As part of our mission, the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation [CCEDC] works hard to ensure that our local legislators have received input from Chippewa County businesses and that they better understand the issues impacting the Chippewa Valley entrepreneurs and small businesses. Recently, the CCEDC was able to do just that by organizing and hosting another Economic Development Round Table Listening Session. The CCEDC partnered with the Wisconsin Economic Development Association [WEDA] and invited Chippewa Valley legislators to the Rumor Mill Pub and Eatery in Chippewa Falls to meet with the CCEDC Advocacy Committee, CCEDC investors, and stakeholders. All Chippewa Valley elected officials were invited to participate in the round table. Senator Kathy Bernier, Representative David Armstrong (75), Representative Jesse James (68), and Representative Rob Summerfield (67) attended and fielded questions ranging from affordable housing and talent attraction to burdensome regulation and pandemic regulations and response. Maureen Carlson, Regional Business Development Manager at Greenfire Management Services, LLC and Chair of the CCEDC Legislative Committee, Mike Welsh, Vice President of Legislative Affairs for WEDA, and Donna Walker, incoming Chair of WEDA, led a dialogue about CCEDC and WEDA’s cooperation in advancing past bills and legislation.

Charlie Walker, President and CEO of the CCEDC, moderated the discussion pertaining to strategizing workforce development pipelines, which included conversations about mental health issues that have been accentuated by the pandemic. The recent pandemic disrupted many areas of the economy, namely the service and manufacturing industries. These industries rely on supply of raw materials, a large team of workers, and a large number of specialized positions, all of which are now more difficult to find than ever. John Walton, President of Advanced Laser Machining Inc., stressed that the issue in manufacturing is that companies are having to turn to automation because of the shortage of workers, instead of the common thought that people are losing their jobs to automation. “We never want to get rid of any person in favor of a machine. The lack of workers in a community often leaves us with no other choice. Manufacturing companies are desperate to find a solution to the shortage in talent.”

While changing the amount of funding that unemployed Americans receive is a good short-term solution to the workforce shortage, Wisconsin state legislators understand that the root of the issue is in the talent pipeline. Some solutions that were proposed were to invest more capital into mentor and apprenticeship programs for high schoolers, increase awareness of rehabilitation programs that are available to non-criminals, and better assist those who are released from incarceration, as well as recruit out-of-state talent.

Additional discussions around the need to diversify the tax base away from property owners was a central theme of some of the attendees’ feedback.  Finally, there was a discussion on how to improve tax increment finance, or tax increment district [TID] accountability, while positioning it to be more flexible as an economic development tool. The legislators wrapped up the session by discussing their successes, such as broadband expansion, funds, the recent increase in mental health beds for the Chippewa Valley, and personal property tax reductions, which was vetoed by the Governor. In short, a review of the recently passed budget was given over lunch and the listening session ended with a commitment to reconvene and further the dialogue with solutions that make the Chippewa Valley and the state of Wisconsin a better place to raise a family and a business.