Grow North Helping Economic Development in the Northwoods
Grow North Economic Development Corporation focuses on creating economic development opportunities to improve the vitality of Oneida, Vilas, Forest, Lincoln, Langlade, Oconto, Florence, and Marinette counties. Areas of focus include workforce development, with efforts to attract, retain, and promote a pipeline of skilled workers to the region. Initiatives include engaging K-12 students by providing manufacturing and other business tours, FAB Lab / Maker Space opportunities, promoting forestry, logging, and wood products careers, and collaborating with businesses to offer apprenticeship opportunities. Vicky Oldham, Vice-President of Grow North, stated, “It is extremely important to provide educational opportunities for students through internships, applied learning, and dual credit options while in high school to prepare our youth for high-paying jobs in the region, as well as to build a sustainable pipeline of skilled talent for our workforce”. Another area Grow North is focusing on is broadband expansion; “We play an active role in securing Connect America funds and Broadband Expansion grants, hosting round table listening sessions for businesses, and members of the community, and contacting legislators to ensure under or unserved rural areas receive assistance related to broadband coverage”, explained Collette Sorgel, President of Grow North.
As a recipient of a Hardwood Products Strategy grant, Grow North is creating a marketing plan to showcase the wood products industry and related assets in the region. This includes the creation of a directory for the wood products industry, collaborating with the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association and the Department of Natural Resources Forestry Products Services Division, promoting forestry, logging, and wood products careers, and developing markets for secondary woods, such as red pine, tamarack, etc.
In order to attract, develop, and grow new and existing businesses in the region, Grow North helps to create opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop skills and receive assistance. Financial support from the Juday Foundation, along with support from Vilas County Economic Development and Nicolet Technical College helps to provide scholarships for entrepreneurship training. To date, 53 individuals graduated from the training sessions and 26 either started or expanded their businesses. Entrepreneurship training will soon be expanded to address the needs of individuals with disabilities who would like to own their own business. By providing support and business space for start-up companies, Grow North ensures entrepreneurs have what they need to be successful. Dave Armour of Rental Shack in Eagle River utilized this opportunity to expand his business. “I found the Entrepreneurial Training invaluable. It helped me by being able to learn from and talk to the professional guest speakers that came to the training, including accountants, lawyers and other business people. I was able to take my business to the next level”, said Armour. Chris Gaffron, owner of StitchIt in Eagle River, also understands the importance of the classes and support provided at the business incubator. “When I moved into the incubator in April 2012, I thought I was just getting rental space — I didn’t realize that I would also have support and guidance as I developed my business and created a business plan. I couldn’t have done that without the help I received in the classes and from my mentors”. Gaffron, who started out with just one industrial sewing machine, now owns three machines, as well as a laser garment printer. StitchIt provides custom embroidery and printed garments for businesses, resorts, and school districts. The company also has a special niche in the equestrian industry. Gaffron proudly added, “Whether I have an order for one item or an order for 1,000, the same high level of care is given to each piece, because I know that, to my customer, their order is the most important thing to them”. To date, 10 businesses are currently housed in the business incubator space with 2 additional businesses looking to move in.
“Expanding opportunities for northern Wisconsin by leveraging partnerships and building strategies for growth will positively impact the economic vitality of our region”, said Collette Sorgel, Grow North President. If you are interested in learning more about Grow North, or would like to become a member, please contact email@example.com, or visit the website at www.grownorth.org. The next Board of Directors & Membership Meeting will be held on Thursday, May 4th from 10:00am to 1:00pm at the Three Lakes Center for the Arts, 2760 Superior Street in Three Lakes, WI.