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Chamber board members head to St. Paul to advocate for Cook County, Higher Education

Feb 15, 2019 07:08AM ● By Editor

From Staff Reports by The Cook County News Herald - February 15, 2019

A number of Cook County Chamber board members will travel to St. Paul next week for a series of meetings with legislators arranged by the Chamber’s St. Paul representative Judy Erickson. While in St. Paul, they also will participate in the Duluth Chamber’s Duluth & St. Louis County Days.

The overriding purpose of their effort, according to Chamber Executive Director Jim Boyd, is “to advocate for our top 2019 legislative priority, which is significantly increased funding for Cook County Higher Ed. We also will work, as we always do, to raise the positive profile of Cook County at the Legislature.”

Those making the trip include Karen Blackburn, executive director of Cook County Higher Ed and chair of the Chamber board; Charles Skinner of Lutsen Mountains, vice chair of the Chamber board; Dennis Rysdahl of Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts in Tofte; Linda Jurek, executive director of Visit Cook County and Chamber board member; Howard Hedstrom of Hedstrom Lumber, chair of the Cook County/Grand Marais EDA and member of the Chamber Board; Mary Somnis, EDA director; and Boyd.

Boyd said that because this is a biennial budget year at the Legislature, the top priority will be to increase funding for Higher Ed. Bills have been introduced by Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. Rob Ecklund, with co-sponsorship from a number of others, to increase regular annual funding for Higher Ed by $200,000 annually. Currently, Higher Ed receives $200,000 in regular state funding each year. It badly needs the increase, Boyd said, to meet demonstrated Cook County needs for post-secondary training and education.

Separate legislation has been introduced, Boyd said, to direct $100,000 in one-time workforce development funding to Higher Ed from the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

One priority for this funding would be to fund the extraordinary effort Higher Ed has put into organizing and overseeing a culinary arts training program that brings together ISD 166 and Hibbing Community College, with support from Higher Ed and the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.

The first class will start culinary training this fall in the new culinary classroom and kitchen recently completed at Cook County High School.

Cook County Higher Education would also use this funding to offer local college credit classes in LPN and RN training and develop local trades education programming identified as a priority by local employers and residents.

As Blackburn explains, “In 2018, Cook County Higher Education made an increased effort to contact Cook County employers and explain our programming possibilities. As a result, we are getting asked to produce programming new to our repertoire. We will use Workforce Development money to expand our offerings to help employers fill their positions and residents increase their wage earning potential!”

Boyd explained that the Chamber also participates in the Duluth Chamber event because it attracts “pretty much everyone from northeast Minnesota and all of the legislators and lobbyists associated with the region. In bang for the buck, it is tops. It also normally includes an address by the governor at the annual Legislative breakfast.”

In the six years of its existence, the Cook County Chamber has played a central role in securing hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects ranging from the Chik-Wauk Museum to the Gitchi Gami State Trail and a new DNR water access to be built on the Grand Marais harbor.