The GRID to transfer from Nicolet College to Grow North by end of year


The GRID to transfer from Nicolet College to Grow North by end of year

RHINELANDER – What started out four years ago as a major effort to advance economic development in the Northwoods will take a major leap forward later this year.

Nicolet College in Rhinelander recently announced that The Grid, which was initiated and fostered at the college, will become a standalone entity under the Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation.

Nicolet said the plan is to have The GRID’s transfer from Nicolet to Grow North take place as of Jan. 1, 2024.

The GRID, which stands for “Guiding Rural Innovation and Development,” was founded at Nicolet in 2019 with the guiding idea the college would incubate and grow the organization until it had the structure, processes and resources to function on its own, a release from Nicolet explained.

Toni Van Doren

Since its inception, The GRID has been led by manager Toni Van Doren, along with Sandy Bishop, who served as the Executive Director of Economic and Community Development at the college before retiring last year.

“It’s been incredibly exciting to see The GRID grow and develop the way it has over the years and become such a vital resource for entrepreneurs and business owners to grow and develop their enterprises,” Van Doren stated. “And yes, there is a touch of sadness on my part to see The GRID leave the nest, but we are very proud of all the partnerships forged and achievements hard-won from our time engaged with this effort. I’m also incredibly proud to see what it has grown into.”

“Since its founding, The GRID has secured more than $3 million in various grants and loans, with every dollar directed to growing the Northwoods economy in a multitude of ways,” Nicolet said. “The GRID functions thanks in large part to the funding from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, various locally-funded grant partners and the federally-funded Small Business Administration Community Navigators Pilot Program Grant (SBA CNPP).”

Using a hub-and-spoke model, Nicolet has served as the hub with a team of seven “navigators” assigned to different regions who work as boot-on-the-ground experts to connect businesses with a multitude of available resources.

Tommy Wartman Grow North
Tommy Wartman

Tommy Wartman, Interim Executive Director of Grow North, said he expects a smooth transition as Grow North prepares to continue and grow efforts to advance economic development in the Northwoods.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for Grow North to really be gifted this amazing organization,” Wartman stated. “To see what The GRID has accomplished in four short years really is remarkable. We are both humbled and thrilled to be able to continue and expand this work, which helps communities across the Northwoods.”

Nicolet said The GRID functions as a one-stop connection to a wide-ranging list of business resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses in Northern Wisconsin.

“We’ve always felt that it was important, even critical, that we go to them and meet with business owners where they are at,” Van Doran stated. “Running a business is time-consuming and challenging, and we wanted to make it as efficient for them as possible to access the resources The GRID has available.”

“The major emphasis is targeted toward working with small businesses, which are the backbone and heart and soul of the Northwoods economy,” Nicolet stated. “Research shows that across the region, roughly 90% of business have 20 employees or less.”

The service area for The GRID covers eight counties: Florence, Forest, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette, Oconto, Oneida and Vilas. It also serves three tribal communities: the Forest County Potawatomi, Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Mole Lake Band of Sokaogon Chippewa, as well as the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.

Nicolet said it will continue to work with The GRID as an education and training partner after the anticipated organizational transfer.

For more information about The GRID, visit or

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