Holy Gourd! The Great Pumpkin


Holy Gourd! The Great Pumpkin


Just like Halloween displays popping up in big box retail stores in mid-August, pumpkins in all shapes and sizes are finally available, just ahead of October 31st’s scary day. But before there’s a Halloween celebration, pumpkins are deserving of their own day. Yes indeed, Wednesday, October 26th is National Pumpkin Day. Good Gourd Almighty! Circle it on the calendar.

What about the lowly pumpkin? Friend or foe? Do they bring an economic impact? The details are here:

-Reportedly, eating pumpkins is good for your health: Pumpkins are high in potassium, which has a positive impact on blood pressure. This news pleased the St. Croix Valley’s fast talking economic development guy. Anything for lower BP, he vowed, anything. Pumpkins are full of fiber, what a relief, as well as vitamin C to help reduce the risk of stroke, loss of muscle mass, and reduction of kidney stones.

-Pumpkins taste good (reportedly): Baked, boiled, steamed, or fried, there are many ways to prepare and enjoy pumpkins.

-Fruit or Vegetable: Because of the seeds, pumpkins are considered a fruit, and the average pumpkin has a one cup of them. Pumpkins are 90 percent water.

-History: The oldest evidence of pumpkin seeds goes back to between 7000-5500 B.C. to seeds found in Mexico.

-Pumpkins are grown all over the world and are found in six of the seven continents. You won’t find them in Antarctica, however.

-According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all states in the U.S. produce pumpkins, but six states produce most of them. Illinois leads the way. An estimated 40 percent of so-called pumpkin acres are usually harvested in the Top Six pumpkin producing states.

-Illinois is on a roll. In 2020, growers in the Land o’ Lincoln increased their acreage and harvested more than twice as many pumpkin acres as any other state. Almost 80 percent of the acres in Illinois produce pumpkins for pie-filling or other processing uses (read: pumpkin puree).

-Yields vary: Illinois grows about 40,000 pounds per acre, while also rans Indiana, Michigan, and Virginia grow about 20,000 pounds per acre.

-The National Retail Federation, the source for all things involving spending, estimates almost 150 million Americans plan on buying pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns. Inflation has impacted the price of pumpkins, going from $4.83 in 2021 to $5.40 in 2022. Embrace your inner nerd. It’s only 57 cents, but equates to nearly 12 percent.

-The increased price means $804 million will be spent on pumpkins this year, up 13 percent from 2021’s $709 million.

-Pumpkins can fly if they’re launched. Bridgeville, Delaware hosts the World Championship Pumpkin Chunkin’ contest every year in early November. High-tech and low-tech contraptions fire pumpkins into an open 200-acre field. Their world record is 4,694.68 feet. Can the holy grail of one mile or 5,280 feet be far off?

-As recent as October 10, 2022 a grower from Minnesota set a new U.S. record for heaviest pumpkin at a contest in northern California. It weighed 2,560 pounds and beat the previous record by 6 pounds, set just 10 days earlier by an upstate New York grower. The world record is 2,702 pounds from a grower in Italy.

-Cheers: Brewer Samuel Adams makes a Jack-O Pumpkin Ale.

-Get rich scheme for kids: A jack-o-lantern is a way to add value to a pumpkin. Keep looking for neighborhood signs from kids hoping to make a few bucks by carving jack-o-lanterns to consumer specifications.

Here’s to 2022’s Great Pumpkins in the St. Croix Valley.

Homecoming 2022: Wake up the Echoes


Homecoming 2022: Wake up the Echoes


Graduating classes come and go.

Marching bands come and go.

Cheer squads come and go.

Coaches, team managers, and cable television announcers all come and go.

But there’s only one homecoming. And across the U.S., an important date on the calendar is near, Homecoming 2022. Coronations, parades, bonfires – oops, that’s a specter from a bygone era, and pep rallies all lead up to the game – perhaps better phrased as Thee Game. Win it and teammates rejoice for decades. Lose it, and those same teammates are haunted beyond decades.

What about the economic impact of homecoming? A 2011 news clip from Albany, Georgia proclaimed, “City officials say Albany businesses should receive an economic impact between four to five million dollars from Homecoming.” The owner of a restaurant said homecoming was biggest week of the year by far. “There’s nothing like the Albany State Homecoming weekend,” the owner boasted. Is it possible for college fans to spend a little over $380 traveling to their alma mater as a 2021 study suggested? Ouch. And Yes. Gotta eat. Gotta sleep. Gotta get swag. Gotta celebrate. Or commiserate. Remember, consumer spending is responsible for 70 percent of the country’s economic activity. This includes spending on football and homecoming.

Bringing it down to a local level, bars and grills will be full before and after games. Concession stands will be busy, too. Floats for parades don’t decorate themselves. And topping the tank to and from big games is a must, even as gas settles in at $3.70+ a gallon. Back in the day, new dresses and coats were purchased for homecoming. Fast forward to 2022 and more than one family elder may ask, “You paid how much for those jeans and they came with all those holes?”

Families in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley find ways to come through. They’ll do it again for homecoming this fall. Boosters play a big role behind the scenes. An undersized 220 pound defensive lineman needs pasta on the eve of big games, followed by brownies and milk for desert. Boosters make it happen. Eight and nine-year old kids playing organized football for the first time soon become high school juniors and seniors. Unpaid boosters played big roles in getting them there.

An unnamed university in South Bend, Indiana has high expectations for academic achievement and even higher expectations for success on the football field. Their fight song asks followers to wake up the echoes, cheering her name! This is a call for all loyalists, living or not, to pull for a victory. How can the opposing team stand up to a legion like this?

And now on to the big game, Homecoming 2022. Good luck players, coaches, drum majors, cheerleaders, and fans. Blackhawks, Hilltoppers, Panthers, Raiders, Spartans, and Tigers will call upon their legions. Wake up the echoes!

Scary Choices: Back-to-School Shopping


Scary Choices: Back-to-School Shopping


Moms, dads, and extended family members in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley were not immune from scary shopping experiences leading up to the start of a new school year. Part of the scare was linked to the Halloween merchandise on full display at the big box stores since early August. Halloween still falls on October 31st, so the appropriate sequence for consumer spending is still back-to-school shopping, a state fair in nearby Minnesota, Labor Day festivities, football homecomings, school breaks, and then Halloween. Billions will be spent on Halloween candy and costumes. In a money saving effort, the spendthrift Grinch in the St. Croix Valley will continue to celebrate as himself.

