Below is an article about a Grant County Business, First Contact a.k.a. Photonic Cleaning Solutions, is located in Platteville with direct ties to the University of Platteville. WiSys Ambassador Kaitlyn Timmins shows off a vial of the First Contact™ polymer that was a part of her research experience at University of Wisconsin-Platteville. First Contact™ is an adhesive polymer demonstrated to clean telescope lenses at the atomic scale. In development with NASA, it will be used to clean the “star shade” to be used with James Webb Space Telescope. The research goal is to develop methods that capture and isolate microbes by taking advantage of their unique adhesive properties. Timmins has been successful in presenting research about the polymer at WiSys events, including taking first place in WiSys’ 2019 Poster Symposium. WiSys Ambassadors enhance the vital connection between WiSys and the #research, #innovation and #entrepreneurship communities on University of Wisconsin System campuses. #AmbassadorDispatch
Reminder that our Grant County EDC Annual Meeting will be December 2nd and will be virtual via Zoom at 5:00 p.m. Kelliann Blazek, Director of Rural Prosperity for the WEDC will be our keynote. Contact our office for a Zoom link.
The fall colors are peaking, the soybeans and corn are being harvested, and we begin the last quarter of 2020. From a tourism perspective, this latest stretch of weather was great. I usually disregard the State’s Fall Color Report, which typically has Grant County reaching peak color in late October and find it most colorful around October 12th. Your oak trees may still be green in color, but the vibrant colors of the maples, poplar, birch, and hickory paired the with remaining green colors is what I enjoy most.
ATV and UTVs remain the newest and most highly popular touring vehicle. This is the one area that has resulted in the newest and highest impact to tourism in the county and region. What were UTVs 3 years ago? I recall my assistant scrambling to try to keep up with the development of maps for the industry. At the time, each township, city, or village was doing their own thing. Some were welcoming the new vehicles and others, not so much. “How do we get from the east side of the county to the west?” was a common question asked of our office. The changes we have seen in regulations and acceptance of ATV/UTV on our roads and into our communities is a great example of how economic development works. It is usually not quick and simple and takes years to develop. My office supported the purchasing of signs for ATV/UTVs in several townships and municipalities. The County’s actions addressing this on a county-wide basis, followed by the cities and villages, have made life easier for navigating from one end of the county to the other. Like them or not, these new vehicles on our roads are having an impact on tourism. We have had groups from Iowa use our maps to plan weekend trips in Grant County. Where I live, on a county road, seeing one or two a day is now the norm, while dozens a day are common on the weekends. I have had several businesses comment that this has helped them particularly with the pandemic’s negative fiscal impact.
Covid is driving new tourism, especially outdoor activities. Fishing license purchases are up significantly. The trout fishermen have been hitting the county in full force, with a lot of Iowa and Illinois vehicles parked along our county and town roads. Camping is up, recreational vehicles are in high demand, and of course the ATV/UTV movement is growing. When you see the Cassville Ferry full of just ATV/UTVs, then you know there is something to plan around. We see the motorcycle clubs tour through, as well as the bicyclists and classic cars. Now, there are UTVs. My office has created various maps for all these modes of transportation. I am curious, though. What will be the new mode in 10 years?
Get out and enjoy our county and our region. The great thing about Grant County is that you are near great scenery no matter where you live. A leisurely drive around the county is a great way to relax, be with your family sharing quality time, and be isolated as the times sometimes require. Enjoy the fall!
As we move along through the current situation we are seeing signs of improvement in the economy. We are working to assist our area small businesses and entrepreneurs. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has announced a new grant program, the “We’re All In” program has been released and the application window is fast approaching. This program is for businesses with less than 20 full-time employees and makes more than 0 but less than $1Million in annual revenue, and must have been in business prior to February of 2020. This is a grant of $2,500 to the business, it will be considered taxable income, the business will receive a 1099 form for tax purposes. Our small retail and service-based businesses are the target of this program, however, farmers are not eligible. The WEDC website (WEDC.org) gives the details of what you will need to apply, including tax/revenue information. The application window is open only 1 week, do not procrastinate on this if you have interest. The WEDC is planning to issue 30,000 grants around the state. During a meeting I had with WEDC, they indicated that various scoring criteria will be used and that they will work to make sure these grants are issued to businesses in all 72 counties. The WEDC stated during the meeting that the application does not take long to complete and submit. Applicants will need a letter from a recognized entity stating that the business was in business prior to 2020. My office can issue such a letter as well as the Fennimore Chamber.
