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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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MCABI Lays Out Plan For Larger Role, More Funding

Issue Date: May 31, 2018

The board of directors for Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) dealt with several changes at its meeting on Thursday, May 24, and continued laying groundwork for some even bigger changes to come.

There was detailed discussion on the preliminary proposal for expanded services that was presented to Marinette County Board at its meeting on Tuesday, May 29. County Board may vote on that plan at its meeting in June, which fits in with time for developing the county budget for 2019. The expanded services will also mean expanded funds for MCABI, at least for the short term.

Development and economic growth were identified as major goals of Marinette County Board in planning sessions held last year. If the right agreements can be reached, MCABI's work toward those goals will be greatly expanded in the next few months, and the money it gets from the county to do that work will increase considerably, from $83,000 a year to possibly contributing the major portion of a $500,000 to $700,000 annual budget. However, according to MCABI Board President John Deschane, that support would be needed only at the beginning. Ultimate goal of the group is to become self supporting and financially independent from the county.

Part of that goal also would be to change their governing structure so they would no longer need to comply with requirements of the Wisconsin Open meetings and Open Records laws, which Deschane said would give them more flexibility and greater ability to act quickly when necessary.

MCABi is a private non-profit 501(C)(6) corporation that contracts with the county to serve as its economic development arm.

Short term changes dealt with at Thursday's meeting included welcoming of Marinette County Supervisor Ted Sauve as the newest member of the MCABI board. Sauve was recently elected chair of the county's new Development Committee, which includes automatic membership on the MCABI board.

Sauve replaces Supervisor Shirley Kaufman as the County Board representative with MCABI, but Kaufman will remain on the MCABI Board. MCABI President John Deschane appointed her to fill a vacant citizen at large position. Deschane declared Kaufman's contributions as a board member had been of great value in the past and he did not want to lose her input.

"It's a pleasure and an honor to be involved because you do such good and important work, " Kaufman responded.

Kaufman had served on the MCABI board for many recent years by virtue of her position as chair of the county's Economic Development and Tourism Committee, which no longer exists because of a recent reorganization of county committees. In a major reorganization that took effect in April the county's Economic Development and Tourism, Land Information, and Ag and Extension committees were combined into one group, the Development Committee, which Sauve now chairs.

Also at the last Executive committee meeting Robert Pontius had been authorized to terminate the contract with NWTC for a 20-hour per week employee to manage the the Maritime Center of Excellence (MCOE) Building constructed by MCABI with the help of a $5 million state grant.

Management of the facility included working with potential tenants. Pontius said Mary Paitrick, the person employed by NWTC for the half time manager job had been doing a fantastic job, and "the decision to end the agreement was not a personnel issue, it was a business decision." MCABI had been paying $45,000 a year to NWTC for a 20 hour per week staff member who was not an MCABI employee, while he and assistant Theresa O'Brien are there most of the time anyway.

Also, Pontius said, "NWTC made it very clear we were to use only them for training." He said that was not in the contract, and there was never any intent to do that, since MCABI also planned to have training programs sponsored by groups like SCORE, the Small Business Development Corporation and others.

However, since the contract was signed there has been only one training program. The original idea was that the building would be aggressively marketed, "which has not been happening," and that NWTC would use the building for training programs of various sorts for prospective entrepreneurs.

"I still intend to send people to NWTC for training, it's a valuable resource," Pontius said, "but we must be free to refer people to other services as well."

Pontius said he and the current NWTC dean had several cordial conversations on the decision, and there is no controversy over the contract termination.

Board Member Tim Phillips, who represents the Niagara area, said he had no problem with ending the NWTC contract but did have a problem with the way it was done, specifically that it had gone through the Executive Committee without coming to the full board. "You circumvented the whole process," he said.

Deschane said he would take full responsibility for that, and explained they had felt it was important to move quickly. Marketing and training are both large issues.