Parents, disguised as consumers, quickly discovered ‘must-have’ back-to-school items were impacted by the latest boogeyman called inflation. Meanwhile, the list for must-haves keeps getting longer, including notebooks and pencils, the latest in fashion, accessories, computers, and other electronics. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted spending for back-to-school and back-to-college could reach $110.7 billion, up two percent from 2021’s record setting $108.1 billion. Perhaps the NRF’s school spending estimates were intended to draw attention away from research from the Brookings Institute on the cost to raise a child to age 17, estimated at slightly more than $310,000 or $18,300 per year!!!

The NRF says households may spend an average of $864 for the 2022-23 K-12 school year while back-to-college spending is stable at around $1,199 per household. Parents-consumers are expected to spend almost 41 percent more in back-to-school shopping this year compared to pre-COVID 2019.

The retail analytics company DataWeave noted the following increases from 2021:
-backpacks are up nearly 12 percent
-lunchboxes increased 14 percent
-notebooks and folders take the top prize with an increase of 31 percent

Newell Brands makes good old Elmer’s Glue and Sharpie pens. Their 2022 prices were set to cover inflationary costs from suppliers. Newell offered a hedge by saying it has no control over what retailers charge for their products. Sharpie permanent markers are reportedly up seven percent and highlighters up 8.5 percent, but the Elmer’s glue products were up almost ten percent.

St. Croix Valley residents are resilient. Moms and dads likely shopped early, starting in July. Online shopping sometimes translates into lower prices. In-store brands are usually priced lower than brand name products. Working extra hours or making an additional sale when commissions were involved helped soften the financial blow of school supplies.

St. Croix Valley residents and business are also generous. They’ll find a way to pick up extra supplies for classrooms. Free backpacks and school supplies are now common activities for numerous clubs and organizations. Social media and school districts will make the important connections of where and when.

As long as children and young adults continue to grow a few inches between June and September, there will be back-to-school shopping needs. Remember, those students will soon be on their own. Ideally they start new chapters as residents in the St. Croix Valley as parents and community members. Their shopping carts will be brimming with supplies. And the beat goes on.

Economic Beat Goes On


Economic Beat Goes On


Headwinds. Icebergs. Torpedoes. Despite the recent gloom-and-doom economic headlines, consumers perched in a mythical crow’s nest say it’s cautiously full speed ahead, especially in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. In reality, those commanding in the ship’s bridge are on heightened alert. The course remains the same – in a forward direction — even with looming obstacles.

Econ 101 reminds us the economic vitality of a region, state, or country largely depends on the spending habits of its residents. Consumer spending is an important metric because it directly impacts the measure of gross domestic product (GDP). The U.S. economy transitioned to a service-driven one long ago. At least two-thirds of consumer spending is on services. One armchair economist put it in understandable terms, “We’ve become a country of haircuts and hot dog stands.”

More Econ 101: Disposable income drives consumer spending. It’s the money potential consumers have after deducting taxes and other withholdings from paychecks. Without sufficient disposable income, no one has the funds to buy the things they need.

Nearly every household experienced serious belt tightening of late. Doubters can check on the meteoric rise of gas, food, shelter, and vehicles – new or used — up, up, and up. Wages and benefits could not simply keep pace. As fast as gas prices rose, they are parachuting downward ever so slowly. Belts were tightened. They still are, and a reoccurring topic around dinner tables likely centers on Wants versus Needs.

Even with headwinds, one measure of vitality bodes well for the St. Croix Valley. The measure is sales tax collections. Almost all Wisconsin counties opted into an extra half-cent sales tax to go along with the state’s five cent tax. A one dollar purchase of a taxable item means the bill is $1.055. On ten dollars, it’s an extra fifty-five cents. You get the picture. St. Croix County enacted its half-cent collection in April 1987. Millions have been collected and wisely expended. Rather than borrow and incur an interest charge, St. Croix County applies much of its sales tax revenue toward capital improvement projects.

Not too many years ago, a strong collection year for St. Croix was $5.5 million. Then $7.25 million. Then $9.75 million. In 2021, the county pushed through the $10 million ceiling with $10.8 million collected. A couple factors helped contribute to a county’s collection fortunes – federal stimulus money to consumers and a 2018 Supreme Court ruling requiring online retailers to collect sales taxes on electronic purchases. Cha-Ching. Five of St. Croix’s top collection months have occurred in the last 13 months, ranging from the highest of $1.13 million in June 2022 to $1.031 million in July 2022.

Weird science or armchair economist? Wants v. Needs? Smoke or Mirrors? Serendipity? Maybe it’s a little of each. Consumers will continue to spend because that’s what they do. There are big shopping days ahead, including back to school, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

Icebergs or tightened belts, here’s to determined consumers in the St. Croix Valley.

Lemons: Take a Stand


Lemons: Take a Stand


As predictable as dandelions in April and boulevard flags on July 4th, neighborhood lemonade stands are popping up again in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Business owners in search of the next generation of leaders say the stands are a sight for sore eyes. It takes a lot of resilience to plan, operate, and sustain the lowly lemonade stand. But they can also spark successful entrepreneurial careers.

Lemonade stands took a big hit during COVID. Kids tried creativity by using canned products and drive-through service. One sign featured a masked lemon. Another proclaimed an immunity boost from the lemons. That statement was not evaluated by the FDA, however. Another sign read, “Last Chance Lemonade” located one block before drivers hit a state highway with no turning back. Consumers still shied away.

They’re back in 2022. Recently, residents in a North Hudson, Wisconsin neighborhood may have witnessed an economic development leader slow his vehicle to a crawl after he spotted a stand. It was a no brainer. Out he jumped and was greeted by the stand’s operators. They asked, “Lemonade?” He shook his head to signal no. “Where’s your tip jar?” he asked. “And your signs up the street?” He got a couple of shrugs. “Here’s a dollar for a tip,” he said. “And keep up the good work. We need more business people like you.” The operators quickly figured it out. A transaction did not take place, but they received some good advice and were a dollar ahead.

The economic development guy resisted the temptation to embellish the young operators about the Five Ps of a business plan – product, price, place, people, and promotion. He’d save it for another day or another stand. If the Five Ps came up again, he’d suggest the Small Business Development Center, a resource where businesses of all sizes and shapes receive timely advice, including a class along the lines of Business Plan Writing 101.

