Business, labor and city leaders reflect on the opportunity to meet a sitting president.

President meets head brewer.
Allyson Rolph, head brewer at Earth Rider, shakes hands with President Joe Biden inside Cedar Lounge as the brewery founder and CEO, Tim Nelson, accompanies him in Superior on Jan. 25. 

By Shelley Nelson

January 31, 2024 at 1:30 PM

SUPERIOR — When the call from the White House rang Tim Nelson’s cellphone Jan. 20, the CEO and founder of Earth Rider Brewery was on the road.

“I thought it was an AI-generated call or something,” Nelson said. “They said this is so-and-so at the White House.”

Nelson hung up.

“It’s a little bit embarrassing now,” Nelson said after Earth Rider Brewery and its taphouse, Cedar Lounge, became venues for President Joe Biden’s trip Jan. 25 to Superior.

“It was quite an endeavor,” Nelson said. “It started on Saturday and went through Thursday, and we were working with the Secret Service and White House staff those days to make sure everything was set up for a successful visit.”

Most brewing operations ceased during that time.

“We did get in one brew day,” Nelson said. “Two brews of Superior Pale Ale did go in the tank on Tuesday, but it probably was a mistake. We were pretty busy with other things.”

Duluth airport

President walks off Air Force One.
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Duluth International Airport on Jan. 25.

Superior Mayor Jim Paine waited on the tarmac at the Duluth International Airport to greet the president for the second time in two years. In 2022, Biden came to Superior the day after his State of the Union speech.

This time, Paine waited with Duluth Mayor Roger Reinert, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.

U.S. Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin arrived with the president.

President meets mayors.
President Joe Biden, center, greets both Duluth Mayor Roger Reinert, left, and Superior Mayor Jim Paine after he arrived on Air Force One at Duluth International Airport on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.

“It’s always an honor,” Paine said. “You know I appreciate any attention Superior can get. … So having Superior be the center of national attention, especially for something so significant like the largest grant in the history of the country, that’s a pretty big honor.”

When he had the chance, the mayor shook the president’s hand and spoke directly to Biden, out of earshot of the media.

“To be perfectly honest, I asked to ride in the beast and give him a tour of Superior,” Paine said. “And I said we’ve got a really great city that is benefitting from his administration, and I wanted to show him around.”

Mayor smiles.
Superior Mayor Jim Paine waits for President Joe Biden to exit Air Force One.

Paine said a presidential visit is typically busy and stressful.

“That’s a workday,” Paine said. “And for me, as excited as I am to get a good picture, it’s really about doing the work. Not only was the president here, but three United States senators, and governors of both states as well as several of their staff. That’s not an opportunity I can let pass by.

“When I can spend the entire day with Tony Evers and Tammy Baldwin, to say nothing of having real face time with the president, that’s a chance to advocate on behalf of Superior,” Paine said.

Connors Point

Kyle Bukovich, president of the Northern Wisconsin Construction Trades, was walking in the Allouez and Itasca neighborhoods Jan. 22 when he heard a helicopter overhead and looked up. The large, green helicopter looked like Marine One, he said, but with the airbase in Duluth, he didn’t give it another thought until he got back to his office later in the day.

Bukovich got a call from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers public affairs office saying Biden was coming to town and to expect a call from the White House to help plan for people greeting the president on Connors Point.

Bukovich worked with White House staff to contact local labor groups that resulted in Bukovich, Dan Olson and Derek Pederson of Laborers Local 1091, Jack Carlson of the Duluth Building Trades, Don Smith of IBEW 242 and Keith Musolf of Iron Workers Local 512 greeting Biden on his first stop in Superior.

President meets workers.
President Joe Biden shakes hands with union leaders on Connors Point in Superior on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. 

“I was with him the last time he was here, when they talked about the bridge project,” Pederson said of the 2022 Biden visit. Then, Pederson met the president at the airport and traveled in the motorcade to Connors Point. This time, he waited for the president’s arrival before joining the motorcade again to the Cedar Lounge.

“It’s always a cool thing, for sure,” Pederson said.

Earth Rider Brewery

After short speeches from governors, U.S. senators and Nelson, President Biden stepped up to the podium.

“Tim, thank you for the introduction,” Biden said. “I got to meet his twins and his wife. No wonder he’s here.”

Brewery co-founder reacts to crowd.
Earth Rider Brewery founder Tim Nelson greets the crowd before President Joe Biden takes the stage.

Nelson said when Biden met his son, August, and daughter, Ingrid, “he knelt down to their level and had a conversation with them” and gifted them a “Commander” stuffie doll.

