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July 17, 2018

7/10/2018 7:27:00 AM
Vilas County Economic Development, Tourism, UW-Extension Committee talks budget, pop-up business
Abigail Bostwick
of the Lakeland Times

Last Tuesday, the Vilas County Economic Development, Tourism and UW-Extension Committee talked 2019 budget figures and how to approach vacant storefronts throughout the county.

Preliminary figures for the 2019 budget were of particular concern.

UW-Extension director Steve Nelson noted while it is difficult to predict the future, it is expected a funding discount to an education position in the amount of $10,000 will continue for 2019, but most likely end by 2020.

Nelson noted county sharing among area counties such as Vilas and Price could be expected in the future as cost-saving measures. This would, however, increase mileage among employees, he said.

The committee addressed line items that fluctuated higher or lower from 2018.

"My concern is that some of these are going up ... the need to try to keep the budget the same," committee member Carolyn Ritter said.

Kunde said some items were under budget while others higher, balancing the budget out.

"I think we need to take a step back and see what it takes to run an office," he observed. "Where do we make up the shortfalls? There are cuts to departments that are not in favor ... we're getting to that point of what do we cut without cutting services to our community?"

Member Holly Tomlanovich said areas such as Eagle River could use more for-profit businesses versus the many non-profit it currently has.

"People here don't make much money," she indicated.

The budget was approved to move forward to the finance committee.

Open storefronts

Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC) executive director Bob Egan noted to the committee that countywide, open storefronts continue to be an issue. He cited Boulder Junction, Eagle River and Conover as examples.

"People who own businesses have not been reception to pop-up stores," Egan said. "We'd like to allow businesses to test the market for a few weeks or month-to-month ... what businesses really want to do is try it out."

Egan explained most businesses would prefer a several-month lease versus a short-term option. However, Egan said, giving business owners and potential owners a chance would both fill vacant storefronts and give additional businesses in the county an opportunity.

"The seven or eight businesses we polled all said no," said Egan. "Pop-up businesses are getting bigger and better all over the country. We are a little behind the rest."

Working with the downtown associations for options was discussed for future progress on the matter.

In other business:

• The revolving loan fund was set for future discussion on the agenda as more details and information is needed, Egan said.

"We want to do it right and answer any questions you may have," he noted.

• UW-Extension Chris Stark agent told the committee the county continues to struggle with staffing. Most needed jobs in the area include housekeeping and property management, he said.

"These are coveted jobs by employers," he said.

Helping the area each summer season is the J1 Vilas Program, he said. The program allows workers from overseas to come to the area and be employed for up to 120 days while being sponsored by an employer and residing in the area.

"This is very important to local businesses to help fill in," said Stark.

Committee member Marv Anderson questioned the stability of the program. "Is it at risk?" he asked.

Stark noted under the Trump Administration, the program was threatened, but received enough support that it was continued.

The committee opted to offer support and inform legislators and the Wisconsin Counties Association.

• UW-Extension Jasmyn Schmidt said she received many calls over the last month regarding fruit trees and early-arriving insects.

"Many apple trees have no apples," she said. "With the high heat and humidity, the crop will be interesting."

Schmidt also received many questions on grapevines and tomatoes.

• Lyn Pilch of Pilch and Barnet reported email subscribers continue to grow for the Vilas County social media pages, especially Facebook. Target audiences to draw in new likes and visitors include the Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee areas. The company utilizes ads on social media and television to draw people in.

"We always try to balance how many times you get that hit," Pilch noted. "Users are up, and we're really happy about that."

Google Ad Sense also continues to be a success, said Pilch, with finding and targeting users for specific trails and recreation in the area.

"Our reach via Facebook has been a really good thing," Pilch said. "The more engagement we have, the more hits we get."

Web stats for the county website, Twitter and Instagram pages continue to garner interest as well, Pilch explained.

• Kunde reported a new single-track, 8-mile trail for off-road riding of motorcycles will be opening near Conover soon.

• Cindy Burzinski, Vilas County Tourism, noted the county app continues to be downloaded and be upgraded.

"It's an exciting time for us," she said.

The county travel guide is underway for next year, with ad sales just having started.

• The 2018 budget is on track for the tourism department, and the 2019 is being developed.

• Egan informed the committee the organization continues to help area business in their hiring processes and development. A Land O' Lakes business is aiming to ramp up business and hire more employees, he indicated.

"It goes to show if you've got high speed internet and fiber optics, you've got business," said Egan.

Their business program had 90 students, Egan said.

• The annual report for VCEDC is expected to be completed in the coming weeks. The corporation paired with Nicolet College creative writing students for the cost of a small donation to the college.

"It gives the students and a real hands-on opportunity," said Egan.

• New UW-Extension youth development educator Sharon Krause was introduced. A Woodruff native and Lakeland Union High School graduate, Krause has a bachelor of science and master in education degree. She has worked across the country in science, math, technology and engineering with youth, she said. Krause will work with 4-H youth and others.

"I'm excited to work with kids from the area," she said. "Thank you for bringing me in."

The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 7.

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