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Panel outlines business recruitment efforts

At last Thursday's economic development breakfast meeting, panelists (from left to right) Mike Darrow, Russ Korpela, Char Gurney, Bill Rubin and Beth Thompson talked about the various resources available to new and existing businesses in the region.

The central message from Thursday's Business Breakfast event was that teamwork is key when a community focuses on economic development.

The breakfast, sponsored by the City of New Richmond, Brady's Brewhouse and the New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce, featured a panel of economic development experts from the region.

Those participating included Char Gurney, with the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's Regional Business Fund; Russ Korpela, Momentum West director; Bill Rubin, St. Croix County Economic Development director; Mike Darrow, New Richmond city administrator; and Beth Thompson, city economic development specialist.

"We're all in this together," Darrow told the crowd. "It can't just be one group."

The panelists explained that leads for new businesses wishing to relocate to the region often come through various channels. But all of the various organizations (whether local, regional or statewide) partner to make the best pitch possible.

Leads that come through Momentum West, a regional economic development group that represents a 10-county area, are forwarded to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which then sends it to the appropriate communities in western Wisconsin.

Leads may also come through the St. Croix County Economic Development Corp., or come directly to the city.

Korpela said it's important for communities to respond to requests for information from prospective businesses in a timely manner.

A recent statewide study, called "Project Apollo," sent a fake economic development inquiry out to various organizations to measure how people responded.

"The response was not good," Korpela reported. "The state is working on improving that."

All of western Wisconsin didn't respond to the request because an email with the information was not forwarded to the appropriate contacts, Korpela explained.

He said he thinks this region is well equipped to respond to such requests, but even more could be done to help communities put their best foot forward.

Korpela, former director of the New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce, said the organization he works with spends much of its time tracking down business leads. Much of the organization's budget is spent on marketing efforts.

The Regional Business Fund, reported Gurney, helps existing and new businesses in a seven-county region put the financial pieces together to get a project off the ground.

Four funds are available to help with economic development - the revolving loan fund that helps existing businesses expand; the microloan program that assists start-up businesses; a downtown loan program that provides funds for revitalization efforts; and an emerging technology fund that assists tech businesses.

Darrow and Thompson said the city works with existing businesses and potential new businesses on siting issues and financing packages. They said the community's leadership continues to view economic development as a priority.

Over the next few months, Darrow said, the city will be launching a new website and getting involved in social media to better market the community.