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Fall River meeting provides input

KEVIN DAMASK

Columbia County Economic Development Corporation is in the midst of repackaging its organization and is reaching out to Columbia county businesses on how to do it.

CCEDC hosted one of five business exchange meetings Sept. 24 at Savanna Oaks Community Center in Fall River. Many Columbus and Fall River area business leaders attended Tuesday’s session, including a few from other parts of the county. A representative from Congressman Glenn Grothman’s office also attended. The event was hosted by CCEDC Executive Director Cheryl Fahrner and Kathleen Haas, an associate professor with UW-Extension and community development educator for Columbia County.

Tuesday’s exchange was the second of five planned sessions. The first was held Sept. 19 in Portage and the corporation is planning additional exchanges in Poynette and Lodi. The third exchange was slated for Sept. 26 in Cambria.

“What came up at last week’s session, around the labor market and workforce development, (is that) businesses wanted to see some more resources around childcare and other types of programs that support families,” Haas said. “They want to see a better connection with what youth do after their K-12 experience, whether it be internships or apprenticeships or going for a technical or four-year degree.”

Haas said last week’s session also provided feedback on attracting more people to the county and a desire to receive more information on the current state of the county’s labor market and how to add to the workforce.

Along with input on reorganization, CCEDC looked for guidance on several key areas, including business retention, housing, partner communications, business development and funding, and regional tourism.

CCEDC is also looking for funding help. Fahrner said the organization, which begin in 1992, used to depend largely on funding through the county, especially during the last economic recession, but the county requested CCEDC look for other means of support. In recent months, Fahrner has made pitches to county municipalities for help. The executive director asked the city of Columbus for assistance last summer, but with tight budgets, Columbus denied the request.

“The county had been supporting CCEDC for several years with your tax dollars but, for several reasons, we’re switching to a more inclusive, grassroots and voluntary approach between private businesses, local and county governments, and with state and federal grants,” Fahrner said. “We feel this is an opportunity to improve communications between and among groups involved, improve involvement by every stakeholder group in the county, increase overall effectiveness, especially perceptions, and we are modeling the approach many economic development organizations in the state follow.”

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In 2019, the corporation has also changed its mission statement, stating “CCEDC fosters economic growth and diversity that results in an enriched quality of life for all.”

According to Fahrner, CCEDC has brought millions of dollars to the county to ignite economic growth. Through a revolving loan fund, CCEDC has delivered state and federal grants to 20 start-up businesses. Fahrner said since 1995 the corporation has secured $4 million in grant funds. Following the 2008 floods, CCEDC assisted 30 county businesses in rebuilding efforts, providing $20,000 to each business.

“We are often contacted by businesses and manufacturers when they are looking to relocate to Wisconsin,” Fahrner said.

After a presentation from Fahrner and Haas, attendees separated into small groups to discuss ways of improving CCEDC and how the organization can focus on key economic issues. After two brainstorming sessions, group leaders addressed their findings.

Some of the attendees expressed the need for an improved living wage in the state. Improving public transportation was also addressed.

Patrick Gatterman, from Adams-Columbia County Electric Cooperative, said students tend to develop an interest in future careers in high school. He wants CCEDC to help bring more internships to county schools.

Gary Errthum, from Fall River manufacturer E.K. Machine, said it’s difficult to fill open positions with skilled workers, especially in rural areas.

“Transportation is very poor and if they don’t have money to put gas in the car to get out here …,” Errthum said. “We need some kind of transportation support.”

Errthum said access to reliable internet service is also essential in rural Columbia County.

CCEDC’s next two exchanges will be Oct. 1, 3:30-5 p.m. at Poynette Village Hall and Oct. 3, same time, at Lodi Town Hall. For more information or to reserve a spot, contact Fahrner at ccedc6161@gmail.com or Administrative Assistant Christine Bily at 608-742-6161.

Follow Kevin Damask on Twitter @kdamask or contact him at 608-963-7323.

Follow Kevin Damask on Twitter @kdamask or contact him at 608-963-7323.

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