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.
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Welcome to the Chamber

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: 


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