News and Events

Northforce Web Portal Responds to Business Community Needs

Monday, February 17, 2014

Duluth News Tribune:

As planned, a new Web portal was launched last week to further economic development in the Northland and connect employers with people with the skills being sought.

The Northforce website — at — that serves as a portal is now up and running. It offers micro sites that focus on Duluth, Superior and the Iron Range and an employer-employee matchmaking function for both current residents and those considering a move to the Northland.

It’s a collaborative effort between Area Partnership for Economic Expansion, also known as APEX; the Northspan Group; Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board; and the cities of Duluth and Superior. Northspan is managing the database and the employer-employee connectivity functions, while APEX is managing the attraction, retention and community outreach strategy.

“We developed Northforce in response to needs expressed by the business community,” said Brian Hanson, APEX president and CEO. “We are excited about its potential to transform the talent pool in Northeast Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin.”

Randy Lasky, Northspan president and CEO, said the Northforce website differs from similar websites attempted because it takes a holistic approach.

He said it’s a public-private partnership that will aggressively market the business opportunities and quality of life of the region, while engaging and building relationships to attract, place and retain quality talent. And that, he said, is a unique foundation.

News of the Web portal is being further spread through Facebook, Twitter and targeted advertising.


Grow Minnesota Annual Report Highlights APEX

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Minnesota Chamber’s Grow Minnesota! Program partners utilizes public and private resources to keep Minnesota companies strong and competitive in today’s global economy. The program was launched 10 years ago with 27 partners; today 68 local chamber of commerce partners also engage their local economic development organizations. Our partners have visited and revisited with more than 8,000 Minnesota companies, to thank them for their investments in their communities and this state. As a result of visits, partners have provided assistance to 1,200 companies. Their Annual Report highlights APEX’s involvement in the success of the program in northeastern Minnesota.
“Grow Minnesota! visits by APEX, the private-sector business development entity for northeastern Minnesota, has produced many economic successes. AAR Corp. most recently located operations in a vacant, 189,000-square-foot maintenance facility. AAR provides products and value-added services to the worldwide aerospace and defense industry, operating in several U.S. sites. The decision to locate in Duluth resulted from recruitment strategies and persistent work by APEX and a team of local economic development partners. Research projected an overall impact to Minnesota’s economy estimated at $47 million annually. The company expects to hire at least 310 employees with each job supporting an additional 1.7 jobs in Minnesota. The company has committed to building a local training program to grow its own talent once the skilled workforce reaches a critical mass of airframe and power plant mechanics.” 

 Read the Annual Report:

Grow Minnesota! Annual Report

APEX Investor-Members Support PolyMet Project

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Duluth, MN: On January 30, 2014 APEX (Area Partnership and Economic Expansion) Board of Directors passed a resolution to support the PolyMet Mining Corporation's (PolyMet) project planned for Hoyt Lakes, MN.

The resolution of support for PolyMet and the adequacy of the NorthMet Project Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement was supported by the organization's investor-members, who represent more than 65 private sector businesses. The resolution further supported the project moving to the environmental permitting phase and commits to continue efforts to support mining and value-added manufacturing and supplier opportunities in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.

The resolution recognized Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other state and federal agencies that released a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) on the NorthMet project and that the SDEIS meets their rigorous review process and state and federal standards.

PolyMet's proposed project would create significant region-wide and statewide economic impact, as PolyMet plans to invest $475M to create a state-of-the-art mine, projected to employ 360 people. "The metals produced are used in the region, state and throughout the world to support green energy production, medical devices and modern communications technologies," stated Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO. "Our Board supports PolyMet's project that would provide a domestic source of essential, strategic minerals and utilizes modern technology through operating practices that protect our air and water quality. The job growth and tax revenue would have a significant impact on our region's economy. Nonferrous mining will also result in a larger supplier network and value added manufacturing, contributing additional growth opportunities in our region."

APEX plans to announce the resolution to support PolyMet to the broader business community later today at the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce's Let's Do Lunch. APEX is sponsoring today's event, featuring PolyMet's President and CEO, Jon Cherry.

NORTHFORCE: Your Talent Community Launches

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
On Monday, February 10, APEX, The Northspan Group and regional public and private partners launched NORTHFORCE, an innovative and intentional talent community strategy to invigorate the workforce in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin by attracting, managing, placing, enriching and retaining talent. is the web portal hub where people in search of a career connect with opportunities in the region. The website features:

  • • An employer-employee "talent matchmaking" function
  • • A searchable business directory
  • • Area events, attractions and resources
  • • Community portal sites including: Duluth, Superior and the Iron Range

The word will be spread via social media networking; a Facebook page, a Twitter account, direct business interaction and other targeted outreach strategies. There is no cost for individuals or businesses to participate.

