Flying cars, widespread robotics, the Minnesota Vikings as defending Super Bowl champs.
Though such developments are unlikely in the near future, a local project has taken aim at what might lie ahead further down the road. Chippewa Valley Future Region is an initiative in part funded by a grant from the Local Government Institute of Wisconsin. Partners include Eau Claire County and the cities of Eau Claire and Altoona.
The group held a meeting with about 80 area residents on Nov. 1 in Eau Claire. “Status quo for local government in Wisconsin is not viable,” Gary Becker, LGI executive director, said during the event.
“We already have a vibrant music and arts scene, and those things are happening organically, but we’re asking how local governments can keep that going and become part of that,” Kathryn Schauf, Eau Claire County administrator, told Leader-Telegram reporter Eric Lindquist.
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A thriving cultural scene in Eau Claire has earned deserved media attention of late.
“The ... story is how deftly this former factory town has pivoted to embrace the arts, technology and innovation — boosting tourism and attracting new, young transplants in the process,” read a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story this summer.
“The key to all the development has been a decade of consistent collaboration between players at Eau Claire’s city, county, university, business, tourism and philanthropic levels.”
Read a Wisconsin Public Radio story: “Eau Claire put more resources into a trail network and park system. It revitalized its downtown, took advantage of its riverfront, and attracted residents who love the outdoors.”
That’s true, but challenges remain.
The tech/software industry was the top choice for millennials who changed jobs last year, according to a LinkedIn report. Health care was No. 2, followed by the finance industry. Although the Chippewa Valley does have a significant tech presence for its size, is it enough to draw millennials to the region and provide them with the discretionary income needed to support the arts and other key sectors in the area?
Retail, government and education, typically industries of strength in the Eau Claire area, were not targeted by millennials considering job changes in the LinkedIn survey.
So the question remains: How do we attract millennials and keep them here?
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The project’s first workshop gleaned feedback about what trends would impact the Chippewa Valley and to what extent.
“A wide net was cast around how the term ‘creative economy’ was constructed, and as a result a large volume of ideas and perspectives converged at the workshop and contributed to lively and thought-provoking discussions,” said Josh Solinger, a budget analyst for Eau Claire who works on the online citizen engagement aspect of the project.
Polco, a free service, will be used to generate input from the public. The result, Solinger said, will be a “roadmap for collaboration between the region’s public and private sector entities.”
“I anticipate concluding the Future Region project with a group consensus (from both workshop and online participants) that sits at a 40,000-foot view of what future opportunities and challenges may occur as we work together to sustain and strengthen the creative economy,” he said. “I think the benefit of having a broader plan is that all of the region’s stakeholders will have a cohesive direction to move toward that maintains flexibility to adjust to the types of opportunities and challenges we identify during this process.”
Such projects also can lead to the sharing of best practices and greater efficiencies. The $17,500 grant will be matched by participating municipalities. Racine County and the Chippewa Valley submitted the first two successful applications for funds.
Kudos to city and county officials, and other stakeholders, for taking a a proactive approach to economic development. It’s a relatively small investment that could pay off for the region.