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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Bay Lakes To Re-Do County's Economic Development Plan

Issue Date: October 10, 2019

At the Marinette County Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, Kristen Fish Peterson, CEO of Redevelopment Resources consulting firm, and Cindy Wojtczak, Executive Director ofBay Lakes Regional Planning commission, presented their assessment of economic development organizational structures the county could use to promote overall economic growth, including tourism. It now appears that recommendations in that 37-page report could be reversed.

Marinette County had hired Bay Lakes Regional Planning Commission nearly seven months earlier to do the study, and they in turn had contracted with Redevelopment Resources to prepare the recommendations.

The report, mainly presented by Fish-Peterson, strongly recommended that the county contract with an existing organization - inVenture North - for both general economic development and tourism efforts. InVenture North is the new name for the reorganized Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) which originally did handle both tourism and general economic development.

After considerable discussion at the Sept. 17 County Board meeting the study report had been referred to the Development Committee for further discussion and possible action.

When that committee met on Tuesday, Oct.8, representatives of InVenture North were present to discuss their proposals, and did a detailed presentation. However, Wojtczak was also present, and she advised committee members not to worry about needing hard-print copies of the report, since she is having it redone.

"It (the report) was done by a staff member who is no longer with us and by an outside consultant," Wojtczak announced. She said she had first seen the report on the Friday evening prior to the Sept. 17 board meeting and saw at the board meeting that it was not necessarily well received by County Administrator John LeFebvre and some others.

She said since then she has had an aide collecting a lot more information that should have been included in the report , and while she agrees that inVenture North does some wonderful things, other organizational structures should have been considered, including the format followed by Oconto County, which has an economic development corporation with County Board representation.

"This document that you have, I don't think is what you were looking for," Wojtczak declared. She said the new work will of course be done at no additional cost to the county, and once her aides have collected the needed information she will again ask the original consult for input, again at no added cost to Marinette County. Question to the consultant will be, with this new information, would her recommendation still be the same. She said County Board could then decide whether or not it wanted to accept the recommendations.

Wojtczak said the new report should do what the original should have done, which is compare apples to apples, and look at numerous organizational structures.

They also will be contacting each county supervisor for input, and she invited anyone with questions to contact her, and promised, "We'll look for answers."'Supervisor Robert Holley suggested the consultants should contact Dale Knap, who he felt had provided some valuable information during seminars at the recent County Board Convention.

County Board Chair Mark Anderson asked about a timeline for the new study report, declaring they have now been waiting nearly eight months. He was told hopefully they will have it a week before the next Development Committee meeting, which is Tuesday, Nov. 5, so they can consider it prior to the County Board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

Anderson declared he had been disappointed that there was no discussion by the full board prior to preparation of the original report, and did not want to repeat that mistake. He said County Board needs to decide ahead of time whether they want the economic development work done by an in-house department, and if they want any agency handling the work to be subject to Open Meetings laws. He noted currently Bayfield is the only county in the state that had an in-house department for economic development and tourism promotion.

Supervisor Bonnie Popp felt questions asked of the supervisors for the first study were too vague, and therefore too hard to answer.

Eventually the committee agreed a full discussion will be put on the agenda for the County Board meeting that starts at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

"County Board has 30 members, and 25 of them aren't hearing any of this," Supervisor Clancy Whiting commented before the vote.

Popp noted in December this committee had passed a motion to consider the study and look at hiring an individual to accomplish the economic development goals, but that had not been done. LeFebvre countered that after three subsequent Development Committee meetings the decision was put on his shoulders, and he had recommended hiring the consultant, Bay Lakes to do the study, which was done.

Eventually Supervisor Tom Mandli moved to have the full County Board discussion that Anderson was seeking, and Holley seconded with the comment that they want "an open discussion without having our minds made up in advance."

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison suggested the motion be worded that County Board would discuss its preference for having internal or external administration of economic development, but Mandli did not change his motion. Whiting cast the sole "no" vote.

Mattison noted the new, revised Bay Lakes report will come to this committee before it goes to County Board, and Popp commented for its next meeting the committee will have the old study report, the new study report and the results of the County Board discussion.

Popp also noted that at the September Tourism Alliance Committee meeting there was no quorum, but she had presented a list of seven different options for handling tourism. (She did not mention that a Peshtigo Times news report had incorrectly attributed the list to LeFebvre.) The Tourism Alliance has a meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at the Fire Station in Crivitz, where she will formally present an updated list of options, and hopefully they will have a recommendation or two for the Development Committee when it meets on Nov. 5.