"APEX is proud to be part of this exciting strategy that aligns the needs of business with talent in search of opportunities," said Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO, at the NORTHFORCE launch event held Monday at Lake Superior College in Duluth.

NORTHFORCE is a collaborative initiative of APEX, The Northspan Group, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), the City of Duluth, Minnesota, and the City of Superior, Wisconsin. Speakers at the launch event included representatives from each NORTHFORCE community partner. The launch drew an audience of more than 75 students and private, public and philanthropic leaders.

IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich spoke to the crowd about the urgency of workforce retention and attraction. "In this region, 45% of the total workforce is over 45 years old. In some industries the statistics are even more staggering – in manufacturing and mining, 50% are over 45 and in utilities, 60%. According to the State of Minnesota, the job vacancy rate is at the highest point in our region. Matchmaking – people plus opportunity – is critical to ensure the long-term success of our region."

The region’s business community and prospective businesses alike have expressed the need for a quality, trained workforce. In response, APEX, The Northspan Group and partners conducted best practice research on talent attraction and retention strategies nationwide and moved forward with what is now the NORTHFORCE talent community.

"Austin, Kansas City, Louisville – we explored these communities and others to understand the strategies and tactics they use to attract and retain talent" said Randy Lasky, President of Northspan, referring to the research. "Quality of place is just as important as the quality of the job itself," Lasky concluded. "This regional public-private partnership will aggressively market our quality of place and world-class business opportunities."

APEX and Northspan are the primary administrators of NORTHFORCE. APEX manages the attraction, retention and community outreach strategy, while Northspan manages the database and employer-employee connectivity functions. For the past six months, the organizations have worked to bring collaborators together and to develop and execute the brand, design and database for NORTHFORCE.

Elissa Hansen, APEX Director of Business Development and Jon Loss, with Steam Creative Consulting, were instrumental in the NORTHFORCE branding, design of the websites and a creative marketing outreach strategy. Chris Maddy, Northspan Marketing Director and Anna Tennis, now the Community Talent Manager for NORTHFORCE, were responsible for the creation and implementation of the database.

"The region will see tremendous benefits from this collaborative approach," said Jason Serck, City of Superior Planning Director, on behalf of Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen. "Collaboration is the key takeaway. Partnerships actually get things done and bring people together."

Collaboration is more important than ever in today’s hypermobile society.

"People often mention to me that they would like to move to the area, but are not able to find a job," stated Don Ness, Mayor of Duluth. "We know the opportunities exist and up until now, people have had to rely heavily on networking to find positions. With the growth in our regional economy, we are competing against communities around the country for the best talent. We now have a way to connect people – visitors, people that grew up in the region, or locals – and keep them, by matching them with our regional career opportunities. I’m excited about the existence of NORTHFORCE and the collaboration’s impact on our talent attraction and retention efforts."

At the conclusion of the event, businesses and career-seekers were encouraged to sign up on the website. "The success of the collaboration is dependent on the business community’s participation," stated Brian Hanson.

For questions about NORTHFORCE, contact Elissa Hansen at
Register your organization and promote career opportunities at

Annual Board of Directors Meeting

Friday, February 07, 2014
On January 30, APEX hosted the Annual Board of Directors meeting and celebrated the organization's 10 year anniversary at the Kitchi Gammi Club. APEX 2013 Chairman, Peter Hedstrom, welcomed and thanked investor-members for their support and investment throughout the year. Hedstrom reflected on the region's achievements citing several investor-members for their contributions and successes including, the maurices downtown expansion, JAMAR Company's 100 year anniversary, AAR exceeding employment projections and the expansion of several APEX investor-members including WP & RS Mars Company, Lake Superior College, LHB Corp. and Barr Engineering.

Hedstrom also mentioned the positive coverage that the region received throughout 2013, including the Twin Cities Business Magazine special report titled, Duluth: A City That Plays and Works and several state and national awards that APEX received for the organization's efforts. "The momentum in the region continues to build and APEX has played a role in many of these exciting projects," stated Hedstrom. "The APEX staff, investor-members and key partners have played an integral role in the region's growth in the past ten years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future," continued Hedstrom.

