Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

SCEDC BLOG

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

With high school and college football season well underway, there’s no evidence that Daniel Ruettiger ever played a snap in the St. Croix Valley. But thanks to cable TV and the Internet, Ruettiger’s personal drive and passion lives on in a 1993 movie bearing his nickname, Rudy. The feel good movie is likely a must-watch on the eve of any rivalry game.

Ruettiger, of Joliet, Illinois, dreamed of playing college football for mighty Notre Dame in the 1970s but poor grades a small physical frame were barriers. He stood five feet, six inches tall and weighed 165 pounds. That did not stop Rudy. Barriers were overcome by his willingness to make an extra effort. He spent a couple years at Holy Cross College in Indiana, and after multiple rejections, Notre Dame finally granted him acceptance.

There was no athletic scholarship for Rudy, much less academic aid. Hard work in the classroom and a knack for making plays in football practice got Ruettiger a spot on Notre Dame’s scout team. Thirty-five players on football scholarships were ahead of Rudy’s chances of ever suiting up on game day.

The season wore on and Rudy’s hope of playing on game day was rapidly coming to an end. Comfortably ahead, Head Coach Dan Devine finally sent him in with the kick-off team and he remained on the field with the defense in the game’s final plays. Rudy sacked the quarterback as time expired and was carried off the field by teammates celebrating a victory

End of story? Not yet. The son of a steel mill worker, Daniel Ruettiger overcame poor grades caused by dyslexia and obtained his degree from Notre Dame. That’s mighty Notre Dame, the academic powerhouse. Five younger brothers also received college degrees. Later, he ran afoul with the Securities and Exchange Commission and paid a substantial fee as part of his settlement. That personal setback did not deter Rudy. Occasionally he does motivational speaking and is an author.

In every huddle, on every practice field, in every drumline, in every danceline, in every classroom, in every neighborhood, there’s a Rudy. Who will be this season’s Rudy in the St. Croix Valley? Show up and witness it. Or, overcome those barriers and be your own Rudy.

The quote, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up” is attributable to Vince Lombardi, who overcame his own share of obstacles. It puts stories like Rudy’s in perspective.

Here’s to a Rudy who doesn’t know he or she is a Rudy or Ruby. Make it happen. Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

School Bells Ring (Are You Listening?)

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School Bells Ring (Are You Listening?)

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The recent zooooom heard throughout the St. Croix Valley was not Mr. Jeff Bezos’ rocket returning from the edge of space.

It’s believed the zooooom was that of time slipping by, minute-by-minute, day-by-day.

And soon, school districts and college campuses will spring to life, starting with teacher and professor prep, orientation, class schedules, bus routes, and maybe a bad case of first day jitters.

Parents may say the start of school can’t come soon enough. Opinions from students differ, however.

The lyrics to Winter Wonderland, as sung by Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang, could easily transition to School bells ring, are you listening? . . . A beautiful sight, we’re (not) happy tonight. Walkin’ in a new building for the first time (wonderland). It is believed the old school bell and first generation hallway ringers were replaced by gentle chimes long, long ago.

Back-to-school shopping, even during a return to normalcy, is big business. In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) tracks spending trends and says it will reach record amounts in 2021. It could hit $37.1 billion, way up from $33.9 billion spent last year. Back-to-college spending could reach a record $71 billion, up from $67.7 billion in 2020.

Families with children in elementary through high school will spend an average of $848.90 on school items, or $59 more than last year, according to NRF. College students and families plan to spend an average of $1,200.32 on their items. This is an increase of $141 last year, and over half of the increase, around $80, is attributable to electronics and dorm or apartment furnishings.

Without using a calculator, take NRF’s spending for two K-12 students plus one incoming college freshman and the total is a scary number for any household.

Shopping habits or patterns have changed over the years. Where did the Sears catalog go? NRF says the most popular destinations for K-12 shoppers are online (48 percent), department stores (48 percent), discount stores (44 percent), clothing stores (41 percent), office supplies stores (27 percent) and electronics stores (27 percent). The top destinations for college shoppers include online (43 percent), department stores (33 percent), discount stores (30 percent), office supplies stores (29 percent) and college bookstores (28 percent). Side note: what about thrift stores as a way to ensure the college grunge look?

CNBC recently reported 16 states will offer some kind of sales tax holiday on school supplies. Neither Wisconsin nor Minnesota is among them. And the trip to Iowa may be cost prohibitive.

Families in the St. Croix Valley are savvy on many fronts, including shopping. Back-to-school deals will emerge. But don’t wait too long. Another news outlet reported on product shortages and supply chain problems which could make it hard to find essentials, however essentials are defined.

Please remember the main street shops and restaurants in case an extra special purchase or lunch is part of the itinerary. Don’t tell NRF. It’ll skew their survey.

Happy shopping in the St. Croix Valley. ’La-La-La. School bells ring.

Three COVID Perspectives

SCEDC BLOG

Three COVID Perspectives

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The recent global pandemic had big impacts on just about every sector, from the neighborhood lemonade stand, to tourism spending, and the collection of an extra half-cent on taxable purchases by county government in Wisconsin.   

Lemons, Lemonade, Entrepreneurship

In November 2019, a governor’s signature finally legalized lemonade stands in Wisconsin and preteen entrepreneurs in the St. Croix Valley were primed for big sales in 2020. Oops. COVID-19 halted those plans, at least temporarily. Prior to the signature, many, if not most, lowly lemonade stands operated illegally. Aggressive zoning enforcement closed more than one. Legislators wisely said, Enough. State law now prohibits local governments from imposing restrictions on lemonade stands. Anyone under the age of 18 can operate a stand on private property without a permit – as long as sales are under $2,000 a year. With a year off, the stands are back in 2021 to the point of market saturation. There’s a lesson with too much of a good thing. Competition is fierce. The best sign so far has been, “Last Chance Lemonade” seen along the boulevard before customers turned onto a busy highway. Long live the lemonade stands in the St. Croix Valley. If you appreciate hustle and enjoy a budding entrepreneur learning about small business, please consider stopping. And don’t forget the tip!

Traveler Spending

The Wisconsin Department of Tourism conducts an annual survey as a way to assess tourist spending for each county and then a cumulative estimate for the state. Bad news in 2020. Even with stay-cations and working from home, the pandemic put a hurt on tourist spending. In St. Croix County, spending was down an estimated 24.5 percent from 2019 to 2020 to a little over $90 million. Across Wisconsin, spending was down almost $4 billion and declined 28.3 percent. Less spending translated into fewer tourism-supported jobs, especially for college students during the summer. Travelers and tourists help generate local and state tax revenues. For St. Croix County, tax revenues fell by almost 20 percent between 2019 and 2020, but still generated an estimated $11.9 million. With the economy opening up, a No Brainer prediction for tourist spending in 2021 equates to a return to estimates rivaling 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers.

