Wisconsin has been divided into seven economic regions over the course of the previous decade.
The boundary lines were decided somewhat arbitrarily, with counties joining forces to access new state economic development programs, of because they were already partnering in other regional planning commissions.
Waupaca County is part of the New North region.
We were already aligned with many of the counties in the New North region through organizations like the East Central Regional Planning Commission and the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board.
So when the state offered technology zone tax credits in 2002, with the caveat that counies could only access them by joining a regional pool, I chose the Fox Valley site to learn more about the program.
This eventually led to Waupaca joining up with the rest of the counties that attended the Fox Valley site that day to form the Northeast Wisconsin Technology Tax Credit Zone. That group morphed into NEWREP (Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Partnership), because the economic development professionals began to understand how much more efficient and effective it was to work together on projects rather than competing against each other for every project.
A few years later, a group of CEOs from businesses located in the Appleton and Green Bay areas began discussing how to work together as a region to foster economic development.
These groups eventually coalesced around a study prepared by NorthStar Consulting Group, which was commissioned by Fox Valley Workforce Development Board, and New North was created.
I am convinced that Waupaca County’s economy, workforce and quality of life are interconnected with, and dependent on, the counties in the New North region.
As the well-being of this region goes, so goes our county. In addition, the state is committed to the regional model for economic development, and just about every other service area they are involved in (workforce development, housing, education).
That means we need to participate in the regional models in order to access state resources.
An early example of this was the 2002 technology zone tax credit program.
The region was allotted $5 million in state tax credits for expansion projects that involved investment in operations, facilities and new employees. The new jobs had to pay at least $13 per hour, and the plant infrastructure investment needed to involve new, high-tech systems.
WCEDC assisted Waupaca County businesses in securing 21.4 percent of the $5 million in tax credits.
So how is the New North region performing?
The most recent report was released in July and covers the period through June 2012.
The data shows that average quarterly wages for all employees in the New North region have risen 12 percent since 2007 ($7,792 in Q1-2007 versus $8,740 in Q4 – 2011).
Total jobs in the New North region at the end of the third quarter of 2011 was 584,456, an increase of 5,645 in one year.
Three out of four manufacturers in the New North region expect sales to increase in 2012. Northeastern Wisconsin businesses were the most likely to project better performance in 2012.) More than 150,000 workers were enrolled in a higher education institution in fall 2011.
Dr. David Ward is the CEO of NorthStar Consulting Group. He is a past chancellor in the University of Wisconsin System, and has his doctorate in economics. He provided an economist’s outlook for the mid-year report.
“The economic performance of the New North is remarkable in several ways. First, the region has bucked the national economy headwinds and has clearly done better than much of the rest of the country.
“Job growth, a particularly weak point in the national economy, has been strong in the New North. Also, personal income growth has done better than the national numbers. New North businesses have weathered the severe recession of 2007-09 and appear to have improved their productivity and finances.
“The number of establishments has remained steady. Survey data from First Business Bank and the NEW Manufacturing Alliance has shown strong growth in 2011 and optimism about future growth in 2012 and 2013.
“The challenge ahead is to maintain the lean and productive structure of regional businesses and to find skilled workers and capital for further expansion.”
The skilled workforce issue continues to hamper growth in our region and the State.
I am currently working with a regional group that includes New North, Fox Valley Workforce Development, regional colleges, and the Department of Workforce Development on a pilot project to address this challenge.
The pilot will include the employees that are being let go from Kraft Foods in Waupaca.
David Thiel is executive director of the Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation.