The Ranger - Jan. 20

department of iron range resources and rehabilitation

The Ranger 

Jan. 20, 2022

Wastewater treatment improvements made in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids Public Utilities Logo

New wastewater treatment infrastructure was installed in 2021 by Grand Rapids Public Utilities (GRPU) that oxygenates the industrial effluent to help mitigate the odors generated from the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). The SuperOxygenation system significantly reduces odor issues and improves water quality by eliminating discharge of residual chemicals into the Mississippi River. The project improves the quality of life in GRPU’s service area which includes the cities and outlying areas of Grand Rapids, LaPrairie and Cohasset and a total of around 12,000 people. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the project with a $300,000 Development Infrastructure grant to the city of Grand Rapids. Total project investment was $810,000.

Grand Rapids Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure

GRPU’s largest industrial wastewater customer is UPM Blandin Paper Company, which employs about 230 people. The volume of effluent from Blandin’s manufacturing process has decreased in recent years due to both continuous technological developments and through the elimination of their less efficient paper machines. The effluent reduction caused the travel time in the pipe system leading to the WWTP to be more than two hours, which allowed bacteria to break down and cause foul gases.

Prior to the new infrastructure, GRPU used costly chemical additives of calcium nitrate, hydrogen peroxide and zinc to combat the foul gases. These chemicals were costly, dangerous to employees and only partially effective at keeping odors low. The new SuperOxygenation system eliminates most of the need to use chemicals to treat odors by introducing dissolved oxygen into the waste stream which prevents the formation of odor-causing hydrogen sulfide.

Grand Rapids Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure

The new infrastructure will significantly reduce GRPU’s industrial WWTP operations and maintenance costs, which are passed on to Blandin through wastewater treatment rates.

Blandin was established in 1901 in Grand Rapids and has been a principal contributor to the economy of northeastern Minnesota. In addition to its 230 employees, Blandin indirectly supports another 250 jobs in Itasca County and generated over $1.7 million in local property taxes in 2019. In 2018 and 2019 UPM invested millions of dollars into mill upgrades and hired over 25 new workers. Source: UMD Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Economic Impact of UPM Blandin on Itasca County.

Grand Rapids Wastewater Treatment Technology

“The project has both environmental and economic impacts,” said Steve Mattson, GRPU water/wastewater manager. “It improves the air and water quality for our residents. It also reduces Blandin’s operational costs and helps UPM remain viable and competitive. For over 100 years Blandin has been an enduring business partner that is critical to Itasca County, and we want to keep that relationship strong.”

Other infrastructure funding partners included the city of Grand Rapids, GRPUC, UPM Blandin, Blandin Foundation and Itasca Economic Development Corporation. For Development Infrastructure grant information email Chris Ismil or call him at 218-735-3010.

Close Bunk used business planning services for successful product launch

Doggy Bunk Bed

Close Bunk, a Tower-based Made in America business launched its patent-pending product to the open market in Fall 2021. Owner and product developer Patti Stoddard utilized the Northland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to help fill technical gaps in the process of introducing her Doggy Bunk Bed product online and in retail stores. SBDC assisted Patti with financial perspectives, marketing and selecting an online shipping system.

“When I began developing my business and product, a friend recommended I contact Vicki Hagberg of Northland SBDC to help me with financial perspectives and determine if it was profitable. Vicki ran the numbers with me and agreed it was a successful business model,” said Patti. “She also introduced me to SBDC associates Molly Solberg who helped me with marketing and Don Bremer who helped me select a shipping service to deliver the bunk beds to customers. There was no charge for any of their services. For an entrepreneur in the start-up phase, free services like that are invaluable.”

Hagberg is an SBDC regional consultant and provides technical support to local businesses (existing and startups) such as business plan development, feasibility and financial analysis, market research, advertising and sales, loan packaging, strategic planning, accounting systems and e-commerce. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation provided a Development Partnership grant to Northland Foundation to support SBDC representatives located in northeastern Minnesota.

Doggy Bunk Bed

The Doggy Bunk Bed arose out of Stoddard’s desire three years ago to invent something that improved sleeping arrangements with her dogs in her bed and enable her and her husband to get a better night’s sleep. After several prototypes, the final product is an elevated bunk bed that attaches to the end of the owner’s bed and allows space for the owner’ full leg extension. The bunk is capable of holding very large dogs and is sturdy with dogs jumping on and off of it.

“We have two English springer spaniels and love and enjoy them. Our dogs are part of the family and always have been,” said Patti. “However, they hog the bed and give off an abundance of heat at the expense of our sleep quality. Our dogs, Chase and Ruby, took to the Doggy Bunk Bed right away and sleep through the night in it. My husband and I, and all of our customers, now sleep through the night, too.”

The Made In America bed frames are manufactured in Minnesota by Ritz Machine in Cambridge and Carsten’s Fiberglass in Melrose. The Doggy Bunk Bed comes in two sizes, holds up to 190 pounds and is adjustable for bed height and width. The mattresses and mattress covers are made in a variety of colors and prints by four local seamstresses: Laurie Gunderson of Cherry Stitches, Shirley Burritt of Mountain Iron, and Connie Mannes of Sewing by Connie and Dana Theisen, both of Hibbing.

Doggy Bunk Bed

Close Bunk offers free delivery and optional set-up for customers across the Iron Range, Duluth and the Twin Cities. Couples and singles are buying them for their homes and cabins, and some customers are buying them for their service dogs. The Doggy Bunk Bed may be ordered online at, bought at Pet Stuff in Minnetonka, and is on display at the Rupp Furniture Showroom in Chisholm. Stoddard is pleased with the success of the product launch and has new items in development including matching bed spreads for owners, Senior Bunk for older dogs that can't jump up on the bed and Kitty Bunk for cats.

