Scottie Sandstrom didn’t set his sights on becoming an economic developer, but his background in sales certainly gave him the needed skills.
“It was parallel to what I had done in my other life. I thought it was a good fit,” said the 65-year-old, who is retiring at year-end after directing the Bayfield County Economic Development Corporation since March of 2011.
A native of rural Grandview, Sandstrom was raised on a dairy farm and graduated from Drummond High School before completing a Bachelor of Communication Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He soon landed a position with Larson Picture Frame in Ashland, putting his communication skills to work in sales.
“It just so happened that I was looking for opportunities. The job came up and looked like a good one for me, he said. “We were the leaders in the frame industry at that time and just kept growing.”
Sandstrom’s career also grew. After marketing to the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, he became manager of the company’s Ashland distribution center. Then it was the company’s turn to grow. Larson purchased Juhl, opening a new employment opportunity in Eden Prairie. He became sales manager for the expanded firm. In 2004, Sandstrom helped create the new contract division.
“I had a lot of territory in several states,” he said. But weary of frequent travel and hoping to return to rural life, Sandstrom left the company in 2010 after 33 years of service. Soon thereafter, he learned about the BCEDC position and recognized the similarities it had to sales.
“When you visit many businesses, a light bulb can go off as you connect one with another. You can help them both. You also can see if they have a desire to expand and show them how to do that,” he said.
Upon taking the economic development position, that series of observations led him to one of his largest accomplishments – development of the Bayfield County Business Park. Formerly county owned, it was in need of a plan to make it grow. That plan included bringing in natural gas, adding fiber optics, enhancing electrical service and constructing a road.
“An investment of $250,000 put the county in a position to have more people interested in moving there,” he said. “My role was defining what needed to be done and positioning ourselves to get it done.”
Adding broadband service was key to growing the park. One tenant, Superior Sauna, does much of its business on the Internet.
“It means everything to them. And across the street, Ashland Ford Chrysler said they needed better high-speed Internet,” he said. He connected both companies with Norvado, which has made broadband its specialty.
The pursuit of broadband continued, with Bayfield County certified a “Telecommuter Forward!” Community in August, the first in the nation.
“We’re pioneers in this. It means a single point of contact in whatever municipality that gets certified,” he said. It’s an excellent tool for connecting work-from-home residents to gain employment with companies that hire them to fulfill online tasks.
“It set the stage to grow that business. People have been moving into Bayfield County just because of that. We want to grow in that direction. On our website, we indicate that we have the top employers from across the country,” Sandstrom said.
In recent months, he has been working to connect technical education teachers to businesses so they can work together to strengthen programs and address the workforce shortage.
“That’s important on our workforce development side. We’re encouraging people to stay in this area. We have jobs that need to be filled,” he explained.
Until the end of 2018, Sandstrom will be mentoring Cole Rabska, his successor.
“I would say get out and see the businesses, see what their needs are and you’ll do fine,” Sandstrom said.
After that, he hopes to further pursue his hobby as a musician, putting an emphasis on gospel music.
“Some years back, I felt the ability to write songs through scripture. I went through a cancer operation 39 years ago and fully recovered. I was always thankful for what God did with my life.”