News and Events

New Members Join APEX

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Several new members have joined APEX in 2012, including Involta, an Iowa-based company which provides full service data center facilities and expertise to manage and protect mission critical computer systems and associated data. Founded in 2007, Involta was ranked #40 on the 2010 Inc 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in the United States and is recognized as a preeminent provider of data center facilities and technology services in the Central United States. APEX and its partners worked extensively with the Involta management team in 2011, as the Company moved forward with plans for a new data storage facility in the Duluth Technology Park.



Also new to APEX this year is CW Technology, a leading provider in networks, information technology, print management and phone systems in the upper Midwest. CW Technology serves a wide range of customers and clientele from all over the five-state region, including city governments, health care providers, financial institutions, regional corporations, small businesses and home users. CW Technology recently announced several new additions to its Duluth staff and anticipates a strong year in 2012.



Granite Equity Partners has also joined APEX in 2012, further strengthening the relationship between APEX and one of Minnesota's leading private investment firms. Headquartered in St. Cloud, 

Granite Equity Partners is a private investment firm founded by community-based entrepreneurs, executives, investors, and business professionals, who intend to make a positive impact on businesses in Greater Minnesota. The firm specializes in financing buyouts, recapitalizations, and growth company transactions, which include the sale or purchase of a business, generational transfers, or business expansions.



Finally, we are pleased to report that Citon Computer Corp has joined APEX this year. Citon specializes in IT innovation - from customized commercial PCs, to the design and deployment of high-end security solutions for international companies. The Company recently relocated to a new headquarters building in downtown Duluth to accommodate the growth of its three core businesses - Citon, Telcologix and Vilarri Mobile Solutions. The new facility will also house Citon's new Cloud Computing Data Center, further expanding its service offering to customers and clientele.



Like all APEX members, the companies above have a vested interest in seeing the communities of northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin thrive. They have invested in APEX because of our results-driven approach to driving new investments and private sector job growth throughout the region.  If your business is interested in joining APEX, you can learn more by contacting Sandy Johnson at: (218) 740-3667 


In the meantime, please join us in welcoming Involta, CW Technology, Granite Equity Partners, and Citon Computer Corp as the newest members of APEX!

IEDC, APEX Extend Contract through 2012, 2013

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On December 16, 2012, Joe Broking, President & CEO of Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), met with Rob West, President & CEO of APEX to discuss the results of the two organizations’ collaborative efforts over the past two years and to renew the contract which defines the agreement. Under the terms of this arrangement, APEX provides a fulltime staff person to serve as a member of the IEDC team in Grand Rapids, with an objective of driving new economic activity and job growth in and around Itasca County.

The contract with APEX, initiated in February, 2010, came on the heels of the IEDC’s decision to purchase the former Ainsworth oriented strand board manufacturing facility in Grand Rapids and has provided a necessary level of support as IEDC completed a period of management transition and worked to redevelop the former board plant for future use. As such, much of the team’s work over the past two years has been focused on redeveloping the site as the Itasca Eco Industrial Park (IEIP), a premiere location for world-class manufacturing operations in the heart of North America.

In marketing this property to new and expanding businesses, the APEX/IEDC team sought to attract companies which would leverage the region’s extensive timber resources, so as to regain not just the production jobs lost through the closure of the Ainsworth operation, but also the logging and supplier jobs associated with the timber demand of the former OSB mill.

Given the sustained downturn in the nation’s housing market and flat growth reported in the region’s paper/pulp mills, the team quickly set its sights on the advanced biofuels, biochemical and biopharmaceutical industries, as among the few areas of notable growth in the nation’s forest products sector. An extensive marketing plan was developed to penetrate these industries and today, the team is pleased to report that a memo of understanding has been executed with one of the world’s leading advanced biofuels producers. Formal agreements are expected to be secured sometime in 2012.

Today, as the APEX/IEDC team looks to renew its contract for the next two years, the 2012-2013 marketing plan has been expanded to focus on a number of other opportunities in and around Itasca County, beyond the work which continues to progress at the IEIP. The APEX/IEDC team will continue its efforts to close the deal with the potential anchor tenant and to market the remaining land parcels to other synergistic businesses, but 2012 will also see the rise of new initiatives aimed at supporting the large mining-related projects in Itasca County and expanding the IT/Computer Sciences sector in the Grand Rapids area.

