquarters of women’s clothing retailer maurices is under construction, managed by general contractor McGough Construction Company. Expanding digital startup Tryon Media, serving the fashion entertainment industry, has attracted local and international capital, including from APEX angel investors. And APEX continues to advocate for projects like non-ferrous mining and the Enbridge pipeline expansion.

Guest speaker, Cathy Wurzer, spoke to APEX investor-members and partners regarding the tradition of entrepreneurship in the region and how businesses are inextricably entwined into the fabric of the history and future. Wurzer challenged regional leaders to do more to transform outdated perceptions of northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.  “You have the power to change the narrative of this region by building upon your history and promoting the beautiful North Shore, the cool cultural scene in Duluth, craft beers, outdoor activities and more,” stated Wurzer.

At the annual meeting, APEX membership elected the 2015 Executive Committee of the Board of Directors.

APEX 2015 Executive Committee Officers:

  • Chair, Nancy Norr, Minnesota Power
  • Vice Chair, Brian Thun, maurices
  • Immediate Past Chair, Mark Emmel, Labovitz Enterprises
  • Secretary, Andrea Schokker, UMD
  • Treasurer, John Strange, St. Luke’s
  • At Large, Steve Burgess, National Bank of Commerce
  • At Large, Julianne Hanson, Foth Infrastructure & Environment
  • At Large, Mark Hubbard, Lakehead Constructors, Inc.
  • At Large, Dr. Daniel Nikcevich, Essentia Health

Annual Board of Directors Meeting

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Mark Emmel, Past Chair, Nancy Norr, Chair, and Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO.

On January 29, APEX hosted their annual Board of Directors meeting at the Kitchi Gammi Club. Former Chair, Mark Emmel with Labovitz Enterprises made opening remarks. After review and approval of the 2014 annual meeting minutes, 2014 year-end financials and the 2015 budget, the incoming slate of APEX Executive Committee officers were elected:

During the business meeting, Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO, reviewed the organization’s accomplishments and Duluth’s business growth in 2014:

  • Soaring aviation sector – AAR completed its 100th airplane delivery and signed a five-year contract. Ikonics added a second manufacturing facility to serve the aerospace sector. Northstar Aerospace is growing again. Cirrus Aircraft prepared for the 2015 launch of the Cirrus Vision SF50 (the world’s first “personal jet”), and regional aviation services and educational opportunities expanded, among them Lake Superior College’s Center for Advanced Aviation at their new Hangar 103 facility leased from the Duluth Airport Authority.
  • Energy sector – Led in large part by the growth of Enbridge, which filtered an increase of business to Lake Superior Consulting, LHB, Barr Engineering, Krech Ojard and Associates, and others. Additionally, APEX has been managing an impressive list of LNG (liquefied natural gas) projects.
  • maurices Headquarters – This new building currently under construction and managed by general contractor, McGough Construction Company, will transform the downtown skyline and promises to be a significant economic anchor for downtown.
  • New Industry – The expansion of Tryon Media (a digital startup serving the fashion entertainment industry) demonstrates the regional potential for building businesses in the digital space. Tryon attracts international and regional capital, including from our APEX angel investors.
  • Advocacy – APEX is an advocate for projects like non-ferrous mining and the Enbridge pipeline expansion, and is a voice for responsible regulation and growth in the region.

Hanson indicated that since 2003, through attraction, expansion and retention efforts, APEX has impacted over 250 businesses and 3,640 jobs in the region, resulting in an annual regional payroll of over $133 million and contributions of more than $18 million in state and local taxes annually. He reported the organization’s deal sheet continues to grow in strength and stature, and concluded his comments by individually thanking the APEX staff for their leadership, energy and the dedication they contribute to the organization.

In 2015, APEX will continue:

  • Research-driven, focused efforts on recruitment, retention and expansion
  • Marketing to select industries that align with our region’s capabilities
  • Focusing on site selectors as a target market
  • Adding value for our contract partners and pursuing additional contract opportunities that make sense
  • Sustaining the growth of NORTHFORCE while seeking revenue options to offset costs
  • Promoting the region with a pro-business, pro-growth message while balancing concerns for a sustainable natural environment and economy

To close the business portion of the annual meeting, Chair Nancy Norr shared that there has been a definite “uptick” in the economic development of the region. However, there are, and always will be, challenges. We need to remember, as a 67 investor-member strong organization, we can face those challenges and leverage opportunities better together than apart.

