Serving the citizens of Koochiching County and the cities of Bigfalls, International Falls, Littlefork, Northome, Ranier and surrounding region.
Serving the citizens of Koochiching County and the cities of Bigfalls, International Falls, Littlefork, Northome, Ranier and surrounding region.

About

On May 2, 2013...

Boise Inc. announced it would terminate 265 jobs at its International Falls paper mill by October 2013. A local committee immediately went to work organizing a strategic response inviting local, state and federal elected officials, community leaders, and regional and local economic development folks to form a coordinated response effort. The mission: to leverage all available resources to help individuals and businesses impacted by this decision and to formulate a long-term vision and strategy for economic viability.

Organizational Framework and Members

A four member Economic Response Team of elected government leaders from the City of International Falls and Koochiching County was formed and an open invitation broadly shared to invite other community leaders to step up and become members of three working teams focused on affected dislocated workers, affected businesses and new business development, and the preparation of a shared vision and long term strategy for economic diversification.  A fourth working team focused on communication was also formed later after these major teams were established and working on the response.  The Northspan Group Inc. a private non-profit regional consulting organization with extensive experience in dealing with similar dislocation events in Northeast Minnesota was engaged to further organize and facilitate a coordinated response under the direction and leadership of International Falls/Koochiching County Economic Response Team (ERT).

Organizational Framework and Members

An economic dislocation of this magnitude in any rural area requires committed and sustained leadership, resources, community engagement and action to be responsive and make a significant difference.  The following are ways the ERT has been leveraging political capital and local, regional, state and federal resources as the response begins to unfold.

  • The State of Minnesota brought its Rapid Response Team and a grant of $750,000 to the area to support reemployment assistance and training for dislocated workers through the Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training and the Workforce Center in International Falls.
  • Congressman Nolan and congressional staff from Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken’s offices along with State Senator Bakk and other state agency staff attended a meeting in June to lend their support and assistance.
  • Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance was applied for and approved to supplement dislocated workers assistance resources.
  • Northspan was engaged by the City of International Falls and Koochiching County to organize and facilitate a coordinated area response with the immediate organization of the three working teams and development of their missions and work plans for action.
  • A plan of action was developed by all of the working teams in July and August that has served as the scope of the overall response effort for which local and other funding is being committed and leveraged, and other resources sought.
  • The Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) with assistance by Northspan and the ERT prepared and submitted a major request for federal Economic Development Administration – Economic Adjustment Planning Assistance with matching grant funding.  The total project cost was $555,000 to support a 12-18 month response effort by the ERT and its working teams.  That request was provided in early September with the review process delayed due the federal government shutdown on October 1st.  A total of $475,000 has now been committed with EDA authorizing $200,000 in federal assistance and matching local funding of $275,000 committed from the City of International Falls and Koochiching County in December.  Major work began on May 1st and is underway.
  • The Governor and the Commissioner of the Mn Department of Employment and Economic Development met with the ERT and community leaders in October offering their support and assistance going forward.
  • Mn Public Radio conducted several area visits, shared stories and in November 2013 held several rounds of interviews and coffee shop discussions with ERT members and others in the community broadcasting statewide the challenges and actions being taken to respond to this situation.
  • ERT Working Teams have met jointly and have been meeting almost monthly; with the Worker Retention and Assistance Team being the most active with state and federal dollars in place since the summer of 2013.  With additional funding now in place, all of the teams have become very active meeting monthly or more to move ahead with the plan of action approved locally and by the federal Economic Development Administration.
  • September 25th will be a major area wide community meeting and  “Call to Action” to begin working on an economic development diversification strategy for Koochiching County and surrounding regional economic impact area.  Members of this broad community are being asked to join the response effort as engaged community “Stewards” guiding and driving a new diversification strategy under the direction of our Long Term Vision and Strategy Team.  We are also calling on the community at large to get involved in determining a future vision and direction for the area, building on our strengths and competitive advantages.  We have a lot to offer and want to develop and sustain living wage jobs and new opportunities.
  • A Request for Proposals to engage professional business development targeting, talent development and supply and logistical consultants was released on September 5th to hire and have in place a consultant or consultant team to work with us on the diversification strategy development by November 1st.  ARDC is conducting this process with assistance by our supporting teams.
  • A Request for Proposal to engage a professional consultant to prepare a retail trade market area gaps and analysis will be released on September 12th with the intent to hire a qualified firm by November 1st.  ARDC is conducting this process with assistance by our supporting teams.
  • Work is underway to provide direct assistance to businesses and entrepreneurs interested in starting a business with resources to help support their needs.  This work is being led by the Small Business Development Center with support by KEDA and the Entrepreneur Fund.
  • Work is continuing to support the workers dislocated by Boise and Northland Tackle and other recent changes occurring.  With federal dollars, the team and the Workforce Development Center staff has been able to meet with affected workers, assist them in job searching, career counseling, placement for training for up to two years, and are keeping track of the status of this talent pool of individuals.  They are looking for jobs now, being trained, some have retired or are working outside of the area with their families remaining in the area.  Boise has hired a few people back on a permanent basis and hired back some dislocated workers on a temporary basis but this amount to 20 workers or less.  Job fairs and targeted assistance has been provided throughout the last 12 months to assist these workers and families in need.
  • A lot more is happening. Please cruise the web site and see what our teams and this initiative have to offer and help us with this mission.