Field of Dreams


Field of Dreams


Do you recognize the name Archibald Wright Graham? Would his nickname “Moonlight” Graham help? How about the novel, Shoeless Joe, or the movie, Field of Dreams?

Moonlight Graham was a real life person. He played professional baseball, mostly at the class “c” and “b” minor league levels. In late June 1905, Graham appeared in his only major league game with the New York Giants, not as a starter, but as a late-game substitute in the outfield. Baseball records show he was left in the on-deck circle when the batter ahead of him recorded the final out of an inning. Regrettably, Graham only played a couple of innings in the majors but did not record an official at-bat.

When he left baseball, Moonlight Graham became “Doc” Graham and practiced medicine in Chisholm, Minnesota for decades.

In the novel-movie storylines, Moonlight/Doc was asked what he’d wish for if he had one to make. He simply wanted that missed chance of batting against a big league pitcher, and maybe stretching a double into a triple.

Throughout the novel and movie, deceased major leaguers, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, come to life at a magical baseball field carved out of an Iowa cornfield. Still eager to play even on a field in Iowa, Jackson’s major league career was halted in its prime following the 1919 World Series. He and several teammates were found to have fixed, or thrown, the series, resulting in a lifetime ban from baseball. It was not Heaven as the players would discover. Alas, it was Iowa.

Having grown up near the Minnesota-Iowa border, I can say with some authority that hometown Elkton, Minnesota or even Dyersville, Iowa, the home to Field of Dreams, doesn’t have anything over the St. Croix Valley.

It’s here. Quiet, small town charm. Identifiable main streets. Restaurants and shops. Micro-breweries. High quality of life. Natural resources like the St. Croix, Kinni, Willow, and Apple Rivers. Access to a major metro area. Taprooms in breweries (see above). Hospitals and clinics. Great  schools. Post-secondary options. Best in class services. Good transportation, starting with an interstate, U.S. highways, and state highways. A pro-business environment. Numerous business and industrial parks. And the list goes on.

Life is good in the St. Croix Valley.

It’s even better in St. Croix County, Wisconsin.

Dream Big.

Innovation Center Enhances Business Success


St. Croix Valley’s Innovation Center Enhances Business Success


The late Bill Shoemaker was a legendary jockey who rode thousands of horses to victory, including several winners in Triple Crown races. Weighing only 2.5 pounds at birth, “Shoe” was not expected to survive his first night, much less the foreseeable future, but quick-thinkers placed him in a shoe box, and then in an oven, as a way to keep him warm. The bootstrapped incubator worked and Shoemaker grew to a height of four feet 11 inches, ideal for a jockey.

Except for the shoe box, many families can relate to Shoemaker’s harrowing story. Birth is indeed a miracle. Big things come in small packages.

How does Shoemaker’s survival apply to business start-ups? Some business analysts suggest close to sixty-six percent of new businesses survive the first two years. Others say about fifty percent (50%) of businesses fail during the first year. Those are considered steep odds in horse racing parlance.

Individuals contemplating the launch of a business in the St. Croix Valley may wish to consider tenancy in the Business Innovation Center, under construction in Sterling Ponds Corporate Park (River Falls, Wisc.). It will open in early 2018 and offers private offices, light manufacturing, and co-working spaces as well as access to business advisors and coaches. The long-term aim is to get new businesses through their early, critical stages so that entrepreneurial development in the St. Croix Valley flourishes.

Although based in River Falls, the center will serve the region. Businesses graduating from the space will end up in a more permanent location, likely found in the respective hometowns, ideally in the St. Croix Valley. Lessons learned from advisors, coaches, and mentors in the center will serve businesses well into the future, furthering improving their success rate.

Whatever it’s referred to as – shoe box, incubator, intensive care isolette, or business innovation center – the ability to survive and then flourish begins at very early levels.

Learn more about the regional center at

Here’s to the long-term success of new business start-ups in the St. Croix Valley.

