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Regional agency sets up satellite office

Russ Korpela, executive director for Momentum West, has opened a satellite office on the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College campus in New Richmond. He's usually at the new office once or twice a week. Jeff Holmquist photo

When it was first founded, the Momentum Chippewa Valley organization formed to help the region weather the economic impact of losing 3,000 jobs in Eau Claire.

Since the 1990s, however, the non-profit economic development agency has expanded its service area from its original three up to 10 counties and changed its name to Momentum West.

The organization, through its Executive Director Russ Korpela, works to encourage job creation and business growth in much of western Wisconsin.

Still, for many years Momentum West has had a tough time shaking the impression that they primarily serve the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls communities.

But Korpela, who previously worked as the director of the New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce, hopes to change all that.

"The organization has matured a little bit and we now work with all of our counties," he said. "We take our responsibility to serve the counties along the river very seriously."

Since taking his new job nine months ago, Korpela said he's been working a lot in St. Croix, Pierce and Pepin counties to generate interest in the region.

About a month ago, Korpela opened a new satellite office for Momentum West on the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College campus in New Richmond. He said he's there one or two days a week, and the office serves as the base of operations for his work on the western part of the Momentum West territory.

"It's worked out great," Korpela said of the new office. "It's cut down on the amount of driving I do."

Korpela said it makes sense to have an office near the border of Minnesota. He noted that interest in Wisconsin has picked up in recent months as businesses look to possibly relocate to a state that has a better tax atmosphere.

Wisconsin has always offered lower workers compensation costs, cheaper property costs and targeted tax credits that have benefitted businesses.

But an even bigger boost to Wisconsin-based businesses is about to go into effect. Korpela said the state has approved a new corporate income tax structure that will cut the current 7.9 percent rate down to an effective rate of 0.4 percent between now and 2016.

Korpela said the tax cut is drawing a lot of interest from corporations considering a move or expansion.

"We are getting a tremendous amount of inquiries from Minnesota," he said. "It's very attractive to manufacturers and agricultural production companies. It will significantly lower their tax burden."

With more interest being shown from Minnesota companies, Korpela said it was the perfect time to open Momentum West's new satellite office.

He said having his office at WITC is a big plus, because incoming businesses often have workforce development needs that a technical college can address.

Access to the school's conference center is also a benefit, he said, as Momentum West plans to conduct special events and educational seminars to assist existing and new businesses in western Wisconsin.

To place further emphasis on its commitment to the western side of its service area, the Board of Directors for Momentum West will conduct their July meeting at WITC, Korpela said.

New venture

Thanks to grant funding from Xcel Energy, Momentum West is undertaking a new project with the Research On Investment (ROI) business lead generation consulting firm.

Korpela said Momentum West will conduct several meetings this week to gather input from economic development experts in western Wisconsin about what types of businesses the region should target with its upcoming recruitment effort.

Once three or four key industries are identified, Korpela said, Momentum West will receive about 35 names of businesses that are contemplating a move or expansion project. The organization will also attend four trade shows that cater to targeted industries to develop even more business leads.

Momentum West's contract with ROI is for upwards of $80,000, but Korpela said the money will be well spent if several new businesses end up coming to the region.

"This is the kind of regional approach to business attraction that a county wouldn't likely do on its own," Korpela said. "But this is exactly what Momentum West is able to do on a regional basis. I'm excited for this process."

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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