Lemonade stands still face many uphill battles, including successfully navigating rules and regulations. It took the governor’s pen on November 26, 2019 (not a misprint) for Wisconsin kids to operate lemonade stands without licenses as long as the stands are on private property, the operators are under 18 and sales are less than $2,000. The bill also prohibited local units of government from imposing bans on kid’s lemonade stands. Huzzah! Several other states are recognizing the value of the can-do lemonade stand.

As a wrap-up to the North Hudson story, the economic development guy stopped at the curb and asked, “Open tomorrow?” He got a “Yep” in unison. Sounding like a warning but intended as advice, he said, “OK, I’ll be looking for the tip jar and signs. And keep up the good work!”

From resiliency to heartwarming, don’t underestimate the economic impact of neighborhood lemonade stands, especially those in the St. Croix Valley.

Celebrate the Fourth Locally


Celebrate the Fourth Locally


Happy 246 years of independence, America.

2022’s July Fourth is a well-deserved three day weekend. For consumers, this translates into an extra day of recreating and spending. The importance? Economists repeatedly say consumer spending props up 70 to 75 percent of the U.S. economy. They point to 2018’s Fourth of July on Hump Day – Wednesday – meaning fewer people were able to celebrate the holiday’s full impact. Translation: Consumer spending was down on July 4, 2018. COVID has impacted celebrations, too.

Record spending over the Fourth is forecast this year, even with red hot inflation, weekly gas price adjustments, and supply chain woes. Main streets in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley could use the boost. Most communities have special events, whether it’s a parade, baseball-softball tournament, carnival, or fireworks. Give them a visit. St. Croix Valley residents and tourists are sure to make cash registers ring. In a nod to modern vending, Bitcoin and Venmo® could be payment options, too.

The websites for National Retail Federation and WalletHub list several fun facts about July Fourth, including:

– 84 percent of Americans will celebrate Independence Day this year
– Food is a major expenditure on the Fourth; an estimated $84.12 per person will be spent on food and a total of $7.7 billion will be spent on food
– The shopping list is topped by beef ($727 million), chicken ($273 million), and pork ($195 million)
– Cookouts, BBQs, or picnics are the most popular ways to celebrate, followed by attending fireworks or a community celebration, attending a parade, or traveling/vacations
– Consumers will pay 30 percent more on fireworks this year; fireworks were up 35 percent in 2021; a pyrotechnics association reported an unprecedented demand for fireworks for backyard celebrations starting in 2020 due to COVID
– 150 million hot dogs are eaten on the Fourth; no word if hot dog eating champ Joey Chestnut will travel to the St. Croix Valley; his 10-minute eating record is 76 hot dogs
– $1.45+ billion is spent on beer and wine, with beer claiming $1 billion of the purchases (public service announcement: don’t drink and drink)
– 48 million people travel 50+ miles from home for the Fourth; in 2020 the number of travelers was estimated at 34 million
– 91 percent of travelers will drive to their destinations
– 100 places in the U.S. have independence, liberty, freedom or eagle in their names
– 95 percent of all U.S. fireworks are imported from China
– 14,000 public firework displays are held on the Fourth
– $1.5+ billion is spent on firework displays
– The cost of hosting a municipal fireworks display can approach $200,000
– $5 million is the recommended insurance coverage for fireworks shows

Here’s to three great days of weather in early July. Here’s to community celebrations in the St. Croix Valley. Here’s to local cafes, bars, grills, ice cream shops, food trucks, breweries, and distilleries. In 2022, make a new traditional in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley.

Bird? Plane? Construction Crane!

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Bird? Plane? Construction Crane!

The line from an early 1950s black-and-white TV series the Adventures of Superman went something like, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

Fast forward to the spring of 2022 and the line in the St. Croix Valley can be changed to, “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a construction crane!” That’s right, a no longer sleepy county at the Wisconsin-Minnesota border has transformed into East Metro’s Construction Central. Numerous commercial and multi-family sites in St. Croix are hosts of what used to be rare sights – construction cranes.

Get used to it. Cranes could be commonplace. St. Croix County, Wisconsin has its rightful place among 14 other counties that comprise the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). For bragging rights, the Twin Cities MSA is the 16th largest in the U.S. with a population of 3.75 million people and third largest in the Midwest. More civics lesson backfill – the best counties – St. Croix and Pierce – are the only Wisconsin counties in the MSA designation. All others are to the west in Minnesota, including Big Brothers Hennepin and Ramsey and St. Croix’s nearby cousins, Washington and Dakota.

Pushing the civics envelope a little further, the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says there’s also a Combined Statistical Area (CSA) definition that gives the Twin Cities a total of 21 counties by picking up outlining metro and “micropolitan” areas like St. Cloud, Faribault-Northfield, Red Wing, Hutchinson, and Owatonna. The all-in population of the CSA is 4.1 million people. This still pales in comparison to the four-state New York-Newark CSA that boasts 23.5 million+ people. It’s all relative. Big is big. But a farmer in rural St. Croix or Pierce may not agree that he or she is remotely included in any sort of metro designation.

Back to construction cranes. Bridge building historians remind residents of the mega-cranes brought to the St. Croix River in April 2016. Construction on the St. Croix Crossing had fallen behind schedule so massive “ringer” cranes were dispatched. The river project enjoyed the notoriety having two of the four ringer cranes in North America at its construction site. Their 660-ton capacity made quick work of lifting 180-ton bridge segments into place. At the peak of river crossing project, as many as 14 cranes were operating along with 400 workers.

And how do contractors speed up work on large-scale construction projects? Bird, plane, or construction crane? The $50 million Hudson Medical Center north of I94 along Carmichael Road in Hudson has had a crane on site since October 2021. It was used to set concrete wall, floor, and roof panels into place. Just up the street at Vine and Carmichael are two cranes that complement each other at a large apartment project. Other cranes will pop up around the county, too.

The St. Croix Valley’s landscape is changing. It’s a sign of growth and progress, especially relating to commercial activities. The greater east metro area is vibrant. It’s a preferred locale and address. Here’s to construction cranes. They are now common sights.

