Itasca Economic Development Corporation, City of Cohasset pool funds to impact 89 jobs
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.
“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 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.
“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.
“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 by visiting https://mn.gov/irrrb/covid19-relief/