Many people think of a chamber of commerce as a social club for business owners. That is one role we play, but we also host leadership trainings, celebrate business leaders, nurture small businesses and act as a public policy voice for businesses. Right now, our area businesses need our voice.

One of our Laurentian Chamber board members, State Representative Dave Lislegard, arranged for Chamber members Patrick and Alisa Horan of the Sawmill Saloon & Restaurant and former Virginia mayor Steve Peterson to testify to the House Select Committee on Minnesota’s Pandemic Response and Rebuilding to tell their story and urge the governor to reopen Minnesota. The governor responded later that day by turning the dial to loosen restrictions on businesses including allowing restaurants and salons to open indoor seating at 50% capacity. This was a huge win for our area businesses, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Small businesses were disproportionately impacted by the stay-at-home executive order issued on March 13. These small businesses are the economic fuel of our community’s future. Nearly half of Minnesotans own or work for a small business and create two out of three new jobs each year. Currently, Minnesota’s small businesses continue to operate at only a portion of their total capacity, leaving workers waiting for a full return to employment. Now is the time to act to help save our area’s small businesses.

We officially joined more than 50 other local chambers and trade associations to create the Minnesota Ready campaign to urge Governor Walz to fully and safely reopen small businesses across Minnesota by June 19. This gives small business two weeks to ramp up their operations before the critical 4th of July holiday and provides them with a date they know they can fully reopen so they can properly plan to bring back staff and buy the supplies they need.

In our area we’ve been through the fishing opener and Memorial Day weekend. We haven’t seen any spike in virus activity, in fact we’ve seen it decline. As of Tuesday, St. Louis County has only reported one new case of COVID-19 in the past 10 days. Only three people are hospitalized with COVID symptoms countywide, and none of those are in the ICU. Iron Rangers have done their part. We stayed inside and slowed the spread. We allowed our medical centers to build capacity. We allowed time for our testing capacity to dramatically increase.

Our area business owners care about their customers. They care about their communities. They will behave responsibly. It is time to allow them to open.

Please partner with us in our efforts to reopen our area businesses. Call or email Governor Walz and tell him its time to open the Iron Range. Thank Representative Dave Lislegard for all he’s done on this issue and let him know you support his efforts. It is time to reopen the Iron Range. As a chamber we’ve taken a stand. I hope you will stand with us.

Erik Holmstrom is the President & CEO of the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce.

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