Dads, Naps, and ATMs


Dads, Naps, and ATMs


2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Father’s Day as an official national observance in the U.S., thanks President Richard Nixon’s 1972 proclamation. “Ladies first” as they say, meaning the recognition of Mother’s Day came 58 years earlier from President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

A Hall of Fame for Dads likely does not exist, but it should, covering all the bases, including compassion (“kid, you’re not hurt, get back in the game”), understanding (“kid, when I was your age . . .”), protection (“kid, let me know who’s bullying you”), leadership (“kid, follow me, I’ll go first”), industrious (“kid, it can be fixed with duct tape”), provider (“kid, let’s order a pizza”), and adventurous (“kid, don’t tell your mom”).

In reality, it’s Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Offspring Day 24/7/365. Dads and moms lack manuals entitled, How To. It gets figured out. Mistakes are made. Kids grow up. And the cycle repeats itself, at which time dads and moms become proud grandparents.

Here’s to dads, fathers, father figures, and grandpas in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley and around the globe. On June 19th, here’s to burgers, brats, weenies, and steaks on the grill. A thirst-quenching pint. Maybe two. A baseball game, amateur or pro. Eighteen holes of golf (a good walk spoiled). A boat or dock, and fishing poles. And here are some light-hearted reflections for Father’s Day 2022:

“I’m a Dad, Grandpa, and a Veteran. Nothing Scares Me” -Unknown

“Because I said so.” -Universal Dad

“I don’t need Google® – my kids know everything.” -Unnamed North Hudson, WI resident

“My daughter got me a ‘World’s Best Dad’ mug. So we know she’s sarcastic.” -Bob Odenkirk.

“Dad taught me everything I know. Unfortunately, he didn’t teach me everything he knows.” -Al Unser

“By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong.” -Charles Wadsworth

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” -Mark Twain

“I just taught my kids about taxes by eating 38 percent of their ice cream.” -Conan O’Brien

“How do you spell Dad? Answer: ATM.” -Universal Dad

“Remember: What Dad really wants is a nap. Really.” -Dave Barry

Cheers to all Dads, past, present, and future!

Congrats 2022 Grads


Congrats 2022 Grads


Time honored graduation traditions will soon play out across Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Some ceremonies already occurred at colleges and universities, and those seem to arrive earlier and earlier. Many will recall when June was a time for grads and dads.

Regardless of the timing, graduation is a significant event – a so-called life event by some. Graduation? Commencement? Are they the same? Well, Google® says Graduation is the completion of all educational requirements; Commencement is the ceremony celebrating the completion of a degree.

Twelve years after entering first grade in the 2010-2011 academic year means a milestone arrived. A scary thought – 75 percent of an 18-year old’s life has revolved around education – starting with pre-kindergarten programming, then kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and finally, high school. Think of the teachers, recesses, lunchrooms, field trips, pop quizzes, finals, and hallway walks between classes. Hopefully the trips to offices bearing the word, Principal, were minimal.

What about graduation traditions? Google® came through again:

Cap: It’s also called a mortarboard, a square, previously having three or four peaks, linked to clergy and academicians. It was originally called a mortarboard because it resembled a mortar board used by bricklayers. At one time, only individuals earning master or doctorate degrees wore the square cap. Today, it’s universally worn by all grads.

Gown: The gown reportedly goes back to twelfth century at universities. With poor heating in the Middle Ages, scholars wore gowns to keep them warm.

Pomp and Circumstance (P&C): This song goes back to the early 1900s, and was modified to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII. When Edward received an honorary degree from Yale, P&C was played. It quickly became the tune for graduation processionals and/or recessionals.

Diploma: Yes, diplomas were referred to as a sheepskin because they were produced on very thin sheep hides. Parchment paper replaced this practice and then standardized sizes emerged.

Tassel: A tassel has been used for centuries. The tradition of moving it from the right side of the cap to the left side once a diploma is received symbolizes going from a candidate to recipient of a degree.

Cap Toss: The U.S. Naval Academy started the cap throwing tradition in 1912. Previously, grads of the academy needed to keep their hats as part of a two-year assignment as midshipmen. In 1912, Navy grads were immediately commissioned as officers, meaning they received new officer hats. The old hats were thrown into the air after the ceremony and the tradition quickly caught on.

Class of 2022, you’ve completed your graduation requirements and commencement ceremonies await. Remember this – commencement is a beginning, not an ending. A know-it-all may write or say the word ‘commence’ has its origin in Latin. . . blah-blah-blah. Let’s stop right there. Grads at any level have so much more to learn.

Good Luck Class of 2022! Here’s to the next milestone

St. Croix Valley Moms


St. Croix Valley Moms


The age old question is here. What to get mom for Mother’s Day? Regardless of the monetary value, moms will likely say, “It’s the thought that counts.”

And it does count, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association. Along with its advocacy for retail, which NRF calls the industry that powers the economy, it forecasts spending habits on eventful days like back-to-school shopping, Black Friday, Valentine’s Day, and yes, Mother’s Day.

Here’s NRF’s jaw dropping estimate – – 2022 Mother’s Day spending in the U.S. is expected to total $31.7 billion (with a “b”). That’s up $3.6 billion from last year’s record amount. For historical purposes, $23.1 billion was spent as recent as 2018, representing an upward hockey stick trend according to professional and wannabe economists.

Hold on, the spending layers are about to be peeled back. Sons and daughters and the young and old plan to spend $25 more on Mother’s Day 2022 than last year, bringing the per person estimate to just over $245. Spendthrifts in 2018 only racked up $180 in per person spending.

NRF says jewelry and special outings like brunch or dinner are leading 2022’s spending increases. Jewelry purchases this year may reach $7 billion dollars. NRF reminds us that jewelry is timeless, and purchases in this category rose from 34 percent of those making purchases in 2021 to 41 percent forecasted this year. Spending for special outings could reach $5.3 billion. The nearly 28 percent increase from last year perhaps signals a post-pandemic return to restaurants and cafes for those seeking more quality time with moms.

Greeting cards are not the most expensive purchase. Moms like the ones that are handmade, but NRF predicts 75 percent of all shoppers will spend just over one billion dollars on cards.

What about the road for consumers that is less traveled? Try the gift of experience. NRF says this could mean a gift that’s unique or different, or finding one that creates a special memory. Does that mean a Grateful Dead concert? Live theater? Paddlewheel excursion? Amateur or professional sports? Sculpture garden? Unique. Special Memories. You get the picture.

