Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
Commerce Program Helps Strengthen Economic Development/Retention
Every now and then, a woman that may look familiar to some – but they're not exactly sure why – can be seen on the fifth floor. As one of a very small handful of Division of Community Development employees based in Milwaukee, Geri Petersen laughs good-naturedly at the notion that she is a veritable stranger among her co-workers. ("Maybe she's an auditor???") However, since 1997, the Indiana native, who found her way to Wisconsin via California and Hawaii, has been in charge of the state's Business Retention and Expansion Study Program.
The program, which is free to Wisconsin communities and helps determine factors that affect local business retention and expansion, was originally a part of Ameritech's Marketing Division in Milwaukee. During a reorganization of that company in 1997, Ameritech officials decided that the survey-driven program would be more appropriate at the state level, and turned it over to the Department of Commerce. Former Ameritech employee Geri Petersen followed, and set up shop at a Commerce satellite office. She is now located in Schlitz Park on the north side of Milwaukee, an office she shares with Minority Business Area Development Manager Mary Perich, and Minority Business Administrator Ruby Brooks, when she's in town.
So what exactly is the Business Retention and Expansion Study Program?
The purpose of the WIBRES program is to help communities develop a systematic approach to business retention and expansion efforts. The overall objective of the program is to help local governments understand the effects of their policies on local businesses. The program provides an opportunity to:
Identify specific concerns and problems of the local businesses and provide swift, effective solutions. The WIBRES program uses an in-depth survey instrument to collect information from chief executive officers on the local business climate.
What the Survey Covers
Communities may wish to collect data to examine community specific issues as well. Commerce will design an addendum questionnaire for this purpose and provide feedback of the data collected.
Community/county survey findings are compiled annually to develop a composite picture of the business climate across Wisconsin. Comparisons of the local area to the state composite findings are presented to the community as well. This allows the community to examine its business development situation in relationship to others in the state.
Where Studies Can Be Conducted
What the Study Will Cost
The community will be responsible for the following costs: postage, personnel to enter data into a user-friendly system (provided by Commerce), printing of additional reports, and costs associated with the presentation; i.e., meeting space, refreshments and invitations.
Prairie du Chien, which received Main Street status in 2005, undertook the WIBRES survey because as part of a comprehensive plan to assure Prairic du Chien is a community where businesses can thrive and employees and their families will be attracted to as a place to live. Through the survey businesses expressed difficulty recruiting professional and technical workers even though the average wage offered for these positions is above average. Main Street efforts include a plan to make the north and south entrances to the city more attractive, which will affect businesses along those corridors. Façade changes and relocations may occur. The community is looking into a smart approach to developing additional housing options as well. Stoughton and the counties of Lincoln, Forest, Oneida and Vilas are also utilizing the tool, which included addendums for their retail/ service/tourism/lodging sectors.
After participating in the program, Columbia County noted that the WIBRES is "one of the greatest tools they (Commerce) have provided to us," and that the county's Economic Development Corporation "appreciates the value of this important economic development tool and the advantages it offers."
Shawano County noted that after its 2003/2004 survey, "a significant business retention project" unfolded. Thanks to the survey, a red flag was raised, and after local, state and federal officials stepped in to work with the owners, that particular company stayed in the state, and just broke ground on a $5 million plant expansion that generated an additional 40 jobs. That was just one of many success stories attributed to the survey.
Petersen values the relationships she has built with the diverse group of professionals she works with through out the state. "It's rewarding to hear the success stories and know my studies can impact business development in communities and ultimately the state of Wisconsin. The key is for area economic development professionals to just do it – get out there and visit your local businesses, let them know they are appreciated and engage in discussions regarding their needs and future plans."
For more information contact your Area Development Managers.
-- Barbro McGinn
The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.
Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.