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Border counties take their issues to Madison

MADISON -- The governor told them the St. Croix Valley is at the center of what the state is trying to accomplish in economic development.

But what local advocates hoped to accomplish last week was to put the area on legislators' maps and its needs on their agendas.

The second annual United St. Croix Valley Legislative Days took over 40 of the region's business and education leaders to the state capital for two days. Going in teams of four or five, participants kept appointments with over 100 lawmakers or their aides to brief them on issues important to St. Croix, Pierce and Polk counties.

"I think the most important thing really is to keep the three-county area, the fastest growing area in the state, in the forefront of the legislators' minds," said Kim Heinemann, president of the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce. "This part of the state is so often forgotten."

"In the case of legislators that live three or four hours away, there was a little bit of storytelling that we had to do to set the stage," said William Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix County Economic Development Corporation.

One statistic that caught lawmakers' attention was mentioning that about 80% of the area's employed adults travel to Minnesota to work, said Rubin.

"Dropping a little tidbit like that helped us set the stage for the purpose of our trip," he said.

The St. Croix Valley is "at the center of what we are trying to accomplish in terms of economic development," said Gov. Jim Doyle as he addressed the contingent before members set off for an afternoon of meetings in legislators' offices.

"Yours are challenges based on growth and preserving a wonderful way of life," said Doyle.

He urged participants to brag about what their communities have accomplished through collaboration.

"We really have to start telling the story about the good things that are happening," said Doyle.


One lawmaker, a 15-year incumbent from north central Wisconsin, bluntly asked the contingent visiting his office, "Where is River Falls anyway?" as he turned to a map.

But in many offices, either the legislator or aides told of vacationing in the region, of friends or relatives educated here or, in one case, of buying a purebred puppy from a kennel in Pierce County.

"You've got a very beautiful area," said Senate President Fred Risser, meeting in his office with a team of four. "I just hope you're going to save some of that rural beauty."

"I think it's great that regions of the state are doing this," said Senator Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay. "Otherwise, it's all Madison all the time."

"I think it's still a work in progress," said Rubin, reflecting on Legislative Days after the group returned.

"It's one thing to go down there, but the real measure of the trip's success is what happens afterwards," said Rubin. Brochures offering "at a glance" data and a synopsis of Legislature issues were left with all the legislators.

Rubin said a work group will meet later this month to decompress and debrief about what worked and what to change. A core group is committed to making Legislative Days an annual event and members plan to make it bigger and better next year, he said.

The agenda

These are some of the issues Legislative Days participants lobbied for:

  • A repair bill that would provide an additional $2.5 million in tax credits for the I-94 Corridor Technology Zone. According to advocates, the zone has nearly exhausted its $5 million in tax credits intended to help create high-tech, high-wage jobs.
  • Adoption of a bill to create a border incentive grant program that would help west central Wisconsin communities compete with benefits offered by Minnesota's Job Opportunity Building Zone (JOBZ) program.
  • Increased awareness of the economic importance of I-94 and of proposed improvements to Hwy. 8, Hwy. 65 and Hwy. 64 as well as timely funding for maintenance and upgrades.
  • A bipartisan solution to the state's transportation funding shortfalls.
  • Additional funding for the Workforce Advancement Training Grant program that awards money to technical colleges to help the state's workers upgrade their skills and productivity.
  • Support for the UW System's Growth Agenda for Wisconsin, which aims to enroll more resident students, graduate more four-year degree holders, attract college grads from other states and use UW resources to develop high-tech and technology-based jobs.
  • Increased state funding for Wisconsin technical colleges.

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