Sales Tax Collections

Wisconsin state law gives counties the option to collect an extra half-cent on taxable purchases or services. On a $10 purchase, the total sales tax is fifty-five cents, with fifty cents going to the state and five cents going to the county. Those extra pennies add up. A $1,000 taxable purchase means the county earns $5.00 of the $55.00 sales tax bill. In 2020, St. Croix County enjoyed its most bountiful year and collected $9.759 million. The half-cent has been collected in St. Croix since late 1987, so tens of millions have been realized. The sales tax revenues offset county expenses on capital improvements without raising additional taxes or having to borrow money. Even during the pandemic, St. Croix collected more than $1.1 million (+12.7 percent) than in 2019. Were at-home workers taking advantage of flexible schedules in 2020 and ordering products online? Yes, and No. Many businesses had COVID restrictions so it may have been easier to shop online. But in addition, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair enabled the collection of sales taxes by states at the point of sale, whether out of state or online, even if the seller lacked a physical location in the taxing state. This translated into a windfall for counties collecting an extra sales tax. Whether the purchases are large, small, online, or in-person, the sales tax is an important revenue driver.

Here’s to an economy that’s opening up. Stop by a lemonade stand, travel to a community celebration disguised as a tourist, and buy a taxable item. All are meaningful.

Two Scoops! Dairy Month and Ice Cream Month

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Two Scoops! Dairy Month and Ice Cream Month

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Every St. Croix Valley resident possessing a high Dairy IQ knows June is Dairy Month – not just in Wisconsin but nationally. Wisconsin’s dairy industry contributes an estimated $45.6 billion to the state’s economy each year. That’s more than the combined value of Florida citrus and Idaho potatoes. Dairies maintain 154,000 jobs and generate $1.26 billion in state and local taxes, all according to the Dairy Farms of Wisconsin.

Legislative action in 1971 designated the dairy cow as Wisconsin’s official domesticated animal to reflect the importance of the state’s dairy industry. Governor Patrick Lucey issued an Executive Order in 1972 to recognize the Holstein-Friesian breed as the official dairy cow until May 31, 1973. Thereafter, on June 1st of each year, the Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture designates a different breed from the state’s purebred dairy stock as the presiding dairy cow for the year.

In the state that brought consumers Pabst, Schlitz, Leinenkugel’s, and New Glarus, an ice cold glass of milk is Wisconsin’s official beverage. While beer is important, milk has nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamins A, B-12, and D, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin, niacin, and the all-important pantothenic acid, which plays a role in the body’s energy cycles, converting carbohydrates, protein, and fats to fuel.

More facts to increase to build your Dairy IQ: Milk production is measured in pounds not gallons. The monthly milk production per cow is estimated at 2,070 pounds, or 241 gallons (the daily or annual production per cow is an easy calculation using ‘old school’ math). Total milk production in Wisconsin for April 2021 was estimated at 2.64 billion pounds (multiplied by 12 gets a number over 31 billion). And, Wisconsin boasts 1,274,000 dairy cows as of April 2021.

Enough about milk, what about a frozen delight like ice cream? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates the average American consumed 22 pounds of ice cream and other frozen dairy products in 2019, the highest level over a 10-year rolling comparison. A global pandemic like COVID-19 will likely bump the 2020-2021 graphs to new heights.

In a 1984 proclamation, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month, and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. Circle Sunday, July 18 as a very important day, even though ice cream shares July with National Grilling and National Hot Dog Month designations.

Ice cream is not an American discovery. The Chinese, reportedly under the Tang Dynasty at around 697 AD, used salt and ice to freeze dairy products. Others credit Naples, Italy as the birthplace of the first real ice cream. Quaker colonists brought ice cream recipes to the U.S. and opened the first retail shops in New York and elsewhere.

It takes 12 pounds or 1.5 gallons of whole milk to make one gallon of ice cream. In a fact from the frozen dairy products police, an estimated 85 percent of home freezers in the U.S. have some kind of ice cream in it. Americans rank vanilla as their favorite flavor, followed by chocolate, cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip, and chocolate chip cookie dough.

As for Wisconsin ice cream facts, the first ice cream sundae was served in Two Rivers back in 1881 when a customer at Edward C. Berner’s soda fountain asked to top off his ice cream with the chocolate sauce used for sodas. And yes, it caught on and was originally offered only on Sundays.

I scream, you scream! Whether it’s a dish or cone or right out of the container using a spoon, Americans and St. Croix Valley residents love dairy products and especially ice cream. Here’s to June and July!

To the Class of 2021

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To the Class of 2021:

“Life Moves Pretty Fast”

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Slow marches across elevated stages will soon play out at high schools in the St. Croix Valley. Graduation for the Class of 2021 has arrived. Finally. For some, the formality of receiving a diploma may seem like an eternity in the making. It may have started out for four and five year olds in 2007-08 as pre-kindergarten programing or official kindergarten at age five-six before entering first grade in 2009. Twelve years later, Hello World!

The reality? Those twelve years of elementary, middle, and high school could be viewed as the first act of a three act play. Those acts are sometimes referred to as the set-up, confrontation, and resolution. Class of 2021, you’ve just advanced past the introduction of the main characters, including the protagonist, antagonist, and the conflict in need of resolution. Will the young man meet the young lady? Will the hero score the winning goal? And will the mystery be solved? The answers in no particular order are: Yes, Yes, and Maybe.

Class of 2021, plan on participating in act two, spread over the next four to ten years, to learn more. There’s the college or university experience. This includes technical colleges. The military could be calling some. Want to see the world? Uncle Sam may have an offer for you. For others, act two could mean a gap year (or two) as a way to mature, or entry level opportunities in business and industry. Professors, work supervisors, and family generally expect the same thing – exceptional attendance and even better participation. Act two is not a one way street.

Class of 2021, act three is out there on the horizon and will be upon you before you know it. Family obligations. Work obligations. Community obligations. Financial obligations. All will demand time and attention. Remember the seemingly meaningless advice offered by a den or pack leader, volunteer coach, or parent? Ahhh, you’ll soon be finding yourself doling out the same advice.
Class of 2021, you are survivors of sorts. Of a global pandemic. Of masking up. Of back-to-back years of remote learning. Of growing up a little too fast. Of relying on electronic devices for zooming around the galaxy, for support and comfort, oh, and for communicating. Think of the innovations that are ahead. The Class of 2021 is living what was previously found in comic books and cartoons, namely Dick Tracy, Batman, and the Jetsons.

