A New Era

By Todd Kuckkahn

Executive Director Portage County Business Council

Economic vitality is critical to our community. That economic vitality can be turned on its head in a heartbeat when a business faces a crisis. We’ve been blessed in our community to avert those crises, partly due to our diverse businesses and entrepreneurial climate.

When businesses make decisions on where to locate their business, location and local employment data are key elements. With both of those, it is what it is. We can’t move our community yet we are doing everything we can to impact demographic data. We are the pre-eminent leader in economic development and growth.

Here is how the Portage County Business Council (PCBC) is leading the effort to enhance our economic vitality:

Develop a consortium of accountable community leaders to affect change, thereby averting a potentially damaging crisis negatively impacting our economic vitality

Initiate talent development action plans to grow the workforce for our region

Through the use of business retention and expansion discussions, develop priorities along with immediate action, for business, government, education and the community

Attract and retain businesses and employees through a brand focused on our strategic strengths and combined resources, including our exceptional quality of life

Bring transformational value rather than transactional activity to business engagement through the chamber

Connect our businesses to resources, markets and supply chains regionally in order to enhance their growth and prosperity

Partner to grow the culture of entrepreneurship

There is no one organization, business or government entity equipped to deal with any one of these, much less all of them. It truly takes our entire community. When business, education, government and the community work together and look out for each other, we all win. Reach out to that business next door, across the street, in another neighborhood or community and share best practices.

I’ve seen glimmers of hope that we can come together and take actionable steps to achieve these. Some will take more effort and time than others. Some people may say these goals are too lofty to accomplish and that statement will only fuel our energy to get more done. A good centering point towards actionable steps was “New ERA Workshop 2.0”. Held in March on the two year anniversary of the fi rst workshop, this community-based conversation helped focus us on those initiatives that would make change. Since that fi rst one, we have made progress.

PCBC has lead the effort on developing a community marketing website allowing for improved and enhanced talent retention and attraction. CREATE and the IDEA Center have greatly expanded the culture of entrepreneurship in our community.

Those are just two examples.

Some people accuse our community of being “simple”. We are rural in nature but suburban in practice. I recently had lunch with a young professional and he shared that “simpleness” is what he likes about our community and brought him here from Milwaukee. As he went into a deeper dive into what he meant, it was clear he was spot on with his simple word to defi ne our area.

I want to make it clear that he was NOT referring to our mental capabilities. Far from it! His use of the term “simple” was to compare us to other communities in the country.

For example, take shopping or getting to work or even the ability to get things off the “to do” list. Those of us who have lived here for a while take it for granted that it takes ten minutes to get just about anywhere to get anything done. Or maybe fifteen minutes to a unique business or maybe thirty minutes to another recreational feature. The same goes for the work commute. With some local commutes travel time may take thirty minutes, but that is only if you choose to ride your bike to work, which many do here twelve months out of the year. You can get home from work and out to fun in thirty minutes if you want to.

As I was driving back from taking my grandson to the Milwaukee Zoo (although there is one in nearby Marshfi eld), I saw people enjoying some Friday afternoon beverages on the patios of local establishments. Of course, there were three lanes of rush hour traffi c both directions, fumes from the engines, and enough noise to make you want to run and hide. Plus, they probably had a minimum of forty-fi ve minutes for their commute home.

Go to our website www.portagecountybiz.com and check out our member directory under restaurants, food and beverage to fi nd some places with no traffi c whizzing by, fumes only from the planted fl owers, and scary quiet (might even hear the birds).

My millennial lunch mate also had recently purchased a new home. His dollar went much farther than the communities we are competing with for talent like Milwaukee, Austin, Madison and Denver.

That positive cost-of-living also correlates to daily purchases like food, entertainment and eating out. And add in that less time in the car, means less gas consumption or do what many do, ride your bike.

Along the same lines as “simple”, I had an interesting conversation with someone at our monthly Business After Hours event. We talked about that as a business owner and entrepreneur, it is easier to get noticed in our community. While there is plenty of competition here, when you do a good job and are engaged with other businesses and the community, you get noticed. As we work on enhancing our culture of entrepreneurship, it is also easier to raise yourself up and get noticed for your innovation. That isn’t new to our region; it is a way of life. If you want to get engaged and noticed, there are countless opportunities through the Portage County Business Council.

Maybe what we are lacking is enough “other” people knowing about our community. We are humble, hard-working, polite people who tend not to brag. We can certainly change that, which is why we are nearing completion of the community marketing website, everything points here. When we posted an exciting story about Stevens Point (i.e. our county and region) ranking number one in medium-sized communities, we had over 10,000 hits on social media.

Finally, while we can’t move our location, yet our residents are excited about the four seasons. Imagine biking or skiing or fi shing twelve months out of the year. Just about when one season might wear you out, the next one comes along.

While data drives decisions, quality is becoming another critical indicator.