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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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New Economic Development Job For County Is Possible

Issue Date: December 6, 2018

The wheels appear to be in motion for Marinette County to end its economic development partnership with Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) when their contract expires on Jan 1, and instead hire an individual to promote, enhance and/or conduct community and economic development.

Proposals on how to achieve that were the subject of a long and heated debate at the County Board's Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4. The discussions ended with a vote in support of a request for County Administrator John LeFebvre to come back next month with a plan to set up an economic development department and a job description for the tentative position.

A recommendation to extend the contract with the City of Marinette for Tourism and Marketing services through 2019, with a 30-day opt-out provision for either party, will go to County Board for approval at its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, as will approval of the 2019-2021 land Information plan; base budget and grant approval for the Wisconsin Land Information Program; a five-year cooperative service agreement between the county and the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Heath Inspection Service for 2019-2023, and accepting a $35,000 grant from the Fox River/Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to fund sturgeon habitat improvement in the Peshtigo River.

The habitat improvement project involves placing large rocks on private property abutting a badly eroding curve of the river. The total project has a cost of about $60,000, of which the committee was told the land owner will pay about $4,000, and County Forestry personnel will provide its share in the form of labor and equipment to do the job.

The 55-minute discussion on hiring an economic development professional became a bit heated at times. It ended with the committee voting six to one in favor of a motion asking County Administrator John LeFebvre to come back in January with a proposal and tentative job description for a person who would help develop a plan on how to promote community and economic development throughout the entire county. Supervisor Clancy Whiting cast the sole opposing vote. Votes in favor were cast by committee members Penny Chaikowski, Robert Holley, Tom Mandli, Mary Noll, Bonnie Popp and Committee Chair Ted Sauve.

In addition to committee members, several supervisors who do not serve on the Development Committee were were on hand for the discussions on identifying the role the county should assume in promoting, enhancing and/or conducting community and economic development; possible creation of a visitors and convention bureau, and again contracting with the City of Marinette to provide tourism and marketing services through Dec. 31, 2019. Among them were Supervisors Don Pazynski, Tricia Greben, Glenn Broderick, Rick Polzin, Al Sauld and Gilbert Engel.

According to a summary given to the committee at its November meeting, the number one suggestion put forward by supervisors as a result of the special Community and Economic Development discussion meeting held on Sept. 27 on the UWGB Marinette Campus with a panel of local business and development leaders was "Invest in a community resource development professional that would work with the different entities from the community and develop and implement a plan for community and economic development. Fund this position by not funding MCABI."

Among panelists at that meeting was Lois Ellis, Executive Director of the Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance based in Iron Mountain, Mich. Several supervisors were impressed by her comments and indicated they would like Marinette County to have a similar type professional aboard.

County Board Chair Mark Anderson argued strongly in favor of hiring a person to work with the committee to develop a plan for community and economic development for the entire county - someone who would be directly responsible to the county administrator and the Development Committee.

Engel reminded everyone that each area of Marinette County has a uniqueness that ought to be addressed. In separate comment he noted the cities in the southern corner of the county focus on industry, while the northern and western areas of the county focus on natural resources such as forests, recreational trails and the outdoor recreation opportunities the county offers.

"What is our goal? what is our purpose and objectives?" Pazynski asked. "We've got to know what we want before can tell somebody we want them to do it!"

"We want someone to help us get our focus, set our goals," Whiting declared. He suggested they should solicit bids, whether from an individual or an organization. "I've been watching this for 40 years and we're still not going anywhere!" Whiting said of economic development efforts.

Popp felt Holley and LeFebvre already have some very comprehensive job descriptions from other counties that could be used to get things started. She noted a consultant could end up being MCABI.

That brought Mandli to ask if they needed a motion to not go with MCABI and use their $200,000 annual allocation for a different purpose. He was told they do not, and that there were plans to not approve the funding when the contract expires on Dec. 31 of this year.

Earlier in the meeting there had been questions, comments and concerns over MCABI. Popp noted during the brainstorming session in September there had been discussion on need for employees, and asked if MCABI is doing any recruiting. She asked if the county could somehow provide incentives for potential employees to move here. She said nationwide, there are 7.5 million jobs to be filled and only 6.5 million seeking jobs. "We are competing with the entire nation," she declared.

Mandli said lack of housing is one of the main impediments to getting employees here, and suggested looking at ways to add housing opportunities, and meanwhile provide more park and ride areas where workers from 30 to 40 miles away can share rides to work at jobs in the cities.

Greben said she had attended the most recent MCABI meeting, and was upset over some of the comments she had heard there. "The MCABI chairman said he doesn't want the county to grow," she declared, and added that in some of the other comments she heard at that meeting, "I found an unprofessional disrespect for county leaders". It was very disturbing to me!"