Class of 2021, you’ve completed your graduation requirements and commencement ceremonies call. Please remember this – commencement is a beginning, not an ending.

As for advice, Ferris Bueller, the lead character in the 1986 movie classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, put it in perspective by saying, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around, you could miss it.”

While you are living life, don’t miss out on life.

Good Luck Class of 2021!

Small Business – Big Impacts

SCEDC BLOG

Small Business – Big Impacts

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Just like relatives who gather for a special occasion, businesses come in all shapes and sizes. Mature. Young. Practical. Innovative. Noisy. Quiet. And don’t forget about Small.

Small businesses are the fabric of America. From the bakery to the brewery, small businesses can be found on main street, in office buildings, or industrial parks. The impact of small business gained national attention back in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation to establish the inaugural National Small Business Week. Every President followed Kennedy’s lead.

There is no clear definition of small business. Who else but the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) as a source? The SBA uses numerical standards for every business sector in the U.S. so there isn’t a clear definition. The standards are based on the business’s employment count and average annual receipts. For transportation and warehousing, the maximum number of employees ranges from 500 to 1,500 along with a range of annual receipts from $7.5 to $37.5 million. In manufacturing, the maximum number of employees ranges from 500 to 1,500. There are varying standards for businesses in the utilities sector and in wholesale trade, too. In short, the SBA uses wide latitude in defining small business.

So what kind of impacts do small businesses make? There are an estimated 30.7 million of them in the U.S. or 99.9 percent of all businesses. Nearly 60 million people are employed by small businesses, representing 47.3 percent of all U.S. employees. The health care and social assistance sector boasts 8.83 million employees, making it the sector with the highest number for small business employment. Eight-two percent of all employees in the construction sector in the U.S. are employed by a small business. The employment trend continues in manufacturing, retail trade, and professional, scientific, and technical services.

Wisconsin follows the U.S. patterns. Small businesses in the state totaled 452,594 in 2019, or 99.4 percent of all businesses. Around 1.3 million people are employed by small businesses, which represent 49.9 percent of all Wisconsin employees. To reinforce this, line up ten people and five will be employed by a small business.

Small businesses are job creators. Around 30,108 net new jobs in 2019 were attributable to small businesses. In the U.S, 1.8 million net new jobs came from small businesses in 2019.

Minority-owned small businesses are increasingly important employers. There were 58,673 employees at minority-owned businesses in Wisconsin during 2019. In the U.S., minority-owned small businesses employed 8.7 million individuals over the same time period.

Small businesses also seek out export opportunities. Just over 280,000 U.S. small businesses exported products and almost 7,340 Wisconsin small businesses did the same.

The St. Croix Valley of Polk, St. Croix, and Pierce counties is teeming small businesses. St. Croix had around 2,310 ‘employer establishments’ in 2018, according to the Census Bureau’s Quick Facts tool. Those businesses possessed over 31,360 employees. Quick Facts reports 1,125 employer establishments in Polk County, along with almost 13,680 employees. There were an estimated 779 employer establishments in Pierce back in 2018 which employed almost 7,200 people.

2021’s Small Business Week occurs May 2-8. Proclamations will be read by elected boards. Business league organizations may risk the pandemic and make a couple of in-person visits. Regardless, the small businesses will charge ahead. Here’s to small businesses and the big impacts they make.

211 is a 24/7 Link to Assistance

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211 is a 24/7 Link to Assistance

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The COVID-19 global pandemic has extracted its toll on many fronts – socially, emotionally, professionally, financially – and many more.  

Service agencies experienced COVID’s brunt, too. But there’s one thing about Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Its agencies are abundant, sometimes to the point where bewilderment could likely set in while sorting through potential resources.

Good news. Prophetically, a one-stop call network known as 211 was launched through United Way St. Croix Valley ahead of the pandemic. 211’s network in Wisconsin has grown to eight collaborating organizations offering their services, from the St. Croix Valley to Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Menasha, Milwaukee, Wausau, and Wisconsin Rapids.

With or without 211, calls for help and assistance have significantly increased over the last 12+ months. Imagine the region’s most vulnerable and their struggles to cope with loneliness, food insecurity, mental health services, elder care, or housing assistance and shelters. COVID doesn’t discriminate. Add young individuals and families, successful business people, educators, elected officials, and retirees to the impacted list.

Help starts with 211. A call connects individuals to literally thousands of nonprofit and government services in the St. Croix Valley and beyond. Best of all, personal assistance is available through a friendly, understanding voice 24/7/365. A search through 211 services yields response topics on aging and disability services, child and youth, utilities, transportation, health and dental, and employment, along with education and income assistance. 211 associates offer assistance in over 180 languages.

There are many ways to get connected. Simply call 211 from a cellular phone or landline anywhere in Wisconsin. Dial 877.947.2211 if you have a non-715 area code or if the 211 option does not work. Or, text your zip code to 898211. A Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. online chat line is another option. It uses a first name and zip code to get the chat started. Another online option is available at https://211wisconsin.communityos.org/. There’s a searchable database using a key word(s) as well as guided and advanced searches, too.

211 is not the 911 emergency number, and it’s not the all-knowing 411 ‘information please’ number, meaning 211 can’t help with a cat stuck in a tree or hours of operation, take-out specials, or movie start times.

Residents in the St. Croix Valley may wish to preview 211’s options ahead of a problem. And the problem does not have to be COVID-related. Refer 211 to a neighbor or family member who may be in need. Keep the number top-of-mind. It’s a great resource.

Here’s to United Way St. Croix Valley for its vision in launching the 211 network. The local United Way website says it advances the common good by creating opportunities for all. It focuses on projects supporting education, financial stability and health — the building blocks for a good quality of life. It works with businesses, individuals and nonprofits to solve community problems in St. Croix, Pierce, Polk and Burnett counties.

United Way St. Croix Valley responds to local community needs. The 211 network reflects a solution to those needs.

Batter Up! Fish Fry Season in the Valley

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Batter Up! Fish Fry Season in the Valley

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Umpires will soon start baseball and softball games with their traditional call, “Batter Up!”

A late winter season involving the term ‘batter’ arrived in the St. Croix Valley ahead of balls and gloves – fish fry season. OK, it’s really a Wisconsin classic, but residents of the St. Croix Valley can hold their own, whether it’s measured by selection, side orders, price, or per capita consumption. Pound for pound, valley residents enjoy their fish fries. Hot dog eating champ Joey Chestnut may not stand a chance against a local favorite when it comes to a plate of fish.