May Unemployment Rate at 2.5%

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St. Croix County’s May Unemployment Rate at 2.5%

On June 21st, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced the preliminary May 2017 unemployment rates for Wisconsin’s 72 counties and the 32 cities with populations greater than 25,000 residents. St. Croix County’s rate was estimated at 2.5%. For comparison, St. Croix’s final rate in April was 2.7% and the final rate in March was 3.7%. One year ago, the county’s unemployment rate was estimated at 3.5%.

DWD said preliminary unemployment rates for May decreased in all 72 counties when compared to May 2016, and decreased or remained the same in 68 of the 72 counties over the month (April 2017). The current rates ranged from 2.2% in Dane County to 5.3% in Iron.

The May 2017 preliminary unemployment rates decreased in all of Wisconsin’s 32 municipalities with population bases of least 25,000 residents when compared to May 2016 and decreased or remained the same in 26 of the 32 municipalities over the month (April 2017). The May rates ranged from 2.1% in Sun Prairie to 4.7% in Beloit.

Dane County had the lowest rate in May at 2.2%, followed by Lafayette (also at 2.2%), Fond du Lac (2.3%), Green (also at 2.3%), and Iowa (also at 2.3%). Iron County had the highest rate in May at 5.3%, followed by Menominee (5.1%), Forest (4.0%), Bayfield (also at 4.0%), and Burnett (3.9%).

St. Croix, Pierce, Polk, and Dunn counties comprise Wisconsin’s Greater St. Croix Valley. In addition to St. Croix referenced above, the preliminary rate for May 2017 in both Dunn and Polk counties was estimated at 2.8%. Pierce’s rate in May was estimated at 2.9%. The current rates in all four counties are lower compared to May 2016.

St. Croix and Pierce counties are included in the 16-county Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI metro area. The May 2017 unemployment rate for the Twin Cities was estimated at 3.2%, which is lower than April’s final rate of 3.3% as well as the final rate of 3.8% in March. The unemployment rate in the Twin Cities was 3.1% in May 2016.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate for Wisconsin in May was estimated at 3.1%, which is lower than April’s final rate of 3.2% and the final rate of 3.4% in March. One year ago, the state’s seasonally adjusted rate was 4.1%.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate in Minnesota in May 2017 was estimated at 3.7%, which is lower than April’s final rate of 3.8% and the final rate 4.0% in March. Minnesota’s seasonally adjusted rate one year ago was 3.9%.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate in the U.S. for May was estimated at 4.3%, which is lower than the final rate of 4.4% for April and the final rate of 4.5% in March. One year ago the U.S. rate (seasonally adjusted) was estimated at 4.7%.

Wisconsin’s preliminary (seasonally adjusted) labor force participation rate for May 2017 was estimated at 68.8%, which is higher than the final rate of 68.6% in April as well as the final rate of 68.4% in March. One year ago, Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate was 68.7%. The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) labor force participation rate for the U.S. in May was estimated at 62.7%, which is lower than the final rate of 62.9% in April as well as the final rate of 63.0% in March. One year ago, the labor force participation rate in the U.S. was 62.6%.

Unemployment Rate Table May 2017
Annual Unemployment Comparison May 2017
Labor Participation Rate May 2017

Decisions a Decade Ago Yield Big Benefits


Decisions a Decade Ago Yield Big Benefits


The West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (RPC) serves a seven county region in the St. Croix and Chippewa Valleys. In 2005, the RPC agreed to participate in a pilot program originating out of Madison. The initiative asked towns, villages, cities, and counties to consider consolidating their existing revolving loan funds into a new, consolidated account. The proposed fund would be subject to uniform policy guidelines compared to assorted standards across the region.

In return for consolidating the funds, leaders from local government learned that Madison and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were willing to remove the onerous federal conditions tied to the 2005 loan funds.

