EDA welcomes new president and plans for the future

EDA welcomes new president and plans for the future

The new year has brought numerous changes to the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA).

In addition to the recent resignation of the Executive Director, Beth Drost, the EDA has experienced an influx of new board members in the past month. 

The EDA recently welcomed Mark Shackleton, Myron Bursheim, Grand Marais Mayor Tracy Benson, and Cook County Commissioner David Mills to the board. The new EDA members replaced Scott Harrison, Anton Moody, and Commissioner Ann Sullivan. 

Howard Hedstrom has also stepped down as president of the EDA. He will remain on the board as vice president until his term expires at the end of the year. He is not seeking reappointment. 

Steve Surbaugh, who joined the EDA in April, has now stepped into the president position, replacing Hedstrom. 

Surbaugh said, “We’ve got a lot of new faces on the board, which is bringing new energy, which I’m very excited about.”

“I think it’s a great time for us to take a hard look at everything the EDA is doing right now. And make sure that all of that stuff is happening in the way that it should,” Surbaugh said. 

He added, “Basically, get our house in order. And then look to the future and think about what our priorities are going down the road a year, three years, ten years into the future.”

With the recent changes, most significantly the loss of an executive director, various EDA members brainstormed the notion of merging the entity with the Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

“It’s a moment where we can take another look at whether or not it makes sense to have things under one roof,” Surbaugh said. 

During the formation of the HRA, officials and community members discussed whether or not to merge with the EDA. Ultimately, it was decided to keep the two entities separate. However, Surbaugh said it’s time to rethink that concept. “If the EDA can combine with the HRA and stay focused on housing, then I think we can have more people and more efforts in that direction.”

During the Jan. 17 EDA meeting, the board passed a resolution authorizing the EDA to explore the possibility of merging with the HRA. Included within the resolution was the approval to spend $3000 to conduct the necessary research and seek legal counsel. Surbaugh, Mary Somnis, the board chair of the HRA, and Jason Hale, the executive director of the HRA, are conducting the research. 

Surbaugh said they are assessing the potential merger’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. “At this point, we’re just studying and listening.”

The next step is to have the EDA and HRA boards get together and have an in-depth discussion. In the meantime, Surbaugh said they are interested in hearing from community members.

Surbaugh said the EDA is aware of community concern that the merger could distract from the current momentum to secure housing projects in Cook County. “I don’t want any of us to take our eye off the ball when it comes to housing,” he said. “It’s crucially important for our community.”

The EDA and HRA boards will meet on Thursday, Feb. 2, from 3-4:30 p.m. at the Grand Marais City Council Chambers. The meeting is open to the public. The intent of the meeting is for the two boards to have their first conversation to determine a path forward. 

EDA & Golf Course Financials

The EDA has experienced challenges regarding delayed or inaccurate financial reports. The EDA recently switched bookkeepers after the retirement of its longtime bookkeeper. In addition, former EDA treasurer Scott Harrison did not seek reappointment in Dec. Mark Shackleton has now replaced Harrison. 

“To have financials that are not current and still have some questions around them is not a good thing. And it has to be solved in an expeditious manner,” Surbaugh said. 

However, Surbaugh said the situation has improved with a new bookkeeper and treasurer. “I think we’re on the other side, or almost on the other side now.”

“We’re moving in the direction of not having any line items on the financials that are not completely accurate or mysterious,” he said. “I would expect by the next board meeting that everything is where it should be.”

Cedar Grove Business Park

The EDA is actively fielding offers for the few remaining lots at the Cedar Grove Business Park. The EDA received an offer from Molly Larson of Sweetwater Design Co. to purchase Lot 1, Block 1, and Lot 2, Block 1, to build a small office building. Larson offered $12,500 for both parcels. During the meeting, the EDA decided to table the offer until contingencies were established in the language for the site’s development. 

Even though the EDA has been selling lots for many years, Surbaugh said selling and buying a lot in the business park is “a confusing process.” 

“It is not a simple transaction to buy in the business park,” he added. Not only are there stormwater responsibilities and vegetative screening, but lot owners must abide by setback requirements. During recent meetings, the EDA has discussed the difficulties and challenges of selling business park lots. “It has been difficult for the person running the EDA to do everything that needs to happen for that transaction,” Surbaugh said. “And so I think there’s a fair amount of room for improvement.”

He said the EDA would focus on establishing a linear checklist for future business park lot purchasers. “It would have been better and easier for everyone if this had been figured out on the front end.” However, he said, “I think everybody was doing the best that they possibly could do.”

As the EDA nears the end of selling lots at the business park, Surbaugh said it’s time to start thinking about the future. He wants the EDA board to envision the next ten years. 

But before the EDA can start planning for the future, Surbaugh said there are some things within the EDA that need some work. “I view 2023 as the year of the EDA, just getting their house in order.” 

Surbaugh wants to resolve issues at Superior National Golf Course, finalize a clear strategy and process for the remaining lots at the business park, and discuss the recent childcare grant from the state. 

“It’s going to be a year of just working to make sure that things are efficient and we’re doing the things that we need to do. And we’re getting things organized and straightened up. I just hope that folks will be patient with us. It’ll be a learning experience for us this year,” Surbaugh said. 

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Surbaugh following the Jan. 17 EDA meeting. Audio from the interview is below.