How did the tradition come to be? One columnist attributes Wisconsin’s fish fries to three things, religion, Prohibition, and easy access to freshwater fish. Ancestors from Germany and Poland arriving in Wisconsin took the practice of abstaining from eating warm-blooded meat on Fridays during Lent with them. Their alternative choice was fish. Prohibition in the U.S. banned the production, transportation, sale, and yes, consumption, of alcoholic beverages from 1920-1933. Saloon and innkeepers soon introduced inexpensive fish dinners to draw crowds on Fridays. Name the fish – bluegill, perch, and walleye – Wisconsin had them in abundance for the Friday feasts.

And the side orders? Those innkeepers better have many of the following: coleslaw, potatoes – normally French fries, but some offer hash browns, fried potatoes, and even baby reds, dinner rolls, and condiments, starting with tartar sauce and lemon wedges.

2021 fish fries are increasingly important, akin to a religious miracle as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a dark cloud. Even with PPP assistance and We’re All In grants, bars and restaurants in the St. Croix Valley and across this great divide could use a boost. And who says fish with all the fixings is limited to Friday? Many of the restaurants have pivoted to offer take-out orders, including reserve parking stalls that rival NASCAR pit stops. Give take-out a try and start your own tradition.

If a beer or glass of wine go hand-in-hand with fish fries, then hungry and thirsty consumers may wish for a double play of sorts. There are plenty of micro breweries and wineries in the St. Croix Valley for residents to get out of their comfort zones with a new bottled or canned product. Look for an American Gothic IPA, French Toast Ale, or North of 8 Pilsner and pair with the take-out order. Brewers are creative. Comfort zones may become a thing of the past.

Challenges are ahead even with the rollout of vaccines to battle the pandemic. Batter Up! Let’s give COVID-19 the one-two punch in the St. Croix Valley with an old fashioned fish fry and beverage of your choice. From Main Streets to brewhouses, we got this.

Nothing Says Valentine’s Day Like $21.8 Billion

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Nothing Says Valentine’s Day Like $21.8 Billion

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Due to the global pandemic, Valentine’s Day 2021 will look far different than in the past. But a pandemic won’t stop love birds from dropping almost $22 billion (with a “b”) in the U.S. to mark the occasion. As a reminder, consumer spending accounts for around 70 percent of the U.S. economy, sometimes referred to as gross domestic product, or GDP. With the economy still leaking oil, $22 billion represents a good jump-start. Attention St. Croix Valley residents, please continue to spend your money on candy, cards, flowers, jewelry, or an evening out, but do it locally!

The multi-billion dollar estimate for Valentine’s Day comes from the National Retail Federation, an organization forecasting consumer expenditures on the likes of back-to-school, Halloween, and holiday shopping after Thanksgiving. NRF’s estimate for 2021 is well below the forecasted $27.4 billion in spending on the 2020 pre-pandemic occasion. Ch-Ching.

And now for the juicy parts of Valentine spending. NRF predicts the average expense for romantics is almost $165.00 per person, down from 2020’s spending of around $196.00. For comparison, just ten years ago, in 2011, $116.00 per person was spent. Despite the 2020 health hiccup, the elevator was trending upward very nicely. The average expected spending for men is forecast at $231.00 while women expect to spend $101.00.

More juice (sweet treats, floral scents, and the aroma of food). More money will be spent on candy in 2021 than the previous year, and at 54 percent planning to make this purchase, it is the most popular choice. Thirty-six percent of NRF’s survey respondents said they plan to make flowers their gift of choice. That’s down from 37 percent from 2020. The pandemic means fewer nights out. Twenty-four percent are planning an evening out in 2021, compared to 34 percent last year. NRF says the 24 percent is the lowest in the survey’s history. An estimated 41 percent say they plan a special dinner or celebration at home. That still equates to consumer spending. And keep take-out in mind. The local restaurants would appreciate it. Most suffered throughout 2020.

Pets are rarely overlooked on any special day, so Valentine’s will be a big day for them as well. NRF says $1.3 billion will be spent on the furry little or big ones. This is more than the $1.1 billion spent on co-workers and the $1.0 billion spent on the mysterious “other”.

Where to shop? NRF says 38 percent of it will be done online, followed by 29 percent at department stores, 28 percent at discount stores, or 17 percent at both specialty stores and local/small businesses. A challenge is hereby made to St. Croix Valley romantics – small shops and businesses deserve at least a 25 percent share.

And finally the best news. Almost 75 percent of people marking Valentine’s Day in 2021 feel it’s important to celebrate due to the global pandemic. Celebrants can expect all kinds of goodies, and flowers, and cards, even if they are handmade or corny. Aside from altered plans and expenditures, let’s make Valentine’s Day in the St. Croix Valley extra special this year.

Into the Future, not Back

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Into the Future, not Back

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

December’s holidays were marked with the return of movie favorites on cable TV. The sci-fi classic, Back to the Future, was enjoyed one more time.

For the benefit of young adults who completely missed Back to the Future on the big screen or tablet screen in more modern time, Michael J. Fox plays 17-year old Marty McFly who travels back to 1955 from 1985 by way of a DeLorean automobile time machine created by McFly’s odd scientist friend, Dr. Emmett Brown. Sidebar: When Marty learns of Dr. Brown’s invention, he asks, “Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me you built a time machine…out of a DeLorean?” And Doc replies, “If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” The plot thickens when Marty crosses paths with the younger versions of his parents. He must make sure they meet and fall in love or he will not exist upon his hopeful return to 1985.

Marty’s path also crosses with a younger Doc Brown who has trouble believing someone traveled 30-years back in time as a result of his own invention. Doc asks Marty, “Tell me, Future Boy, who’s President of the United States in 1985?” Marty replies, “Ronald Reagan.” Doc laughs, “Ronald Reagan? The actor? Ha! Then who’s Vice President, Jerry Lewis?” As Marty explains the details of the DeLorean’s flux capacitor, Doc realizes he’s telling the truth. Doc had outlined the flux capacitor on the same day Marty arrived in 1955. And the adventures begin.

So, what would happen if Marty McFly traveled into the St. Croix Valley’s future from 2021 to, say, 2051? Great Scott! For starters, there’d be 1.21 gigawatts of amazement. Or in the words of Marty McFly, “Sounds pretty heavy.” Doc Brown may repeat himself with, “There’s that word again, ‘heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?” Sidebar: Weight has nothing to do with it.