The gifting of a product subscription service is a new and growing category for Mother’s Day. It’s a way to extend gifting beyond a special day. NRF cited Birchbox or Stitch Fix as examples. It’s not a crime to look them up. Birchbox is a monthly beauty box and makeup kit service. Stitch Fix is a personalized way to shop for clothing based on size, budget and style. There’s a good bet Stitch Fix relies on algorithms and data science, and, it’s a publicly traded company.

Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley residents are bound to make Mother’s Day 2022 a very special event. There are plenty of shops along main streets to choose gifts. Restaurants, cafes, and innkeepers stand ready. Don’t forget the walking and cycling paths. And ice cream shops. And garden centers. And, well, you get the picture. “It’s the thought that counts.”

Small Biz: Not Small at 32.5 Million Strong


Small Biz: Not Small at 32.5 Million Strong


National Small Business Week is celebrated annually. In 2022, it’s scheduled for May 1-7 and carries the theme, Building a Better America Through Entrepreneurship. Small businesses have faced the brink of late. Think: offshore production, then onshore, workforce shortages, aging demographics, COVID, PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), rising costs, and supply chain woes.

One thing is certain. U.S. small businesses possess several common threads – resiliency, ingenuity, and creativity. Maybe they were down, but they certainly weren’t out. They’ll come back even stronger from whatever brink poses a threat.

The impact of small business is easily overlooked. They enjoy strength in numbers:
-the U.S. has 32.5 million small businesses;
-small business employment includes 61.2 million people or 46.8% of U.S. employees;
-99.9% of all firms are considered ‘small’;
-the definition of ‘small’ varies by industry type, but usually means an independent business with fewer than 500 employees;
-62% of net new jobs are attributable to small businesses; and
-39.7% of private sector payrolls are generated from small businesses

Move over, the ‘face’ of small business is changing:
-9.22% are minority owned;
-11.69% are female owned;
-3.97% are Hispanic owned;
-3.08 are African American owned;
-2.54% are Asian American owned; and
-1.76% are veteran owned

In Wisconsin, there are more than 461,500 small businesses, or 99.4% of all businesses. They employ 1.3 million associates or 49% of all employees. Small businesses in Wisconsin make a global impact. An estimated 7,647 businesses, 85.6% of the total, exported $5.6 billion worth of goods and services in 2019.

And the beat goes on. In St. Croix County, the Census QuickFacts indicates there were slightly more than 2,300 ‘employer establishments’ in 2019. They employed almost 33,000 people and reported a total annual payroll of $1.36 billion. Employment increased +2.3% from 2018 to 2019. The numbers of women-owned and minority-owned firms are up, too.

In reality, Small is Big. In the classic match-up of small versus big, don’t count out David or Davida against Goliath. Quicker, nimbler, hungrier, and more eager gives the advantage to the seeming underdog called small business.

Here’s to National Small Business Week. Go Small Go!

Loose Change? Two Cents Worth


Loose Change? Two Cents Worth


A bold prediction: winter will end. Sometime. Soon. Hearty residents of Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley will finally shed their puffy winter coats for something lighter. And in doing so, they’ll likely leave pocketsful of coins in their September-April apparel. Don’t believe it? Check the spring-summer-fall fashion. Jingle-Jingle. Or, check the center console of primary and secondary vehicles, and then the one or two permanently parked vehicles missing license tabs. Check the family curse jar, sofa, and the catch-all coffee mugs.

Why check? It appears there’s a national coin shortage. Blame it on COVID or the continued movement toward a cashless society. No doubt, the shortage is directly related to the pandemic. It disrupted buying habits from in-person transactions to debit or credit. Several trade associations representing grocers, retailers, and banks asked the U.S. Treasury for assistance in getting American consumers to put their hoarded coins into circulation. By mid-2020 the Federal Reserve reportedly restricted coin orders from banks and credit unions, further tightening the supply. An awareness campaign helped, but the availability of coins tightened once again in 2022.

A college professor may argue the coin shortage is more of an imbalance than a real life shortage. The professor may insist the U.S. has plenty of coins, but they are not cycling through the economy fast enough. Maybe it’s a coin circulation slowdown?

Without access to change in the registers, some of the big box retailers asked their customers to pay with credit or debit cards or exact change. Another retailer rounded purchases up to the nearest dollar to avoid giving out change. In the retailer’s defense, consumers were asked if they wanted the rounding to go to charity or onto an in-store loyalty card.

Back to the pockets, consoles, and curse jars. St. Croix Valley residents are very generous. The children’s college funds can wait. Ditto for the five dollar coffee funds and the Saturday garage sale circuits. This week’s Big Idea involves rounding up the St. Croix Valley’s loose change and directing it toward charities of choice.

Think about organizations that rhyme with food pantry, food bank, family resource center, united way, early childhood development, or habitat for humanity. A little goes a long way, but a couple of families doubling up or a neighborhood working together would make a huge difference. Any amount helps. The food bank says a one dollar donation has the buying power of purchasing eight dollars of food through its network. Jingle-Jingle. Even the college professor agrees $4.25 in loose change means $34 of food through buying network (double-check the math though, professor). Habitat for Humanity could use loose change directed toward the purchase of a two-by-four or paint for a bedroom in someone’s first home. Remember, an affordable home is where jobs go to sleep. A standard two-by-four maybe equates to a pocket and a half of change.

Let’s loosen up the imbalance of the St. Croix Valley’s coin supply. In doing so, the valley becomes a better place than it already is. Jingle-Jingle. Let’s do this.

Candemic? Now it’s Personal


Candemic? Now it’s Personal


In light of the global pandemic dating back to late February 2020, local brewers and beverage co-packers continue to demonstrate perseverance and resiliency. Hey, they’re small businesses and that’s what small businesses do. To suggest otherwise is counter to the esprit de corps found in good old U.S. of A. inventors, craftsmen, and artisans.

An early test of resiliency came at the pandemic’s onset. Little breweries were forced to close, per the “essential” v. “non-essential” business edict. Even in Wisconsin, they were not deemed essential, and that’s in a state known for Friday fish frys, beer battered onion rings, and Bernie Brewer, the mascot for the Milwaukee Brewers. Closed breweries meant closed taprooms. Consumers were left to hypothetically chant, “Beer, beer everywhere and not a drop to drink (in the taprooms).” A few establishments abided by strict regulations and found ways to reopen but reported losses in sales.

