Governor Tony Evers took Missy Hughes, the new secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), on a tour of the state this week to introduce her to local and regional economic development leaders and the first stop was Rhinelander’s Printpack facility.
Hughes began her new role with WEDC on Oct. 1.
“The sessions will allow me to see firsthand Wisconsin’s many successes and to better understand the challenges facing our communities,” Hughes said in a press release. “We want to work together to create a vibrant economy that benefits all our citizens. I look forward to meeting with local and regional leaders to hear how WEDC is assisting them — and what more we can do to help.”
“We’re touring the state for the next eight days, and we’re coming to Printpack here because it is a large manufacturer in this part of the state and see how things are going and kind of get a lay of the land for northeast Wisconsin,” Evers said Monday.
Evers also noted he isn’t going into the tour with any preconceived notions, especially about items such as broadband.
“In our last budget, we put a fair amount of money in for broadband, a lot more with Representative (Rob) Swearingen’s help,” Evers said. “But we’re not going in with any preconceived notions, I’m very interested in finding out what works and how hirings going in this part of the state and what other needs other people might have.”
Economic development leaders at the county and regional level have been working to partner with Nicolet College to help train employees to meet the needs of area employers, he noted. The latest partnership being the Guiding Rural Innovation and Development (GRID) to help entrepreneurs start and grow new businesses.
“I know that is of interest to the new CEO, Missy, and myself,” Evers said. “I know we need to grow entrepreneurs in the state of Wisconsin and help support them going forward because it’s great to have a place like Printpack, but at the end of the day, a lot of the extra economic development in the state of Wisconsin, whether it is northern Wisconsin or southern Wisconsin is going to be supporting entrepreneurs.”
Evers said while job training to meet the demands of present employers is important, especially among high school students looking to transition to technical colleges, attracting people to move to the state is also important.
“One of the things that actually keeps me awake at night is, yes, we want to have a well-trained workforce, but we also need to have enough people,” he added. “At the end of the day, we can have all the job training programs we want, and they’re working well, but if we don’t have enough people to do the work, that’s still an issue. And that’s a federal issue and a state issue, but we have to be a little more forward looking on that issue.”
He agreed it will take more local solutions that work best for localities, which is where the county and regional economic development organizations come in.
“It’s a combination of good supports from the state and maybe the federal government, but we’re here to hear about what the issues are locally,” Evers said.
Stacey Johnson, executive director of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, said she was glad the governor and Hughes chose Rhinelander as the first stop on their tour. She also noted Swearingen and state senator Tom Tiffany have been good about making sure the area gets the assistance it needs from Madison.
The visits will include meetings with WEDC’s nine regional economic development partners: Visions Northwest; Momentum West; 7 Rivers Alliance; Prosperity Southwest; Grow North; Centergy; the Madison Regional Economic Partnership; the New North, and Milwaukee 7.
The governor and Secretary Hughes will also meet with local government officials, business leaders, educators, and other state, local and regional economic partners. Stops were planned in Wausau, Green Bay, Waukesha and Eau Claire.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at [email protected]