Sunday, May 17, 2009

Recession highlights importance of regional economic development

By Bill Ihlenfeldt

The time for Momentum West is more critical now than ever!

We all are struggling to come to grips with the economic condition of our world today. I don't remember a time in my life when it has been a more critical issue. We are in a period of trial and error in which leaders worldwide are struggling to find the key to turn things around. We also hear that no matter what occurs, the future will be different.

Western Wisconsin has always been somewhat insulated from these types of downturns, perhaps because we have avoided the major fluctuations in housing, wages, employment and other areas. One could argue that causes other problems, but at this time it is something of a positive factor. We have also worked well together in developing and diversifying the region in which we live. Perhaps the loss of employers such as Uniroyal has made us more aware of what can happen, and this has stimulated us to look to the future with the optimism that working hard together pays off.

Organizations such as Momentum Chippewa Valley and United St. Croix Valley have worked to market their respective regions and tackle common regional issues for about 20 years. Today, the scene has changed, and their successes have bred new, larger organizations in other parts of the state. We also have talked for many years about the I-94 Corridor, or connection, because of the common thread the interstate creates between Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Chippewa Valley.

Leaders in the region soon realized that this common thread created a natural environment with common needs, issues and problems. Those same leaders also realized that working together gives us more clout when dealing with issues downstate and nationally, and a new, larger organization was born: Momentum West.

Momentum West is a regional marketing organization made up of 10 counties in western Wisconsin: Barron, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Rusk and St. Croix.

Volunteers from these counties have been working for the past year to craft an organization that will make certain that our region is recognized in Madison, nationwide and even globally.

Momentum West is largely funded by the private sector, which is critical, because if we are to create a better economy for the region, then the business community must guide us. Higher education also is involved because a highly trained workforce is a key to a better economy, while county governments play a role because of their economic development units and emphasis.

Momentum West provides a venue to bring all of these resources to the table to carve a new image and to find new directions and ideas for the region with a private-sector basis. It is not another economic development layer, nor is it doing work similar to local chambers of commerce. Rather, it is an organization that transcends localities and looks at the big picture for the region.

It is designed to make the state and nation aware of our great qualities and work to help local units of government, chambers of commerce and economic development organizations move in directions that are not possible independently.

Together, we can influence our future as a region. Because we cannot be complacent, the time is right for Momentum West.

Ihlenfeldt is volunteer interim director of Momentum West and retired president of Chippewa Valley Technical College.

No comments:

Post a Comment