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APEX, BDEDC form strategic partnership to bolster development
PHOTO: Scottie Sandstrom
Developing a relationship between big and small organizations often can be mutually advantageous for both, Scottie Sandstrom and Elissa Hansen believe.
“We partnered with APEX because we know economic development is not a short-term proposition. Having access to a larger group can give us additional insight, and that’s important,” said Sandstrom, executive director of the Bayfield County Economic Development Corp. (BCEDC).
APEX, meanwhile, doesn’t have sufficient time or staff to learn about all of the resources and influential individuals available throughout the 10 counties it serves. That level of detail can best be managed by local economic development groups, said Hansen, APEX director of business development.
They met at the 2011 annual NWCEP (Northwest Wisconsin Concentrated Employment Program) conference and casually discussed their groups’ individual attributes and needs.
“We talked throughout the summer. Then I met (former APEX CEO) Rob West and brought him and Elissa here to meet our executive committee. I felt there was some benefit to having them as a partner. We brought it to our board, and they felt very comfortable that this would be a good organization to work with,” said Sandstrom, who previously worked as a Larson-Juhl salesperson.
“Because he had worked in sales and was from the area, he knew the business community very well. He said he could use our help in developing a measurable strategy and in learning how to play a role in community development in addition to economic development,” Hansen said. “We put together a plan of what APEX could do for them.”
BCEDC entered into a contract for services – 10 hours a month during 2012.
BCEDC wanted to distill its goals, assess its assets and liabilities, then identify ways to grow its business base.
“We reviewed our 2009 strategic plan and updated it,” Sandstrom said. “We evaluated our strengths in terms of resources in our area – trees, water and a temperate climate.”
One goal was to create more workforce consistency. Bayfield County’s employment is strong during the tourist season, but joblessness rises about 5 percent at other times of the year. Even though the county has a number of light industrial firms, “there are not as many year-round employers as we would like,” Sandstrom said.
Expansions by existing firms are easier to facilitate than attracting new companies to an area, they agree. In large part, that’s because they don’t need to be sold on the area’s assets. Through conversations with established area companies, Sandstrom learned several need a similar service that’s not being offered – heat-treating for machined metal products. Power coating and electro-plating also are in demand.
“Many manufacturers send their parts 300 to 500 miles away to be heat treated. That adds to their expense,” Sandstrom said.
APEX is conducting a survey to assess the region-wide demand.
“We have resources to find out who needs that service,” Hansen said. When that data is analyzed, the developers hope it can be used to convince an existing company that expanding into that business would be a profitable investment.
The recruiting challenge
Although some development will come from within, there’s always the desire to bring new firms to the area. That’s seldom easy and requires economic developers to build a business case that justifies outside investment.
“You do need that data. You can’t just say ‘everybody loves to live here, and you will too.’ You need to make the potential business aware of how they can cost-justify being here,” Sandstrom said.
BCEDC would like to add data storage centers to its business mix. Like Duluth, Northwestern Wisconsin can offer such firms similar benefits including cool temperatures and redundant power sources.
More likely, though, Bayfield County will promote its core asset – the abundant supply of wood. Although the paper industry, a prime user of wood fiber, is suffering from a prolonged downturn, there’s a new kid on the block: biomass. There’s a growing interest in using chipped wood and wood waste to manufacture cellulosic ethanol.
“To be efficient, they need wood close by,” Sandstrom said. A key site is available near Iron River that could serve as a chipping and storage area for logs before wood is taken to the end processing plant.
APEX and BCEDC also are developing a template to develop regional aquaculture facilities. An aquaculture project in Silver Bay was launched in 2012.
“There’s definitely room for expansion in that realm,” Hansen said.
Other area developers also are interested in working with APEX, including the Red Cliff band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
“They want to figure out how to do business development activities to make their area stronger for their community,” she said. “I really enjoy helping developers understand the basic pieces – help them gather tangible data, determine trends and get their arms around them so they can determine what needs to be done.”
Some of that work is completed for BCEDC, Sandstrom said. This year, the group has pared its contract with APEX to five hours of consulting assistance a month. But BCEDC will consider becoming an APEX member, he said, and hopes to become more involved in regional development by sharing the resources it uses on a local level.
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