Sara Spicer is the attraction marketing specialist for Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp., where she specializes in workforce and retail development. Located in one of the fastest-growing MSA’s in Wisconsin, SCEDC works with existing and prospective companies to ensure they have the resources and workers to grow. Spicer sat down with Insight Senior Associate Editor Sean Johnson to discuss the tools and strategies that make that all happen.
We help small and large businesses, as well as entrepreneurs, locate resources they need to start or grow in Sheboygan County. My part of that is handling companies or retail developers that don’t currently have operations in Sheboygan. I market all the available municipal-owned land and try to push the opportunities. We’ve been working on studies to make sure we have the right tools when talking with developers or at trade shows. We don’t want it to be just our word about our resources, but that we actually have data behind it. In the last year we’ve also hired someone dedicated to workforce development.
We are always looking at needs and how we can get ahead of things. For example, we did a study in 2014 that showed we did not have enough market rate housing in Sheboygan County. Our companies were struggling to get people to relocate, not because they didn’t want the jobs or didn’t like the area, but because they couldn’t find decent housing. So, we made that a point of emphasis. Other EDCs thought we were crazy, but within the last year, we’ve had developers come in with two developments going in our downtown. We have 200-plus units ready to be built in 2016.
We have the jobs, the companies and the housing; now it’s retail. We are going to approach it in much the same way we dealt with housing. We are going to carry that issue with us and talk to anyone who will listen.
We still have plenty of work to do. We’ve had more than 2,400 job postings in the last 90 days. That’s one job per hour. We have tons of jobs available, not because we are losing people — our population is increasing — but because our companies are expanding and they have new positions to fill. That works out to about $100 million in payroll that’s available. My next initiative is to get those paychecks going in Sheboygan County and then to get that money spent in Sheboygan County by developing the right retail mix.
When it comes to attracting workers and companies, we take every opportunity we can to put positive and fun stuff out there. The recent poll about millennial women was not something we put together, but was done by an online dating site that determined Sheboygan was one of the best places in the country for single, millennial women for both career and dating. We could have been offended or ignored it, but we decided to run with it. We thought it was fun, positive and an interesting title we had been given. We received a lot of great feedback.
Sheboygan County has some great assets, starting with Lake Michigan. Any community can show a picture of water, whether it’s a lake or a pond, and any community can show a picture of a nice golf course or nice park. The difference is Sheboygan County has some of the top-of-the-top facilities and natural resources. We have world-class golf courses, a world-class art center and tremendous natural resources. It’s just a matter of getting people off of Interstate 43 and coming into the city.
We have cranes going up and our companies are expanding. We have some of the largest companies headquartered in Sheboygan County. With the fact that they are privately owned, they invest that much more back into the community. They are building headquarters, they are building R&D centers and they are investing long term. That’s what makes it easier for us to be able to get the housing and get the retail — because it’s a sure thing.