Lemonade Stand

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Sweet! It’s the Lemonade Stand

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Even in a dairy rich state like Wisconsin, and in the Dairy Month of June, there’s still room for neighborhood lemonade stands in the St. Croix Valley. Running a lemonade stand represents Free Enterprise 101 and the Basics of Entrepreneurship all rolled into one, whether the youthful operators realize it or not. More than one successful business person has said the lowly lemonade stand was their start in the business world.

Of course some stands are subject to over-regulation, i.e. the wrong zoning, lack of a permit, hours of operation, and spontaneous laughter and fun. Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a law that legalizes lemonade stands. Legalizes? He called it a common sense law, and cited a 2015 incident in which the police shut down a lemonade stand run by a couple of girls who were raising money for a Father’s Day gift. Hooray, common sense prevails.

Profit, loss, cash flow? Who cares? These are little kids with big hearts. Many times the money from lemonade sales goes to worthy causes – the parent’s out-of-pocket share to send a son or daughter to Washington, D.C., or the Ronald McDonald House, or a local food pantry. Don’t forget to tip. A dollar in the tip jar has huge impacts. Better yet, decline the lemony drink and just leave a tip.

Market saturation is occasionally observed. One stand may lead to another, directly across the street. A price war ensues, followed by kids with placards up the street to alert oncoming traffic of the preferred stand. And this is how fast food restaurants end up on three of four corners of an intersection. The fourth corner is perhaps a national chain coffee shop.

Product diversification may be required. Lemonade is morphed into flavored lemonade, or cookies offered for an extra quarter, followed by a candy dish with a note requesting donations. A favorite internet lemonade stand story involves the use of Skittles® to create strawberry lemonade. It seems the stand’s operators found a shortcut with the Skittles® flavoring and boiled them in a mom’s heated foot massage tub.

We live in a great country. Capitalism is alive and well. For some, it starts at an early age along a street with a cardboard stand. Lessons are learned. Weather can be fickle. Competition can be fierce. The strong and determined survive.

Here’s to lemonade stands. Hopefully common sense helps overcome the obstacles.

The Greatest Generation

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The Greatest Generation

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Many recall Tom Brokaw as a news anchor at NBC.

He’s also the author of several books, including The Greatest Generation. Brokaw was among the first to use ‘greatest generation’ to frame Americans who were born in tough times, survived The Great Depression (not to be confused with The Great Recession), got tougher during a World War, returned home, started families, and above all, worked hard to keep America great, long before a similar phrase gained popularity.

The Internet says members of The Greatest Generation were born between 1910 and 1924, making the youngest around 95 years old and the oldest 109. Alas, there are fewer and fewer. For the record, a tough-as-nails WW II veteran rests in peace in a cemetery in southern Minnesota. A certain economic development official in the St. Croix Valley has a connection to him.

A turning point in world history is celebrated each June 6th. It’s called D-Day. Allied Forces converged on the beaches of Normandy France to beat back the German military. This June 6th marks the 75th anniversary of a truly historic event.

On that note, here are a few quotes from Brokaw’s Greatest Generation:

“There has never been a military operation remotely approaching the scale and the complexity of D-Day. It involved 176,000 troops, more than 12,000 airplanes, almost 10,000 ships, boats, landing craft, frigates, sloops, and other special combat vessels–all involved in a surprise attack on the heavily fortified north coast of France, to secure a beachhead in the heart of enemy-held territory so that the march to Germany and victory could begin. It was daring, risky, confusing, bloody, and ultimately glorious.”

“When the war ended, more than twelve million men and women put their uniforms aside and returned to civilian life. They went back to work at their old jobs or started small businesses; they became big-city cops and firemen; they finished their degrees or enrolled in college for the first time; they became schoolteachers.”

“They married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”

The old guy from southern Minnesota embodied Brokaw’s description. He returned home from service a partially disabled vet, started a family, had a rural mail delivery route (more of Uncle Sam), pounded a fair share of nails as a carpenter, marched in countless parades, and was active in his community.

Once in a while you’ll read about someone in their 90s, male and female, still working. They love work, but there’s less and less of them, too. Wagering a cup of coffee, a sure bet says most employers would hire a member of The Greatest Generation in a heartbeat. Young workers could learn many lessons, starting with work ethic, continuing with loyalty, and ending in pride.

Here’s to The Greatest Generation.