It’s 2051 in the St. Croix Valley. What does it look like? What has been learned in 30-years? How big did the quaint cities in the ’valley get? We shall soon see. The global pandemic showed that working from home was possible. Employees could set their own hours and schedules within reason, following the corporate edict, work from anywhere, at any time, forever. Brick and mortar structures would soon go the way of Saab vehicles, which are deeply missed by some. More time at home in the ’valley led to spikes in births, which led to growing enrollment pressures for school districts. Savvy superintendents deployed the so-called year-round hybrid model of learning, now accepted as the norm. Some school sports are offered twice a year, and to no one’s surprise, St. Croix Valley teams win many championships in the newly-aligned Twin Cities Winnesota Conference. Take that, Edina! Take that East Ridge!

As for roads and other infrastructure, most were deemed obsolete. This included the St. Croix Crossing, which opened in 2017. It was designated as the 12th wonder of the world following the pandemic of 2020. Remember Doc Brown’s foreshadowing, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Sidebar: OK, maybe the local ones.

Regardless of traveling into the future, St. Croix’s destiny will take careful planning and vision. The charm of St. Croix Valley communities still exists well into the future. The St. Croix River is still a protected natural resource. The St. Croix Valley is still a special corner of the world, but it’ll take hard work and difficult decisions. The ’valley consistently adapts to new advances in technology. Business, industry, and residents here enjoy high livability indexes, a modern term for quality of life, whether it’s 2021 or 2051.  

The St. Croix Valley may be wise to follow Doc Brown’s mantra, “If you put your mind to it you can accomplish anything.”

Here’s to our future.

2021 St. Croix Valley Resolutions

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2021 St. Croix Valley Resolutions

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

2020 is nearly in the rear view mirror of life. Farewell. Goodbye. Adieu.

Make no mistake, 2020 had its rewarding moments. A few. They may come to mind momentarily. Births. Engagements. Weddings and civil unions. Anniversaries. New business incorporations. Graduations. New jobs. Promotions. A new or newer car. A first apartment. A home.

If a favorite team was victorious in professional football’s ‘big game’ or baseball’s world series in 2020, then congratulations. Fame and celebrations are fleeting. Many will recall champions being crowned, but perhaps a majority will be vague on the identity of the winning teams. The commercials were hilarious. Weren’t they? The memory bank suddenly short circuited.

In March a pandemic gripped the globe. No need to plow old ground. Business, industry, government, education, and healthcare all turned on their collective sides. One headline in early December read, ‘July is the new January’ meaning most workers typically use their remaining vacation or personal days around Christmas and return after New Year’s Day. In 2021, the most realistic plan to return in-person is July 1st. Fingers crossed.

High speed bandwidth at home and work has been stretched. Schooling may occur at a kitchen table or couch. Or in bed. Remote workers appear dressed up on screen, but come on, Green Bay Packer PJ’s? The pandemic proved once and for all that digital access is a necessity. And in 2020 the term ‘zoom’ took on a new meaning beyond ‘to move or travel very quickly’. Oh to have been part of zoom’s public stock offering a while back.

The St. Croix Valley in Wisconsin is full of resilient people, businesses and institutions. A hardy lot we are. And a pandemic brought out the best. Kindness, generosity, and volunteering. When bars and restaurants closed, community members responded with take-out orders. More than one elected or appointed official heard it from both sides of arguments. Public and private healthcare personnel stepped up, many working extra hours, seven days a week. Teachers, instructors and professors learned new delivery techniques.

Traditional New Year Resolutions are suddenly passe. A new diet; more exercise; more family time. Raise the bar. For 2021, the St. Croix Valley hereby resolves to lead the way – starting in neighborhoods, in communities, in classrooms, and with business, industry, and civic organizations.

Borrowing a couple lines from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during a daily COVID update last March, he said, “There are two great New York expressions that I use all the time. Anything I build in New York always has two expressions on it. One, Excelsior, says it all. Ever upwards, ever upwards. Aspirational. We can be better, we will be better. We’re going to aim higher. We’re going to improve ourselves. Excelsior, our state motto. It’s on the seal behind me. Excelsior. And the other expression is e pluribus unum, out of many one. Unity, unity. You put those two things together, it says it all. Aim high, do better, believe you can do better, be optimistic. And the way you get there is through unity and togetherness and cooperation and through mutuality and community.”

Challenges are ahead in the St. Croix Valley and across this great nation. But we got this!

Happy 2021 in the St. Croix Valley.

The Grinch Shops ‘Small’

SCEDC BLOG

The Grinch Shops ‘Small’

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

At least one elusive Grinch in the St. Croix Valley was puzzled to see his likeness on display in Big Box retail stores on the first weekend of October. Inside the Big Box, the Grinch action figure was joined by the Jolly Old Elf, a reindeer named Rudolph, a beagle named Snoopy, a Nutcracker Soldier, and a family of snow people, formerly referred to as snowmen (women). All were there a full month (28 days) before Halloween. The Grinch was particularly disappointed because leaves and pine needles were holding tight to branches and Halloween costumes were still marked at full price.

Along came Halloween and a time change, which gave the forward-thinking Big Boxes one additional hour to usher in even more holiday surprises. Trees, mangers, lights, wreaths, cards, and ceramic villages all awaited early bird consumers. Poof. By November 2nd, there was little or no trace that Halloween 2020 ever occurred, although this celebration enjoyed a strong run going back to mid-August arrivals at the same Big Box locales. Grinch missed out on the blowout prices on costumes. Who needs another ill-fitting likeness anyway?

Before there are mad dashes to the regional malls or online cyber deals, Mr. Grinch is hoping for a safe, two-dessert Thanksgiving on November 26th. Appropriate guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control shall be observed. There’s plenty of time for a bumper-to-bumper shopping experience at malls or the point-and-click online experience according to our antagonist, Grinch.

Rest assured, Grinch will venture out for holiday shopping. It may start and end in Whoville. What? Grinch is a hometown booster it seems. First conceived in 2010, an event called Small Business Saturday is a national promotion relying on local supporters to encourage residents to shop in their respective communities. Amateur historians and economists like Grinch recall that in 2010 the world was mired in a deep economic decline, sometimes referred to as The Great Recession. Small Business Saturday worked in its inaugural year and continues to gain momentum.

Shopping ‘small’ makes a whopping impact. Local spending in the U.S. on Small Business Saturday last year was estimated at $19.6 billion, with a ‘b’. And with a global pandemic front and center in 2020, the need to support local shops is imperative. In short, fewer businesses on most main streets are opening or are staying open.

