Ribbon of Highway


Ribbon of Highway


Woodrow Wilson (Woody) Guthrie, the folk singer who found inspiration from the Dust Bowl era, may be best remembered for writing This Land is Your Land. A key line in the ballad is, “As I was walking that ribbon of highway, I saw above me that endless skyway.” The term, ‘ribbon of highway’ creates a dark image of desperate Okies from Oklahoma migrating to California on bad two-lane roads during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

St. Croix County’s ribbon of highway is Interstate 94. It’s a show piece and workhorse, carrying as many as 85,000 vehicles a day at the border with Minnesota. Back in October 1959, a 59-mile segment of I-94 opened from Hudson to Menomonie, and later to Eau Claire, impacting this region’s destiny forever. America successfully transitioned from two-lane highways to four-lane super highways as more and more segments of the interstate system opened.

Business, industry, agriculture, tourism, and commuters all rely on I-94’s connections. But at nearly sixty years old, I-94 is tired and worn. Orange construction barrels now dominate the landscape, usually in three- to five-mile increments. Reinvestment in the interstate system here has been steady. Numerous overpasses and interchanges throughout St. Croix have been reconstructed, complete with round-about intersections at the top of each ramp. Road construction work in the Hudson area recently started, which will result in the addition of a third travel lane in both directions from the St. Croix River at Exit 1 to just past Exit 4. A new allocation totaling $144+ million was a late addition to the state’s biennial budget. I-94’s driving lanes will be further expanded between Exit 4 and State Highway 65 in Roberts as part of this new, seven-mile project.

St. Croix County’s residents could be nicknamed Road Warriors, travelling short and long distances for work, shopping, and entertainment. County residents commute in all four directions for employment, but the most popular destination is west into the Twin Cities. At dawn, I-94’s westbound lanes are busy, followed by heavy eastbound traffic in the afternoon. Semis, carrying raw materials and finished products, are important to commerce but their loads take a toll on the roads. Summer’s heat, winter plowing, followed by spring’s thaw and freeze, can be knock-out punches.

Reinvestment in I-94 is vital, whether it’s a three- or seven-mile stretch. The interstate is a lifeline. Traffic hums along at all hours. It’s an important component to economic development.

Mr. Guthrie, jump in for a ride. From California to the New York Island, that ribbon of highway is a little longer and faster than you may remember.

August 2017 Unemployment Rate

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St. Croix County’s August 2017 Unemployment Rate at 2.9%

On September 20th, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced the preliminary August 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 2.9% 2.8%. For comparison, St. Croix’s final rate in July was 2.8% and June’s final rate was 3.0%. One year ago, the county’s unemployment rate was estimated at 3.5%.

DWD said preliminary unemployment rates for August decreased in 71 of 72 counties when compared to August 2016. The current rates ranged from 2.4% in Dane and to 7.5% in Menominee.

The August 2017 preliminary unemployment rates decreased in all of Wisconsin’s 32 municipalities with population bases of least 25,000 residents when compared to August 2016. The August rates ranged from 2.3% in Fitchburg and Madison to 6.1% in Racine.

Dane County had the lowest rate in August at 2.4%, followed by Green (2.5%), Lafayette (also at 2.5%), Clark (2.6%), and Door (also at 2.6%). Menominee County had the highest rate in August at 7.5%, followed by Iron (6.0%), Forest (5.2%), Adams (5.1%), and Racine (4.6%).

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 August 2017 in Polk was estimated at 3.0%. The August rate in Dunn and Pierce counties was estimated at 3.1%. The current rates in all four counties are lower compared to August 2016.

St. Croix and Pierce counties are included in the 16-county Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI metro area. The August 2017 unemployment rate for the Twin Cities was estimated at 3.4%, which is higher than July’s final rate of 3.3%, but lower than June’s final rate of 3.5%. The unemployment rate in the Twin Cities was 3.6% in August 2016.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate for Wisconsin in August was estimated at 3.4%, which is higher than July’s final rate of 3.2% and June’s final rate of 3.1%. One year ago, the state’s seasonally adjusted rate was 4.2%.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate in Minnesota in August 2017 was estimated at 3.8%, which is higher than the 3.7%, which is the same as the final rates for June. Minnesota’s seasonally adjusted rate one year ago was 4.0%.