After a review and approval of the 2013 year-end financials and the 2014 budget, the incoming slate of APEX Executive Committee officers were elected:

Chair, Open
Vice Chair, Dan Markham, Capstan Corporation
Immediate Past Chair, Al Hodnik, ALLETE, Inc.
Secretary, Nancy Aronson Norr, Minnesota Power
Treasurer, John Strange, St. Luke's
At Large, Mark Hubbard, Lakehead Constructors
At Large, Mark Emmel, Labovitz Enterprises
At Large, Dr. Daniel Nikcevich, Essentia Health
At Large, Andrea Schokker, University of Minnesota Duluth

During the business meeting, APEX President and CEO, Brian Hanson, reviewed the organization's accomplishments in 2013, citing that the team met all of the strategic initiatives for the year, recruited nine new investor-members, highlighted the recognition for attraction, retention and research initiatives and announced a new regional talent, retention and recruitment initiative set to launch in early February as milestones for the year.

Hanson discussed research completed supporting industries including Next Generation Wood Products, Metal Fabrication and Liquified Natural Gas. Hanson also indicated that since 2003, 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. 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 the energy and dedication they contribute to the organization.

APEX Recognized by Partners

Friday, February 07, 2014
Economic Development Association of Minnesota
The Economic Development Association of Minnesota (EDAM) presented APEX with an award for Excellence in Economic Development Marketing during their winter conference held January 23-24 in Minneapolis. APEX was recognized for the organization's strategic Lake County data center initiative, specifically for the marketing and communication tools the organization developed to support the data center strategy. These tools included two brochures highlighting the region's competitive advantages specific to data centers, a video focused on the region and the Lake County site, as well as an iPad app.

"The strategic marketing tools we created allow us to reach directly out to specific data center industry professionals," stated Elissa Hansen, APEX Director of Business Development. "As a result, many doors have opened for introductions to our region as a great location for data centers." As part of the recognition, EDAM produced a video highlighting the effort (2014 EDAM Economic Development Marketing Award - Winner - APEX).

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
In early January, APEX was also recognized, along with investor-member Duluth Chamber of Commerce, by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for leadership and commitment to business retention and assistance as a GROW Minnesota founding partner.

As part of APEX's local GROW program, the staff and partners visited 72 businesses throughout northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. The purpose is to thank companies for their commitment to the region and to obtain 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. APEX also assesses the feedback to look for emerging trends in the industries that are strategic to the region.

Insights from Better City CEO, Matthew Godfrey

Friday, February 07, 2014
More than 90 community leaders and APEX investor-members gathered at the Kitchi Gammi Club following APEX's Annual Meeting and Panel of Champions on January 30 to hear from guest speaker, Matthew Godfrey, CEO of Better City, an economic development consulting company. Godfrey provided the community leaders with an inspiring presentation highlighting key elements of economic development that drive prosperity and the private sector's role in business development.

The formula, Godfrey offered, included solid infrastructure (transportation, fiber and utilities) and an educated workforce – elements that many communities across the country can boast. "What sets communities apart, and what matters most, is that the community has a clear vision of what they should be the best at, why they should win new business and have strong public, private and philanthropic partnerships," Godfrey stated. He went on to suggest that organizations that do the work and show up where other communities do not, take on controversy when necessary, and have a long-term commitment to a strategy are at an advantage over other communities.

Throughout the evening, Godfrey offered examples of his unique experience. He was 29 years old when he was 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 as mayor for 12 years. During Godfrey's tenure, he 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," stated Godfrey. "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," continued Godfrey.

Godfrey is currently working with the City of Superior to put together a long-range strategic plan for their downtown. Jason Serck commented, "Matthew Godfrey has a demonstrated track record of implementing strategies that help communities improve their quality of place and create jobs. The City of Superior is excited to work with Matthew and the Better City team."

10 Year Anniversary Ribbon Cutting

Friday, February 07, 2014

APEX began celebrating their 10 year anniversary with a ribbon cutting at their office located at 306 West Superior Street, Suite 902 in downtown Duluth on January 30, 2014. Over a dozen Chamber Ambassadors were on site along with APEX Executive Committee members, Chamber and APEX staff to celebrate this milestone for the organization. David Ross, President & CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, presented a plaque to APEX in congratulations of their 10th anniversary and in appreciation of their commitment to growing our community.

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.