Anderson reminded everyone that community and economic development had been his main concern since he got back on the board and was re-elected chairman two and a half years ago, "and I've been beating my head against the wall." He felt what they need is someone to assist the local communities of Marinette County to promote community development, share information, and help resolve the issues raised in the Sept. 27 business roundtable.

He said the county does not really do economic development, but they should assist the local communities that do.

In a separate comment he suggested, "MCABI has run its course on what it can do for Marinette County. They will continue to run their building (the Maritime Center of Excellence) and do what they do."

He recalled when UWEX Community Development Agent Tom Crowley worked with the county and its communities, and declared now, for the county, "It's all about community development and marketing." He added,"Tom Crowley was an individual who could meet with groups and make things happen"Our contract with MCABI is up Jan. 1"Let's take that $200,000 and let them take care of their own things!"

He argued against "building silos" around the City of Marinette, and declared, "If we can co-op dollars to make things happen, we should do that." He felt too much bad news is published about this area, mainly in regard to the drug problem, which he felt is no worse than anywhere else in the state or nation, and not enough good news. He felt if the county can promote community development and good public relations, "economic development will kind of take care of itself."

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison supported the idea of putting off a decision on hiring someone, and suggested they ask the county administrator to put together what he believes the committee's goals and options are and come up with options on how to accomplish that, but felt it would take more than a month. She felt once he did present the options the committee could decide which one to choose. She felt they were not ready at this point to make that decision.

"I think we are farther along than you think we are," declared Popp. "We have at least one draft of a job description."

"Several of us are agreeing we want to authorize hiring an economic development administrator to work out our plan," Holley declared in support of his motion, and put forward a new motion to that effect. Popp seconded.

This time the amendment passed four to two, with Whiting and Mandli opposed. Whiting then cast the sole "no" vote to the motion itself, while the wording was still being formulated by Mattison and Aleta DiRienzo, who was keeping minutes.

Discussion moved on to possible creation of a Convention and Visitors Bureau (VCB), which was added to the agenda by LeFebvre after the original meeting notice went out.

Whiting said the county could have three separate areas to promote - the industrial corner of Marinette and Peshtigo that is reached by continuing on Hwy. 41 going through Oconto, the farming area begin at 141-41 going north, continuing to Hwy. 64 where, the forest and outdoor recreation area begins. "We could be three different counties," he declared.

Al Sauld felt two people stood out at the Round Table meeting in September - the lady from Dickenson County and Jim Koronkiewicz of BPM in Peshtigo. He noted that Koronkiewicz felt a lot of business people would like to get involved in overall promotion of the county. He said he worked on development of many successful industrial parks, and stressed that marketing is the key. "The City of Marinette has a Convention Center"let them market that"but we've got to have someone market the entire county!"

In pushing for the VCB, Anderson again cautioned against building "silos" around the city and the county, and added, "This plan works if all communities get on board" This thing can make a huge impact on Marinette County"It could sky rocket!"

LeFebvre said there has been some criticism about working with the city on tourism, with some perceptions that the city will work for its own interests, we've tried our own tourism director and it didn't work"we need to get an entity that is not associated with Marinette County or City to promote the county as a whole. "Put it in the hands of the businesses that deal with tourism".They'll get it done because they want it done," he said, adding, "This is something the Tourism Alliance has wanted."

Holley felt it was too soon. They had just received the lengthy background information the previous day. He moved to postpone until next month. Sauve seconded.

Popp declared she found the proposal as presented was "insulting to the western area of the county."

Mattison said they could not continue discussion after a motion to postpone. Vote was called and the motion passed, four to three, with Sauve, Holley, Popp and Mandli in favor and Whiting, Noll and Chaikowski opposed. The proposal is to be on the agenda for the committee's meeting in January.

Next came the contract extension to share services of Tourism and Marketing Director Melissa Ebsch for another year. That motion passed after warnings that without it, the county has no one doing the marketing after Jan. 1, and assurances from LeFebvre that either the city or the county can cancel the agreement with 30 days notice.

Holley and Whiting praised the work Ebsch has been doing. Holley said she has visited every town, and has attended meetings in most of the outlying communities to find out their ideas and needs.

Popp agreed Ebsch is doing a good job, but added, "We should have had input from the Alliance on the CVB proposal and the city contract before it came here." She suggested instead of trying to market the county as whole they should consider giving tourism grants to each community to promote attractions unique to their areas. She pointed out when people go to Las Vegas or Miami, "they don't care what county it's in."

Anderson agreed Ebsch has been doing a good job, and is meeting with people who haven't seen anyone from the county since 2004.

Whiting called for the question, and the motion passed with a dissenting vote from Popp. The main motion then passed, with Popp again casting the sole opposing vote.

That action ended the tourism and economic development portion of the meeting, and the committee moved on to other agenda items.


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