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UMD Helps Business Grow

Joel Labovitz and Elaine Hanson
May 20, 2020

One party, local businesses, a historic ice storm, and determination.

Elaine Hansen was working with a lot of ingredients when she cooked up her plan to make the 25th annual Joel Labovitz Entrepreneurial Success Award Ceremony a memorable event.  But, when she chose April 26, 2017, she didn’t expect an ice storm.

The storm was so bad, Elaine considered cancelling the event, but as the morning progressed people kept calling to say they were coming. “If there was anything that could have gone wrong that year, it did,” Elaine says.

Carol Valentini, of Valentini’s Restaurant, was going to be presented with the LSBE Business Person of the Year award, and at first, many of the participants had cancelled. When Carol’s son walked into the hall, Carol cheered.  Then, Elaine knew it was going to be alright. “It turned out to be a phenomenal event.”

Elaine was the force behind making the awards so successful. “No one had ever done this before.” she said. The ceremony recognized micro-entrepreneurs and emerging, established, and mature entrepreneurs. They gave a special honor to an environmentally engaged entrepreneur and a “Generations of Success Award” to honor a long-time company.

An Impactful Career

Elaine was working as the director of UMD’s Center for Economic Development (CED) at the time. She also served as the regional director for the Northeast and Northwest Minnesota Small Business Development Center.

Elaine Hanson was presented the 2016 President’s Award for Outstanding Service by UM President Eric Kaler.

Elaine Hanson was presented the 2016 President’s Award for Outstanding Service by UM President Eric Kaler.

Organizing the party that day was just one of Elaine’s many duties. Most of the time, she was helping to establish and grow local businesses in the Duluth area. Elaine and her staff went on hundreds of visits, from working with larger businesses like a growing aircraft company to smaller-scale enterprises such as a specialty florist. 

Elaine brought a whirlwind of force to UMD and everything else that she did in her career. She was awarded the 2016 University of Minnesota President’s Award for Outstanding Service, as well as the Women in Business Champion of the Year for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Minnesota District Office in 2009. The accolades were well deserved. Her assistance was shared by minority-owned and women-owned businesses and along the way, she became a role model for many.

A Bulldog Education

Before Elaine was an award-winning business woman, she was a Bulldog. Elaine says, “I graduated from Duluth Central High School on a Friday night in 1966 and started at UMD as an undergrad the following Monday.”

Elaine had planned to complete her degree in three years, but after two years, she says, “I did what all women did at the time, and got married.” But, after delving into several business adventures, she returned to her UMD roots and graduated in 1980 with a B.Ac. in accounting.

She co-founded the Duluth Professional Women's Network in 1992 and served as president until 2017. Life took her to St. Paul where she took on the Commissioner of Administration position for the State of Minnesota from 1995 –1999.  However, this wasn’t enough for Elaine and she was back in school and 2003 she graduated from UMD with her Masters in Business Administration.

A Lifetime at UMD

From student to director of UMD’s CED, Elaine was a leader for women in business and she brought that leadership to all of the different roles that she played at UMD. Downtown Duluth

Downtown Duluth

While working at CED, Elaine helped local businesses find financing. “We’ve got a vibrant business community because of our resources,” she said. They can get support from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), Northland Foundation. Blandin Foundation, Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC), and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

The CED programs provided technical assistance to between 500 and 700 businesses throughout the region each year, with more than $10,000,000 in financing, and over 300 workshops with more than 2,500 attendees in all.

These are just a few ways that Elaine paved the path for people in the Northland. Her passion to mentor and encourage others to grow and excel has proved infectious. Even though she retired in 2019, her legacy at UMD will live on.

Banner photo above: Joel Labovitz and Elaine Hansen at the 20th annual Joel Labovitz Entrepreneurial Success Award Ceremony. Joel Labovitz is founder of Labovitz Enterprises, an investment firm. Previously, he was president and CEO of Maurices, the retail clothing company founded in 1931 by his father, Maurice Labovitz.

About the Labovitz School of Business and Economics

This story was written by UMD student Izabel Johnson who is majoring in journalism and minoring in communication. Izabel works with Cheryl Reitan in University Marketing and Public Relations.

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