Economic development professionals, community leaders and businesses from across Wisconsin gathered virtually to view a live stream of the 2020 Community and Economic Development Awards (CEDA) held by Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA). WEDA and its partner organizations created the CEDA program to recognize economic development best practices of businesses and organizations that are making their community a better place to live and work. The CEDA program celebrates the dedicated efforts of local, county, regional, state and private organizations that are advancing Wisconsin’s economy. In turn, Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC) is honored to share that two companies in the Chippewa Valley were recognized and awarded in two different categories at this prestigious virtual event hosted by WEDA.

Since 2008 VES, a Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin based global company that scientifically designs environmental systems that optimize cow health and productivity for dairies around the world has made a name for itself. From their home base in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, they are supporting dairies from Ireland to Qatar to China and all over the United States. As a startup business to a rapidly growing company VES needed to expand and build a new corporate office, warehouse, research and development facility. With operations in China and Canada, VES considered both countries for their expansion, in addition the State of Indiana aggressively pursuing VES’s relocation from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. However, thanks to a collective effort from CCEDC, the City of Chippewa Falls, Hoeft Builders and CBS Squared they were able to keep the company in Chippewa Falls. By working together they were able to come up with a development plan that worked for VES, while positioning them for future growth. For this reason, CCEDC recommended to VES to submit an WEDA application award for the category of Business, Retention and Expansion as this award honors innovation economic development projects where communities have successfully mobilized to help retain and potentially expand the operations of an existing business critical to the economic vitality of the community.

Since VES’s establishment the owners have cultivated an excellent relationship with CCEDC and through the BEAR (Business, Expansion and Retention) Program CCEDC has helped them with business planning and introduced the owners to community resources. When the company needed to expand CCEDC BEAR Program provided many opportunities for VES owners and management to learn about local and state economic development resources such as Export Tech, Revolving Loan Funds, Opportunity Zones, Chippewa Falls Technical College Customized Training Programs and advantages of utilizing the Chippewa Falls Intermodal Facility among others. Hence, CCEDC helped VES be aware and understand the challenges and gaps that existed in helping VES minimize some of the risks associated with an expansion, and helped economic development partners better design a development agreement utilizing TIF and real estate buy downs to accelerate their expansion.  The company is now showcasing its commitment to the local community with the construction of its 114,000 square foot, state-of-the-art global headquarters and research facility — further establishing Chippewa Falls and VES as centers for agricultural tech and advancement. This $10 million project will retain 20 existing jobs and create 32 new jobs in the Chippewa Valley and continues to sell products for dairy and agriculture in 30 countries around the world . It is no shock as why WEDA choose VES as a finalist and runner up for their 2020 Community and Economic Development Awards.

The second company that was recognized and awarded was Chippewa County YouthBuild, which is a community-based alternative education program for low income youth which integrates and aligns economic and workforce development. CCEDC has recognized now more than ever the economic competitiveness of the Chippewa County depends on the skills of its workforce. Today, no industry in the Chippewa Valley is immune to the current labor shortage issues. Especially hit hard is the area of home building industry where longtime industry workers are nearing retirement, and there are not enough workers who are qualified to take their places. Having fewer qualified home builders’ available limits, the supply of new homes that can be built which in turns leads to higher construction costs and home prices. Many new home projects are now experiencing longer timelines, which contributes to higher prices and less affordability. CCEDC recommended to Chippewa County YouthBuild to submit an WEDA application award for the category of Talent Development as this award honors initiatives or programs that have driven successful talent development efforts to strengthen the Wisconsin Workforce.

This innovative program works with high school-aged students through adults who are at risk or low-income/out-of school youth to close the home building skilled workforce gap by creating awareness of satisfying career opportunities in the construction field. YouthBuild garners the attention of our youth which is critical in beginning to solve this problem in the Chippewa Valley. With a focus placed on reaching out to students, and simply making them aware that the construction and home building industry not only exists but might be the perfect career path for them-the program builds awareness to younger generations, teachers and parents of the opportunities available in the industry. Working with Chippewa Falls High School-the program educates teachers, counselors, and vocational staff about the viable options, especially to those at risk students that are doubting college as the right path. Chippewa County YouthBuild focuses on academic components that assist youth who are often significantly behind in basic skill development in obtaining a high school diploma or State high school equivalency credential. The occupational skills training component prepares at-risk youth for apprenticeship and other career pathways and/or further education. This program further supports the goal of increasing affordable housing within the Chippewa Valley by teaching youth construction skills learned by building homes for sale or rent to low-income families or transitional housing for homeless families or individuals.

In September 2018-Workforce Resource was guided by CCEDC to apply for a national grant to address the skills gap and the high poverty rate in the youth population. At the time Chippewa County’s overall poverty and unemployment rates among 16-19 age and 20-24 age were high (10. And 7.5 Percent). When the grant was submitted in September, 2018, the poverty rate in Chippewa County was 11.3% (though the combined poverty rate and ALICE [Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed] rate was 36. The high school graduation rate for 2017/18 was only 85.1%, with a much lower graduation rate for youth in Chippewa Falls who were economically disadvantaged, at 69.2%. Thus, a program such as Chippewa County YouthBuild was needed with the goal of training and attaining jobs to ensure economic security while establishing a home builder talent pipeline.

Charlie Walker, President/CEO of CCEDC noted, “These young adults, their families and the entire community benefit from this program. There was no doubt in my mind when thinking of nominating Chippewa County YouthBuild for this award. CCEDC is so honored to work with and support this program as they know economic development is a team sport.” This summer the programs first house was constructed by 11 team members, most having no construction background. CCEDC worked with Chippewa County Housing Authority, Western Dairyland Community Action Agency, Northwestern Concentrated Employment Program, Bad River Cliff Tribes, the Rutledge Foundation and various other local businesses to help this program succeed. Upon successful completion of a 900 hour AmeriCorps term, each student will receive a Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate from the Home Builders Institute (HBI), and an AmeriCorps educational award. The goal is for each young adult to be fully employed or enrolled in post secondary education when they leave the program.

CCEDC would like to congratulate both VES as a finalist and Chippewa County YouthBuild as a winner! CCEDC staff is proud of all your accomplishments!