Small businesses and retailers are the foundation of successful, vibrant communities. Through grit and determination, they find ways to persevere. The neighborhood deli, bar and grill, yoga studio, bakery, coffee shop, and art loft all could use an extra purchase. Choose takeout, gift cards, cash, or the same-as-cash chamber bucks option. One study says for every dollar spent at a small business means approximately 67 cents stays in the local community.

For holiday shopping and year-round shopping in the St. Croix Valley, join the new hometown booster Mr. Grinch and experience it locally.

Veterans Day 101

SCEDC BLOG

Veterans Day 101

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Veterans Day approaches. Unlike Memorial Day which pays tribute to those who died serving in the military, Veterans Day honors all who served. The younger generation may appreciate a backgrounder on the topic while the older, seasoned generation may use it as a review.

The Great War, World War I, officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. The treaty came after seven months of on-again, off-again combat when the adversaries put a temporary stoppage in place on November 11, 1918 – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The stoppage was also called an armistice. The term, the war to end all wars, was widely used to mark the armistice.

November 11, 1919 was the inaugural Armistice Day observance, as proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson.

Federal legislation in 1938 made the 11th of November of each year a legal holiday. Armistice Day was still the term used to honor the veterans. But given World War II in the 1940s, Korea in the 50s, and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and air corps (later the Air Force), Congress amended the 1938 Act in 1954 with the term Veterans instead of Armistice.

Another federal law passed in 1968 established three-day weekends for federal employees for four national holidays on Mondays, including Veterans Day.

Old school patriotism and historic pride returned Veterans Day to its original observance on November 11th, starting in 1978. It continues to be observed on the 11th, regardless of the day of the week. Whether on a Tuesday or Saturday, Veterans Day continues to honor America’s vets for their duty, service, patriotism, and sacrifice for the greater good.

The profile of veterans is ever changing. They are older and less healthy. According to stats from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, around 389,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2019. Almost 300 die each day. Vietnam era veterans likely have a median age greater than 68 years. Memories are fading with each passing, regardless of the military branch or service era.

And what’s the oldest branch of the military, Army or Navy? Try the National Guard, established in 1636 when blacksmiths, farmers and ordinary citizens formed militias to defend the colonies against attacks. This means the Guard’s citizen-soldiers have served as the nation’s first line of defense since before America’s independence and have fought in every major conflict in America’s history.

Citizen-soldiers possess both civilian and military skills to enable the National Guard to conduct a wide array of missions, at home or overseas. Duties and roles may include aviators, engineers, emergency responders, peacekeepers, truck drivers, mechanics, and legal. Guards who deploy face disruption in careers and families for lengthy stints. Both are stark realities.

Thanking a vet is easier said than done. Many are unassuming but likely can be found next door or in the neighborhood. Here’s a tip. Attend a Veterans Day program, hopefully in person and while observing social distancing. Our veterans will be there. The St. Croix Valley thanks them all. Honor all who served.

Halloween Spending: Frightening

SCEDC BLOG

Halloween Spending: Frightening

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

What do the countries of Samoa, Grenada, and Barbados have in common with Halloween? It’s almost certain calendars in these countries mark October 31st without the notation of Halloween. Just another day in paradise for them. Economists meanwhile like to use a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of goods produced and services provided annually, to measure the size of its economy. The more goods produced or services provided, the bigger the economy.

Halloween should be a country. America’s love affair with Halloween spending usually exceeds the gross domestic product of 25-30 counties each year. In 2014, AGFinancial reported Halloween spending in the U.S. exceeded the GDP of 11 counties – combined! That’s a lot of licorice and theatrical make-up.

There are numerous websites and reporting bureaus dedicated to forecasting Halloween spending. The National Retail Federation (NRF) is one of them. NRF says it has conducted an annual Halloween survey for over a decade and sometime between September 1-9 over 7,600 consumers were contacted about 2020 Halloween spending.

The results are frightening, even in a global pandemic. More than 148 million adults plan to participate in Halloween activities, but overall participation is down to 58 percent. House parties, handing out candy, or visits to haunted houses have dropped because of social distancing concerns. An estimated 17 percent of surveyed adults plan virtual celebrations.

Halloween spending in the U.S. will reach $8.05 billion this year. That’s a drop from 2019’s $8.78 billion. Even with participation down, Halloween consumers will spend more this year, estimated by NRF at $92.12 per participant, compared to $86.27 in 2019. That spending has nearly doubled since 2004 when $48.48 was forecast.

What’s Halloween without a little candy? Why stop at the 100-piece bag when there’s a mega-bag on the next shelf? Last year NRF forecast $2.6 billion was spent on candy, or about $25 per person. More will be spent in 2020, and this is not approved by the St. Croix Valley Dental Association, if one exists.

As for candy do’s and don’ts, another website tracks ‘best’ and ‘worst’ Halloween treats. In 2019, Skittles topped the favorite list, followed by Reese’s Cups, M&M’s Snickers, and Starburst. Candy corn (least appreciated), circus peanuts, peanut butter kisses, wax cola bottles, and Necco Wafers were deemed the worst five.

Yes, adults still dress up for Halloween. NRF says the most popular 2020 adult custom will be a witch, followed by vampire, cat, Batman, and ghost. No presidential candidates? Upon further contemplation, costumed candidates may find themselves in personal peril. A COVID grim reaper likely faces the same reaction. Should he/she come knockin’ do not answer.

Halloween is not a Holiday. At worst, Halloween is somewhat of a springboard for even more consumer spending leading up to Holidays in November and December. At best, Halloween is a short escape into another persona. In the St. Croix Valley, we are reminded to be safe and keep others around you safe, too. Have safe fun.

Three Claps For Football

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Three Claps for Football

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

High school football returned to Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Old rivalries renewed. Pep bands, cheer squads, parents and families, boosters, and concessionaires. All are ready. If visiting fans are unsure of the location of the opponent’s playing field, they just look for the distant glow of lights. Pre-game and post-game, students and fans are bound to bring badly-needed business to local restaurants and pubs.

