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New EDA director shares plans for the future

Mar 14, 2022 10:40AM ● By Editor

Beth Drost is the new Executive Director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority.  Submitted photo.

By Natalie Rademacher • Exclusive to Boreal Community Media • March 13, 2022

It’s only been six months since Beth Drost became executive director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority, but she’s jumped in and is starting to pursue projects she is passionate about.

The role has quite a learning curve since Drost is a one-person show working to enhance economic vitality and development in the county. She’s even had to learn how to do golf course marketing, since the EDA owns the Superior National Public Golf Course in Lutsen. There’s a volunteer board of commissioners that assist in the decision-making process, but Drost is alone in the day-to-day operations.

“I’m the only one in the office,” she said. “I’m the bookkeeper, I’m the admin assistant. I love it,” she said.

She thrives on being busy and loves how much she gets to do in her new position.

Before leading the EDA, Drost was the tribal chairwoman for the Grand Portage Tribal Council. She said there are a lot of similarities between her new position and her time as chairwoman around policies and governance, although she was more focused on healthcare, elders and children rather than economic development in her prior role.

While she’s a one-person office, she has a network of family and friends she leans on for support and knowledge. Their insights and wisdom help inform her work as she works to increase economic development in the region.

“You use what you already know,” she said.

The EDA has been around since it was created by a statute in 1988. It’s been a one-stop shop for local businesses since it was established. Drost joined the EDA at a unique time in its history as it hands off some of its responsibilities and continues work on the Cedar Grove Business Park in town.

Looking ahead

Drost has spent much of the last half year learning the ins and outs of her new role and meeting people. Now that she’s starting to get more comfortable she’s hoping to start developing new programs.

The EDA is currently funded by a levy, and part of Drost’s goals involve trying to find
other ways – such as grants – to fund EDA-led programs. Drost also hopes to use her new position to help spark more conversation around the childcare shortage in the county. It’s an area she has worked on throughout her career; she said it’s a pet project of hers.

She became interested in the topic when the childcare center in Grand Portage closed, and it became harder for parents to find a place to bring their children during the work day on the reservation. In Cook County, there’s a continuous shortage of workers in the childcare industry.

“It’s like a revolving door,” she said of the turnover with childcare workers.

Her goal is to get people talking about the issue, because it is difficult to address a shortage in labor if parents don’t have a place to bring their children during the work day. Drost is working with a group on hosting an event to discuss ways to address the childcare shortage in the area.

The EDA has been busy in the last few months, but Anton Moody, vice president of the EDA board of commissioners, said Drost jumped into the new role and is doing a fantastic job joining the work they are undertaking.  “She brings in a new perspective on things,” Moody said.

Worker shortage

Finding ways to help address the worker shortage is another part of the EDA. There are programs underway to bring more young adults to the region during peak tourist season. An organization called One Spirit helps young Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota come to Cook County to work. The program pairs seasonal employers with young people from Pine Ridge, in an effort to help the local worker shortage and provide employment opportunities. Last year, about a dozen young Lakota did seasonal work in the county through the program.

Drost is working to bring more young people here through the program, although finding funding sources can be difficult at times because the program crosses state lines.

“This is a big challenge in a rural tourism community,” Drost said of finding workers. “A lot of the solutions to the worker shortage vary by job. It takes a lot of ingenuity.”

As the shortage persists, Drost said local businesses have found creative ways to get by. She said some employees work in multiple roles, and many businesses have adjusted their hours to accommodate.

Changes in the EDA

A large initiative the EDA has undertaken in the last year is the creation of the Cook County Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA), which will focus on housing support in the region. The authority was launched last October, and they are trying to find a director to run it.

Moody said the new organization will allow the EDA to move away from housing and focus more on economic development. It’s been difficult to solely focus on business development because available, accessible housing is needed for businesses and workers to come to the county.

Drost said the work of the HRA will often be parallel to what the EDA is up to.

The board of commissioners is made up of seven volunteers, and the Grand Marais
representative spot is currently open. Moody said filling the spot is a priority because they are able to have more perspectives at the table and are able to do more with more help. He encourages any Grand Marais resident interested to attend a meeting and learn more about the work.

“It’s a good way to get involved and stay informed on what’s happening,” he said.

To learn more about the Cook County/Grand Marais Joint EDA and see updates on their projects, follow this link to their website.
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