Congratulations Grads; Employers Need You

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Congratulations Grads; Employers Need You

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The time honored tradition of commencements is here.

Graduates will be reminded by more than one speaker that commencement is not an ending, but a beginning. And yes, there will be opportunities to hit the re-set button, whether the button pertains to getting one’s act together or following one’s heart to paths less traveled.

For high schoolers transitioning to college or universities, including technical colleges, the only way to determine if those pegs fit into holes is to give it a try. Hopefully it is not an expensive lesson. Some may be ready; others, not so much. The following was overheard from a clerk at a convenience store, “I went to fill-in-the-blank college (identity withheld) for a year, but didn’t like it (or pick the reason).” And so it goes.

College and high school grads are entering a hot-hot-hot job market. Starting a few years ago, more people were retiring than entering the labor market. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate for April is at the historic low rate of 2.8 percent. The U.S. rate is at an unheard rate of 3.6 percent. If you believe news from the Department of Labor, a recent report suggested there were 7.8 million jobs openings in the U.S. The harsh reality: the gap between this estimate and number of unemployed people was 1.3 million. Yep, more jobs than people. In Wisconsin alone, the jobs bank has 90,000+ openings.

Don’t overlook the military. See the world. Earn life-long benefits, extending to education and even home ownership.

Don’t overlook the trades and labor. A two-year degree these days translates into solid jobs in construction, welding, metal fabrication, electrical. Hospitals and clinics seek new associates that form the foundation of their organizations – Registered Nurses, Certified Nursing Assistants, technicians, and dietary specialists.

To the grads of 2019, Congratulations! It’s time to take it to the next level. The St. Croix Valley is a special place. Many grads will discover this along the way. Employers here have plenty of openings, too.

Small Businesses Make BIG Impact

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Small Businesses Make BIG Impact

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Long before Mr. Sam Walton became a dominate player in retail and distribution, he boldly opened Walton’s 5/10 (Five and Dime) in Bentonville, Arkansas in 1950. His decision to take a chance in Bentonville was less than scientific – wife Helen liked small town living and the city’s location in northwest Arkansas enabled Sam to take advantage of numerous hunting seasons in neighboring states. Success in Bentonville led to the first Walmart store in nearby Rogers, Arkansas in 1962. The rest is not history. History is still being made by Walmart.

Boyhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen talked frequently about starting a business that could build on their computer programming skills. Before there was Microsoft, Gates and Allen teamed up on little-known Traf-O-Data, a computer that was used to track and analyze automobile traffic data, back in 1972. Finding early success, the duo established Microsoft in April 1975. The original name was Micro-Soft, a shortened version of microcomputer software. History at Microsoft continues to be written.

Earl Bakken and a brother in-law launched Medtronic in Minneapolis-Fridley, Minnesota back in 1949. It served as a medical equipment repair business out of one of the partner’s garages. Bakken was later introduced to Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, a heart surgeon at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Lillehei suggested that Bakken develop a battery powered pacing device for the heart. Today, Medtronic is a global giant in medical technology.

Walton, Gates, Allen, and Bakken all started small. Success led to growth, which led to stock offerings and publicly-traded companies. Thousands and thousands are employed in companies started by them. Each of these companies has spawned other businesses from former employees with bigger and brighter ideas.

2019’s U.S. Small Business Week is May 5-11. The week celebrates and recognizes the importance of small businesses. There are 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S., according to the Small Business Administration’s office of advocacy. In fact, a small, independent business can be quite large – having less than 500 employees, and not dominant in its market. They comprise 99.9 percent of all firms, including 97.6 percent of exporting firms. An estimated 47.5 percent of all private sector employees earn their paychecks from small businesses, which amounts to 40.8 percent of the private sector’s payroll. Best of all, 66 percent of all net new jobs come from small businesses.

From Main Streets to business and industrial parks, communities are full of small businesses. Like Walton, Gates, Allen, and Bakken, small business founders are risk takers, innovators, and generally independent. Here’s to small businesses. Happy Small Business Week 2019.

Employers Face Workforce Challenges Head-on

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Employers Face Workforce Challenges Head-On

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

It seems ‘Help Wanted’ signs have replaced ‘Garage Sale’ signs as the least popular among community beautification advocates. Street right-of-ways are littered with ‘Apply Today’ and ‘Top Pay for Second Shift’ messages. Compare those to a real attention-getter and perhaps best garage sale sign from a couple years back, ‘Huge Baby Sale This Weekend.’ The curiosity factor alone was enough to stop for that sale.