So what does a coach say to the players before a game? Years ago, New Orleans Saints football coach Sean Payton returned to his high school in Naperville, Illinois and delivered this message, set as the backdrop video to Kenny Chesney’s song, The Boys of Fall:

Coach Payton: “Three claps and we’re ready to play tonight (players and coaches respond: clap-clap-clap).
Three claps (clap-clap-clap).
Three claps (clap-clap-clap).
Twenty-seven years ago I sat in this locker room just like you guys, on a knee getting ready to play a game.
I walked down to the locker room, it still smells the same.
It takes you back real quick.
One of the things that caught me was how fast 27 years goes by.
There are so many people who live vicariously through you.
I would give anything tonight to jump into one of these uniforms with you guys.
That feeling goes away.
It goes away, and it doesn’t come every Friday night.
It comes when you get married.
It comes when your child is born.
So you get it, but you just don’t get it every Friday night.
You’re gonna miss that more than anything in the world.
That’s what I miss.
So you seniors, who are focused on college;
You’re focused on your work after high school;
What you’re gonna do next.
You’re focused on tomorrow, aren’t you?
You’ve got plenty of time for tomorrow.
But these tonight’s, they’re going by fast.
You focus on tonight.
This is about you guys.
This is about the guys in this room.
They care about each other.
They know there are only so many of these nights left.
It’s about you.
They’re a faceless opponent.
They just happened to draw the short straw tonight.
Now get your butts ready to play.
‘Win’ on three.
One-two-three.
WIN!”

Here’s to bringing some normalcy to Friday nights in the St. Croix Valley.

The Rivers

SCEDC BLOG

The Rivers

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

An unnamed walker on Hudson, Wisconsin’s old toll road one Saturday morning felt lucky to bump into a face from the past. How early in the morning? The exact time was insignificant, but early enough for it to be darker than it was lighter. Walkers at this hour likely subscribe to beating other walkers and runners who sleep past 6:00 a.m.

The face from the past said he retired several years back. He reminded the unnamed walker that he grew up in Hudson and witnessed many, many changes. The St. Croix River was his to explore, which included running a trapline and having local knowledge of fishing holes, starting as a six-year old. He also mentioned seeing campfires from hobo encampments on sandbars near the pivoting swing bridge upstream from the toll road. The hobos frequented the sandbars and eventually moved on, never doing any real damage. Hop a train from the swing bridge and they were gone. It was their way of life in early Hudson.

Saturday’s chance conversation got the unnamed walker thinking, maybe too much thinking. Thinking first about rivers, and then about Bruce Springsteen . . . and later, about the local treasures – the St. Croix, Apple, Willow, Rush, Eau Galle, and Kinni.

Springsteen’s chorus for his 1980 song The River goes something like, “We’d go down to the river, and into the river we’d dive, Oh, down to the river we’d ride.” Wiki says throughout the song the river is viewed as a symbol for the dreams of the future. The song’s narrator keeps his hopes alive even as they begin to fail. Later the narrator asks, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse?”

As St. Croix County continues to grow, pristine water resources could be threatened more than ever. Residential growth is comprised of urban dwellers and rural dwellers. City dwellers have access to closed loop municipal water and sewer services. Water comes from deep wells and is treated before a distribution network of buried pipes brings it to homes. Waste water is piped to a facility for processing before it’s discharged as a cleaner, more neutral product. Country dwellers drill private wells for their water source. Waste ends up in a POWTS – private onsite wastewater treatment system.

Too many private wells and POWTS, along with runoff from farm fertilizers, over-manicured suburban lawns, and waste from a thousand head of dairy cattle all named Bessie are bound to present risks or threats. Fortunately, land uses are regulated at the town (township), village, city, or county level. Some local staff may possess credentials as water resource or environmental specialists. Wisconsin has its Department of Natural Resources, too. St. Croix County uses the mantra, Innovation Through Cooperation. It will take a whole lot of both to protect the surface and groundwater resources.

Solutions to ag and dairy waste are emerging. Rolling them out takes innovation and cooperation. The big winners are local residents who deserve clean water. Clean water contributes to greater livability for the region.

If Springsteen’s river is a symbol of dreams for the future, then the St. Croix, Apple, Willow, Rush, Eau Galle, and Kinni are St. Croix’s future. Protecting them and ensuring a better region starts with Innovation Through Cooperation. Just like the changes witnessed by the retired walker, more changes are on the horizon to ensure the vitality of water resources.

Cruel, Cruel COVID Summer

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Cruel, Cruel COVID Summer

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

In 1983, the all-female musical group Bananarama proved to be prophetic when “Cruel Summer” was released. The group did not envision a global pandemic decades later, but 2020 has indeed proven to be a Cruel, Cruel (COVID-19) Summer. The same can be said for last Spring. And likely the upcoming Autumn. And beyond.

The impacts of COVID have been felt in all corners of the Earth. But the impacts start locally and add up, just like a snowball rolling down a hill. Think about a popular bar and grill, main street shop, salon, or micro-brewery. All were shuttered for numerous weeks starting in March. It boiled down to an essential versus nonessential designation for business and industry. Safety first. Cruel, Cruel Summer.

Each community in the St. Croix Valley has one or more celebrations during the year. All or most are cancelled. There goes the parade, royalty coronation, 5K and 10K runs, and street dance, etc. Many of the festivals are governed by a board which puts money back into their communities through donations supporting local nonprofits or special projects. The loss of donations may sting the most. Cruel, Cruel Summer.

In case you think a concession stand’s loss of revenue is no big deal, just consider the really, really big community celebration called the Minnesota State Fair. Sweet Martha’s Cookies is widely regarded as the top vender at the fair with revenue of $4.7 million in 2018. If Martha’s 2019 revenues were up five percent, the sales would be around $5 million. Cruel, Cruel Summer.

In Wisconsin, UW-Madison’s athletic department recently forecast a $60 million revenue loss for 2020-21 and it could grow to $100 million if football is cancelled. Jump Around! That’s a lot of money. Think about the concessionaires, the ticket-takers, the innkeepers, the pre- and post-game gatherings, and the brats ’n beer. All of those lost revenues are outside UW’s forecasts. Cruel, Cruel Summer.

Is there hope? First, play it safe and stay healthy. Then, shop local. Chambers of Commerce are famous for their Chamber Bucks programs. Those bucks can be purchased using cash or checks at the local chamber office. They can be used just like cash at almost any store, assuming it’s a chamber member. They never expire and there are no fees. Local businesses treat the bucks like regular currency. Main Street’s vibrancy may depend on a system like this going forward.

Back to Bananarama. Their Cruel Summer song ended up on the song track to the 1984 movie, Karate Kid, allowing it to reach the Top 10 in Billboard’s Hot 100. Karate Kid is along the lines of “Rocky” for kids. Remember what happened to Ralph Macchio’s character, Daniel? Thanks to the guidance of his mentor Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), Daniel used the crane stance to win the tournament over his bullies. Of course there was a love interest involved, too.

Cruel, Cruel COVID Summer? Not with a crane stance and your support of local businesses, who could really use it. Here’s to a Cool, Cool Summer the rest of the way and beyond.

