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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Board Okays Three New Jobs For Development, Tourism

Issue Date: February 27, 2020

In the very near future, Marinette County will have three brand new employees in three brand new positions aimed at promoting economic development in the county and attracting more tourists to visit.

In split votes after a great deal of debate at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25 County Board voted to create a Director of Development and Tourism Position as a division of the Administrative Department under the direction of County Administrator John LeFebvre, along with a program assistant for the person hired.

The board also voted to provide a program assistant for Beverly Ruether, who started Jan. 17 in the newly created position of Assistant Facilities and Parks Director under the supervision of Facilities Director Martin Keyport. At the end of 2019 the combined Forestry and Parks Department was split, with Pete Vilas remaining as Forestry Administrator, but responsibilities for care, maintenance and improvements for the county's extensive parks and recreation system transferred to Keyport's department.

Administrator John LeFebvre has repeatedly stressed that the new Assistant Facilities and Parks Director is expected to focus strongly on finding ways to improve and expand the county-owned parks and recreation facilities to make them more attractive to tourists as well as to handling advertising to promote use of county owned facilities.

The new Development and Tourism Director is to be in charge of general economic development activities and tourism promotion, including advertising. All three of the new positions are to be filled as soon as possible.

For over two years County Board has been debating how to best promote growth of the county in general, with special attention on tourism. A contract to share the services of the full time City of Marinette Tourism Director was terminated at the end of 2019.

The decision to create the internal positions with additional county employees on the payroll came despite the recommendations of a $12,000 study they had commissioned from Bay Lakes Regional Planning Commission which twice recommended contracting with inVenture North, Inc., successor group to the former Marinette county Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) for tourism and economic development services.

Two speakers who addressed the board during time for public comment at the start of the meeting strongly urged the board to contract with InVenture North rather than add a new department to county government. Numerous supervisors spoke in favor of contracting, and cautioned that much of the money that could be spent on advertising will be spent instead on salaries and benefits for the new employees.

In the end, creation of the Economic Development /Tourism Director position was approved by 18 to 7 vote, with four board members absent and one position currently vacant. Voting in favor were Supervisors Glenn Broderick, Penny Chaikowski, Gilbert Engel, Laura Frea, Tricia Grebin, John Guarisco, Paul Gustafson, Robert Holley, Ken Keller, Al Mans, Robert Pazynski, Rick Polzin, Bonnie Popp, Al Sauld, Ted Sauve, Jillian Schutte, Clancy Whiting and Board Chair Mark Anderson.

Those opposed were Supervisors Ginger Deschane, Chris Gromala, Robert Hoyer, Shirley Kaufman, George Kloppenburg, Bill Stankevich and Gail Wanek. Supervisors Mike Behnke, Tom Mailand, Tom Mandli and Vilas Schroeder were absent.

After a number of arguments in favor of holding off on creation of the program assistant position, it was approved by a 23 to 2 vote. Opposing votes were cast by Kaufman and Grebin.

Adding a program assistant to work with the Assistant Facilities and Parks Director was approved by all 25 supervisors present.

At the meeting, Keyport introduced Beverly Ruether, who started work on Jan. 17, as the Assistant Facilities and Parks Director. Ruether said she worked for the USDA Forest Service out of Lakewood/Laona area for 29 years, and after being retired for 14 months decided to back to work and applied for the Marinette County position. She had worked in timber for the Forestry Service for 12 years, and since 1990 has worked in recreation during the summer. In 2002 she became the recreation supervisor for the USDA National Forest service. She said she has been extremely busy since starting her work for the new Marinette County position, and has a lot of ideas, but nothing in stone at this moment. She has already been to trade shows in Green Bay and Wausau for Marinette County.