Another program in the works is through the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) and is being titled the “Micro Enterprise Grant”. The target audience of this business grant is very similar to the WEDC program but the details have not been finalized. When I was talking with DOA they were thinking grants up to $10,000 per business. I believe this may be reduced. They only had approximately $16MM to utilize in the program, which may sound like a lot but think of the demand and number of businesses. Now this program funds could only be used by businesses in “non-entitlement” counties, which generally means more rural counties. The 7 counties that make up the Milwaukee Metro area would not qualify. Dane County does not qualify either. As stated above, this program is still being developed and I believe the main delay is that the Federal Government agency HUD needed to approve the program guidelines and this commonly takes time. When I see any details on this program I will send it out to the area chambers of commerce and economic development corporations and any businesses that I am aware of that is in need and qualifies for these programs.
Keep in mind that my office is available to assist as are the local chambers and the small business development center. We strive to keep our website up to date to assist you all, www.grantcounty.org for more information and contact info. Stay Safe!
Ron Brisbois, Grant County Economic Development Corporation
Some indicators rank Wisconsin 50th or dead last in entrepreneurship. Other studies are a little more kind to Wisconsin but I have not seen any that have the state in the top 25. This is a challenge that I believe we, as economic developers, can do something about. I have seen several times where entrepreneurs will want to start up a business here in Grant County but cannot get the support or environment to do so. They head to another state to make their dreams come true. Entrepreneurship is tough. It requires courage and intelligence. I believe we have a lot of people living right here that have the courage and intelligence to start and operate a successful business. We need to create the environment. When Wisconsin is ranked 50th, it is in large part because we lack, or don’t foster, the environment for entrepreneurs to develop and grow. So what do we do about this?
We have many of the resources here to support entrepreneurship. We just need to organize a little better, improve communication, and improve opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to access those resources. The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) serves our region, as well as Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative (WWBIC), Southwest Tech, (SWTC) and U.W.-Platteville (UWP). We have the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SWWRPC), and our financial institutions. We have our Chambers of Commerce and our economic development organizations. We have many resources (and yes, each resource has an acronym), but we need to improve our communication and efforts to reach and support entrepreneurs to encourage the growth of their ideas and initiatives and to remove the obstacles.
Need help with a business plan or financial planning? We have that available, for free. Need help with a patent, we can help. The resources listed above all have abilities to support entrepreneurship and small business development. Improvements are still needed in areas of mentoring and seed funding or microloan programs. I am working to recreate a loan program with capital to lend. My corporation has some funding available. We have been doing a few microloans, but these funds are best served in conjunction with traditional bank/credit union financing. The idea of “Pop-Up Shops” has been brought up. I think we could work with local chambers and the owners of vacant and available buildings in commercial areas to foster new business development by having the resources to get the business planned and then help with some of the costs of lease/rent of the storefront. Many of the obstacles to starting a business aren’t necessarily complicated, but it is still a challenge. My office is working with those listed above to develop an environment that encourages the risk by reducing the challenges. We are looking to create more and stronger resources, because we need too.
Now is the time. Our demographics show an aging population, fewer young people, and a migration of business and industry to larger urban areas. We need to grow our own future. That is what entrepreneurship is about. Much of our future here in Grant County is, and will be, centered around the development and growth of businesses. That is why entrepreneurship is so important. Interested in starting or growing a business, please contact my office. (822-3501)
Ron Brisbois, Executive Director – Grant County Economic Development
It’s that time of year again! “That Time” when we look ahead to what the rest of the year will bring: Activities, Events, Opportunities, and an all-round good time! Grant County stands ready to provide whatever “That Time” you are hoping to find. Contact us at email@example.com for your copy of the Guide. We will provide you with Community information as well as contact information that will give you the tools for the most memorable summer yet. There are digital copies at several locations on our website grantcounty.org . Make 2020 your best year yet – in Grant County!
I was thinking about what $1 or $2 could do to our county economy. A $1 per bushel increase in corn, a $2 per bushel increase in soybeans or milk price per cwt, has a considerable impact when you realize the volume of corn, soybeans, and milk our farmers produce. Unfortunately, we did lose a higher percentage of dairy farmers than we would normally see through attrition. Beef and pork production is the same. The impact of a dollar or two per hundredweight (though we would prefer to talk in $10 increments) is significant to the amount of revenue our farmers could reinvest in their farms and their families. Our other industries are doing fine, overall. Metal machining varies depending on their target clients. Our dairy processors show stability and growth potential.