Half the MCOE building is dedicated as office for Navy personnel working with Marinette Marine on its ship building contracts. The other half will be used as a business incubator, with equipment, space and other assistance for businesses trying to get a start in the area, or for people who do much of their work at home but need a professional office address as well. Office equipment is also available for use on site, and wheels are in motion to get a 3-D printer installed and functioning in a portion of the incubator's "maker space."

A portion of the space in the incubator half of the building is being leased by Bellin Health as a wellness clinic for Marinette Marine employees. The "buildout" for the clinic has just been completed and the lease payments will begin June 1. Bellin staff members, O'Brien said, are very pleased with the new facilities. "They're like little kids with their first toy. They're just giddy!" The clinic had been operating out of trailers.

Ann Hartnell, who retired as MCABI Executive Director in January but stayed on a part time basis to to see the MCOE project brought to completion, said the overall building program, the Brownfields contaminated site cleanup and the buildouts included, are ending within budget. The Brownfields cleanup has been satisfactorily completed and is being closed out with some final payments to the DNR and Stantec, the environmental firm that handled the cleanup.

Asked if the clinic can function with just Marinette Marine personnel, Hartnell said they have 1,400 to 1,500 employees, and the clinic handles the mandatory drug tests, which are ordered frequently because of the nature of the work on military vessels.

"It's incredible!" Pontius declared. "Very much due to Ann, we're going to come out substantially under budget, and we got several extra things done too.

With MCOE construction project now almost complete. Hartnell told the board Thursday that she is looking forward to being able to fully retire soon.

Pontius said with increased use of the MCOE building by the clientele it was built for, space for MCABI offices there will be limited. He is looking at having at office hours at a more central location in the county, partly for public relations, since it serves the entire county, not just the City of Marinette. Another benefit would be saving in travel time as he visits business prospects and promotes business sites all over the county from Coleman and Pound to Goodman and Niagara and all points in between as well as in the Peshtigo and Marinette area.

He has been told by Dan Peterson that Stephenson National Bank has office space available in Crivitz and Wausaukee. He hopes to have something to present at the next board meeting.

O'Brien presented current bills and preliminary financial reports. The finalized financial reports will be presented at the annual meeting, which is to be held on Thursday, June 28, probably in Marinette.

For the past year, even before the county requested expanded services, MCABI has been doing some long-range comprehensive planning and looking at by-laws revisions.

Late last year Marinette County Administrator John LeFebvre and County Board Chair Mark Anderson asked the group to expand its services to the county, and to devise a plan showing what they felt they could do, how they would propose doing it, and what it would cost.

Since March a By-Laws Committee consisting of Pontius, MCABI board members Mike Kunesh, Nick Ghere, and Mike Meade as chair has been working on a new oversight structure and new set of bylaws. If Marinette County Board agrees to increase their funding as proposed MCABI plans to add several fulltime staff positions.

Discussions with the county had included putting tourist promotion activities back under the umbrella of MCABI, and both the Tourism Alliance and MCABI board had expressed support for that plan, but that portion of the expansion idea was later put on hold at LeFebvre's request. Since the county was without a tourism director he was negotiating an agreement to contract with the City of Marinette for half time services from the tourism director the city intended to hire.

The city has now hired Melissa Ebsch, and she was introduced to County Board on Tuesday. Deschane expected MCABI will look again at tourism duties in the future, "but for now our role is business retention and expansion."

Pontius stressed, "It is good to understand that the county came to us and asked us to expand our services."

He said he and the new MCABI staff members will meet with business people, give them information on available buildings and building sites, offer start up assistance, training programs, etc. They will work with existing businesses, and hope to attract new ones. One of the new fulltime staff positions would be a community development director, who would work on ways to make the county more attractive as a place to live, work and do business.

Sauve offered a brief history of MCABI, starting back then he was Board Chair and then-Supervisor Walter Stepniak worked very hard to get it off the ground.

"We mean to keep good communications between your group and ours," Deschane assured Sauve, "but eventually we want to become financially independent, both to take the financial burden off the county, and to get ourselves out from under the Open Meetings Law requirements." He said that had been suggested by LeFebvre.

