The Ranger - Feb. 3

department of iron range resources and rehabilitation

The Ranger 

Feb. 3, 2021

New environmental lab diversifies Iron Range economy

RMB Environmental Laboratories

Minnesota-based RMB Environmental Laboratories opened a new branch in Hibbing’s North Industrial Park, creating its third location in the state. The full-service organic analytical testing laboratory is located in a 31,000-square-foot facility owned by the city of Hibbing. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation provided financing to the city to acquire the building that was formerly a manufacturing business and has been vacant since 2015.

RMB entered into a long-term lease to occupy over half of the building. Another portion of the building is occupied by Advanced Machine Guarding Solutions.

RMB provides a wide array of environmental services to the public and private sectors including state-certified analytical testing, on-site monitoring and sample collection, taxonomy, courier services, and project and data management. RMB’s other Minnesota facilities are in Bloomington and Detroit Lakes.

RMB Environmental Laboratories

RMB employs 61 people across its three locations. The Hibbing location created nine new professional jobs with plans to add more as the market demands. The positions range in annual salaries of $30,000 to over $100,000 and include professional science careers. The lab’s emphasis is on organic analysis which introduces a new service performed on the Iron Range. About 70% of the lab’s work will be for clients located outside of the immediate region, including the tri-state area of Minnesota, North and South Dakota.

RMB is privately owned by Robert Borash and Zach Lamppa. Borash grew up in the Brainerd area and earned an Environmental Studies degree from Bemidji State University. His first job upon college graduation was as an entry level analyst and dishwasher at a laboratory, and from there he worked his way upward before founding RMB in 1995. Lamppa was born in Virginia, Minnesota. He and his family relocated to the Twin Cities in the early 1990s for employment opportunities. Lamppa has an entrepreneurial background with an emphasis on business startups in the pipeline industry. He transferred those skills to the analytical water testing market and joined the RMB company ownership in 2017.

“In addition to servicing local businesses and municipalities, RMB is also doing business with Fortune 500 companies on the Iron Range,” said Lamppa. “We are pleased to keep money local and grow the economy and workforce in northeastern Minnesota, a region that is very special to me personally.”

RMB Environmental Laboratories

The owners explained that there is an opportunity for growth and change within the environmental monitoring industry. They are applying their collective entrepreneurialism and knowledge of water and soil quality testing to establish RMB’s market position in the tri-state region.

“We are very grateful for the financial assistance that Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation gave to the city of Hibbing. The building design, layout and loading dock are ideal for our type of laboratory work,” said Borash. “Our company is using state-of-the-art technology to serve our clients and help them understand the water and soil data. We look forward to growth in the market and building a strong team in Hibbing.”

Learn more about RMB.

New and existing businesses within the agency’s service area may be eligible candidates for financial assistance packages to help with buildings, equipment, infrastructure, site work and workforce development. Email Scott Sundvall or call him at 218-735-3015 for more information.

Taconite Area Community Relief grant assists 10 businesses in Itasca County

Tavern on the Range

Itasca County was one of 12 northeastern Minnesota communities that received a Taconite Area Community Relief grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) received a $200,000 grant and combined it with $37,500 of its own money and $12,500 from city of Cohasset to create a lending pool of $250,000. IEDC to date has provided $165,000 in loans to 10 businesses negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The loans combined impacted 89 jobs. Additional loans with the remaining $85,000 could be provided to other Itasca businesses in the coming weeks.

The 10 businesses received zero-interest loans up to $25,000 with a ten-year term beginning after a six-month deferment period. The loans were designed to maximize the business’ cash flow.

Itasca Economic Development Corporation

“IEDC was determined to prevent permanent closure of our region’s businesses during and after the shelter-in-place,” said Tamara Lowney, IEDC president. “We implemented a two-week timeframe from the date of the application to distribution of funds. We deployed the funds as quickly as possible, and we also hosted virtual calls and one-on-one assistance that helped businesses access the other state and federal relief funding.”

IEDC administered the loans through its Itasca Small Business Relief Fund Loan program (ISBRF), which was formed in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, IEDC dedicated $300,000 from its existing funds and received $500,000 from Blandin Foundation. Thirty-nine pandemic-distressed businesses received loans that impacted 324 workers, and the fund was depleted. The Taconite Area Community Relief grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation provided the funding needed to recapitalize ISBRF and launch a second phase of business assistance.

Tavern on the Range Meal

Tavern on the Range in Bovey was one of the businesses that received a COVID Relief loan in the second phase. Kat Bjork became the owner of Tavern on the Range (formerly Mike’s Bar) on March 24, and the statewide shelter-in-place began two days later on March 26, 2020. Bjork had spent most of her adult life in the hospitality industry and fulfilled a lifelong goal of owning her own restaurant and bar. She and her family relocated from Duluth to Bovey to operate her new business. She previously spent time camping and fishing on nearby lakes and was very familiar with the Itasca area.

Bjork spent the next three months deep cleaning the interior. The kitchen had not been operable since 1982, and she converted it back into a fully functioning full-service commercial kitchen with new equipment. She re-opened on June 1 with curbside pick-up only. By June 18 she offered inside dining at 25% capacity. The restaurant and bar is currently open daily noon to 10 p.m. at 50% capacity. Tavern on the Range offers a bar, Italian supper club dining, her family’s famous Villa Capri Pizzas, indoor seating, takeout, delivery, a game room and weekly live entertainment. The restaurant is also available as a rental venue for weddings, private family and work parties, and other special occasions.