The facts are clear. More people are working today than ever. Meanwhile, job openings continue to grow and usually go unfilled. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a number person’s favorite bureau, reported in mid-March on 7.6 million job vacancies for January. For comparison, December’s vacancies came in at 7.34 million, at the time, a record number. The difference in those two estimates yields a big city. A previous estimate from Labor said 6.5 million Americans qualified as unemployed. A big city just morphed into a major metro area.

The Bureau of Labor also measures something called workforce participation. It is expressed as a percentage of people, say, 16-years old through retirement age, who are working, or at least actively seeking employment, compared to the entire pool of 16- to mid-60 year olds. Wisconsin is considered among the top states in workforce participation, yet the measure is around 68-67 percent. The U.S. rate lags behind at around 63 percent. Imagine the impact if the needle ticked up one- to two-tenths of a percent!

Are there solutions? A foundation operated by Wisconsin’s largest business organization, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, recently released a report on the state’s workforce challenges. Several recommendations were offered, including: attract and retain talent; upskill existing workers; improve career pathways; promote apprenticeships and other work-based learning for students; promote career awareness; and reach disconnected groups.

For go-getters coming out of high schools, technical colleges and universities, and even military service, opportunities are abundant. These may be the best of times. For certain, employers from business and industry are happy to connect. A bonus may come with a job offer. Higher wages, salaries and benefits have counteracted the tight labor market.

In the match-making game of employment, here’s to happy endings among jobseekers and employers.

Girl Scout Cookies and the Five P’s

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Girl Scout Cookies and the Five P’s

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Thin Mint. Peanut Butter Do-si-Dos. Shortbread Trefoils. Samoas.

Just like the first backyard robin, Girl Scout cookie sales are another sign that Old Man Winter is on his way out and Spring is near. Hopefully. St. Croix County’s economic development spin-master has proclaimed his disdain for the Winter of 2018-19 on numerous occasions. The bottom of the driveway is a prime location for his muttering. He has been waiting for a long-overdue robin as well as the first sleeve of shortbread treats.

From humble beginnings, Girl Scout cookie sales officially go back to 1917. They were launched in home kitchens of troop members. Moms served as advisers for the experimenting girls. Five years earlier, a troop in Oklahoma made cookies and sold them at the high school as a service project. This success led to sanctioned cookie sales across the county and globe. Shortages of sugar, flour and butter in World War II interrupted cookie sales. Non-edible calendars replaced cookies as the fund raiser for a while.

The economic development guy thought he’d been shut out of cookies for 2019. Door-to-door sales yielded to tables in convenience stores or big box retailers. For the trained observer, the free market system was definitely in play as make-shift booths were set-up in key parking lots. If a community could be over-saturated with coffee shops, would the same community or neighborhood support 4-5-6 cookie booths? Welcome to the free market, ladies.

On a recent Saturday, the fast-talking economic developer walked into a retail shop. A young Girl Scout and her mom had staked their claim. It was not an ideal location. It looked like they could use some business. A promise was made. If the Girl Scout could recite the Five P’s of a marketing plan, she’d get a sale. Hmm. The Five P’s? The fast-talker helped her out: Product, Price, People, Place, and Promotion. Her mom jumped in, noting her daughter had cookies as the product; the price was $5 a box, the people consisted of a mother-daughter team, they were selling in the lobby, and a double-sided sign served as their promotion.

After the $10 transaction, the mom said, “I think we learned something about those Five P’s today.” Indeed, Girl Scout cookie sales build life skills and sales help fund troop activities. The fast-talker got his shortbread and peanut butter treats. And he got more out of the conversation than the Girl Scout and her mom.

Here’s to a life lesson.

The Right Stuff

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The Right Stuff

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Tom Wolfe penned a book in the late 1970’s entitled, ‘The Right Stuff’ about American test pilots who were part of the early research efforts leading to NASA’s space program. The pilots flew experimental rocket-powered aircraft. Some returned to Mother Earth safely; others did not. Those who did were said to have the right stuff, meaning they possessed certain character traits, excluding luck, to succeed and thrive. Even with the right stuff, perhaps the best of all test pilots, Chuck Yeager, was not selected as an astronaut. The right stuff proved elusive for him.

