Written by Brad Karger
The regional Economic Development Strategic Plan first presented to the public earlier this month is not at all a status quo document . . .
One of the most startling and ambitious recommendations is a call for a new economic development organization: The Greater Wausau Prosperity Partnership (GWPP).
The plan writers — TIP Strategies, of Austin, TX — concluded that our community is not organized for long-term, sustainable economic development success. In order to correct that, community and business leaders need to join together in a new way to chart a path for Wausau’s economic future.
Represented on the partnership council will be:
- Health Care
- Professional Services
- K–12 Schools
- Post-Secondary Education
- Marathon County
- City of Wausau
- Wisconsin Public Service
- Hmong Community
- Convention & Visitors Bureau
- Wausau Area Events
- Chamber of Commerce
I think many people left the presentation with the idea that we might form a larger council that meets regularly and shares information and coordinates mostly independent efforts, but I don’t see it that way. I think we’re talking about a new economic development organization with its own staff.
The mission of the GWPP will be to support the execution of the Economic Development Strategic Plan (read the full plan here).
Building this partnership will require a lot, including financial resources, which I envision coming from a capital campaign.
Many of the recommendations included in the report involve areas the community has been aware of in the past, such as the need to:
- Build a community that attracts skilled workers and talented individuals
- Better align employers and educational partners to build a pipeline of future workers
- Expand the higher education options available in Marathon County
- Grow and attract technology-enabled companies
- Develop the riverfront in downtown Wausau
- Identify a long-term re-development option for the Wausau Center mall
- Expand broadband and high-speed connectivity
While community leaders have been aware of these needs for some time, the new Economic Development Strategic Plan establishes expectations and accountability of actionable tactics, and the new GWPP is positioned to provide oversight.
One of the recommendations that took me by surprise was to re-brand the Wausau region as an outdoor recreation mecca: The Extreme Sports Capital.
This new strategy will challenge the community to invest in the development and enhancement of extreme sports and outdoor recreation attractions throughout Marathon County, including skiing, whitewater rafting, hiking, and biking. Front and center in all of this is an initiative of the Parks Foundation called Iron Bull Xtreme.
The planning group is about to announce a series of athletic events in Marathon County that will attract participants and visitors for extreme sports events from all over the state — and some from beyond our borders. (Read more in “Wausau to Highlight Extreme Sports Potential to Attract Young Professionals.”)
Additionally, Victus Advisors is in the final stages revising their market and feasibility study for a new multipurpose sports and entertainment complex in Marathon County. I’ve seen a preliminary draft of their report, and I can tell you that it’s well-researched and its recommendations are consistent with the themes and recommendations of the Greater Wausau Region Economic Development Strategic Plan.
The sports and entertainment center study was sponsored by MCDEVCO and the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau, and it involves working with the U.S. Sports Development Group in evaluating the feasibility of developing a new sports and events center in Marathon County.
There will be more to come with the public release of this report very soon . . . In the meantime, you can learn more in “Marathon County Aims to Draw Olympic Hopefuls With a New Multipurpose Sports & Event Center.”
A lot of great ideas and helpful information have been generated lately, and our community leaders have been challenged to leave the status quo behind, to recognize the urgency for action, and to prepare our community for the next 25 years.
This could be the start of something BIG!
Marathon County Administrator
In his Administrator role, Brad Karger leads an organization with 700+ employees and an annual budget of more than $162 million. Brad has been in leadership positions with Marathon County for the past 30 years. He is known statewide for generating innovative ideas and solutions to problems, openness and transparency, and a commitment to community service that extends well beyond the normal workday. Email Brad Karger.
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