Cheryl Fahrner says she’s not about to tell Columbia County communities what strategies they should pursue for economic development — at least not until she’s heard what local residents and leaders want.
“It isn’t just me that makes things happen,” said Fahrner, who on Wednesday was introduced as successor to Nancy Elsing as executive director of the Columbia County Economic Development Corp.
“It takes collaboration,” she said. “A lot of people have to step forward to make things happen. And I would like to assist them.”
The economic development entity’s Executive Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the hiring of Fahrner, whose most recent work included being a consultant for Madison-based Redevelopment Resources LLC and executive director of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce in Houghton, Michigan.
As she did with her most recent job, Fahrner said she plans to commute from her home in Stevens Point, about 70 miles north of Portage.
By the time she officially starts work March 1, Fahrner said she hopes to have secured a small apartment for overnight stays in Columbia County, but she has no plans to move to Columbia County permanently.
She’ll oversee economic development efforts — including business recruitment and retention, workforce development and addressing issues such as high-speed internet access — for a county in which more than half of the working residents cross at least one county line to get to and from their jobs.
Columbia County Supervisor Andy Ross of Poynette, chairman of the economic development group’s Executive Committee, said eight applications for the post were received by the application deadline, and four applicants were interviewed.
“These will be exciting times for economic development, so you won’t lack things to do,” Ross said as he congratulated Fahrner.
Fahrner will be paid a $55,000 salary, plus a benefits package amounting to about $6,000. A cellular phone and credit card currently in Elsing’s name will be transferred to Fahrner, he said.
Ross said Fahrner also will be paid for some transitional work she’s done with Elsing earlier this month.
The Columbia County Economic Development Corp. is an independent organization, overseen by a combination of county officials, local municipal officials and representatives of various business sectors. Its entire operating budget, $120,070, comes from Columbia County’s general fund.
Elsing’s retirement, which was supposed to have been effective at the end of 2017, was delayed to allow time to hire her successor.
But when she steps down at the beginning of the month, she might not be gone for long.
Ross said he would like to have Elsing as a board member for the economic development organization, after the new County Board is seated in April and in conjunction with the proposed changes in the organization’s bylaws.
“I just think Nancy has so much knowledge,” Ross said. “We seem to struggle with finding people who have a clear understanding of what we’re trying to do here.”
Fahrner said she would welcome Elsing’s input as a board member.
The bylaw changes principally are intended to ensure at least three Columbia County supervisors will be appointed to both the organization’s board and its Executive Committee. Ross is currently the only voting member who’s a county supervisor, although Supervisor John Tramburg of Fall River, who is not seeking re-election, is a non-voting member.
And, once Fahrner has settled in, Ross said he wants her to have a say in the hiring of a new administrative assistant. The part-time administrative assistant, Roxann Brue, stepped down in November.
As she looks ahead to working in Columbia County, Fahrner said she’s upbeat about the county’s robust tourism industry.
However, a concern she’s run into in Columbia County — a shortage of housing stock — is by no means unique in Wisconsin, she said.
One of the first things Fahrner plans to do, she said, is to visit Columbia County’s various communities and hear what their people have to say about their potential assets and challenges.
“I really want to reach out to communities and work with them,” Fahrner said. “I want to hear what they’d like to see for their future.”