June 7, 2018 | 

Business leaders gathered May 15th at the fourteenth Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation Annual Meeting to share stories of their evolution and growth, and to learn more about the direction the KCEDC plans to take in the coming years. The event included the 2017 Annual Report with highlights of the year’s economic success stories, BuyLocal winners, programs, initiatives, financial status, and response to challenges the community faced during the year.

Lynie Vincent, Corporate VP of N.E.W. Plastics Corp and KCEDC Board Chair, discussed the importance of economic development for the county, budget and fundraising challenges, and a new visioning process to develop a strategic plan for KCEDC’s future. He introduced the morning’s speakers, each with success stories that inspire creative thinking about how to approach economic development.

Keynote speaker, Jerry Murphy, Executive Director at New North, gave a detailed roadmap for strategic economic development initiatives focusing on areas of business development, talent development, and regional branding. This includes identifying and communicating the value proposition for businesses and talent to relocate to this area. Opportunities include proactive business development using B2B “word of mouth” and social media marketing to visitors in the area, to stay, setup businesses, and recruit additional talent. He described a study of the processes required to respond to prospective businesses, streamline response time, and create a better experience for potential site selection. He then stressed the importance of collaboration in developing a strategic plan for the whole team of leaders to use as a frame of reference, to define the problems, to develop clear objectives, then to design and implement tactics and metrics to define success. Commitment at the local level is important to successful economic development.

Specific public and private success stories were presented by each of the four other speakers of the morning. The owner of the location of the event at James May North, Jimmy Eddings, welcomed the audience to this new gallery space, shared his story of being recruited to Algoma as an artist-in-residence, deciding to stay in the community, starting the James May Gallery, creating a vibrant art community with events that grew to include more than 9 businesses in the area, while drawing hundreds of artist and art lovers to the area over the last few years.

Russ Nowak, President of D&S Machine Service discussed the growth of his business with 5 expansions since 2002. During this period the company grew from 30 employees and $3 million in sales to 160 employees and $38 million in sales. He sees that his customers appreciate the dedication of his local workforce with highly respected craftsmanship, loyalty, and their Midwest work ethic. They are provided above average wages, benefits, retirement, and as a result there is zero turnover at the business outside of retirement. The challenge for the future, as in many businesses, is future employees. The company tried scholarships for local students, and while helpful, was not effective. Recently the company has invested in trade programs at the local schools. They provide new equipment and direct training by D&S employees for students using the equipment, exposing young people in the county to the amazing opportunities here.

Fred Schnook, City of Kewaunee City Administrator, talked about the importance of strategic partnerships with KCEDC, UW-Extension, and outside consultants to advance the Kewaunee Waterfront Redevelopment projects, including $4.2 million in funds for the Kewaunee Seawall renovation. He also thanked Representative Joel Kitchens, who was in the audience, for his help in advocating for funding. He then focused on the ongoing planning process, including visioning and strategic planning for the redevelopment of five of the city’s harbor areas and along the Lake Michigan shore beach. Community response to surveys helped to hone branding concepts, forty-two actions, and ideas for tourism expansion that resulted in integrated planning documents. Grants for the project have been coming in and next steps include a market-based analysis of existing amenities, needs for goods and services, and recommendations to attract people to the area. These focus on economic development, land uses, harbor marketing, events, and effective implementation of the strategic plans that go far beyond development of 3.3 acres of available land along the seawall.

Algoma Mayor Wayne Schmidt talked about the exciting things going on in the city, with a strong industrial base, new businesses opening, and strong tourism. Fishing is a highlight as Algoma claims to be a “Salmon fishing capital”, due in part to stocking thousands of King Salmon fingerlings. The art community is also a highlight, evident in the James May North gallery’s Art of Water show surrounding the audience at this event. These highlights bring people who have never been to the town to enjoy the amenities, then to buy property and stay in this beautiful area for a lot less than other, more expensive tourist areas, such as Door County. He acknowledges the hard work by Jan Dart, John Pabich, Sara Krouse of the Algoma Chamber and others for their work to improve the community, and to attract and promote new businesses. He thanked KCEDC for its instrumental help in responding to the closing of Masonite, setting up a task force to help the employees there get access to retraining, resume services, transition to retirement, and to help find jobs for all the other employees affected by this closing. The fifty sales employees that remain in the area were assisted with relocating to an underutilized facility that was remodeled for their new offices. He’s proud of the city, the employees, the community, and all that the city has to offer.

The meeting concluded with a question and answer session. Then Lynie Vincent wrapped up with the good news that Kewaunee County Board of Supervisors and KCEDC are working together on a shared message of collaboration. Attendees were encouraged to participate in discussions on how KCEDC can best serve the community by signing up to participate in the coming series of Roundtable discussions. He also encouraged businesses to signup on the New North Supply Chain Marketplace.

KCEDC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that depends on annual commitments to service the existing and prospective business that help Kewaunee County grow and prosper. We invite you or your organization to become an annual investor. One-time legacy gifts, in-kind services, and event sponsorships are also welcome. Please let other businesses know about KCEDC, its services, and ongoing collaboration with businesses and community leaders. If you have any questions, contributions, ideas or needs for your business, please contact us at info@kcedc.org or by calling 920-255-1661.