First to address County Board during time for public comment was Roberta Davis, who works as Vice President of Marketing, Tourism & Community Development, for InVenture North, Inc. Davis had also addressed the board in January. She said after the meeting she was disappointed in County Board's decision to hire internally, because she believes the economy of scale by contacting with inVenture North would give the county more bang for its bucks. She said a number of supervisors after the board meeting asked her to apply for the county position.

Davis said last month inVenture North was approached by a handful of organizations and businesses to come up with a plan for Tourism, so they did.

They had held a forum in Crivitz with about 35 people there representing hundreds of Marinette County residents from recreation organizations, business associations, and local government, including a few county board members.

The inVenture North plan was still in the planning stages, but was well received, she said.

They had come up with a new brand, "invent YOUR North," and handed out buttons and stickers with the new brand, but customized with each town or village name.

Davis said at the end of the meeting, the three comments most heard were: "We're in- Where do we sign up? We've never been presented with a plan before, thank you, and "This Invent Your North things is cool, We love how you included everyone- and these custom stickers are awesome- Where can I get more?"

She said the plan includes a regional/community app and website that not only tourists can use to plan their visit, but current residents can use as well.  "We intend to couple this with a strong social media and advertising campaign, attend trade shows and by having boots on the ground- visiting our local parks, events and businesses educating visitors and residents on all the amazing opportunities this area has to offer," Davis told the board.

"Our intent is to finalize the details to this next week, move forward and have it ready to launch mid-May.  The county has an opportunity to showcase its assets through this program, as do our local governments, and private business will be invited to advertise here as well.

"This is one piece to the "one stop shop' people have been begging for. We've also got a plan for the community development piece, some of which we've shared with members of the county board who have asked."

She said they had applied for and received a grant for 10 Chromebooks to continue efforts to train small businesses in topics like branding, marketing, finance and other topics. "We've already received a handful of requests for these and will begin scheduling them soon." She said they are partnering with local experts to bring more educational opportunities to our community members. Some workshops will be held at the InVenture North Center of Excellence headquarters in Marinette, while others will be held outside the city.

They plan to continue working with Wausaukee on the housing project and other marketing initiatives with the village and school.

They have partnered with the City of Marinette to bring the Einstein Project here at the end of March.  This will be a "Mini-Maker' event where children will get some hands-on experiences as it relates to engineering, robotics and other STEM based activities.

Her afternoon plans included Peshtigo High School, which was holding its first community expo.  The response to this event has been nothing short of spectacular.  Nearly 30 local professionals have dedicated half their day to talk to students about local career and educational opportunities and why they chose to stay local. 

On a personal note, Davis said she is a native of Middle Inlet, and is a farm girl who graduated from Crivitz High School and she hung out in Wausaukee with cousins and attended church there.

At age 20 she moved away, but she discovered is where she wants to be, and moved back. 

Next speaker was Rebecca Demarce of Peshtigo, who owns the Hair Depot in Marinette. She too urged the board to contract with inVenture North.

She said when she opened her shop in Marinette, Davis was the first professional to greet her and offer help if needed.

While she understood concerns LeFebvre and County Board have about using an outside source and not having control over employees, she said hiring internally simply does not make sense.

"Honestly, anyone you hire will spend their time chasing after InVenture North and what they are already accomplishing," she declared. "InVenture North already has skin in the game. They know how to increase tourism and develop communities . They are already off and running. You need someone who understands what our communities offer and what is needed to attract new residents."

"Please do not waste our tax dollars by hiring people to try to do a job that is already being done exceptionally well," she urged. "Keep your discussion short and choose to invest in inVenture North."

Several supervisors who eventually voted in favor of creating the two new positions also argued in favor of contracting with inVenture North, at least on a trial basis for a year.

Supervisor Ted Sauve introduced Phil and Laura Finger, who were chosen for this year's state Young Farmer of the Year award, and will represent Wisconsin next year for national honors.

Anderson, who is a dairy farmer, said people like the Fingers are exactly what is needed in agriculture today. Their fifth generation farm straddles the Marinette/Oconto County line.


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