If you would like to learn more about APEX’s work in Itasca County and across Minnesota’s Iron Range communities, please contact Jeff Borling at: (218) 326-9411, ext. 23

APEX Members Support 'Duluth at Work' Program

Sunday, January 01, 2012

On December 20th, 2011, APEX Members gathered to learn more about the opportunity of hiring from within the Duluth at Work program. With the objective of expanding employer partnerships, the program featured a point of view by Mayor Ness, insights about our future economy from Drew Digby of DEED, two employee/participant testimonials and one employer testimonial. The event was a great success and was well attended by human resources professionals from key employers in the area. As a result of this event, the Duluth At Work program has already yielded five new employer partner relationships, with additional follow-up scheduled for the next few weeks to bring even more connections into the portfolio.

Since 2008, Duluth at Work has focused efforts on two target groups - job seekers and small business owners. A snapshot of the program’s success is as follows.

Workforce Development / Job Seekers: 
    • 255 participants 
    • 245 (96%) completed work-related trainings 
    • 192 (75%) successfully secured and maintained long term employment 
    • Results: Increasing incomes, building financial assets, homeownership, higher

      education, reduction in public benefits, career laddering and promotion


Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs: 
    • 59 business owner and entrepreneurial participants 
    • 57 completed 9 week trainings, in peer groups and/or received targeted technical

      assistance to more fully develop their business fundamentals and maintain a

      competitive edge in our changing economy 
    • Results: Increasing revenues, new jobs created, storefront renovation loans,

      leverage of new and more diverse funding, expansion into new markets or product


Duluth at Work is a workforce development/poverty reduction model co-facilitated by Duluth LISC and the City of Duluth. To learn more, please contact Emily Larson at: (218) 355-8070


Dr. Eric Kaler to Speak at APEX Annual Meeting

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On January 31, 2012, APEX is pleased to announce that Dr. Eric W. Kaler, President of the University of Minnesota, will be featured as the keynote speaker at the 2012 Annual Meeting, beginning at 3:00 p.m. at the Kitchi Gammi Club in Duluth.  At this invite-only event, APEX members will review the activities and outcomes of 2011, while looking ahead to another successful year in 2012. 


After the regular business portion of the meeting, Dr. Kaler will present the APEX Board of Directors and membership with information regarding his plans for the University system, including the role he sees for more rural campuses like the University of Minnesota-Duluth. With APEX members representing an effective cross-section of the region's business community, questions are sure to arise on the issues of workforce development, investments in the Arrowhead Region, and the potential for enhanced interaction between the University system and the local communities it serves. 


Prior to assuming the presidency at the University of Minnesota on July 1, 2011, Dr. Kaler served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs and vice president for Brookhaven National Laboratory affairs at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York. Kaler received his undergraduate degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1978 and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1982.

Kaler has received many awards and recognitions for his research, including election to the National Academy of Engineering in 2010. President Kaler and his wife, Karen, have two adult sons, Charlie and Sam. In addition to traveling with his family, Dr. Kaler loves to read, watch baseball and play with his dogs, Mo and Lida. 


Please join us in welcoming Dr. Kaler as the keynote speaker at the 2012 APEX Annual Meeting.  We look forward to visiting with you on the 31st and thank you for your ongoing support. To learn more about the APEX Annual Meeting, please contact Sandy Johnson at: (218) 740-3667 


APEX Participates in Border to Border Broadband Conference

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On November 16-17, 2011, Elissa Hansen, APEX Director of Business Development attended the Policy and Progress: Border to Border Broadband conference held at the Greysolon Ballroom in Duluth. Hosted by the Blandin Foundation, the conference opened with an overview of the National Broadband Policy by Tom Koutsy from Connected Nation. Connect Minnesota, a subsidiary of Connected Nation, also provided an overview of efforts aimed at getting all broadband providers in the state communicating effectively with one another. Connect Minnesota has created and kept an updated detailed map of the state's broadband coverage, thereby helping to accurately pinpoint the major gaps within the state. You can learn more by visiting

The other major focus areas covered at the conference included the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) projects. The four projects occurring in northeast Minnesota include:


1. Cook County: Fiber Optics through the Forest by Arrowhead Electric Cooperative
2. Greater Minnesota Broadband Collaborative by Enventis Telecom
3. Fiber to the Premise in Lake County by Lake County 
4. Northeast Minnesota’s Middle Mile Fiber Project by Northeast Service Cooperative

