Checked Twice, St. Croix Valley Submits Its List
BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Akin to a child writing a letter to the North Pole, a mythical list of wants and needs has been assembled for Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. The child’s list may be more practical, but to the credit of the St. Croix Valley, their list does not include a pony. Horsepower yes, but not a Shetland.
Topping the list is broadband in unserved and underserved rural areas. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the State of Wisconsin and many units of local government have funds on hand for all sorts of worthwhile projects. Let’s make 2022 the year that broadband was deployed through public-private efforts. Internet providers have the expertise and work crews, but overcoming the so-called last mile of service to pick up a lone customer or two is the vexing problem. This could be historic if providers and local units of government collaborate to solve broadband woes once and for all, using the best available technology and an eye toward the future.
Next on the list is workforce development. More people are leaving the workforce through retirement than those who are entering it. This fact goes back several years. Plenty of jobs are available for young workers who are armed with appropriate credentials, determination, and plain old get-up-and-go. Let’s ensure business and industry has a place at the table as curriculum is developed. The St. Croix Valley continues to be among the state’s leaders in population gains, leading to sustained school enrollment. Keeping recent grads here for good-paying jobs is a challenge worth solving.
Housing is another workforce challenge. Where are the starter homes or apartments for first-time wage earners? Home prices and rents in the Valley tend to mirror what’s found across the St. Croix River in the Twin Cities. Loosely translated, this means expensive. Sometimes the term affordable housing is confused with subsidized housing. The St. Croix Valley’s list involves starter-type, market rate housing. Even if it’s grandpa and grandma selling their vintage two-story that’s served them for four decades and moving into independent senior housing, it would open up another reasonably-priced home to a new buyer(s). Let’s find creative ways for young workers, managers, and technical associates to live where they work.
The time may have arrived for the makings of a transit system. Call it a transit starter kit. A couple of communities, River Falls and New Richmond, have contractual relationships with a private vendor to ensure the mobility of its residents. The city of Hudson is updating a plan to enable them to move in the direction of a private vendor system. St. Croix County created a transit commission a couple years ago, so look for 2022 as the year additional dots are connected with limited service throughout the day.
Good roads make good communities even better. I-94 runs east-west through St. Croix County. At key intersections, traffic counts on I94 rival those in Madison and Milwaukee. Numerous state and U.S. highways branch off I94. All take a pounding, including the county highways and town roads. Sometimes tenures of mayors, village presidents, town chairs, or county board chairs are measured by the number of filled potholes or miles of sealcoating. Funds for roads, highways, and bridges in 2022 may be another practical use for the new-found ARPA money.
The St. Croix Valley is a great place to live, work, and recreate. Consultants and researchers replaced the term Quality of Life with a Livability Index a few years ago. Addressing any or all of the items on the St. Croix Valley’s wish list will raise its Livability Index, but will take time, energy, and of course, M-O-N-E-Y. Maybe they are intended as conversation starters for elected or appointed boards. Just like the child with a letter destined for the North Pole, one or two items may become realities. There’s always next year, or the year after that! Let’s get started.