During time for public comment at the start of the Oct. 8 Development Committee meeting, prominent local economic development promoters Keith Killen and Kim Brooks had messages for the committee, and prior to Wojtczak's comments the board heard from inVenture Director Robert Pontius and Executive Assistant Roberta Davis on work they have been doing, and opportunities as they saw them. Information for the meeting included letters of support for inVenture North from Wausaukee Village Clerk/Treasurer Sara Pullen, Anthony O'Neil of Peshtigo, and Lisa Miller of Marinette, as well as information on the new organizational structure of inVenture North, which owns and operates the business incubator in the City of Marinette known as the Maritime Center of Excellence. Pontius said they work closely with numerous economic development organizations, including SCORE, to assist persons wanting to start businesses.

In his presentation, Killen reminded the board he had the privilege a year ago of being the moderator at the Marinette County Board of Supervisors Business Panel Discussion at Theater on the Bay, onSept. 27, 2018.

"That event was a part of a series of acts that has helped shape a public awareness of development for our community," Killen said. He added that from the economic summit held by SNBT in September of 2017, and as a result the group of municipal leaders collaborating to find a more effective way to improve our economic health in early 2018, and then the Business Panel Discussion later in the year had been important milestones, "as is the proposal for economic development you will discuss today."

I am encouraged that the Board of Supervisors listened to the results of that panel discussion and have readdressed the importance of Marinette County's role in Economic Development.

"As a citizen interested in this being a place my grandchildren will want to belong, 10 years from now, and as a business owner who is striving to help combat our area's unwanted economic decline; I want to express my belief about the importance of choosing a better model for development. This is a defining moment for our community. The choice you recommend to the County Board of Supervisors will ultimately define the future, of hope for a brighter future, for Marinette County citizens," Killen concluded.

Brooks, who also serves on the county's Revolving Loan Fund Committee, reminded the committee that she is a resident of Wausaukee and a small business owner in Marinette.

"I am here today to ask you to make an investment in economic development," Brooks declared.

"The good news is that Marinette County has resources that most rural towns in America would clamor for. We have an abundance of natural resources, inexpensive electricity costs, excellent access to secondary education, a generous community with committed non-profit support, a strong manufacturing sector, good highways and railways, a new hospital and recreation center, and more. We are lucky to have so many of the components already in place for qualified growth," Brooks declared.

"The bad news is that Marinette County is changing rapidly, and it is a negative trajectory. You can see from the demographics outlined in the Bay Lakes report before you and other studies of the region, our demographics are the source of most of our problems. Our population is decreasing, and it is already 30% below what it needs to be today to support our current infrastructure and services. In addition to that, in a short time, 60% of our residents will be 65 years old and over. That leaves only a tiny percentage of working-age people in our county to support the needs of the county. If we allow our working age population to decline, we will lose our enviable manufacturers. For those of us who remain, the tax burden will be extreme and the infrastructure and county services will suffer."

She said, back to the good news, "We can fix these problems. We can stop this change from happening. It will take everyone playing a part. Municipal Government, Industry, Citizens. Marinette County has the opportunity to lead. Someone has to step forward and turn this tide and put us on more solid footing for the future.

"At the most basic level, the question that must be solved is a quality of life question. How do you convince the talent that fills the jobs in your community to live in your community rather than commute from a more enjoyable place to live? How do you retain the talent that graduates from your high schools and entice them to put down roots and become part of the future of your region? How do you impress the contract workers (or even tourists) who are in your community for a short stay to consider it for their new home or second home?

"I believe that we must approach economic development through the lens of community development. need to solve the quality of life issues in our communities. This is a complex problem that includes access to affordable housing, broad band and many other factors. It will take a long-term commitment. We have the talent, desire, momentum and strategic goals to succeed"We need to bring our region from the bottom of the micro-economic statistics to the top of that metric nationwide. Now is the time to act boldly to make this region strong for generations to come."

She invited everyone to attend a symposium on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 22.

"As a first step on this path and to show our commitment to the future of the region, MyMarinetteMenominee and our sponsors have hired NorthStar consultants to examine our regional Economy, Assets, and Potential. They will lead a discussion on the assets we need to leverage, and the roles we need to embrace to create a more vibrant community. It is an exercise designed to get more residents involved in community-based economic development initiatives,"she concluded.


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