SOLDIERS GROVE - Economic development was top of mind for participants at the Soldiers Grove Village Board meeting on Thursday, August 3.
Vicki Campbell started the meeting out with a comment in the public input segment of the agenda expressing disappointment that the village had lost the Pulling for Preston event. The event is projected to remain in Gays Mills at the Crawford County Fairgrounds going forward.
“We had a flood, and there is nothing we can do about that,” Campbell commented. “It’s a shame for the village to have lost that event that brought so many people and dollars into the community.”
James Bowman, Crawford County Economic Development Director, attended the meeting. Bowman made a presentation to the board to let them know what his plans are, and to enlist the board’s support for his initiatives.
Bowman explained to the board that he believes the Driftless has tremendous potential for economic development, but also some challenges. He made clear that the goals are to spur economic development in the rural communities of the county, but that in order to do so, it is necessary to take an approach that is both local and regional.
“Economic development can’t be confined to governmental jurisdictions. Development is driven by markets,” Bowman explained. “However, eighty percent of all growth happens from within the community.”
Bowman shared his definition of economic development with the board: Economic development is a program, group of policies, or activity that seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community, by creating and/or retaining jobs that facilitate growth and wealth, and provide a stable tax base.
The pathway to success, Bowman explained, is to leverage assets, align resources, deploy resources, and measure results. Leveraging of assets will occur as a result of developing a strategic plan, and goals and priorities.
To this end, Bowman has planned for an economic development retreat, to occur in October. All members of the county’s village boards are invited to participate, and there will be a speaker. The retreat is projected to last about six hours, and will likely take place in Gays Mills.
Cynthia Olmstead and Christopher Balistreri of Driftless Brewing also had economic development on their minds when they attended the board meeting. The Soldiers Grove-based micro brewery has been steadily expanding their customer base, and has reached the point where demand has outstripped the capacity of their infrastructure to produce.
Bowman has been working with Driftless Brewing to pursue a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) grant to make some needed infrastructure upgrades, and expand to a 15-barrel system.
The WEDC grant they are applying for is the new Community Development Investment (CDI) Grant Program. The goal of the CDI is to incentivize downtown community development in the state of Wisconsin.
The program will support urban, small city and rural community redevelopment efforts by providing financial incentives for shovel-ready projects with emphasis on, but not limited to, downtown community-driven efforts. Funded activities are required to demonstrate that they would lead to measurable benefits in job opportunities, property values and/or leveraged investment by local and private partners.
Grant recipients are required to provide matching funds, and to work with a local unit of government to act as the receiving agent for the funds. The Soldiers Grove Village Board voted unanimously to be that receiving agent.
“We’re very pleased and grateful for the support from the village,” Olmstead said. “Jim Bowman has been of inestimable assistance throughout the application process, and now we just need to keep our fingers crossed.”
Jerry and Liz Quebe of the Driftless Art Festival were also in attendance at the meeting. Their request for the village to provide security on Friday and Saturday night of the festival was approved unanimously.
Campbell explained that the village remains dedicated to supporting the event, and to making a donation from the proceeds from room tax payments, as in previous years.
Because some room tax payments, especially from 2017 second quarter, are currently in arrears, Campbell requested a slight delay in making the payment in the hopes that some of those payments would come in and the donation amount could be increased.
In other business:
Soldiers Grove Fire Chief Ben Clason reported to the board that he had accepted the resignation of Jeannette McCormick, and is exploring who her replacement will be. Clason shared that the department is in urgent need of new volunteer recruits, and he plans to make this a major initiative in the near future.
Clason reported he had applied for a FEMA grant, which might allow the department to purchase a new fire engine. He discussed the guidelines for how often municipalities should replace or upgrade their vehicles, and pointed out that many of the department’s vehicles are reaching the end of their life.
“I applied for the funds to purchase an engine, because that will cost the department less than a brush truck, which we also need.”
Director of Public Works Brian Copus reported that the village is working with Davy Engineering to try to resolve the problem of phosphorous levels in the sewer plant effluent that caused the one “bad grade” on their recent annual sewer “report card.”
Copus also provided an update on the project to upgrade lighting in the village square. He explained they would need a total of nine fixtures with banner brackets. The board agreed to form a committee of Shayne Chapman, Paul Nicholson, Brian Copus and Tammy Kepler. The committee will bring a proposal back to the board at their next meeting.
Board members voted to amend their ATV ordinance to allow ATV traffic along Atley Street to Eugene P. Moran Park Drive, in order to allow ATVs to cross the river on the Highway 131 bridge.