The U.S. was well behind the Soviets in the 1960s space race. NASA went on to develop its first manned space program called Project Mercury. The first seven test pilots with the right stuff were called the Mercury Seven, namely Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.

In business, the right stuff is measured every day, every week, every month, every quarter, and every year. Launching a business and running it successfully is not for meek or timid. Neither is defying gravity. Gotta have the right stuff. And maybe a little luck, just like the 60s test pilots who could sense the upper limits of engineering and propulsion as the envelope was pushed.

Attendees at the recent St. Croix EDC’s Business of the Year awards dinner were treated to the business version of the right stuff. Three companies were honored and each award recipient spoke in frank terms of obstacles and achievements and just shoulder-to-the-wheel hard work that brought them into the spotlight for the evening. All three confessed they were not public speakers. That comment did not fool the audience. Their comments came straight from their hearts and included motivational take-aways.

State Senator Patty Schachtner summed it up best with three terms to describe each of the honorees – resiliency, community building, and vision. Add those descriptors to the character traits of test pilots and the resolve of business owners.

It’s still the right stuff.

March Brings Madness

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March Brings Madness

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

St. Croix Valley residents will be relieved to put a wintery February in their rear view mirrors and may be thrilled to say, “Bring on March.”

Or maybe not.

With March comes the so-called Madness, defined any way residents wish.

More than one hermit living alone in the woods suffered from cabin fever – a term for listlessness and general irritability stemming from long periods of indoor confinement. The snowy weather of February will certainly yield to better days in March, moving the St. Croix Valley closer to a cure for cabin fever, right? Big Oops. March is still regarded as the snowiest month in the Midwest. Keep those shovels handy. Snowplow operators are deserving of an occasional Thumbs Up – with or without mittens. Confined in a cab and dealing with White Gold can bring on its own form of Madness.

And then there are year-end tournaments to determine champions in a variety of sports for girls, boys, women, and men. Notre Dame’s women basketball team is the defending national champs. Much of the credit goes to Arike Ogunbowale who came to ND by way of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee. In a 48-hour span, she hit back-to-back game-winning baskets to knock off number one ranked UConn and then Mississippi State in the finale. Both shots are worthy of a Google search. In short, the Madness of March stuck again (and again). Arike didn’t need ND’s shamrocks on her jersey for good luck. She put forth the one-two combo of hard work and skill in making those game winners. UConn and Mississippi State may claim otherwise, alleging ND’s trademarked shamrocks as the culprit.

The Madness also appears on March 17th. St. Patrick’s Day makes everyone Irish for a day, whether it’s the bona fide O’Keefe clan or McRubin wannabees. Our friends in New Richmond, Wisconsin put on a pretty good show for the day, thanks to the enclave of early Irish settlers. 2012 will be remembered in New Richmond as the Wearing o’ the Flip-Flops as revelers enjoyed the almost 80-degree day. Other years are better-suited for after-dinner coffee drinks and long underwear. The Madness strikes again.

Income tax filings are well underway and many have appointments in March. A refund from Madison or the U.S. Treasury, or both, is an unexpected surprise. Holiday bills, Florida getaways, or Colorado skiing trips can be paid off. For others, filings mean The Tax Man Cometh and he or she may want more money. For those filers, it can only be attributable to the Madness and the pain is extended all the way up to the April 15th deadline.

March can be packed with odd occurrences. Madness or not, the St. Croix Valley’s hearty citizens will survive. Spring is near.

Miracles Happen

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Miracles Happen

 

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

We are creeping up on the anniversary involving a triumph of Goliath proportions. On February 22, 1980, the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet team in Lake Placid, N.Y. An upset does not begin to describe the outcome. Hard to believe it’s been 39 years.

With broad brush strokes, a 1980s picture in the U.S. and globally could be painted this way: inflation was rampant, unemployment was high and climbing, an energy crisis had a strangle hold on businesses and consumers, the dial for the Cold War was turned to ‘bitter’ and, the Soviets were in Afghanistan on military business.

A fast-talking economic development guy was residing in central Minnesota at the time. He claims to have learned of the hockey victory by way of a car radio tuned to A.M. while on Broadway Avenue. February 22nd was a Friday and a saloon may have been calling. Spontaneity ensued, including shouts of joy from a rolled-down car window and a horn that wouldn’t stop honking.

