The Waupaca Common Council received its first of four lessons about economic development during a Feb. 25 strategic planning workshop.
The city is in the process of developing a new Strategic Plan for Economic Development. Last week’s topic was “Data Driven for A Stronger Economic Baseline.”
The facilitators were Eric Fowle, East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission; Naletta Burr, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation; and Dave Thiel, Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation.
Over the course of two hours, they discussed economic trends, the city’s strengths and gaps, and the importance of partnering with the private sector.
Fowle told the council the city is projected to have continued growth.
Population and the workforce are the most critical areas related to economic development, he said.
In 2010, the average age of someone living in Waupaca was 41. That number is projected to be 42.9 in 2020 and 44.9 in 2030.
While this is an area where people like to retire, Fowle said the community also has a solid up-and-coming workforce.
“Attracting people of workforce age is an important part of economic development,” he said.
He described quality of life and community development as the “soft side” of economic development and said it often does not get enough attention.
A trend being seen by those who work in economic development is an increase in the percentage of one-person households, Fowle said.
They are seeing more of a market demand for multi-family housing units in both the older and younger populations, he said.
People also want mobility. They want to be able to walk and bike to places, rather than only use a vehicle for transportation.
Waupaca has a trail system, and Fowle said the city’s intact downtown is an asset.
“Placemaking is becoming more important in terms of attracting new residents. They want a nice place to live,” he said.
Today’s college graduates are first deciding where they want to live. Once that decision is made, they look for a job, Fowle said.
With its trails, lakes, proximity to a state park and numerous annual events, Waupaca has many of the things people look for in a community, and he said it is all part of economic development.
Great schools, recreation, livability and a vibrant are the top things people look at in a community, Burr said.
“When you look at workforce development, if someone is coming here from outside the community, how can you get them to buy a house here, and also think about getting the people commuting to find work here,” she said.
In Waupaca County, 65 percent people of the people live and work in the county, with 33 percent working in another county and a small percentage working outside of Wisconsin, Fowle said.
He said the small percentage of people working outside of the state likely telecommute.
“You are losing about 3,000 workers who are going outside of the county to work,” Fowle said.
Those people are spending money outside of the county, such as at convenience stores and restaurants, which translates into lost dollars for Waupaca County.
Thiel said 87 percent of Waupaca Foundry’s employees live in Waupaca County, while 733 of its employees live in the Waupaca area.
Manufacturing, agriculture and tourism have been the biggest drivers in the county for a long time, he said.
Thiel said part of economic development is focusing on the strengths of a community’s present employers and building on them.
He encouraged the city to acknowledge the long-term commitment of businesses who have been here a long time.
“They are the best ambassadors,” Thiel said. “You have to be partners with the private sector.”
Burr said, “A lot of it is relationship building. How can we make you better? How can we diversify you?”
Fowle said there is more of a focus today on industry clusters and supply chains.
Thiel stressed how important Waupaca Foundry is to the area and said the more a cluster of businesses related to the Foundry is brought together here, the more of a force worldwide the Foundry becomes.
The city owns the infrastructure, and can ask the Foundry what its workers are looking for in a community, Burr said.
“Your job is to make a place where they want to live and the best place for businesses to be,” she said.
Private companies want to see public investments.
A vision for the future, affordable housing for all stages of life, a vibrant downtown, accessibility and broadband access are key, Burr said.
The city will have three more workshops about economic development.
The other sessions are scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays, March 11, April 8 and May 13.
All sessions will be be open to the public and held in the lower level meeting rooms of the Waupaca Area Public Library.