Two studies including a regional labor trends report and local market analysis call attention to a general lack of workforce housing, the absence of young adults and too few opportunities in the Sauk County and Sauk Prairie area.
Those were key concerns among employees, employers and stakeholders in the Sauk County area, according to the results of the Sauk County Economic Development Regional Labor Study provided by the Sauk County Development Corporation.
Ed White, executive director of the corporation, presented key elements of the report to members of the Prairie du Sac Village Board, followed by the market analysis delivered by Sauk Prairie Chamber of Commerce Director Tywana German on Dec. 12.
On the positive side, those surveyed felt strongly about Sauk Prairie’s educational system, the area’s natural beauty and tourism industry.
An industry concentration comparison showed Sauk County has a high concentration of crop and animal production, manufacturing, retail trade, arts, entertainment and recreation, as well as accommodation and food service. The county has a lower regional concentration of information industry, management of companies and enterprises, government and finance and insurance.
“Those are opportunities of possible growth for us,” White said. “It might be that we don’t have the talent pool or resources in these industries.”
The report also showed Sauk County is above the national average wage in real estate, rental and leasing at $54,473, with the national average at $50,313, and just above the national average in accommodation and food services at $19,967 with the national average being $19,727. Sauk County was below the national average in nearly every other industry wage studied in the report.
White said key takeaways from the study are that employers need to focus on understanding their ideal recruitment market, recognize retention is the key to attraction (i.e. millennials want to be where other millennials are), involve employees and engage the community, among others.
The report recommended an economic development implementation plan should focus on talent attraction, retention, and development and place-making.
The county also needs to cultivate young talent through educational systems and develop partnerships with area businesses. It also looks at placing value on manufacturing and trade skills, working with high school drop outs to obtain their GEDs, as well as identify college dropouts; getting them into support programming that assists them in completing their degree.
Sauk County’s natural assets, such as recreation, schools and quality community feel and promoting available job opportunities should be utilized in place-making.
White told the board a county-wide housing study is planned for 2018, and communities should be prepared to start having those discussions.
The results of the 2017 market analysis, which was funded by the villages of Prairie du Sac and Sauk City and the Chamber of Commerce in partnership with UW-Extension over the past 10 months echoed many of the labor study findings.
“I could just say ‘ditto’ to a lot of the things Ed said,” German told the board. The analysis looked at ways the community could help strengthen existing businesses, attracting new businesses and entrepreneurship, improving visitor and resident experience and developing community marketing initiatives out of the results.
The primary area of focus was the Water Street corridor, as well as Prairie Street in Prairie du Sac and Highway 12 in Sauk City; Highway 78 up through Merrimac up 113 to capture Devils Head and Merrimac camp ground, German said.
The report, which focused on the Sauk Prairie School District area, showed Sauk Prairie is ahead of the county and state in terms of owner occupied homes at 63 percent; per capita income in the area is are also higher. The analysis also showed the Sauk Prairie area has a growing Latino population.
“We do need to consider their needs and their housing needs when planning for the future,” German said. “One of the most startling things to us is we are outpacing the county, the state and the U.S. average in terms of our senior population, and those projected to retire over the next 10 years. What happens 10 years from now? We already have a shortage of workers and if we don’t prepare to bring in a new workforce, or don’t prepare for affordable housing, then we are probably going to be having the discussion of, do we want to be a retirement community. It’s just something you have to be aware of.”
Workforce salaries in the Sauk Prairie area don’t keep up with where are housing costs are, according to the report.
One study done as an addendum to the analysis was conducted with the Sauk Prairie School District.
“You really saw clear voices from our school district,” German said. “Teachers can’t afford to live here. That was the number one complaint they had about trying to buy or rent here.”
German said the report also shows focus should be on strengthening existing businesses. One way is to ensure all local businesses are using free, online opportunities to market themselves.
“We had hotels in the area not on Trip Advisor; that can’t happen in our community,” German said. “We had restaurants with negative reviews and no one had ever addressed the negative review.”
German said the chamber is looking at what incentives, funding and grants are available to businesses.
“We put a lot of money into investing in the riverfront and the Great Sauk State Trail,” German said. “We have to continue those investments and see what that looks like.”
The chamber may reinstitute town hall meetings with different industry sectors as well as develop a business retention and expansion program, German said.
German said the chamber is exploring farm to table experiences with businesses such as Wollersheim Winery and Distillery, Wyttenbach Meats, Carr Valley Cheese, and Willow Creek among them.
“We also want to continue to expand our recreational opportunities,” German said. “We just learned Wisconsin River Outings is not coming back for the 2018 season. That is a huge loss to the Sauk Prairie community.”
German said as the county continues to do its own research, the Sauk Prairie area needs to be ready to implement things locally.
German said it is “critical” the villages identify land for future, short-term rental housing.
“We cannot compete with this next generation,” German said. “They don’t all want to buy a house; they can’t afford to buy (in the Sauk Prairie area). They are more interested in coming and working here and maybe renting something to get a feel.”
Making continued improvements to the river front and working with developers on identifying challenges to building are also areas for growth. “I think we know – material costs, land costs, lumber costs – but can we help with that?” German said. “Because if we keep setting ourselves up to (draw) only those with a median household income that is above the state average, we are never going to be able to draw in those younger workers here. When we know our workforce is aging, we have to plan for the next era.”