For 2020, I am expecting a slow growth overall, less than 3%, but not a decline. I have been hearing of an anticipated correction in our stock market, which in my opinion, has not really happened yet. What I am hearing, seeing, and sensing, is that we will continue to see modest growth among our businesses. Interest rates are low and there is interest in growth. I don’t expect to see a lot of major construction around the county but I think you will see some. Expansions will be “inside the walls” of the businesses, with new equipment added, and more people hired. Obviously, the challenge of finding new workers is present and will be here for years to come. A slow, methodical, growth pattern and strategy is what I hear my companies talking about.
My office is focused on reaching out more aggressively to businesses outside the region and further targeting new business growth within our county. I believe there are opportunities. Rather than educating our youth and then watching them leave the area, create opportunities for them to stay or return to Grant County. We are “experimenting” with new strategies and we will see if they bear fruit. Like with anything, these efforts will likely take years to see measurable results, but that is what economic development looks like.
May we all have a prosperous New Year!
Ron Brisbois, Executive Director – Grant County EDC
To step back a bit and to tell the story right, I was working in Madison, commuting daily from Boscobel to my job with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce where I worked with two economic development programs. I enjoyed the job and the people, but did not like the time commuting. My wife was expecting our first child and saw the employment ad in the paper for the Director of economic development. She asked if I should apply. Well, I did apply and was interviewed (somewhere in that time frame my daughter was born). On my last day of work before beginning paternity leave, I received a call from Dick Rogers, who chaired the hiring committee. He offered me the job. So I gave the Department of Commerce my notice and began my leave and prep for my new position at the same time.
My first day on the job, I had a meeting with the Fennimore economic development group at 7:00 a.m. That evening I had my corporation’s annual meeting in Platteville. I got home a bit after 11:00 p.m. that night. I recall that day as being a wild rush and at times, intimidating but enjoyable. That first day on the job was one of the longest that I would ever have in this job.
Those twenty years have flown by. Working with a huge number of businesses, entrepreneurs, elected officials, and everyday people truly make this job exciting. One of this job’s perks is that it is never the same day twice. I think back on the people I have met and worked with, some of which are no longer with us. The lessons and experience remains in my head and I pass that knowledge along. Twenty years is a long time in the economic development realm. Rarely do you see a person lasting that long in one position. The corporation was founded in 1986 with the first director hired in 1987. I am the third to hold this position. It is remarkable for a county economic development corporation to have only 3 directors in 30+ years.
On December 4th Grant County EDC will have its annual board meeting in Kieler, at 6:00 p.m. Tim Jacobson will be our keynote speaker and will discuss the Decoding the Driftless film series. I look forward to adding new memories with new and familiar faces. I may even bring my daughter, who is a sophomore at U.W. Platteville, along to embarrass. Thanks to all who have supported economic development in our communities and county.
Ron Brisbois, Executive Director – GCEDC
Egg production in the county and region continues to grow. With any growing industry, we see ancillary businesses showing up to support and benefit from that industry. There is now an “egg washing” business being constructed in Muscoda to benefit from the egg production. Hopefully, we will see data soon from the state or federal government on how many eggs are being produced in Grant County and southwest Wisconsin. Such data is very useful in economic development. We can market to Additional businesses that would support this growing industry.
Our cheese industry is solid and shows signs of growing. Saputo’s plans in Lancaster continue to develop. Other businesses have contacted us to research opportunities. Like with the egg business, dairy businesses attract other food processing industries. It is common to see industrial clusters, or groups of businesses that commonly support the other. As an example, we have cow and goat dairy farms. Then, we have a cheese plant to process the milk, whey plants to process the liquid whey, warehousing, trucking, and companies that service these industries. Food production is a powerful industry and one that handles economic ups and downs well.
Last week my Board of Directors was treated to a tour of the Tranel Family Dairy Farm. This organic dairy farm milks over 500 head. It was a fun and very educational tour. My Board really enjoyed the opportunity to learn. Organic is what I call a double diversity factor for Grant County. We have such diversity in our agriculture economy with the “conventional” farming and “Organic” farming. Anything raised conventional now has an organic side. Obviously dairy, but crop production, egg production, beef, swine, and even our seed companies have organic production to meet the market demand.
So far this year, I have been working with 40 different prospective businesses, with 18 of the 40 directly relating to our agriculture industry cluster. I love the diversity, power, and prosperity this brings to our economy.
Ron Brisbois, Executive Director – Grant County Economic Development Corp.