The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate in the U.S. for August was estimated at 4.4%, which is higher than July’s final rate of 4.3% but the same as June’s final rate. One year ago the U.S. rate (seasonally adjusted) was estimated at 4.9%.

Wisconsin’s preliminary (seasonally adjusted) labor force participation rate for August 2017 was estimated at 68.8%, which is the same as July’s final rate, but lower than June’s final rate of 68.9% in June. One year ago, Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate was 68.3%. The preliminary (seasonally adjusted) labor force participation rate for the U.S. in August was estimated at 62.9%, which is the same as July’s final rate and higher than June’s final rate of 62.8%. One year ago, the labor force participation rate in the U.S. was 62.8%.

August’s estimates are preliminary and are subject to revision within the next few weeks.

August 2017 Unemployment Table
August 2017 Unemployment Comparison
August 2017 Participation Rate

Jugglers Wanted


Jugglers Wanted


A young man with my last name began his junior year in high school in August. He juggles school and homework with a couple of part-time jobs – an outside seasonal one and a steady job indoors. In the spring he’ll add another ball to his juggling act when varsity baseball rolls around. He is not the only student-athlete-employee-juggler in high school. This circus act is repeated from one community and school district to the next.

The young man’s newest job is at an unnamed big box retailer (hint: he looks great in crimson and khaki). Dad’s biggest wish is a rags-to-riches success story that takes a 16-year old from stocking shelves and running a cash register to a corporate vice president position, complete with a corner office. And stock options. A guy can still dream, right?

The good news: he likes the new job and its pace. The better news: his regular paycheck relieves Dad of his most challenging role – a walking and talking ATM. The best news: he’s a saver. The advice I gave him a year ago did not sink in until a bank associate offered up a verbatim suggestion, “Put one hundred dollars away every week and you’ll be surprised after a year.” The youngster did not make it to $5,200 but he saved more than he spent. The grown-up ATM remains available for unplanned emergencies, i.e. crimson and khaki apparel, a laptop, or a guaranteed error-free infielder’s glove.

More than ever, businesses of all sizes and from all sectors are relying on the part-time shifts high schoolers provide. For the global retailer, imagine the scheduling required from pre-opening before 8:00 a.m. to post-closing past 10:00 p.m. The same can be said for a family-owned restaurant that opens for lunch and closes at 10:00, 11:00, or later. Add a breakfast option and the day just got longer and the scheduling more difficult. Ditto for coffee shops, nursing homes, grocery stores, automotive shops, and light manufacturing.

For employers and high schoolers, there’s a likely win-win solution to all of this. Businesses get a partial solution to their workforce needs. Students learn real life work experiences, earn paychecks, and may choose a career path. Opportunities for full- and part-time employment have never been better. The trick is in the juggling act for both employers and associates.

Here’s to the young jugglers who keep local economies moving forward!

Friday Night Lights


Friday Night Lights


Has the economic impact of high school football games across the U.S. ever been measured? Win or lose on Fridays, my unscientific reasoning includes ticket sales, concessions, benefit raffles, pre-game meals, convenience store stops, new sports apparel, and post-game wrap-up sessions, commonly referred to as parties.

Parents uphold a longstanding tradition by hosting weekly dinners for players and coaches, with a major emphasis on the intake of carbohydrates. Intel from an unnamed booster website suggests the following, all donated, for a single pre-game meal: spaghetti, meatballs and bread sticks are prepared at a restaurant and delivered to the high school cafeteria, parents supply twenty dozen desserts plus twenty gallons of chocolate milk for the players and two gallons of white milk, presumably for the coaches. Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State, but 22 gallons times 10 dinners means a small pool could be filled. No word on the cooked weight of the noodles, gallons of sauce, pounds of meatballs, or number of breadsticks from the very generous restaurant.

Proud parents travel great distances to support the players and team. For them, a perfect trifecta sign may read, Gas-Food-Lodging. Saloons featuring burgers, fries, cheese curds, and adult beverages are great destinations and each community has one or more option.

