Connie Loden can see the waves of change rolling toward Manitowoc County.
As one generation prepares to retire and a new, more entrepreneurial group begins to dominate the workforce, they will bring new ways to grow and nurture the economy along the Lake Michigan shore.
Traditional sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture will always be important, but she is also looking forward to the new opportunities rolling in on the next demographic waves.
“There are a lot of predictions that we will see more and more people working for themselves in the future — up to 50 percent of all workers by 2020 in some studies,” says Loden, executive director of Progress Lakeshore, the private economic development agency serving Manitowoc County. “If we are looking at a percentage that high, it’s really important we provide connections to business resources, particularly those that are startups.”
In some ways, Progress Lakeshore has already positioned itself to assist both existing entrepreneurs as well as those who might be thinking about working for themselves. The organization provides information for business owners and entrepreneurs on its website, provides referrals to experts and mentors and regularly conducts educational boot camps on skills such as business planning, financial management and marketing.
“For our communities to be successful in the future, we need to make sure we have some business acumen,” Loden says.
For the past 10 years, the economic development agency has been working to connect businesses and resources, as well as help train a better workforce to help strengthen the regional economy. Formerly known as the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County, the agency celebrated its 10th anniversary by unveiling a new brand identity earlier this year.
The moniker Progress Lakeshore with a tagline of “Accelerating business success,” better reflects the agency’s expanded emphasis and its role as a private, non-governmental group.
“We have expanded and many of the things we do go well outside the county’s boundaries,” Loden says.
Some of those expanded efforts include the Lakeshore Cluster Initiative, which seeks to help businesses in manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and energy generation identify each other and opportunities where they can work together to grow economic opportunity.
When a new opportunity is identified, Loden, along with her counterparts in Sheboygan, Door, Calumet, Manitowoc and Kewaunee counties, and others seek the appropriate investors to act on it.
Progress Lakeshore is also working on a supply-chain mapping project funded by an $81,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration to identify manufacturing opportunities related to the use of compressed natural gas, specifically gas generated with biomass.
“As we make shifts to those types of energy, there is a need for the equipment,” Loden says.
Other aspects of its development efforts are more traditional, but still vitally important to the region. Progress Lakeshore was also part of the team that convinced Ironwood Plastics, Inc. to expand its operations in Two Rivers, a $19 million project expected to result in 80 new jobs.
“As a small city, we have reduced our in-house staff for economic development,” says Greg Buckley, city manager for Two Rivers. “We look for them to provide those technical aspects of a project. It’s a collaborative partnership that has been very successful.”
ON THE WEB
About Progress Lakeshore
Progress Lakeshore is a private economic development agency serving the Manitowoc County and Lakeshore region. It provides businesses with resources for education, workforce training and information on opening or relocating a business to the region. It is also an active participant in New North. On the web: http://progresslakeshore.org