EDA hires Theresa Bajda as the new executive director
Theresa Bajda

EDA hires Theresa Bajda as the new executive director

Since the search for an executive director began in May, the Grand Marais/Cook County Economic Development Authority (EDA) has received seven applications for the vacant executive director position. Two of the seven applicants were current Cook County residents. 

After completing the first round of interviews on July 7, The EDA Director Search Committee, which consists of three EDA board members, Dave Mills, Myron Bursheim, and Steve Surbaugh, and two HRA individuals, Jason Hale, the executive director of the HRA, and Mary Somnis, chair of the HRA narrowed down the candidates to two individuals. The second round of interviews took place on July 21. 

By July 28, the EDA held a special meeting and chose to hire Theresa Bajda, based in Duluth. Bajda has experience working within the parks and recreation division for the city of Duluth and, more recently, in the planning and economic development department. Her professional experience involves working with the housing redevelopment authority (HRA), working with local nonprofits to provide affordable and supportive housing, and fueling economic development in Duluth. 

She has visited Cook County numerous times and enjoyed trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) since an early age. “More recently, I like to do my exploring up there, whether it’s hiking with my dog or foraging for mushrooms,” Bajda said. “I grew up doing that with my grandparents.”

After learning about the EDA executive director position, Bajda said she was excited about the opportunity to move to Cook County to have closer access to outdoor recreation. Following the EDA hiring process, she said, “I’m very humbled by how active and motivated the EDA board is, and then the community and stakeholders in Cook County.”

“It’s exciting to have this opportunity to get acclimated and to build sort of these important partnerships,” she said. “I think it really takes a team, and in Cook County, it feels like the team is there and the community is behind it, working towards smart growth and success.”

Bajda is in the onboarding phase and will officially begin as the new EDA executive director on Sept. 5. 

Pat Campanaro, who has served as the interim executive director for the past six months since the resignation of Beth Drost in Jan., said, “I’m excited that Theresa is here. I’m going to be a big supporter of her as she transitions in.”

While Bajda has yet to secure housing in Cook County, she is working with members of the EDA board to find a place to live before her Sept. 5 start date. Campanaro said anyone with a housing opportunity for Bajda is encouraged to contact Steve Surbaugh or herself. 

As Bajda settles into the new position and acclimates with the EDA board, she said she is eager to build trust and relationships within the community. “Where can we collaborate and stay organized so that we’re all working thoughtfully on a path forward.” Some focus areas will be childcare, affordable housing, and continued business development. 

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Theresa Bajda, the newly hired EDA executive director, and Pat Campanaro, the interim executive director. Audio from the interview is below.