Marching bands, dancelines, cheer squads, and young spectators need to eat, too. They’ll likely stop anywhere that has a drive-through window.

Teams from several St. Croix County school districts have claimed state championships within recent memory, including Somerset, Glenwood City, and St. Croix Central. Nothing brings a small town together like a successful sports team. Win a conference championship or a couple of play-off games and the excitement around town is contagious.

As for the economic impact . . . it’s priceless. Let’s support the home team at a game this season and spend a couple of dollars in doing it. Go Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks, Glenwood City Hilltoppers, Hudson Raiders, New Richmond Tigers, River Falls Wildcats, St. Croix Central Panthers, and Somerset Spartans!

WEDC to Discuss Supply Chain Opportunities with Foxconn


WEDC to Discuss Supply Chain Opportunities with Foxconn

Tricia BraunThe Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) will provide an overview of supply chain (contract vender) opportunities associated with Foxconn Technology Group at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, September 18, 2017 at the Cashman Conference Center, WITC-New Richmond campus, 1019 South Knowles Avenue, New Richmond, Wisconsin.

Tricia Braun, WEDC’s chief operating officer, will provide details on Foxconn, its economic impact, and how local businesses may become involved in the supply chain. Braun brings nearly 20 years of economic development leadership experience at WEDC. Prior to her current position, she served as WEDC’s vice president of economic development and regional development and attraction director. She is a graduate of UW-River Falls and former executive director of the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

In late July, Foxconn announced the selection of southeast Wisconsin as its first U.S. production operation. It represents a potential investment of $10 billion in Wisconsin over the next six results, resulting in a manufacturing campus comprised of multiple buildings totaling 20 million square feet. Liquid crystal display (LCD) panels will be produced for a variety of industrial sectors, including automotive, health care, and entertainment. The campus is expected to create 13,000 new jobs and represents the largest new greenfield investment made by a foreign-based company in U.S. history.

Foxconn estimates it will make $5 billion in purchases from Wisconsin companies during the construction of its campus and another $1.4 billion in annual supplier purchases once the plant is operational.

Wisconsin companies looking for potential business opportunities with Foxconn can use Supply Chain Marketplace, a quick and easy online tool, to connect with the electronics manufacturer. The Supply Chain Marketplace allows companies to find new customers and reach new markets by highlighting their capabilities and by making connections. The online tool is free of charge, and all Wisconsin businesses are eligible to create a profile at www.WISupplyChainMarketplace.com.

Once a company creates a profile, it will be added to the appropriate directories by clicking a box. There is a new supply chain directory tailored specifically to Foxconn.

Company listings may be searched via keywords, certifications, ownership, industry-specific categories, and more. Nearly 30 industry categories currently exist within the Supply Chain Marketplace, and more will be added, as needed. Hundreds of companies have already created profiles.

A.M. Conversations


A.M. Conversations


A couple weeks ago, I made a morning pit stop at a local coffee shop on my way into the office. Ever the chatterbox, I had a brief conversation with the shop’s barista. I found out I had coached her in the local rec soccer program, lo those many years ago. My inspirational pep talks must not have left much of an impression, because her reply to the soccer connection was “No way!”

I correctly guessed she was a recent high school grad, and “What’s next?” turned out to be “Going to UW-Madison in a couple of weeks”, followed by “I’m scared”. She got a reassuring, “You’ll do just fine.”

A second stop at the coffee shop a few days later was slightly earlier in the morning, around 5:50 a.m. For some, that hour is the middle of the night as sunrise is past 6:00 and moving closer to 6:30. For me, this time of day is akin to ‘the early bird gets the economic development worm’. The coffee shop opens at 5:30 and the same barista mentioned she’s up in the morning with her dad. I said something along the lines of “High achievers are up at this hour.”

This time, my reference to Madison was met with, “I’m excited.” Things had changed. She was ready. Perhaps it’s the fickle nature of an 18-year old, or maybe it was her recognition that something new and important is out there and it was time to find it.

Here’s to the incoming and returning students at colleges, universities, and technical colleges. Have some fun. Meet new friends. Study once in a while. Find it.