But wait. Brewers persevere. They package their products in bottles, cans, growlers, and a closely-related cousin, crowlers. Safety, sanitation and packaging go hand-in-hand, even in a pandemic. Shuttered breweries in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley and elsewhere got creative. They organized drive-through beer campaigns in their parking lots as an alternative to closed taprooms. Breweries had buffet-style product offerings from multiple operators, all in one location. Call ahead for easy pick-up – – a blonde ale from New Richmond, an IPA from Somerset, a Screamin’ L from Roberts . . . you get the picture.

One small brewery at Exit 4 had barely moved into its new facility in March 2020 when the invisible enemy blew into town. The dial for production was turned on; the bar was polished; the taproom was set; the pizza menu was ready. And then B-O-O-M. A window from the kitchen to the outdoor patio proved fortuitous. It became the walk-up point for loyal customers to get both six-packs and Jalapeno Popper Pizzas. The little brewery featuring a pitchfork as its logo survived. Some would say thrived.

Taproom crowds started to return by mid-2021. Beer production ramped up again. What could possibly go wrong? Spikes in COVID cases here and there caused concerns. And then a new menace showed up. Suddenly aluminum cans were in scarce supply. A brewer-turned-economics-professor could put it this way, “If we can’t get cans, we can’t put beer in it, we can’t sell it, so it’s really a danger to many breweries if we’re not able to get our beer out to consumers.”

Brewers are calling this latest threat a Candemic. And it’s not just impacting breweries. At stake are canned seltzers, soft drinks, sparkling waters, cold press coffees, functional water products, and ready to drink (RTD) cocktails. All are placing a strain on the aluminum supply chain. One big can manufacturer reported the U.S. market alone is short 10 billion cans. And it’s growing.

Locally, a beverage co-packer forecasts seven or eight million canned products going through its facility annually. Lacking cans, the Candemic may turn into Candemonium! And if it’s not the demand for cans, then corrugated cardboard is the next calamity.

Here’s to brewers and co-packers. A hardy crew they are. Little did they know the beverage business is a combo platter of mastering a craft, juggling, logistics, and Econ 101. All deserve in-person visits to the taprooms where glass pints are left behind after a couple of merry toasts. Carry on resilient brewers and co-packers!

Irish For A Day


Irish For A Day


St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th is an important day for the Irish and wannabe Irish around the globe.

Ask the Moore’s, Donahue’s, Ring’s, Casey’s, Geraghty’s, Early’s, Padden’s, Brennan’s, Murtha’s, Riley’s, and Clennan’s of St. Croix County. For good measure, throw in the O’Keefe’s to keep Mike and Rob happy.

Ask many of the residents in Cylon, Erin Prairie, and Emerald. Flags of Ireland fly year-round in these towns, and garden monuments likely read Erin Go Bragh, literally meaning Ireland till the end of time. Stone leprechauns may be as common as barn pigeons.

Ask the Mayor of Hudson, Rich O’Connor. His Notre Dame apparel gives him away. Go Rich. Go Fightin’ Irish. Go Touchdown Jesus.

As for wannabe Irish like the Rubin’s, going with O’Rubin or McRubin on the big day is a more difficult sell. Holy McSauerkraut. Sounds like a bad sandwich. Even with the strong German name, the Rubin matriarch proudly claimed Scottish, Irish, English, and Danish as her heritage. By the tip of a long shirttail, the Irish bases appear covered.

To better assimilate on St. Patrick’s Day, consider these historical tips:

-March 17th is the anniversary of the death of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland in the fifth century. Born in Roman Britain, Saint Patrick was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at a young age. He later escaped Ireland, but returned and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people. He reportedly explained the Holy Trinity by using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock. Combining all of this, March 17 was observed as a religious holiday.

-Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day has been around since the ninth or tenth century. But wait. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade actually took place in the Americas, not Ireland. Records show a parade was held in 1601 in a Spanish colony of what is now St. Augustine, Florida. By 1772, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military (the Red Coats) marched in New York City. Its popularity in the U.S. grew dramatically.

-When the potato famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to one million poor and mostly uneducated Irish families fled to the U.S. to escape starvation.

-With growing numbers, Irish Americans realized they had potential political power. They organized in solidarity on certain issues and their voting blocs became known as the green machine. President Harry Truman joined the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City in 1948 as a way to better align with the Irish. Today politicians don’t miss parades.

Whether it’s dyeing a river green, wearing a derby, parading, or consuming soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, a shamrock shake, or an Irish coffee stout at a local brewery, St. Paddy’s Day worldwide and in the St. Croix Valley is a grand day for the Irish. Just ask the Moore’s, Donahue’s, Ring’s, Casey’s, Geraghty’s, Early’s, and of course, the wannabe O’Rubin’s. . . . Erin Go Bragh.

Not So Fast, River Crossing’s 10-Year Milestone


Not So Fast, River Crossing’s 10-Year Milestone


Tempus fugit. Time flies.

An internal calendar suggested something significant in the St. Croix Valley happened ten years ago.

But what?

Keys words typed into a search engine confirmed what the memory bank could not.

After decades of debate, after decades of hue and cry in the valley, after decades of government agencies fighting government agencies . . . the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation for a new bridge over the St. Croix River between St. Croix County, Wisconsin and Washington County, Minnesota.

The House vote of 339-80 occurred on March 1, 2012. The Senate’s bill was approved by unanimous consent back in January to set the stage for the House. The House vote followed a lively evening of floor debate on February 29th, or Leap Day. The Internet carried the House debate and vote live. The representative from Wisconsin whose district included the St. Croix Valley spoke with passion. He likened the rarity of a Leap Day debate with the unique opportunity to support the bill. He included the likes of the Packers and Vikings as an example of how people with differing viewpoints could come together to ensure passage. Sensing every vote mattered, the same representative may have been seen escorting a colleague toward the rostrum and well of the House chambers as a prelude to casting the vote.

On the eve of the House debate and vote, a local official was quoted, “I feel we’re in the final 48-hours of a 60-year-long race to get this bridge built.” Sixty years? Not so fast.

Would he or wouldn’t he? The legislation was sent to President Obama for his signature, and on March 14th the bill was signed. YES!

