After a “productive and successful year,” the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC) is ready to take on 2020 to further its mission in helping area businesses, burgeoning entrepreneurs and increasing more economic development to the Northwoods.
The theme of the early December annual meeting highlighted key partners who work with VCEDC as well as each other to improve and advance the local economy.
In the driver’s seat is newly-hired executive director, Kathy Schmitz.
“Our organization is all about partnership,” Schmitz observed. “We are all about working with everyone and all the organizations around the area to advance economic growth in the county … the people in the room (of the annual meeting) were really representative of that.”
Local, state leaders represented
In addition to the 14-member board, in attendance were state leaders Sen. Tom Tiffany and Rep. Ron Swearingen, both who shared their perspectives on economic development in northern rural counties.
A number of local leaders also were on hand, such as Randy Soulier, chief operations officer of the Lac du Flambeau Business Development Corporation, who highlighted the significant contribution the Lac du Flambeau tribe has on the region with a payroll of almost 1,000 employees; Sam Rikkers, chief operations officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, who explained his organization’s focus and support for rural counties; Nicolet College President Dr. Richard Nelson and Sandy Bishop, Nicolet College executive director for economic development, who reviewed the upcoming Guiding Rural Innovation & Development (GRID) initiative as well as entrepreneurial training classes, both of which the VCEDC is heavily involved in, Schmitz indicated.
First VCEDC director retires
Retiring board members and staff were also recognized as part of the annual event, including retiring executive director Bob Egan. Egan will now join the board to continue some of the efforts he was focused on.
Egan, who served as the first executive director for six years, was given a standing ovation for his longtime commitment and “… contribution to helping area entrepreneurs and businesses succeed,” Schmitz said.
“We’re very grateful that Bob will join the VCEDC board of directors effective January 1, and will continue to lead key initiatives that he’s been leading such as entrepreneurial education, brownfield projects, and working with the Vilas County Fair Board,” she said.
New director’s outlook
Schmitz, on board for a few weeks now, commented that the nation is on the cusp of a “rural movement,” where more younger people and families are looking to relocate to quieter, more nature-based communities. Not just for vacation or to retire — but to lead dynamic lives.
Supporting such new residents has a variety of factors — including economic growth, jobs and broadband, Schmitz noted.
“There is nothing better than returning to Vilas County as an adult to live and work serving the economic development corporation,” she said. “Why? So that other individuals and families cannot only experience what I did when we vacationed here, but because of our expanding high-speed internet they can also find fulfilling career opportunities and live here year-round.”
Schmitz said as she steps into her new role, she is pleased to see many of the businesses in area communities that were here when her family vacationed in the area as a child, are still here.
“As a professional coming in, I see Vilas County and especially, the economic development corporation, focused on growth — steady, respectful, vibrant growth,” she said. “That’s why I accepted this role … I saw an energy in Vilas County that I realized would be hard to match in other opportunities I might pursue.”
Marketing efforts at VCEDC going into 2020 include the branding spot, “Imagine this as Your Morning Commute” — in which a lake, boat and dog are displayed among the Northwoods.
With bolstered broadband in communities and coming to others as well as better cell reception, individuals can more easily both find employment and live in the area, Schmitz indicated.
“We truly do offer the best of both worlds,” Schmitz said. “I am so inspired. With our combined leadership, expertise and commitment, together we will strengthen existing business and bring in new small, medium and large business. To sustain and create jobs, so they, too, can live their dreams and for future generations.”
Board president looks to future
“Economic development is a team endeavor and we’re certainly seeing a passion and commitment here in the Northwoods,” VCEDC board chair Jim Tuckwell said. “Just look at the investments that the Lac du Flambeau Tribe is making … the investments occurring in Manitowish Waters, the funding for the new grocery store in Land O’ Lakes … the Eye on Entrepreneur Network … the community support for the broadband initiative in Boulder Junction and yes, the impact that the VCEDC is having, just to name a few.”
Tuckwell expressed his gratitude to the Tribe for their economic impact and efforts and for having “phenomenal growth” in the economy and jobs as well as to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for the time they have invested in working one-on-one with VCEDC.
“We have a very strong partnership with Nicolet College,” Tuckwell added, further recognizing Tiffany and Swearingen for their support involving truck weight road issues and offering support with state-issues.
Highlights among VCEDC efforts during 2019 included:
• The Phelps brownfield projects, which included securing Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approval for a bike trailhead parking area, supporting the trail system in the county.
• Clean-up work on the hospital/nursing home property in Phelps, priming it for future development.
• Support offered to the Vilas County Fair Board.
• Continued work on potential development of the Nagel Mill property in Land O’ Lakes.
• Establishment of six “pop up shops” in downtown Land O’ Lakes, where six tenants are operating successfully with non-traditional rental agreements.
• Day-to-day, one-on-one, customized support of entrepreneurs and businesses.
• Acquirement of a Google advertising grant.
• Offering a monthly event series with different topics each time.
• Engaging in a Business in Focus article featuring VCEDC that had readership across the nation and Canada, including more than 460,000 in circulation, 58,000 inlcuding in the Midwest.
• A summer intern program with two part-time college student interns who built career growth experience and developed a HUBZone certification document.
• Participation in the Central Wisconsin Economic Development Loan Fund and their own Vilas County Loan Fund.
• Entrepreneurial training provided along with Nicolet College and the Juday Foundation, graduating their 105th student from the program.
“This is so amazing,” Schmitz said. “We are a relatively new organization.”
Changes at VCEDC leadership
VCEDC recognized retiring board members and changes in leadership for the upcoming year: One of the board’s founding members, Emil Bakka, as well as Wally Beversdorf, Lori Collins and Nicole Justa.
Elected officers for 2020 were re-elected chair Jim Tuckwell, re-elected vice chair Dave Juday, treasurer Patty Krarup and secretary April Leanna, both newly elected for the coming year.
Also recognized for her service as she retires was Denise Jantzen. Jantzen was treasurer for seven years. She will remain on the board.
VCEDC is a non-profit organization that grew out the Vilas County Board’s Economic Development Committee, formed in May 2008. It is a quasi-governmental organization that aims to help the public, business and nongovernmental sector partners to work collectively and create better conditions for economic growth and employment generation within Vilas County.
Its mission is to provide leadership and regional infrastructure that improves the economic well-being of businesses, communities and residents; promote creation and retention of sustainable businesses as well as quality jobs; and offer more opportunities for education strengthening workforce development.
The board meets again Jan. 10 in Eagle River at the VCEDC offices.