On This Fourth: Reflection

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On This Fourth: Reflection

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

At a residence in St. Croix County a couple weeks ago, the owner decided it was time to replace a tired old American flag that flies from a pole attached to the garage. The old flag had truly seen better days, and a few more rain showers will work the fold lines out of the new one.

The home owner’s reference to his ratty old flag turned into ragged old flag. He recalled hearing a song with the same title, but from where?

Sure enough, “Ragged Old Flag” was used in a video tribute leading up to Super Bowl LIV’s kickoff this past February. During its airing, Medal of Honor recipient Corporal Kyle Carpenter raised Old Glory to the top of a pole. Corp. Carpenter medically retired from the U.S. Marines in 2013 as a result of significant injuries received in service to his country. He is the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor

“Ragged Old Flag” is the title song on an album with the same name released by country singer Johnny Cash in 1974. Watch the Super Bowl LIV tribute at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPbDZljUsrY. It ends with Corp. Carpenter saying a phrase typically used by presidents at the end of speeches.

On this Fourth of July, carve out some time for reflection – where this country has been, where it is today, and the continued challenges on the road going forward. And reflect upon this, e pluribus unum, Latin for out of many, one.

The United States is a country composed of many beliefs and backgrounds; it’s still a melting pot after all these years, and unified by 50 stars and 13 stripes. “And I believe she can take a whole lot more” as the line in “Ragged Old Flag” points out.

Here’s from 1776 to 2020 and counting.

Got Milk? It’s Wisconsin’s Brand

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Got Milk? It’s Wisconsin’s Brand

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

At 70+ miles per hour, Wisconsin’s welcome signs are but a blur to motorists. The signs are as iconic to Wisconsin as beer, cheese, and the Green Bay Packers. But did you know? They measure 10 feet tall by 11 feet wide and contain three massive logs depicting the pillars of Wisconsin’s economy, Recreation, on the left; Industry, across the top; and Agriculture, on the right. The design is unchanged over the last 50-60+ years, even with the advent of modern branding.

Almost 25 of the signs exist across Wisconsin and most are located at shared borders with Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan or near travel centers for visitors to enjoy, photograph, and post on social media. St. Croix County has three welcome signs – along eastbound I-94 in Hudson, eastbound State Highway 64/35 just across the St. Croix Crossing bridge in the Town of St. Joseph, and at the bottom of the Houlton Hill near the historic Lift Bridge, also in St. Joe. The Houlton sign affords walkers, runners, and bicyclists the opportunity for photo opp’s at a more leisurely pace since the Lift Bridge opened as a recreational amenity.

Wisconsin’s ag agency says agriculture is a big economic driver, contributing almost $105 billion (with a “b”) to the state’s economy. And, there’s more to Wisconsin than milk and cheese. Snap beans, cranberries, ginseng, mink pelts, dry whey, milk goats, and corn silage all rank Number One in the U.S.

June is dairy month. For dairy farmers, so are the other 11 months. It’s an around-the-clock operation, filled with science, technology, and innovation. Wisconsin is home to over 7,000 dairy farms, more than any other state, and 1.28 million cows. That’s over 14 cows for every resident of St. Croix County. Before 600+ varieties and 3.36 billion pounds of cheese can be produced, there’s a four-legged, brown-eyed beauty involved. She’d be a top draft choice in professional sports, based on pedigree alone. This is important when deciding on Asiago, Gorgonzola, aged cheddar, or Gouda at a grocery store.

Despite several tough years, there’s a place for the dairy industry in all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Grandpa and grandma and their parents may look back romantically when they talk about a big, 40-head farm. Dairies have gone the way of bigger just like manufacturers or software development businesses.

Challenges are ahead for dairy operators and among them is land and environmental stewardship. Livelihoods depend on it. A Google source says a mature dairy cow weighing 1,400 pounds may generate around 14 gallons of waste per day. Spreading and on-site storage create long-term troubles. A nice size dairy may have 1,200 or 1,400 cows, so a guesstimation on waste can easily be calculated. Enough said. It’s time to address the problem.

Gaining traction around the globe are technologies like anaerobic digesters and biogas digesters and spin-off products like renewable natural gas (RNG). Large systems process dairy waste and convert it to a couple of byproducts, a dry fertilizer and pipeline quality RNG. Dairies, wastewater treatment plants, and landfills are all good sources for capturing RNG. Best of all, greenhouse gas reductions are possible – all from dairies and those brown-eyed beauties.

Going back to the welcome signs, let’s keep agriculture top of mind. St. Croix County’s branding tagline is Innovation Through Cooperation. There’s a role for county government and dairies to find solutions. It will involve innovation and cooperation. Meanwhile, here’s to milk and cheese and ice cream. Make it a double scoop of innovation and cooperation.

Skyward and Forward

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Skyward and Forward

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

For those looking skyward on May 6th, a military transport plane with a fighter jet on either wing flew over several hospitals in the Twin Cities metro area in a salute to the brave healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID pandemic. The mission was called Operation American Resolve and coincided with National Nurses Day. Numerous Air National Guard units across the U.S. also conducted similar tributes at varying times.

Our St. Croix Valley’s contribution to the flyby involved an agreed-upon rendezvous point along County Road UU in the Town of Hudson, referred to as the soccer complex. The flying trio met high above the sprawling patch of green grass and headed west into the Twin Cities. Zoom and gone.

It doesn’t take much to cause eyes to water or throats to suddenly tighten, given the recent state of the world. The flyby was one of those occasions. Memorial Day 2020 may be another.

The modern Memorial Day was previously called Decoration Day. Between backyard barbeques and spring’s unofficial weekend kick-off, it’s a time to remember and honor members of the military who died in the service of their country, the U.S. of A. Mark the calendar for Monday, May 25th. Hopefully there won’t be virtual color guards or 21-gun salutes. Safe distancing practices may allow local ceremonies to go forward. Solemnly, however.

President Ronald Reagan paid tribute to America’s fallen military comrades in his first inaugural address back in 1981. He mentioned “the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, with its row upon row of simple white markers, and . . . their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.”

Fast forward to more modern times. Add Iraq, Iran, Somalia, and Afghanistan to the list.

Most news is still not encouraging. One in five working adults may have lost jobs since mid-March. All units of government are coming to grips with lost revenue, budget cuts, and layoffs. For private business, supply chains are still pressed. Healthcare is stretched.

A prediction: Business, industry, and government will rise to the occasion and the U.S. will lead the global recovery. Better days are ahead.

Here’s to the men and women who died serving the United States. On May 25th, residents of the St. Croix Valley are encouraged to look skyward and forward. Inspiration is there.