For the younger generation, cell phones, laptops, tablets, Internet, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter did not exist in 1980. Repeat, did not exist. Why is this important? The game was not broadcast live in the U.S. and options to follow it were very limited. It started at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time (1:00 a.m. Moscow time), and later, was brought into homes across America as part of the network’s prime time coverage. When the game did air, the hosts explained it had been contested but promised not to leak the outcome. The capacity of the Lake Placid arena is said to be 8,500 seats. Days and weeks after the victory, many thousands more claimed to have been there in person. The fast-talker never made that claim, at least not publicly.

In the locker room before the game, Coach Herb Brooks, a St. Paul, Minnesota East Sider, addressed his team from personal notes, along the lines of, “Great moments are born from great opportunity. You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.” Those 19- and 20-year old men (kids) from Roseau, Eveleth, Flint, Charlestown, and Madison heeded the coach’s prophetic words, winning 4-3.

USA! USA! America needed a winner and got one. USA! USA! At every opportunity, crowds across America waved the stars and stripes and even sang patriotic songs. The fast-talker remembers singing a little bit, too.

Two days later the U.S. team beat Finland to win the gold medal in a match that really was broadcast live and may have competed with other morning activities on the Sabbath. As an aside, a loss to the Fins would have meant gold medals for the Soviets.

Upon reflection, the fast-talker says the U.S. of A. could use a 2019 version of a miracle. The fast-talker says if you look close, there’s “us” in “USA”. In any shape or size, a uniting miracle would be so retro-1980.

Repeating a line from Lake Placid, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

A Down-and-Back Madison Road Trip

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A Down-and-Back Madison Road Trip

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Madison, Wisconsin is said to be 77 square miles surrounded by reality. It is also Wisconsin’s capital city, where new laws are introduced and either sent to a dark hole or are debated and signed into law. Skeptics may say the faint hearted should avoid watching the bill-making process.

Each year, ‘citizen lobbyists’ descend on Madison to advance regional priorities with legislators. Given the poor reputation of lobbyists, most volunteers refer to themselves as advocates. The La Crosse area conducts Oktoberfest at the Capitol; Superior area has its Superior Days (plural), and the Chippewa Valley promotes its causes under the Chippewa Valley Rally theme. The Valley Rally includes a wrap-up reception featuring a Chippewa Falls-based brewery whose name rhymes with Leinenkugel.

As for St. Croix, its advocates team up with Polk, Pierce, and Dunn counties for the Greater St. Croix Valley Legislative Day and the 2019 event is set for February 6th. For those wishing to conduct business with cabinet secretaries, policy advisors, legislators or staff, it means a long day on the road before the Madison skyline comes into view. There’s a worn-out anecdote along these lines, The good news, Madison is four hours away; the bad news, Madison is four hours away.

Departure from Hudson is at 6:00 a.m. and following a pit stop at the Mauston exit, the somewhat weary volunteers arrive at the capitol around 10:30. There’s a group photo at 10:45 followed by orientation and box lunches before appointments in teams of two or three begin at 12:30 p.m. The timid or nervous have no place during the appointments. In rapid fire order, a legislator or staffer learns details on the St. Croix Valley, then successes and thank-you’s, and finally, the issues. Each team member is expected to present an issue or two. By the fifth or sixth appointment the routine is down pat.

In the early years of the legislative treks, a cabinet secretary put the work of the citizen-led activities into perspective. He said, “Your region could hire a lobbyist to deliver the message. It’s more effective coming from citizen volunteers.”

By 4:30 p.m., it’s time to load up the high occupancy vans and negotiate an exit from the capitol square. One of the founding volunteers continues to promise three full verses to a country western song entitled, Madison in My Rear View Mirror. Four and half hours later the travelers are in the St. Croix Valley. Mission Accomplished or Mission Impossible? They’ll track the current year’s issues and plan on doing it again in 12 months.

The St. Croix Valley is well represented in Madison. We’re proud of our legislators and the same is true from their perspective. This region continues to grow, which leads to a long list of wants and needs as well as the potential for stronger, if not additional representation. Even legislators from the most rural or most urbanized parts of the state have interest in places four hours from Madison. They should. A rising tide lifts all boats. The St. Croix Valley is a rising tide.