Readers should note the term onerous is the blog’s author. Restrictions like prevailing wages for new construction activities, a demonstrated benefit to low- and moderate-income individuals and families, and new job creation requirements were among those federal conditions.

After a series of region-wide conversations, the elected boards started to act on the proposition to consolidate the funds. By late 2007, an agreement between the RPC and a charitable nonprofit called the Regional Business Fund, Inc. (RBF) was in place for RBF to administer the consolidated loan funds. The fund was capitalized at about $17 million, thanks to the towns, villages, cities, and counties.

Akin to a civic miracle, 31 of 32 units of government in the region agreed to the consolidation. All seven communities in St. Croix County, including the town of Hudson, villages of Hammond, Somerset, and Woodville, cities of Hudson and New Richmond, and the county agreed to the initiative.

It’s been a little more than 10 years since the consolidated fund took shape. RBF administrators report 113 loans, totaling just over $8.2 million and supporting 109 businesses, have been approved in St. Croix County since inception. Thirty-eight (38) of the loans were for start-ups. Since most of RBF’s loans are considered gap financing, other lenders and/or financing agencies participate. Their involvement totals just over $42 million. As for job retention and creation, an estimated 870 pre-loan jobs go along with almost 700 new jobs. All statistics are through May 31, 2017.

There’s a lot of credit to go around: to the RPC, the RBF and its staff, RBF’s board of directors which includes representation from all seven counties, St. Croix EDC’s loan fund which includes representation from the seven participating communities, and the local loan committees.


Youth Apprenticeships Link High School Workers to Employers


Youth Apprenticeships Link High School Workers to Employers


The Governor’s office recently announced a record $3.9 million in Youth Apprenticeship (YA) grants to 33 organizations across the state, including a $90,000 award to the St. Croix Valley Consortium and $312,300 to CESA 11.

This St. Croix Valley group serves the Hudson, New Richmond, and St. Croix Central school districts and CESA 11 has a larger reach in west central Wisconsin but includes the districts of Baldwin-Woodville, Glenwood City, River Falls, and Somerset in St. Croix County.

Organized by statute in 1991, YA is an increasingly important asset. It represents one component in addressing workforce shortages by linking students and local employers. High school juniors and seniors in YA receive technical and on-the-job training in occupations where they’ve expressed interest. Program areas are broad and diverse — agriculture, food, natural resources, architecture, construction, finance, health and science, IT, manufacturing, STEM, logistics, hospitality, lodging, and tourism. The positions are paid and may extend over a one- or two-year period. In addition, students receive valuable mentoring.

During YA, students take related high school or college classes to expand their work experiences. Upon successful completion, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development issues a Certificate of Occupational Proficiency to the students.

Employers who are looking for a built-in pipeline of young, energetic workers may wish to consider the Youth Apprenticeship option.

And to students seeking a test drive of career options, YA may be your high performance model.

Business-Friendly Rankings: Wisconsin Earns a Top 10


Business-Friendly Rankings: Wisconsin Earns a Top 10


In May, Chief Executive Magazine released its annual ranking of Best and Worst States for Business.

Surprise! Wisconsin made the Top 10 with a #10 ranking. That’s one better than the 2016 ranking, but light years better than the 2010 ranking of #41.

In 2015-16, St. Croix EDC’s president Chuck Jerrick made a prediction that Wisconsin had a Top 10 in its future. The latest ranking proves Chuck right.

Wisconsin’s progress in the business-friendly rankings looks something like this:

41st in 2010
24th in 2011 (+17)
20th in 2012 (+4)
17th in 2013 (+3)
14th in 2014 (+3)
12th in 2015 (+2)
11th in 2016 (+1)
10th in 2017 (+1)

Following a big leap of 17 places in 2011, Wisconsin’s progress has been incremental.
Very rarely does a season-ending sports poll turn out as envisioned in the pre-season. This means Wisconsin has to defend its Top 10 ranking, and work harder to improve, even if it’s in small gains.
Here’s to #10 (and improving).
On Wisconsin.