Awards bestowed for 2020 and 2021
By Sarah Nigbor
RIVER FALLS – The Pierce County Economic Development Corporation packed a double punch Friday, May 6 when it celebrated award winners from both 2020 and 2021 at its annual awards breakfast. The event was held at the Radisson Hotel in River Falls.
Awards were bestowed to the following people and businesses: 2020 Professional Business Leader: Nate Boettcher, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Ser- vices, for finding innovative ways to better the community (electric vehicle promotion, launching Swift Current Connect to bring high speed broadband to businesses and residents, bringing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to the area, and more).
2020 EDC Cornerstone: St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center, which is a nonprofit business incubator serving the St. Croix Valley that opened in January 2018. Its mission is to provide incubation space, training and support to foster entrepreneurship and enhance the success of businesses resulting in a more vibrant regional economy, new job opportunities and increased wealth. In 2021, the incubator was 96% occupied, helped create 327 jobs and generated $33 million in private investment.
2020 Workforce Development Innovator: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, a farmer- owned cooperative founded in Ellsworth
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in 1910, has developed programs to attract, retain and engage current and future employees. This led to revamping the company’s PTO program, implementing paternity leave, developing online training to allow flexibility in fulfilling annual training requirements and more.
2020 Career Pathway: Workforce Re- source, which operates from the local Job Center. They ouer job seekers and local employers tools, information and resources to assist with successful job searching and hiring needs. Their services include access to job openings, computer access, research – ing job openings, applications and resume creation, job fair opportunities, college and GED information, enrollment and financial aid assistance, job placement, transportation and childcare assistance, work experience and free job skills workshops.
2020 Small Entrepreneurial Star: The Port of Prescott. Owner Megan Langer has a passion for design, construction and architecture. She earned a degree in interior design and loves buying odd, unique, distressed or broken properties and converting them into assets for a community. She’s a Prescott resident who loves Prescott. When the Most building downtown became available, she converted the historical building a boutique hotel.
2021 Professional Business Leader: Dr. Jeu Cernohous, a River Falls native, philan thropist and founder of Interfacial Consultants, is an entrepreneur with more than 100 patents who has generated more than $3 bil lion in commercial product value in 20 years. He is a recognized leader in sustainable ma terials, additive manufacturing and advanced composites.
2021 EDC Cornerstone: Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services for its formation of Swift- Current Connect, bringing high-speed broad – band internet to the community. The first customer was connected on Jan. 31. A total
of 800 miles of fiber will bring high-speed internet to more than 5,500 homes.
2021 Workforce Development Innovator: DMC (now SV Labs) consolidated and ex – panded its contract manufacturing labeling operations to Prescott in 2018. Many of its Minnesota employees followed them to their new Prescott location by ouering competitive wages and creating a culture of inclusivity. They provide beauty and personal care prod ucts for companies such as Proctor and Gam- ble, Unilever, Bath and Bodyworks, Native, and Every Man Jack.
2021 Career Pathway: Ellsworth Cham- ber of Commerce, founded in 1957 as the Ellsworth Commercial Civic Club, currently boasts 130 members. A new program called Future Leaders Entrepreneur Exchange (FLEX) is helping to build the next genera tion of community leaders. It provides young professionals a way to meet like-minded business people and make new friends. 2021 Small Entrepreneurial Star: Smokey Treats BBQ in River Falls. Owner Matt Be ranek started out with a single smoker and grew and transformed a thriving food truck into a full restaurant.
PCEDC Board President Nate Boettcher, also the president and CEO of Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, said that businesses are thriving in Pierce County and the goal is to keep that momentum going.
“But to get started, we must have more awareness about the EDC," Boettcher said. “And so, my goal this year is to really raise that awareness and to bring more businesses into our community. And I believe that we are sitting at the cusp of a transformational period." Boettcher listed many reasons for the county's success, including strong financial resources, high speed broadband coverage installation and top tier public schools and colleges.
UW-River Falls College of Business & Economics Dean Dawn Hukai laid out the PCEDC goal for 2021: To enhance the economic development strategies in local communities. A common limiting factor in achieving that goal has historically been
lack of broadband internet. Access to quality broadband increases property values 2 to 3%, Hukai said.
The availability of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds resulted in the towns of Martell, River Falls, Ellsworth and Trimbelle contributing $740,000 toward broadband ex – pansion projects in Pierce County; county broadband providers received $7.8 million in state broadband expansion grants for 13 broadband projects in 2021, for a total of $20.4 million in project costs. "These 13 projects will bring quality broadband to 110 Pierce County's businesses and 2,368 residents," Hukai said.
Hukai also highlighted other PCEDC accomplishments in 2021.
Pierce County applied for and received a Department of Tourism Joint Euort Mar – keting (JEM) grant for $35,500 to launch the marketing campaign "Enjoy the Back Roads of Pierce County." The website and campaign highlight a series of themed road trips exploring the picturesque hills, coulees and rural back roads, connecting visitors to the area’s arts, shops, recreation and dining establishments. The money will go toward the development of an electronic searchable directory and map of resources, brochures, a promotional website and a digital marketing campaign.
This year, additional routes, maps and podcasts will be added to the website. Check it out at backroadspiercecounty.com. The PCEDC also developed a five-part ag – ricultural business series that capitalized on alternative products and services for farms to consider.
"While the pandemic limited our ability to do business retention and expansion onsite visits, we were able to meet onsite with sev –
eral businesses and adjust to virtual conver – sations to assist a number of Pierce County manufacturers, processors and small busi – nesses," Hukai said. Boettcher encouraged business owners to reach out to Folsom for guidance and re sources.
"The toughest thing for any business is in that initial startup period that first five years,"
Boettcher said. "If they can get over that first few years, they’ll have long-term success and Joe does a great job with that." When Folsom took the mic, he outlined priorities for 2022 and ways he believes communities and businesses can realize their dreams. Number one is high speed broad – band to every resident. "Fiber to the premises I believe is really the key so we can provide that quality of life to our businesses and our residents," Folsom said.
Folsom has made the recommendation to the Pierce County ARPA Ad Hoc Committee to designate $3.5 of the county’s $8.6 million in ARPA funds to support broadband expan sion grants for BevComm and Pierce Pepin’s SwiftCurrent Connect. This would be pro –
vide high speed fiber internet to the remain ing unserved and underserved residents and businesses in the county. He’s also asked the county to allocate $1.6 million to reestablish the county's revolving business development loan fund. The fund could provide no-interest or low-interest loans to businesses. “A piece that I think is really missing on the economic development side for particu- larly small businesses is availability of gap fi – nancing for businesses," Folsom said. "They need additional capital they otherwise can’t get from banks. And five years ago, just be fore I took on this role, Pierce County had about $1.7 million in revolving loan fund dollars or loans outstanding. Today we have virtually none." Other challenges businesses are facing are lack of child care for employees and lack of auordable housing for workers, Folsom said. “When’s the last time you saw a new con- struction home that was under 1,200 square feet?" Folsom asked. "We can build quality homes that fit within the neighborhood that people would enjoy and be proud of that don't have to be mega mega mansions. Do we have contractors to build in the market? What are the challenges in doing that?" To learn more about the PCEDC and its resources, visit pcedc.com