“You meet someone who’s the president of the United States, no matter what, it’s quite a moment for sure, something that I won’t forget,” Nelson said.

“What an exciting day,” said Jennifer Cady, vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs for Allete. “I was super honored to hear him speak at Earth Rider.”

With companies on both sides of the Blatnik Bridge providing power to all the industries in the Twin Ports, Cady said a healthy economy and making sure the bridge stays open is good for everyone.

“As our Allete companies are the entrusted energy provider for the Twin Ports, I was especially thrilled to hear him talk about how important infrastructure is,” Cady said. “He mentioned electricity specifically.

“And just the discussion around reconstruction of the Blatnik Bridge really demonstrates how interconnected our regional economy is and how infrastructure investments can support multiple economic sectors and people across the Twin Ports,” she said. “That was really cool.”

Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert admitted he’s always skeptical about promises for money, but it was good to hear that more than $1 billion in federal funding would support the Blatnik Bridge reconstruction project.

“I’m glad whatever politics were played, it ends up in our favor,” Liebaert said.

President speaks at event.
President Joe Biden speaks to the crowd at Earth Rider Brewery.

Paine said the Blatnik Bridge was slated to close in 2030 if nothing is done.

“We were going to lose it altogether,” Paine said. “This is not just some opportunity to rebuild a bridge we use every day. It really saved the Twin Ports in a lot of ways.”

Cedar Lounge

Councilor Jenny Van Sickle said she wasn’t sure about accepting the invitation to the Cedar Lounge at first, but realized the invitation belonged to the people she represents in the East End, Allouez and Itasca neighborhoods.

“I gave President Biden a necklace I was wearing made from Alaskan ivory on behalf of my neighbors,” Van Sickle said. “The teaching goes that you can only keep ivory until you feel it’s time to give it away.

President gets gift.
Superior City Councilor Jenny Van Sickle takes off an Alaskan ivory necklace to give it to President Joe Biden at the Cedar Lounge.

“The president called over staff from the White House to take it from his hands because he can’t actually accept gifts; the United States has to accept it.”

Van Sickle, a member of the Metropolitan Interstate Council and Blatnik Bridge Project Advisory Committee, said she thanked Biden and Baldwin for funding for Blatnik Bridge and broadband and asked they share her appreciation with the many authors of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“It was really impressive the way he stepped away from being president of the United States and just talked about that one little tweet or video: ‘I told you guys two years ago I would be coming back,’” Olson said. “That was the coolest part. We were standing there laughing and joking, talking like a bunch of construction workers.”

Olson said the unions are really looking forward to the bridge project and putting lots of people to work.

President talks to woman.
Kelly Peterson, of the Superior Business Improvement District, chats with President Joe Biden inside Cedar Lounge.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Kelly Peterson, director of the Superior Business Improvement District.

She said the president was personable and people could share real things with him. With the funding now in place for the Blatnik Bridge replacement, Peterson said the next step is to ensure the businesses affected by the bridge closure are supported during the build, which she shared with the president, Baldwin and Evers. She said it was also nice to meet Walz, Smith and Klobuchar.

“The whole day was exciting, from the littlest activities to actually being able to get a hug from the president,” Bukovich said.

Bukovich shared with the president that his wife sent him a text message asking him to hug Biden for her. So as Biden was getting ready to leave the Cedar Lounge, Bukovich asked one last question.

“So I go, ‘Can I give you a hug from her?” Bukovich said. “He said ‘absolutely,’ and we hugged.”

After talking about his wife’s work as a registered nurse at Essentia Health in Superior, Bukovich said Biden encouraged him to call his wife and took the phone when he did.

“She was unable to answer the phone, but he left a very nice voicemail for her,” Bukovich said. “That was pretty exciting, and to have a sitting president do that, it just shows where his heart is and that he truly cares for every person in the U.S. And she was ecstatic to receive it.”

Fire headquarters

The president had one final stop and a delivery to make before heading back to the airport.

President visits fire department.
President Joe Biden, center, walks with Superior Fire Chief Camron Vollbrecht as he meets members of the Superior Fire Department during a stop at the fire department headquarters on Tower Avenue.

Fire Chief Camron Vollbrecht said Biden shared stories of his own life when he had tragedy and made connections to firefighters.

But Biden shared more than stories.

Biden brought the crew cookies from the White House, individually wrapped with a seal, and gave each member a White House challenge coin, Vollbrecht said.

“I think it was an incredible honor to have a sitting president stop by our fire station,” Vollbrecht said. “Because no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and my staff. For all of our members … to have him here and talk to each one of our firefighters individually and ask them specific questions.”