These trends are slow forming and can be influenced. This is why we have to step up to the challenge and work to keep our existing businesses here, attract new businesses, and foster entrepreneurs. Businesses are looking at urban areas, in large part, because of workforce numbers. They believe that if they locate in an urban area, the sheer number of workers will allow them to better compete for those workers.
As economic developers, we must tear down stereotypes, break down data to simpler forms, educate, and communicate this information for businesses. Grant County can compete with urban areas for many businesses. I will never say “all”, but certainly the majority. A business proposing to hire 1,000 people and requiring 500 acres of flat land will likely not take a second look at Grant County. Most prospects are looking for less than 20 acres and will be hiring less than 60 initially. We need to highlight our schools, including K-12, Tech College and universities, and the product produced at these schools. I am not referring to just enrollment or graduation numbers, but including details of curriculum, STEM focus, degrees, emphasis, awards, and any way we can evaluate performance. The moniker “Quality of Life” is probably the most overused term in economic development because it includes so many different things. It means something different to many. If we break it down to elementary levels like cost of living, which would include the price of land and/or a house, then it can mean more to a business executive. Pointing out the wages paid in the region and comparing it to the Chicago, Twin Cities, or even the Fox Valley area, presents a noticeable difference to the business. Many times these details or data points are aimed at a potential resident or a potential business but not necessarily both. People worry about me talking about our mean wages. According to Workforce Development, the wages in Grant County are around 28% below the State’s mean wages. What would happen if our industries and businesses paid at the level of the State’s mean wage for that position or job? Would we attract more people to work in the area? Would a business that operates a facility in an area that is above the State’s mean wage or the nation’s mean wage (nation’s mean wage is higher than Wisconsin’s) look favorably at Grant County? Would new parents, looking for a quality education in an area that doesn’t hear urban gunshots on a regular basis, like Grant County’s schools and communities? I know I just used a lot of question marks, but we have points to ponder. We have things that we should be proud of and we need to let the world know about them.
This is where we, as economic developers, need to market and point out why we are a good place for business and how we can compete with urban areas. I cannot do anything about the snow in January, but I can address the things that we can influence. We can educate the world about Grant County. I believe we can alter that trend, keep our businesses, and attract more opportunities to our county and region.
We find that though the Internet is “King” and web marketing is effective, many people still want that paper flyer or magazine in their hand to review while planning their day or week. This is why we still see many requests for Grant County Activity Guides and other printed materials. Annually, we mail out over 800 planners to all four corners of the United States and even some to Canada. We like to report where our planners are being mailed, too. Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota are always common, but the southern states are also one of our biggest requesters for guides. The guides we mail out, coupled with the guides other chambers send, and what is dispersed at the Kieler rest center total around 20,000 annually. The new ATV/UTV maps have become one of our biggest demands recently. A lot of those maps are being sent to Illinois and Iowa. Still, many of our brochures, maps, and planners are sent to locations in Wisconsin, too. I always enjoy the annual request from 4th grade students from around the state who are assigned to do a report about a particular county. The lucky ones get Grant County. They are lucky because we have so much information about Grant County and our historic sites. When we receive a request, that recipient gets a lot of information about our fine county. We have received many “thank-you” cards and emails stating that our county sent them the most information.
Having an effective website is the other part of good marketing. I always feel that a visitor or person wanting information needs to be able to find that information with no more than 3 clicks of a mouse when on our website. The www.Grantcounty.org/tourism site is the county’s tourism website that we manage. We work to keep that information current and work closely with our webmaster, Webwise Design of Fennimore. Making sure information and web links are current and accurate is one of the more laborious tasks we have but it needs to be done to provide a quality experience for our visitors. People can learn about our communities and our county. They can see what we have for hotels, campgrounds, dining, and even download a copy of the travel planner and other maps. Some visitors want things available on their smart devices, so we work to give them that option as well as the paper versions.
Our website serves the visitors who want more information, as well as businesses, potential businesses, and entrepreneurs. Sometimes the person who is visiting will become the person who will want to site a business in Grant County.
We develop various marketing campaigns using tools such as Google Adwords, to drive more web traffic to our website. With the Hickory Grove Golf Course available for sale, we are utilizing Google to try to find a buyer that will retain it as a golf course by targeting people who may be interested in owning a golf course.
Marketing is not a passive event. It does not just happen. Whether it is in print or on a website, marketing is needed to share information and to attract new visitors to our county.
Ron Brisbois, Executive Director of Grant County Economic Development Corp.