Larry Burkhardt stepped into a new role one year ago: executive vice president and chief development officer for the Fox Cities Regional Partnership, a Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce affiliate, charged with encouraging collaboration among business and municipal entities in the Fox Valley to attract and strengthen the economy. He sat down with Insight editor Margaret LeBrun to talk about the partnership’s mission.
My role involves trying to formulate an image of the Fox Cities that will be useful in terms of marketing to national and international audiences for job creation. We are putting together a regional economic development organization in an area that has never had one.
The organization is a public-private partnership, and the task that I face is to bring those sectors together, acknowledging the fact that we are dealing with up to 60 units of government within our service area. It includes all of Outagamie County, Calumet County and the northern portion of Winnebago County. The biggest challenge I’ve faced to this point is to imbue an understanding that we all win or lose together.
I’ve seen so many different events, facilities, activities that make this a very interesting and intriguing area, like the Fox Cities Book Festival, the Thursday night concerts, the Mile of Music coming up this summer, Octoberfest, the car show at Pierce Park, the PAC (Fox Cities Performing Arts Center), the downtowns – all of these things make this a place that is quality and has something for everyone. The opportunity exists for us to make some solid strides in establishing an image, so when somebody says, “Fox Cities,” it conjures up quality, innovation and dynamism.
I’ve created a little “users’ guide” to the state of Wisconsin for site selectors. We talk about what’s a bubbler, a stop-and-go light, a Tyme machine, sturgeon spearing, deer hunting, Green Bay Packers, supper clubs and Friday fish fries in a tongue-in-cheek, humorous fashion. But we also have a testimonial about our workforce, the fact we have an extraordinarily high graduation rate, extraordinary low crime rate, and it’s an invitation for a site selector to contact us for some hard data. So this is something to give them a sense that, yeah, we’re a little different here, but you’re going to like the difference.
We have initiated our existing industry program to access the opportunities, the challenges, the issues and the overall health of our existing primary employers, with the eye on trying to provide access to resources so that they can become stronger and more competitive.
We’ve also begun work on the attraction program, which includes constructing a website (www.Foxcitiesregionalpartnership.com). The GIS-enabled property-search site, a state-of-the art economic development site, will become our most important marketing tool. That will enable a user to search for properties by size, by type, by location. The data side will allow them access to labor statistics, transportation, community amenities – all the things that are important to that decision.
We’re also in the process of creating our industry councils, with four targeted industries identified in the Garner Report in 2011: Food Processing, Advanced Manufacturing, Quality Business Services and Transportation/Equipment Manufacturing.
Our goal is to support the creation of 1,200 new primary jobs in this service area over the next five years and when that happens, that will mean $75 million in new annual payroll.
We’ve been collecting five-year pledges of support, targeting an annual budget of $800,000. So far we have commitments of $650,000. We have 18 local government entities that have signed on to support us, as well as businesses and nonprofits.
We’re trying to raise the standard of living for the people who live here, to improve their quality of life and give them the chance to compete for a good job so they can make their mortgage payments, so they can buy a car when they need one, so they can put their kids through school. That’s really what we’re about.