Chamber honors local businesses


May 5, 2023

Contributed photo

J3 Insurance was named Small Business of the Year by the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce at the annual meeting and Banquet April 27.

The Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce honored two of its members as businesses of the year at its 70th annual meeting and banquet last week, and paid special attention to two local industries that are reaching major milestones this year.

The Cloquet Sappi mill is celebrating 125 years of manufacturing at its site along the St. Louis River in Cloquet, while USG Interiors will mark 100 years of manufacturing in the historic West End of Cloquet. While both businesses have changed owners and products over the past century, they have served as local manufacturing cornerstones throughout that time.

The Wood Conversion Company was the first business on the current USG site, and produced insulation (Balsam-Wool) and a type of wood fiberboard (Nu-Wood) out of the second-growth timber that flourished across the area after the 1918 Fires. Over time, the Wood Conversion Company became Conwed, then USG, the United States Gypsum Company. USG doubled the size of the manufacturing facility here, said plant manager Jenna Leger, who told Chamber members the Cloquet mill is now the largest production facility for USG ceiling tiles in North America.

"Some of the products that are made here are the only place they're made in USG," Leger said.

Before Sappi, there was Potlatch, and before Potlatch there was the Northwest Paper Company, and the mill has gone from making paper to a "diversified forest products" company. The Cloquet Sappi mill is the third-largest exporter in the state and 70th by volume in the country.

Contributed photo

Cloquet Sappi mill manager Tom Radovich addresses the crowd at the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and banquet Thursday. Sappi is celebrating 125 years of being part of the Cloquet wood products industries this year.

"We want to spend the year telling the Sappi story," said mill manager Tom Radovich, noting that the company will be offering tours of the mill to community members later this year.

J3 Insurance was honored as the small business of the year, while Northwoods Credit Union was awarded the prize for large business of the year. Chamber president Kelly Zink praised both businesses for the many ways they are involved with the local business group, and noted that both (coincidentally, she wondered?) served popcorn at the Chamber's recent home, sport and business show.

Northwoods president/CEO Doug Wolf pointed out that the history of Northwoods is intertwined with that of the paper mill, as Northwoods began as the Northwest Paper Employees Credit Union, then became the Potlatch credit union before eventually transitioning into Northwoods.

J3 Insurance principal/sales agent Joe Beaupre thanked Jason and Jeff McCaffrey for throwing him on their backs back in 2014 when the business started.


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