Each project focuses on creating more connectivity in varying ways across the Arrowhead Region and throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, while further educating the public on the benefits of expanded broadband infrastructure and its capabilities for personal and business use. To learn more about how APEX is leveraging this world-class infrastructure to expand the region's business base, please contact Elissa Hansen at (218) 740-3667

APEX Attends Minnesota Chamber's 2011 Manufacturers Summit

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On Wednesday, October 26, 2011, Elissa Hansen, APEX Director of Business Development attended the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 Manufacturers Summit in Minneapolis. The Chamber estimates that Minnesota manufacturers contribute more than $30 billion to the state's economy, representing 17% of the state’s gross domestic product. With nearly one in seven jobs in Minnesota tied to the manufacturing industry, Minnesota manufacturers are clearly the backbone of our economy.


As global pressures and changing demographics present new challenges for manufacturers, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's 2011 Manufacturers Summit provided an insightful glimpse into the future of this dynamic segment of our economy. The event was well attended and the attitude among the manufacturers present was generally optimistic.


Major takeaways for our local manufacturers included eight "best practices" designed to keep their operations thriving and growing in today’s highly competitive global marketplace.  These include:

1. Invest in training your workforce.
2. Invest in automation and high-tech.
3. Create a culture of continuous improvement.
4. Implement automated performance tracking.
5. Measure procurement and on-time delivery.
6. Manage vendor relationships to reduce costs.
7. Pass on pricing increases.
8. Expand into international markets.

It comes as no surprise to those of us in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin that investing in a well trained, productive workforce is the #1 key to success in the manufacturing sector. Technologically Advanced Worker’s (TAWs) were stressed in various parts of the day’s discussions at the 2011 Manufacturers Summit, with speakers providing multiple examples of successful workforce training programs, including the Arrowhead's very own Applied Learning Institute.  


Other programs cited include "Dream !t Do !t" and the Obama Administration’s Board on Jobs & Competitiveness Council’s Right Skills Now program. In one way or another, all of these programs are focused on increasing the number of people entering the workforce in skilled production, technology, engineering, and other industry-focused areas.


To learn more about workforce development initiatives and other efforts to support manufacturing businesses in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin, please contact Elissa Hansen at: (218) 740-3667


Or, if you are a manufacturer who needs focused strategic support as you grow your business and compete in the global marketplace, consider contracting with the APEX Strategic Resources Group.  Contact Peter Miller today to learn more.


APEX, IEDC Voice Support for Keetac Expansion

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On Thursday, October 25, 2011, Jeff Borling, APEX Director of Itasca Business Development, joined a delegation of regional business and community leaders to testify before the MPCA Citizens' Board in support of US Steel's expansion of the Keewatin Taconite plant in northeast Minnesota. The hearing centered on the approval of two water quality permits associated with the expansion project, which involves the re-commissioning of a portion of the mining operation that was shut down around 1980.


Borling represented APEX and IEDC in describing how economic and environmental issues are often inextricably entwined in Minnesota's natural resource-rich Arrowhead Region, resulting in a history of sound planning and development which has balanced the need for jobs against the desire to protect the natural environment in this beautiful place we call home. 


In considering the transparency with which US Steel has approached this project and the significant investments the Company has made in deploying new, cutting-edge environmental technology in the State of Minnesota, the majority of testimonials applauded the project and welcomed the much needed jobs and economic activity it will produce. Testimonials were also provided by Rep. Carly Melin, District 05B; Senator Tom Saxhaug, District 03; Jeremy Smolich, Plant Manager, Keewatin Taconite; Bud Stone, President, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce; and Mayor Tom Sampson from the City of Keewatin, among others.


After careful deliberation, the MPCA Citizens' Board approved the water quality permits and said that together with the air quality permit approved by the board in September, these actions "show a way forward to protecting the environment while still providing for needed economic expansion." Approval of the air and water permits means the MPCA has removed one of the last remaining barriers to expansion of the Keewatin Taconite operation. All that remain are two wetlands-related permits, one from the MPCA and one from the US Army Corps of Engineers, both of which are expected to be issued sometime in the next 6 to 10 months. 


Once final permits are approved and the expansion project begins full-steam, estimates show the potential to create more than 120 permanent high-paying jobs in the Keewatin area, along with 500 temporary construction jobs over the next several years.  More importantly, the approval of these permits shows that northeast Minnesota continues to value the culture and communities built around the region's mining industry - past, present and future.