What a conundrum. What a puzzle solved. An aging Lift Bridge, opened in 1931 and approaching the end of its economic life, needed replacing. But not so fast. The St. Croix River was part of a network of Wild and Scenic Rivers protected by federal law. Historic preservationists and environmentalists were pitted against progressives due to a misunderstood codicil – Build a Bridge; Tear One Down. Not so fast. A federally-facilitated stakeholder group, convened from 2002-2005, recommended approval of a new bridge in a corridor about a mile downstream from the Lift Bridge. Their work came long after a December 1996 pronouncement from the National Park Service recommending no federal permits be issued on what was thought to be construction of a replacement bridge starting as early as 1997. Not so fast. In the project’s Record of Decision in 2006, the Federal Highway Administration said funding for a new bridge was years and years away – – 2024 to be exact. Not so fast.

One by one, U.S. Representatives and Senators started visiting the old Lift Bridge. Their support helped jumpstart a new effort to secure the federal bill authorizing an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Funding would follow.

And the rest? The rest is history. MnDOT named a project leadership team about the same time the bill was signed. The balance of 2012 was spent obtaining bedrock samples from beneath the riverbed. This gave project bidders the needed intel for informed estimates. One set of piers was eliminated from the project to further reduce an environmental impact. The iconic Lift Bridge was converted to a recreational amenity for pedestrians and bicyclists.

To fanfare, the St. Croix River Crossing opened in early August 2017, making it five years old this summer. Not so fast. History is still being written. Tempus fugit.

By Billions, Cupid Tops Big Game


By Billions, Cupid Tops Big Game


In a battle of titans and pocketbooks, the ‘Big Game’ on February 13 will face off against the Big Day of Love on February 14. Hopefully there is enough money for both. Billions (with a ‘b’) will be spent. Keep in mind there was historic spending over the 2021 winter holidays, estimated at $886.7 billion (also with a ‘b’).

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is the world’s largest retail trade organization. It regularly forecasts consumer spending on shopping activities like back-to-school, Halloween, Christmas, and yes, Valentine’s Day. NRF also slips in a forecast on the culmination of the NFL football season, sometimes referred to as the Big Game.

2022’s spending estimate from NRF for Valentine’s Day is $23.9 billion, up from $21.8 billion in 2021 and the second-highest to 2020’s pre-pandemic spending of $27.4 billion. Even a day of chocolates, cards, flowers and dinners is not immune to a global pandemic. While spending was off in 2021, in economist-speak, it is rebounding nicely this year. Quite nicely.

NRF says candy, at 56 percent, greeting cards, 40 percent, and flowers, 37 percent, are the most popular spending choices for Valentine’s. Around $4.3 billion will be spent on an evening out by 31 percent of NRF’s survey participants. $6.2 billion is expected to be spent on jewelry this year, well up from 2021’s $4.1 billion.

In lieu of candy and flowers, NRF says there is great interest for gifts of experience . . . . (sidebar: careful, minds are being read and hands tipped). NRF says these types of gifts include concerts, cultural activities, or sporting events. In 2022 this anticipated expenditure is trending upward, with 41 percent of survey participants saying they’d love this type of gift. Impacted by COVID in 2021, only 36 percent favored a gift of experience.

What about the Big Game? It should be noted that the NFL is hyper-protective of the use of the term, Super Bowl®. Any commercial activity that uses or refers to the Super Bowl®, i.e. “Stock up on snacks for the Super Bowl®” is a violation of the NFL’s trademark or copyright infringement. Promoters are advised not to get too cute with shuffling the words around. Even using the term “Superb Owl” along the lines of “Start Superb Owl Shopping Early” is a no-no. The Big Game is the NFL’s Golden Goose.

Details for 2022 are pending from NRF, but 2021’s spending on the Big Game was $13.9 billion. That’s down from the pre-pandemic spending of $14.8 billion in 2020. Much like Valentine’s 2022, armchair economists envision a rebound this year. And why not? Over 186 million adults will likely watch it. Thirty second ads spots command a reported price of $6.5 million. The ads represent the Big Game of sorts in creativity circles so it’s no wonder that millions of viewers will tune in. The sporting event may be secondary.

Last year, NRF estimated almost $75 per person would be spent by those watching the game. If that seems high, note that $89 was spent by consumers in 2020 and $81 was spent in 2019. But spending on what? Food and beverages, at 77 percent, followed by team apparel and accessories, 11 percent, TVs, nine percent, and decorations, seven percent, are NRF’s best estimates. Even furniture, at five percent, was a Big Game expense category. Hey, you have to be comfortable.

And lastly, NRF’s survey participants said watching the game, at 43 percent, was most important to viewers last year, followed by the commercials, at 22 percent, and the halftime show, at 16 percent.

Romantics and sport enthusiasts are reminded to shop stores and patronize restaurants throughout the St. Croix Valley. They could use a mid-winter boost. Unique jewelry, candies, cards, and menu entrees await consumers. Try a double dip on back-to-back days for the Big Game and Big Day of Love.

Cabin Fever Beaters


Cabin Fever Beaters


Cooped up and restless? Not motivated? Lethargic? Same feeling as a year ago? Skip the doctor’s appointment and save the copay. WebMD strongly suggests it’s a case of cabin fever (or the ongoing symptoms impacting most high schoolers or college crowd at home between semesters).

Let’s go with cabin fever as the diagnosis. Young adults in question could very well grow out of their chronic woes, in due time. Wiki says cabin fever refers to “the distressing, claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended time.”

Some have heard stories of a gold miner or woodsman leaving the safety of a cabin during an old fashioned blizzard. A local story involves a transplanted family from Arizona enjoying (surviving) their first winter in the St. Croix Valley. Residents observed their garage door roll open on a Saturday with exhaust from the SUV billowing away. Twenty minutes later, the SUV backed down the driveway to the mail box where assorted mail was collected and up the driveway the vehicle sped. In all of these cases the decisions of the miner, woodsman and valley transplants proved irrational, making it a clear case of cabin fever.

Play along and combine a few subzero days and nights in the St. Croix Valley with a worldwide pandemic. This could be ‘the fever’ on bovine growth hormones. Hang in there. This too shall pass.

As for a cure or therapy, shaking the fever could be as easy as getting out and socializing. Remember though, the pandemic and related variants are out there and seek interaction with unsuspecting partners, too.