Tavern on the Range Interior

“Opening a business during a pandemic has been one of my family’s greatest struggles, but we are determined to make it work. The community response since we opened has been very positive,” said Bjork. “The loan from IEDC helped me offset some of my expenses at a time when revenues have been heavily impacted by the limited capacity and reduced hours of operation associated with the restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In addition to her and her family operating the business, she employs a fulltime cook and a dishwasher. Learn more about Tavern on the Range, its menu and offerings by visiting their website or Facebook page.

Taconite Area Community Relief grant logo

“The Taconite Area Community Relief program enabled IEDC to provide relief to its local businesses in a quick, efficient manner as they best saw fit,” said Commissioner Mark Phillips of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. “Our agency structured the community lending program so that IEDC can retain the loan repayments for future economic development purposes. We are committed to helping local communities and their businesses persevere through the COVID-19 challenge.”

Learn more about Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation COVID Relief programs.

Grand Rapids uses video mapping to boost tourism

Grand Rapids Video Mapping

Seven local organizations together created an interactive video mapping project that highlights 25 public art and 25 historic locations in the Grand Rapids area. New interactive mapping technology and digital display ads were used to target specific audiences and attract visitors to the region. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the project with a Culture & Tourism grant to Visit Grand Rapids.

The project was led by Visit Grand Rapids (VGR), the Grand Rapids area destination marketing organization. Other partners included Grand Rapids Arts & Culture Commission, Blandin Foundation, Grand Rapids Art, MacRostie Art Center, Reif Arts Council and Itasca County Historical Society.

Grand Rapids Video Mapping

The self-guided video tours of the 50 locations are located on a public Google map with digital ads that link to the Google search engine and various social media platforms.

“Art and history are two amenities that add to the overall vacation experience,” said Megan Christianson, VGR executive director. “Spending the day walking, biking or driving to the art and historic attractions, using the interactive map on a mobile device, is a great complement to the outdoor recreation, lakes and resorts that traditionally draw visitors to northeastern Minnesota.”

Edge of the Wilderness Logo

A printed version of the art and history map will be available at kiosks located throughout downtown Grand Rapids. The printed maps are designed to enhance the city’s walking and biking routes by showcasing interesting locations located along the routes.

“The free interactive tour, videos and printed maps encourage people to explore our community and make more stops along the way at our restaurants and retail outlets,” said Christianson. “Our goal is two-fold, to increase tourism visits and to benefit local residents because art and history make a community a great place to live, work and play.”

Grand Rapids Video Mapping

View the interactive Google map.

Seven videos were created as part of the mapping project:

For Culture & Tourism grant information email Danae Beaudette or call her at 218-735-3022.

Grant opportunity to strengthen northeastern Minnesota

MacRostie Art Center

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation invests resources to foster vibrant growth and economic prosperity in northeastern Minnesota. The Culture & Tourism grant will accept applications March 1-31, 2021. The grant assists nonprofits by supporting strong arts, culture, heritage and recreational activities that enhance the quality of life and economy.

Past project examples include:

  • Splash pad in two community parks: Hibbing, Deerwood.
  • Veteran’s history project: Itasca County.
  • Wheel park: Ely.
  • Native American cultural programming at sled dog marathon: Grand Marais/North Shore.
  • Capital improvements to Finnish homestead museum: Embarrass.

Full applications should be submitted with all required documentation no later than March 31 in order to be considered for a grant. Learn more about the Culture & Tourism grant guidelines. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation funds its grants programs through taxes paid by Minnesota’s mining industry.

Pictured: MacRostie Art Center used a Culture & Tourism grant last year to update the flooring, lighting and fixtures of its Art Shop to elevate it as the focal point of the facility. The renovated gallery space which features the work of local and regional artists is now a prominent retail storefront that can attract tourists and other visitors.

Share your voice in northeastern Minnesota’s economic development strategy

Map of Minnesota

All people living and working in the seven counties of northeastern Minnesota are invited to participate in community engagement sessions related to the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). The seven counties include: Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis.

The sessions are hosted by Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC), Arrowhead Growth Alliance (AGA) and other regional partners. The sessions are designed to:

  • Seek a unified economic development vision.
  • Create more prosperous, resilient, diversified and inclusive economies and communities.

Completion of an updated CEDS every five years is critical for the region’s ability to secure federal funding through agencies such as the Economic Development Administration and provides a comprehensive vision for regional cooperation on a variety of initiatives. Recent regional efforts include recovery strategies after mass layoffs in Koochiching and Itasca Counties, an infrastructure grant on the Grand Portage Reservation, funding for an incubator building in Cohasset, and numerous applications in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Share Your Voice Graphic

Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) are encouraged to attend. Hearing from all people living and working in the region will strengthen the process and result in a stronger strategy. The engagement process will take place now through March 2021, and the sessions will be led by Northspan President & CEO Elissa Hansen. 

People must register in advance to attend. Registration is open now at Registrants will receive a brief pre-session survey that will help the facilitators frame the discussion by gathering ideas on how to move the region toward its vision. 

The Ranger is a publication of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. Our mission is to invest resources to foster vibrant growth and economic prosperity in northeastern Minnesota.