“If a customer assembles the Doggy Bunk Bed, uses it according to directions and doesn’t get a better night’s sleep or doesn’t enjoy their bed space more, we will come and get it and give them a refund,” said Patti.

Patti was raised in Tower-Soudan, and Pete was raised in Minnetonka. They both graduated from Tower-Soudan High School and then resided in Hibbing for 27 years before returning to Tower. Patti was a music teacher in Hibbing Public School District. She is now a real estate agent in addition to her new business enterprise. Peter was an instructor at Hibbing Community College, owned an appliance repair company and now operates the family business with Patti and their daughter Rachel.

Photo below courtesy of Leedrick Studios.

Doggy Bunk Bed

For no-cost SBDC business consulting services visit, email Vicki Hagberg or call her at 218-228-8552, ext. 103.

Learn more about Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation’s Development Partnership grant.

Stoddard won the RINK Pitch Competition, created by Itasca Economic Development Corporation’s Launch MN group, Innovate 218. The RINK was held last month in Duluth and is a catalyst connecting start-up funders, innovators and entrepreneurs to help bring business ideas from concept into reality. Five regional entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to a panel of judges for an opportunity to win $5,000 to assist with bringing their product or service to market.

Lutsen adds new entry sign to its community

Lutsen Entry Sign

Lutsen Township, located along Minnesota’s North Shore added a new entry sign to alert and welcome tourists to the businesses, shops and amenities in its community. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the project with a Downtown Streetscapes grant.

The new sign resembles those located at other neighboring towns along the North Shore Scenic Drive including Two Harbors, Beaver Bay and Grand Marais. Local artists Dave Woerheide and Greg Mueller designed the Lutsen sign. Clearing the property provided by Arrowhead Electric included a few residents and McMillan Tree Service. Lumber supplies were purchased from the local True Value, and a local excavator and landscaper were contracted for the installation.

“Many visitors do not realize that Lutsen is a town until they have driven past it,” said Sharon Hexum-Platzer, Lutsen Township clerk. “This is primarily due to lack of signage and the fact that businesses in the downtown area are not immediately visible from the highway due to a curve in Highway 61.”

The new sign is located on the lake side of Highway 61 west of the Lutsen downtown area. Vehicular traffic is now provided advance notice of the town, and guests may stop and shop at one of the many businesses including: Cascade Vacation Rental, Clearview General Store, Fika Coffee, 47 Degrees North Quilt Shop & Heavy Duty Window Treatments, Great Gifts, Jeweler of the North, Lockport Marketplace, Isak Hansen Hardware Store, Lutsen Liquor Store, North Lake Wellness, North Shore Federal Credit Union, Northland Sewing and Timberwolf Realty.

Email Whitney Ridlon or call her at 218-735-3004 for Downtown Streetscapes grant information. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation’s grants are funded through taxes paid by Minnesota’s mining industry.

Downtown Streetscapes grants for northeastern Minnesota

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation invests approximately $200,000 annually into Downtown Streetscapes grants across its 13,000 square-mile service area. The grants assist projects that incentivize investment in downtown areas by promoting safe and attractive environments for residents, shoppers, workers and visitors.

Ely Pocket Park

Ely was awarded a Downtown Streetscapes grant to develop a pocket park and community space on a vacant lot. The project entailed upgrading lighting, seating, landscaping, ADA sidewalks, a small stage for music events, a playground climbing feature and public WiFi. “The pocket park was part of a larger downtown beautification initiative that began in 2016 to complement ongoing storefront and building investments being made by Ely’s business owners.” – Ely Clerk-Treasurer & Operations Director Harold Langowski

Taconite Rock

Babbitt was awarded a Downtown Streetscapes grant to create an outdoor sitting area surrounding the iconic Taconite Rock amidst the downtown retail center. New amenities included pollinator and ornamental gardens, solar lights, benches, landscaping, new flags, a flat slate platform surrounding the enormous rock, and renovated sidewalks. “The enhancements to Taconite Rock tied the downtown area together and improved the resident experience. In addition, with our increase in tourism, the new public space has the potential to draw visitors into our downtown.” – Mayor Andrea Zupancich


GoNorthMN represents five rural Minnesota lake communities surrounding the city of Emily which is about 20 miles north of Crosby. The citizen group was awarded a Downtown Streetscapes grant to develop outdoor pedestrian areas throughout the communities. Each community customized their pedestrian area with elements ranging from informational kiosks, benches, bike racks, planters and flag poles. “The new outdoor areas enhance our region, downtown corridors and business districts. The areas are highly visible and inviting to locals, tourists and seasonal residents. The project created wonderful new quality of life assets in our communities.” – Jan Mosman and Kathryn Hachey of GoNorthMN

Downtown Streetscapes Icon

Grant amounts range up to $50,000 and require a 1:1 match. Nonprofits, cities, townships and tribal units of government including informal grassroots groups that partner with a nonprofit or city to act as a fiscal sponsor are eligible. Multi-organization collaboration is encouraged.

Examples of projects include pedestrian and bicycle pathways, landscaping, improvements to public spaces such as benches and picnic tables, walking paths and sidewalk renovations with information kiosks and signage and bicycle racks.

Does your community have a project that improves a downtown area or public space? Email Whitney Ridlon or call her at 218-735-3004 for Downtown Streetscapes grant information.

Learn more about Downtown Streetscapes grants.

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation funds Downtown Streetscapes grants through taxes paid by Minnesota’s mining industry.

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.