Be vocal. Buy local. That simple phrase is at the heart of a new economic development initiative in Kewaunee County. Earlier this year, the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. launched a program encouraging businesses to shift 10 percent of their out-of-county spending to a Kewaunee County business.
Since February, more than 60 businesses have signed up to spend more of their hard-earned dollars in the county, says Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp.
“Business retention is a big issue in Kewaunee County and a simple way to help with that is to get more of our businesses to keep their money here,” she says. “We’re keeping local dollars in the community and it’s a great way to promote other businesses.”
Brown says Kewaunee County is in a unique position. Although manufacturers like WS Packaging employ the highest percentage of county residents, agriculture and tourism are close behind.
“We’re a small county, but we work together to leverage our resources and develop solutions to our problems,” Brown says.
The Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. is one way business and government officials from across the county are coming together. Founded in 2006, the group completed a five-year strategic plan in 2008. The plan identified the buy local campaign and a county-wide tourism initiative as ways to help the county’s economy grow.
Brown says many travelers pass through Kewaunee County, located along Lake Michigan, on their way to Door County. “We’re looking for ways to get them to stop and explore Kewaunee County,” she says.
The Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. partnered with chambers of commerce in Kewaunee, Algoma and Luxemburg to create the website www.visitkewauneecounty.com, which features tourism information from throughout the county.
Jamie Sperber, executive coordinator for the Kewaunee Area Chamber of Commerce, says she is optimistic the website will lead to more travel dollars coming into the county.
“This is the first time there’s been a county-wide site. We’re hoping to drive people to VisitKewauneeCounty.com and then from there to our own separate websites,” she says. “It’s a good partnership and one we think will have a real benefit.”
Recruiting a workforce
The availability of a skilled workforce is another concern for many Kewaunee County businesses, Brown says. The county teamed up with Door County to create the Door/Kewaunee Business & Education Partnership (DKBEP) to develop different ways to help local young adults consider going into careers that have a strong base in the area.
DKBEP received a $44,000 Community Based Economic Development grant from the State of Wisconsin to fund a regional training and development program to create career awareness among young adults and fill the area’s future employment needs. One part of that is the creation of a website and a series of WebOuts – videos of individuals making a pitch as they “walk around” over a website page, sent via e-mail – that put the spotlight on nine high-demand manufacturing occupations with current availabilities.
“It’s a wonderful way to communicate with young adults and teens the types of careers available. These are not your fathers’ jobs,” Brown says. “The WebOuts talk about the training and education necessary for the jobs as well as the salary expectations.”
In addition to the website at www.doorcountybusiness.com (click on Business Assistance) and the WebOuts, there are three other components to the program: develop a certified nursing assistant program; expand the high school home construction program to incorporate students interested in complementary industry sectors; and develop a girl’s collaborative program.
“Our hope is that when we look back after five years, we will have a stronger economy in the county and that we’re capturing more tourism dollars,” Brown says. “The current challenge is that with the economy more people are tightening their belts, but we’re optimistic and excited about the future ahead.”