“Cascading dilemmas over the past year have illuminated the ingenuity, commitment, creativity, resourcefulness and drive that defines the beauty and uniqueness of rural places and people,” said Tuleah Palmer, president and CEO for Blandin Foundation. “The spirit of philanthropy and entrepreneurism in the Itasca area is paramount and extraordinary and we are deeply aware of the moment’s opportunity to be good stewards of the Trust of Charles K. Blandin, who beloved hard work and harmony.”
Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has met the multiple crises of the past year serving area businesses large and small. Over the past 12 months, IEDC business support activities have more than quadrupled and the number of business loans processed grew by 500 percent. With the livelihood of area workers in mind, IEDC and Blandin Foundation partnered to create and launch the $800,000 COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund in just 17 days, funds available well ahead of federal and state programs. Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation joined in, too, and 53 small businesses in 17 industries throughout the county have put loans toward the needs of these leaders.
Itasca Economic Development Corporation will be growing to further reach out and meet business owners and their needs now and into the future. Facilitating hard conversations that address tax base lost through the future Boswell Energy Center closure is among the forward-looking work IEDC will take on. Underlying economic challenges such as a ready workforce, childcare and economic diversification also are on the docket for IEDC looking forward. A $750,000 Blandin Foundation grant will assist their expanded work.
“IEDC has met this moment head-on,” said Palmer. “The Itasca area already was facing transition before COVID hit. With the impending closure of Minnesota Power’s facility in Cohasset, we know it is a critical moment. Catalytic investments and innovative solutions, such as those IEDC is poised to bring to our region, are critical. Blandin Foundation is working to make sure the hard work of IEDC and others working to stabilize and ready our communities for change is supported and we are grateful to our small business owners who have stayed the course, despite so many obstacles.”
Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids and Greenway remained open during this year with Youth Development Professionals ensuring that children had access to safe and positive programming during unprecedented challenges. Recognizing these frontline workers, strong support among local donors and families, Blandin Foundation trustees voted this month to continue its support of Club operations with a $308,000 grant. “Insuring safe and positive places are available for children when school is not, and when parents are working evening shifts, is a critical component of our future,” said Palmer.
Other local grantees awarded funding in March for their work on behalf of residents and communities are: Ball Club Local Indian Council, Boys and Girls Clubs, ElderCircle, Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation for the Community Sharing Fund, Deer River School District, local school districts, Itasca County Housing/Redevelopment Authority, KOOTASCA Community Action, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, MacRostie Art Center and United Way of 1,000 Lakes. Details of all Blandin Foundation grants and programs may be found at www.blandinfoundation.org/grants.
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Photo, top of page: Ron Maki, owner of the Locker Room Bar & Grill in Coleraine, took out a loan from the IEDC Small Business Relief Loan Fund to assist with the impacts of COVID-19 on his business. Read his story below.