Try these diversions from the winter blahs:
* Volunteer your time (think: food shelf or animal shelter);
* Clear a neighbor’s driveway or sidewalks, especially retirees or vets;
* Binge a full season of your favorite show or watch a foreign movie (1988’s Cinema Paradiso is trending);
* Order take-out from a locally-owned restaurant or café;
* Make a pizza, including the dough, from scratch;
* Visit a state park, a ski trail, or rent a fat tire bike;
* Tour a micro-brewery or distillery and buy some products on the way out;
* Attend a local hockey or basketball game (UW-River Falls boasts the nation’s #4 women’s hockey team in Division III).

Help is on the way. The sun set in the St. Croix Valley at around 4:33 p.m. on December 21st. By January 31st, it sets at around 5:18 p.m. Melting snow on a roofline will produce icicles, even on a bitterly cold day. Cargo shorts will be paired with sweatshirts, hoodies and sandals. And by April there’s a chance that homes transition from the furnace mode to air conditioning. It happens almost every year.

Here’s to winter in the St. Croix Valley. Get out and make the most of it. All too soon there’ll be those dreaded spring cleaning chores.

Fingers Crossed, 2022 Resolutions Revealed


Fingers Crossed, 2022 Resolutions Revealed


New Year’s Resolutions may seem like a modern phenomenon. That’s wrong, unless internet postings are sometimes completely fabricated. Resolutions are centuries in the making.

Going back 4,000+ years, Babylonians were the first to make them, but not in January. Their New Year was celebrated during a 12-day festival in mid-March as crops were planted. If Babylonians kept their promises, or resolutions, favors were granted by pagan gods. If promises were broken, they would fall out of favor.

Fast forward to the Romans and 46 BC. Known for his reforms, Emperor Julius Caesar modified the calendar resulting in January 1st as the start of the New Year. January was named for Janus, a two-faced god who symbolically looked backward into the previous year as well as forward into the future. Romans offered sacrifices to their gods followed by promises, including good behavior, in the New Year.

The first day of a New Year for early Christians involved a tradition to reflect on past mistakes and a resolve to do better. For some, religious services were held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. They were called watch night services and included deep reflection and development of resolutions.

Into more modern time, resolutions generally involve self-improvement, which may explain why they are so darn hard to keep. Research says as many as 45 percent of Americans make resolutions for the New Year. Oh No! Only eight percent are successful with keeping their word. That bad track record won’t stop people from making resolutions, however.

So what about January 1st 2022 in the St. Croix Valley? Twenty-two resolutions for 2022 will not be presented. The usual ones like getting in shape, weight loss, or dialing down stress won’t appear either. Avoiding coffee or products that are distilled, brewed and fermented is not on the list either, as long as they are enjoyed in some measure of moderation.

OK St. Croix Valley, how about these ten suggested resolutions as a solid foundation in 2022:
-Learn something new each day, week, or month;
-Learn two or three new skills each year;
-Make new connections;
-Respect all;
-Volunteer in your community;
-Talk less and listen more;
-Dial down cell phones, tablets, and laptops;
-Complain less, compliment more;
-Make an investment – in yourself; and
-Cheer for an underdog once in a while

The St. Croix Valley is a remarkable corner of the world. Many of its residents are likely part of the eight percent group who abide by their resolutions. Regardless, there is no secret police to enforce them. But adherence to some common sense actions spread over 12 months can go a long way toward making the Valley an even better locale. Ready or not, here’s to 2022!

Checked Twice, St. Croix Valley Submits Its List


Checked Twice, St. Croix Valley Submits Its List


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.

Grinch Returns With Mighty Plans


Grinch Returns With Mighty Plans


Now that Halloween 2021 is history, the St. Croix Valley’s favorite villain-turned-hero, Mr. Grinch, has small but impactful plans for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

He was shocked to learn Halloween’s spending hit an all-time record of $10.14 billion according to the National Retail Federation forecast. Grinch calculated this year’s spending on costumes, candy, and merriment was up nearly 26 percent from 2020’s COVID-impacted spending. A 26 percent gain looked exceptional compared to Grinch’s investment portfolio of late. The Grinch costume, usually worn by Grinch himself, wasn’t even listed in the Federation’s ‘Top Ten’ for children, adults, or . . . . wait for it . . . . pets. Farewell Halloween 2021.

Before holiday shopping commences, Grinch reminds St. Croix Valley residents to enjoy Thanksgiving. Traditions need to be upheld, even though they changed over time, going way back the first public Thanksgiving holiday in 1862. No word on NFL programming back then, but Detroit was probably still bad and Dallas wasn’t America’s Team. The St. Croix Valley knows America’s Team wears green and gold. The Vikings were rumored to have wandered central Minnesota looking for a goal line to cross. Failing, they left the Kensington Runestone behind as a future tourist attraction.

Thanksgiving still serves as a reminder of a successful harvest, a change in seasons, and family gatherings bringing together the old and wise with the very young. The National Turkey Federation says 90 percent of Americans will eat turkey on Thanksgiving whether roasted, grilled or deep fried. A pre-meal run or walk, movie, and backyard football all have their places on Thanksgiving.

The Grinch has a plan. He talks of stark realities in the Land o’ Plenty, and is a big supporter of the St. Croix Valley Food Bank (www.stcroixvalleyfoodbank.org). Food bank administrators say 24 percent of children in western and west central Wisconsin live in poverty, and hunger is a daily reality. An estimated 9,800 households are projected as food insecure. The food bank operates pop-up pantries in communities like Baldwin, Somerset, Glenwood City and Deer Park, making distribution more convenient for those in need. Last year, the little-food-bank-that-could distributed 761,409 pounds of food, the equivalent of 913,690 meals. Financial support will help the food bank achieve its 2021 mission to provide six million pounds of food. Grinch calls it a major logistical deployment. Donations to the St. Croix Valley Food Bank make a difference. A big difference. They stay local and help families and the elderly who struggle with hunger.

As for Grinch, he insists he’ll eat less and shop far less. He’ll use those savings for a donation to the food bank. He calls upon St. Croix Valley residents and businesses to use office parties or neighborhood gatherings as fundraisers. While the drinks and food may be free, there’s nothing wrong with donation jars marked St. Croix Valley Food Bank. Sounds like a new tradition.

Here’s to the lovable Grinch who launched a plan and now seeks a retraction. Turns out his heart incorrectly reported as “two sizes too small” is a heart of gold. A dollar or two here and there in the giving season makes the St. Croix Valley an even greater place, far outpacing little Whoville.  (Bill Rubin serves as the executive director of St. Croix EDC).