Nancy Smith, executive director of the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce, knows that to draw visitors and top talent, communities need to offer attractions and activities. The county has embarked on a deliberate path to do just that.
After investing a lot of time and research, Shawano County rolled out its new branding campaign — Find Your Wild Side — this year. While it’s early to judge its success, the recently released 2018 numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism show the county’s visitor spending jumped 2.3 percent for a total of $68.5 million, an increase of $1.5 million from 2017.
The branding, which includes a refreshed shawanocountry.com website, is based on the county’s many recreational opportunities and the Wolf River’s Wild & Scenic designation. “It’s really an invitation for people to come and find their wild side, whatever it is,” Smith says.
That wild could include exploring Shawano Lake, stand-up paddle boarding, snowmobiling, waterskiing or hunting for wild mushrooms. Smith says leaders hope to draw people from Milwaukee and Chicago as well as continuing to bring in visitors from Green Bay and the Fox Cities.
The campaign is not just about drawing visitors, but also workers. Smith says her organization has launched a social media push, increasing its presence on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Research shows that rural counties with economies based heavily in recreation are performing well in attracting talent, she says.
Awaiting that young talent is a downtown that boasts a youthful energy. Stubborn Brothers Brewery, a long-awaited and massive project, is transforming the old Crescent Theater building into a craft brewery and event venue. “That is a huge undertaking, but it’ll be a really great venue for some products and services we haven’t had in the area,” says Dennis Heling, executive director of Shawano County Economic Progress Inc. It’s expected to open in August.
Other hot spots owned by young entrepreneurs include Anew Tea Emporium & Antiques and The Stock Market, which sells olive oils, wines, cheeses and moonshine.
Expanded dining options also are coming to Shawano. Culver’s recently broke ground on a location in the city, and Big City Gyros will open in July. J Doggs, a popular food truck that offers Chicago-style hot dogs and stations itself on South Main Street, also will return for the warm months.
As is the case statewide, Shawano County offers plenty of career opportunities. The region is home to large agriculture, tourism and manufacturing industries. Many health care jobs also are available — ThedaCare, Prevea and Aurora all have a presence in the county, Smith says.
Reinhart Food Service recently broke ground on a $35 million transportation and logistics center that’s expected to open in May 2020. Heling says the company is looking to hire around 50 people over the next few years.
The county also continues to bolster its broadband access. It received a broadband initiative grant and is working with Bertram Communications to roll out more connectivity. Both the company and county have pledged money to the endeavor.
“We’re so proud of that because they understand that we need to have wireless broadband, and we need to have it countywide,” Heling says.
A new state-of-the-art, 192-bed skilled nursing facility is coming to the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King in Waupaca County. The $80 million project broke ground in May, and construction is expected to last two years.
Called the John R. Moses Skilled Nursing Facility, it’s named after the World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient who served as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs for 23 years. In addition to a memory care unit, it will offer amenities aimed at creating a home-like environment, including private rooms with views of Rainbow Lake.
“King has been a beautiful and important place for generations of veterans to live following their service to our nation,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement. “I’m proud to be investing in King’s future. We are looking forward to serving Wisconsin’s veterans and their family members for years to come in this modern facility on this incredible campus.”
Elsewhere in the county, Terri Schulz, executive director of the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce, says industry continues to perform strongly. Waupaca Foundry recently opened a new machining center that employs 15 and boasts cutting-edge technology and automation. “It’s a nice addition to Waupaca. You always think of those types of places to be in bigger cities,” Schulz says.
The county continues efforts to attract talent. It recently held a job fair for high school students, with 38 employers offering jobs ranging from summer work to part time to full time. It also uses the Your Future platform to connect students to jobs and apprenticeship and recently held an entrepreneurship pitch competition.
The city’s housing stock remains tight. It’s reaching capacity on apartments, and the number of houses for sale is limited, Schulz says. However, new houses are going up, and a new 48-unit apartment complex is going up on the city’s east side off the Highway 54 bypass.
Looking into the future, the Waupaca downtown will undergo a reconstruction in 2021. The project, which is using Department of Transportation funds, aims to provide a safer, more pedestrian-friendly environment for residents and tourists. Smith says the work will probably take six months and will create wider sidewalks with slightly narrower roads and incorporate more parallel parking versus the angle parking that’s there now.
“It should be a completely new look,” Schulz says.