Targeting the Arrowhead, History in the Bull’s-Eye

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Cathy Wurzer, keynote speaker at the APEX annual meeting, with Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO and Nancy Norr, APEX Chair.

At the annual meeting, Cathy Wurzer - host and anchor of MPR News’ Morning Edition, author of Tales of the Road: Highway 61, and Emmy-winning co-host of Twin Cities Public Television’s Almanac - spoke to the tradition of business ownership in this region and how businesses are inextricably entwined into the fabric of our history and future.

Wurzer spoke to the group about the history of transportation and commerce, with particular emphasis on Highway 61. She also highlighted the burgeoning tourism industry, referencing the renaissance in the region’s image, amenities and economy since the 1980s. That said, she asserted, there is still much progress to be made, citing examples of feedback she received on her Facebook page when she asked how people perceived northeastern Minnesota. While receiving many positive comments such as resilient people, stunning wilderness, and a recreational venue for all seasons, etc., some in the Twin Cities still see the region as a remote, struggling outpost that lacks the capabilities for significant economic growth or creative vibrancy.

Wurzer concluded her remarks by challenging the investor-members, stakeholders and partners to do more to transform outdated perceptions of our region.  “You have the power to change the narrative of this region by building upon your history and promoting the beautiful Northshore, the cool cultural scene in Duluth, craft beers, outdoor activities, and more,” stated Wurzer. She encouraged us to survey our tourists as to why they come to our region and use that information as an attraction tool. As Cathy stated, there has been much growth in the region over the last 10 to 15 years and there is potential for much more.

J.M. Longyear Closes Deal in Itasca County

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In December 2014, after six years of focused work and collaboration, APEX partner and investor-member Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) was pleased to announce the finalization of the sale of 121.5 acres of land and all existing buildings at the Itasca Eco Industrial Park - the former Ainsworth site - in Grand Rapids, MN to J.M. Longyear, LLC.

APEX and IEDC share a long history of partnership on this project. APEX participated in several phases of this success story, including marketing of the site, developing the J.M. Longyear relationship and site clean-up and preparation.

Many parties helped make the deal possible, including Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the Blandin Foundation , the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation, the Grand Rapids Economic Development Authority (GREDA), and the Itasca Eco Industrial Park task force, as well as individuals like Rob West, Jeff Borling, Diane Weber and Joe Broking.

“We are excited by this achievement and we welcome Longyear to our business community,” stated Mark Zimmerman, IEDC President and CEO.

In October 2012, IEDC signed a purchase agreement with J.M. Longyear. The closing of the sale finalizes their commitment to take ownership of the anchor property at the Itasca Eco Industrial Park site by the end of 2014.

Based in Marquette, MI, J.M. Longyear operates a number of upstream and downstream natural-resources-based businesses, including owning and managing over 165,000 acres of timberland, mineral rights on over 160,000 acres, and downstream forest product and mineral processing businesses.

J.M. Longyear will join Cutsforth Manufacturing and Hammerlund Construction at the Itasca Eco Industrial Park.

For more information on the J.M. Longyear project, contact Nick Larson at

NORTHFORCE by the Numbers

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Anna Tennis representing NORTHFORCE at a local job fair.

One of the major initiatives APEX was part of in 2014 was the Talent Community, a one-stop portal for regional workforce development. Talent matching and development is critical to our area’s economy. After only a year in operation, the strong and early interest in NORTHFORCE demonstrates the importance of an ongoing focus on talent development. By the numbers:

  • 25 successful placements made
  • 40% of those placements made with APEX investor-members
  • 322 registered businesses
  • 1,057 registered individuals (60% hold bachelor degrees or higher)

The NORTHFORCE team will begin traveling this spring, attending job and internship fairs from Minneapolis to Milwaukee, to spread the word of abundant living wage opportunities in the APEX region. For more information on how NORTHFORCE can help connect your business to the talent portal, contact Ian Vincent at To register, browse openings, or post a job, log-on to