The Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA) recently announced the four winners of its annual Community and Economic Development Awards (CEDA). The CEDA Awards were established by WEDA to recognize and celebrate businesses, projects, and organizations that are making significant contributions to Wisconsin’s economy. Winners were unveiled and celebrated at the 2022 CEDA Awards Ceremony, which was held on Sept. 29 as part of WEDA’s Fall Best Practices Conference in La Crosse, WI.

The Chippewa Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) nominated several projects that the organization has been involved and assisted with. The CEDC nominated the Mason Companies expansion project for WEDA’s Business Retention and Expansion category. This award honors innovative 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. In addition, CEDC nominated Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) for WEDA’s Talent Attraction, Development, and Retention category. This award honors initiatives or programs that have driven successful talent development efforts to strengthen the Wisconsin workforce.

In 1904, the Mason Shoe Manufacturing Company was started when Bert Mason, with his father’s financial help, August Mason, and August Kuhrasch, purchased another local shoe business called the Independent Handmade Shoe Company. In 1968 the company moved into a new shoe factory complex in the northeast industrial park of Chippewa Falls and currently operates out of several buildings within the city. Today, Mason Companies, Inc. is a family-owned, multi-channel retailer located in Chippewa County Wisconsin and continues to grow.

In August of 2021, Mason Companies held a groundbreaking ceremony in celebration of their newest expansion into the Lake Wissota Business Park [LWBP] in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. This was the beginning stages of construction for a major project that began three years ago. Mason Companies worked with the City of Chippewa Falls, Chippewa County, and CEDC to assist on the project. Mason Shoe hired Hoeft Builders to construct their brand new 425,000 square foot fulfillment center located on 44 acres within Chippewa Falls, WI. This project is a phased project and when completed it will total over 975,000 square feet.

“CEDC knows that the Mason’s expansion project and CVTC’s RESTORE project took a lot of effort and collaboration from many stakeholders and it is an honor that WEDA recognized some of Chippewa Valley’s largest economic development projects and the roll that CEDC played in assisting them to fruition” expressed Rebecca Reinhart Chair of the Chippewa Economic Development Corporation.

Chippewa Economic Development Corporation, Workforce Resource West Central Wisconsin Development Board, PMI of Bloomer, Bloomer School District, Osseo-Fairchild School District, St. Croix Central School District and Chippewa Valley Technical College, collaborated in the development of the Restoring Employment through Support, Training, Outreach, Recruitment, and Education (RESTORE) project. This project uses a multi-pronged approach to address the continuing need for skilled workers across the Chippewa Valley’s manufacturing sector by focusing on outreach, short-term training with integrated educational pathways, and contextualized and work-based learning opportunities. Currently, manufacturing accounts for roughly 21% of the area’s GDP, and it is imperative that they remain competitive on a global level. Manufacturers are the largest taxpayers and pay the highest wages in the region. Their ability to attract and retain workers is paramount to their survival.

Jeff Sullivan CVTC dean of apprenticeships, engineering, manufacturing, and IT, stressed that “the idea of working with community partners and stakeholders to provide skilled training to citizens in the rural areas of the Chippewa Valley is nothing new. However, because the lab space and equipment are typically located at the campus in Eau Claire there was a chance that some could not participate due to the distance. We now can cut down on the barriers of transportation, space and equipment, this grant gives us space and access we haven’t had before to provide training.”

The president of PMI, a metal fabrication business in Bloomer, Chris Conard said “the labor shortage is a significant barrier to growth for companies like PMI-we sometimes turn down work from customers because of the lack of available resources. PMI is proud to be a partner with Chippewa Valley Technical College and plan to build a training classroom, lab space and secure equipment the RESTORE grand would go a long way in helping us to achieve our goals to training individuals. WEDA’s recognition of everyone’s efforts is amazing and appreciated.”

“Thankfully, the CEDA awards offers a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on economic development and the forward-thinking programs, projects, and businesses that strengthen communities across Wisconsin. WEDA is thrilled to congratulate both the winners and finalists.” said Mary Perry, from exciting redevelopment projects to creative workforce development initiatives and comprehensive business expansion efforts, economic developers and their partners play a critical role in the Wisconsin economy. President, and CEO.