Among issues considered in the by-law revisions are board membership, general membership, dues, and dissolution. Pontius said the Open Meetings Law exemptions seem to hinge greatly on provisions of the dissolution clause - what happens to assets if and when the group ceases to exist.

Kuenish said it is his understanding that with the state grant rules, for at least 20 years they cannot do anything with the MCOE building except manage it.

Coleman Village President Glenn Woulf questioned asking the county to raise its support from $83,000 a year to maybe $500,000 a year, and then not allow them representation on the Board of Directors.

Pontius said there would be oversight boards, but they would be more advisory, more lightweight, with no committees and less frequent meetings, more like the board of directors of a private corporation.

Questioned about reasons for wanting to avoid Open Meeting rules, Deschane repeated, "We need to flexibility, to be able to operate and to jump if we need to jump."

They had looked at the Oconto County Economic Development Corporation, and like some things about their structure, but not everything.

Due to some problems with filling the executive director post, Hartnell had remained in that job full time until Robert Pontius was hired in February as "interim executive director." At Thursday's meeting Deschane said he would like Pontius' job to become a full time, permanent position rather than "interim." That discussion, probably with action, will be included in a future agenda, possibly at the June board meeting. Reaction of other board members indicated that will not be a problem.

The full board also expressed support for an Executive committee decision to provide health insurance for O'Brien, on a 30/70 percent cost sharing basis. According to Pontius, she has been dong a fantastic job, has the new accounting system set up, and has put extra effort into promoting use of the MCOE building. She will be filling one of the slots on the new MCABI flow chart. He said because it is a group insurance policy the insurance had to be offered to him also, but he would decline.

Pontius had received a rough draft of a study of Marinette County housing needs, but a few revisions were needed before it can be released. O'Brien said for example the study found average rent in the City of Peshtigo was $1,500 a month, but closer look showed they had included assisted living apartments in that total.

Deschane questioned the 1,200 housing units show for Wausaukee. He said there are not that many residents in the whole village. He also wondered why Wausaukee and Crivitz are identified in the study as "secondary markets."

The 55-page report cost $12,000, but much of the cost is being paid by the four banks and other groups that helped sponsor it.

Deschane commented the housing study documents will give them something to show developers, "This is why we need multi-family housing in Marinette."

The study was commissioned as part of the long term plan for developing Marinette County. Employers have said they have a problem getting workers, partly because potential employees have a hard time finding suitable places to live.

Pontius reported he and O'Brien have done a lot of marketing of the MCOE building, and escorted a lot of tours. They are encouraging non-profit groups to use space there to get more public exposure.

CTD, the MCOE's first industrial client, has moved in and is making a specialized part for a military vehicle. They also have a "virtual client," who works as a computer programmer. This is a trade-off, Pontius said. "He has IT skills and maker space skills, and in lieu of part of his rent he will be our on-site IT guy. This is going to be an exceptionally good arrangement!"

Pontius reported he is continuing to work on the potential cheese factory in Coleman. He had visited a dairy in Pound, and was surprised by the number of migrant workers. He had met with Hartnell and Congressman Mike Gallagher, and he and Gallagher will be visiting Niagara and the Northland College campus in Pembine.

The Coleman cheese factory would add perhaps 65 jobs, a proposed new call center would bring in 100 to 125 jobs, and another business from an adjacent county is looking at expanding to the central part of Marinette County.

This led to discussion on need for more workers. Phillips said there are 500 unfilled jobs in the Niagara/Iron Mountain area, "and there's no way in sight to get people to fill them. We have to get involved in some programs to get skilled people to come to this county!" He said the shortage of workers is in fact a nationwide problem.

Deschane agreed community development is needed, but said there are a significant number of unemployed people in Marinette county, "We need to get them trained and working!"

"Home grown talent is part of the solution," Pontius agreed. He said it is good for kids to visit industries and hopes they will come to the MCOE to see its Maker Space area, ""which is something dear to my heart."

"There's a great deal of what you're talking about going on right now in our schools," Supervisor Al Mans said. As least 20 years ago MCABI had started urging schools to offer more hands-on training to produce skilled workers.


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