In the meantime, APEX and IEDC will continue to engage with the large mining projects currently underway in Itasca County and across the Iron Range, lending our support in any way possible.  Other activities include playing a supportive role in workforce development and training initiatives through our members and other partners, and we are also actively working with a number of mining suppliers and related manufacturing operations seeking to expand or relocate their operations into northeast Minnesota. 


If your business is poised to grow alongside Minnesota's bustling mining and manufacturing sector, please contact Jeff Borling today to find out how APEX and IEDC can support your success: (218) 326-9411 ext. 23


APEX Attends Minnesota Governor's "Job Summit 2011"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On October 25th, 2011, the APEX team attended the Minnesota Governor's 2011 Job Summit at the Crowne Plaza Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul. With more than 700 attendees, the sold-out event opened with a panel discussion hosted by Governor Mark Dayton on the subject of Minnesota Jobs in the Global Economy. Panel speakers discussed the imperative need for Minnesota to secure lasting competitive advantages for businesses struggling to succeed in the global marketplace.  The ability to adapt and implement change efficiently was cited as a necessary area of improvement, and specific examples included the State's ability to help better align the available workforce with the skillsets required for the jobs of the future.


Subsequent morning sessions covered additional topics ranging from access to capital, the cost of business growth, energy-related issues, the need for enhanced state branding, and the development of a dashboard for tracking data metrics, among others. The keynote speaker was Dr. Michael Mandelbaum, co-author of the newly released That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. Dr. Mandelbaum discussed how many Americans are “Frustrated Optimists" who know we can move forward as we always have in the past, but whose formulas for success are in need of renovation.


As Dr. Mandelbaum argued, states like Minnesota cannot rely on a one-part program for economic growth and stability. Instead, we must consider simultaneously cutting spending, raising revenues and continuing to invest in the historical areas of infrastructure, education and research and development. Investing in this three-part program, Dr. Mendelbaum stated, is the only viable formula for competing successfully in the global economy.

Afternoon sessions covered a wide range of topics, such as infrastructure, the rise of the creative class, workforce development issues, the "economic development toolbox," export opportunities, employment inequality and tax reform. The summit concluded with an overview of the sessions, followed by a summary of major takeaways and an interactive discussion of next steps. In closing, Governor Dayton stressed that it will take both private and public sector engagement to grow our economy and make Minnesota globally competitive.


To learn more about how APEX works together with its public and private partners throughout Minnesota and Wiscosnin in support of our region's economy, please contact Rob West at: (218) 740-3667

APEX Participates in Northern Regional Broadband Networks Forum

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

On October 4th, 2011, the APEX team participated in the Northern Regional Broadband Networks Forum: Driving Business Development and Innovation. During this afternoon forum, over 100 area business owners and leaders gathered to learn more about new business opportunities available through the region's ever-expanding fiber optics network, while further exploring what networks currently exist or are being built in our region. Rob West, APEX President & CEO, facilitated the discussion and moderated presentations delivered by representatives from some of the region's leading companies, public sector leaders and academic institutions, including Involta, UW Extension, Cook County, Granite Gear, and UnitedHealth Group. Representatives from each entity commented on various elements of how broadband technology impacts their day-to-day business, with specific examples of how they have successfully leveraged this technology for greater access to customers, deeper collaborations, educational transformation, and greater rural competitiveness.


APEX would like to thank its economic development partners Minnesota Power, Blandin Foundation, Northspan Group and the Northland Technology Consortium for sponsoring this event.  To learn more about how you can leverage broadband technology to grow your business, please contact Elissa Hansen at: (218) 740-3667


Involta Breaks Ground on Data Center in Duluth

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On September 22, 2011, APEX Members and economic development partners gathered together with representatives from Involta to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new $10.5 million hardened enterprise data center in the Duluth Technology Park. Construction of Phase I, a 24,000 square foot facility, should be completed and operational by mid-year 2012. In addition, a $2.3 million satellite data center will be housed in the former Daugherty Hardware building at Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street to serve Essentia Health, one of Involta's largest clients in the Duluth area.

Bruce Lehrman, Involta's CEO, called this "a very exciting day," and thanked APEX and its many partners for helping to keep the project moving forward. This milestone comes after nearly five years of persistent hard work, since the APEX management, staff, board of directors and general membership first conceptualized the data center attraction strategy and implemented a marketing campaign highlighting the region for growing companies in this dynamic industry. The next phase of this strategy will be rolled out in early 2012. To learn more, please contact Elissa Hansen at (218) 740-3667