Democracy at its best was on display Wednesday in Madison.
Around 80 community and business leaders from the Chippewa Valley — a total trimmed slightly due to adverse weather — visited the Capitol to address issues important to their markets. Some of the topics, such as broadband access, get little attention in slogans, sound bites and stump speeches, but are real concerns for real people.
The 23rd annual Chippewa Valley Rally was conducted by the CV Chamber Alliance, which includes the Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls and Menomonie chambers of commerce. It provides team meetings with legislators or their aides and breakout sessions with Cabinet-level officials. Both Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch spoke to the group.
“The feedback we’ve gotten over the years is that the Chippewa Valley Rally provides lawmakers from across the state with value in the face-to-face contact with business and community leaders from our area,” said Scott Rogers, governmental affairs and workforce director for the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.
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In 2015, the group presented the case for the Confluence Project in Eau Claire. This year, it thanked state officials for contributing to the arts center, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018. Participants also were thankful for laws passed last year addressing such issues as worker benefits and tourism.
“As a result of the momentum created by the (Confluence Project), downtown Eau Claire has already seen upwards of $100 million in new private development, including office, residential and hotel projects,” reads a program the alliance brought to Madison.
Transportation and education also were key issues for the Chippewa Valley contingent. The Cabinet-level meetings were with the state’s Economic Development Corp., Department of Transportation and Department of Workforce Development. On Thursday, the Legislative Audit Bureau released a report on Wisconsin’s state highways. It found that the percentage of highways in “good” condition decreased from 53.5 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2015.
“We had an opportunity to meet with just over 100 legislators and staff,” said Bob McCoy, president and CEO of the Eau Claire chamber. “They were not in a time crunch, in most cases, so everyone had great conversations about K-12 education funding and CVTC and (university) funding.
“We also discussed how to deal with workforce issues, along with adequate money for transportation funding and what their ideas were. No one has the magic answer yet.”
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The alliance’s program also included suggestions for actions that could be taken to address the issues impacting western Wisconsin. With a regional population of more than 210,000, Chippewa Valley representatives ensured their voices were heard.
“We are in the period before the governor’s budget address on Feb. 8,” Rogers said, “so our main purpose was to provide the business community’s perspective on key state issues as budget deliberations occur.”
In regard to higher education, the program highlighted the need “to provide a sufficient level of state investment to ensure that Wisconsin students can count on an affordable, world-class education to prepare them for the challenges of today’s workplace.”
UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer said the “support will have a powerful impact as the budget debate continues in Madison.”
“The rally started as a way to raise the visibility of the Chippewa Valley within the state Capitol,” Meyer added. “I can tell you that the rally has succeeded.”