Fables of a Passbook and Financial Literacy

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Fables of a Passbook and Financial Literacy

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Somewhere in a storage box marked ‘Personal Stuff” sits a palm-sized leather book containing handwritten entries from a savings account closed decades ago. For the younger generation, the non-cell phone object is referred to as a passbook savings book. Doubters can look it up, or they can ask an old person (grandparent) or a really old person (great grandparent). It seems the younger generation cannot imagine bank transactions without the assistance of a cell phone or iPad.

According to this fable, there was a time when bank transactions were done in person with a teller counting the coins and currency before making an entry in the passbook. For good measure the teller may have initialed the transaction in the book. The same teller may have greeted the account holder by name, “Hello Mike, or Robbie, or Chip (footnote: see the 1960s sitcom, ‘My Three Sons’) or Theodore” (footnote: see the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ sitcom). The times were a bit slower back then.

As the world moved toward automation, passbooks gave way to monthly statements delivered by U.S. Mail. Alas, the paper statements yielded to electronic, online summaries. However, with passbooks, the nuisance involving an overdraft fee was avoided. If you didn’t have the funds, you couldn’t make a purchase. Or, as was overheard in a check-out line at a big box retailer this past December, “How come my debit card quit working?” Slow down there, young consumer, your account is running a little H-O-T.

Fables are supposed to have a moral. The moral here involves financial literacy in Wisconsin. In late November 2017, Assembly Bill 280 was signed into law as Act 94. It directed Wisconsin school districts to develop academic standards toward financial literacy including the classroom instruction of financial literacy in grades K-12. The end game is greater financial literacy for the younger generation.

The morals keep getting better. For 75+ years a nonprofit organization called Junior Achievement of Wisconsin (J.A.) has been in classrooms teaching financial literacy and fundamentals of entrepreneurship. J.A. is led by volunteers – moms, dads, retirees, bankers, and business people. School districts in the St. Croix Valley may be aligned with Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, based in St. Paul, MN. Regardless of J.A.’s organizational venue, that younger generation eventually grows up to manage their own finances. We hope.

Another moral. Thanks to a great member-partner, St. Croix EDC was able to grant $1,000 to each of the public school districts in St. Croix County last year, earmarked for financial literacy curriculum. Another grant went to J.A. Upper Midwest to jumpstart their instructional lessons in the St. Croix Central district. Modest as those grants were, the EDC envisions long-term benefits for the next set of entrepreneurs and resident consumers in the county.

Here’s to a long-forgotten passbook and Financial Literacy 101.

BELIEVE

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BELIEVE

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The rocket ship with “2018” as its flight number has just about flamed out. It was ridden to its apex and now the ‘chutes deployed. Splashdown in 7-6-5 days. What a ride.

Before the bands play Auld Lang Syne, there is still time for a little reflection and resolutions for the New Year. Back on January 1, 1991, Miss Ann Landers, the queen of advice, offered these thoughts for a happier New Year. For good measure she ran the same advice a year later. They are edited slightly for brevity:

*Call up a forgotten friend. Drop an old grudge, and replace it with some pleasant memories (edit: a personal call beats a text every time, even if the text uses proper grammar).
*Share a funny story with someone whose spirits are dragging. A good laugh can be very good medicine.
*Vow not to make a promise you don’t think you can keep.
*Pay a debt.
*Give a soft answer.
*Free yourself of envy and malice.
*Encourage some youth to do his or her best. Share your experience, and offer support. Young people need role models.
*Make a genuine effort to stay in closer touch with family and good friends.
*Resolve to stop magnifying small problems and shooting from the lip. Words that you have to eat can be hard to digest.
*Find the time to be kind and thoughtful. All of us have the same allotment: 24 hours a day. Give a compliment. It might give someone a badly needed lift.
*Think things through. Forgive an injustice. Listen more. Be kind.
*Apologize when you realize you are wrong. An apology never diminishes a person. It elevates him/her.
*Don’t blow your own horn. If you’ve done something praiseworthy, someone will notice eventually.
*Try to understand a point of view that is different from your own. Few things are 100 percent one way or another.
*Examine the demands you make on others.
*Lighten up. When you feel like blowing your top, ask yourself, “Will it matter a week from today?”
*Laugh the loudest when the joke is on you.
*The sure way to have a friend is to be one. We are all connected by our humanity, and we need each other.
*Avoid malcontents and pessimists. They drag you down and contribute nothing.
*Don’t discourage a beginner from trying something risky. Nothing ventured means nothing gained. Be optimistic. The can-do spirit is the fuel that makes things go.
*Go to war against animosity and complacency.
*Express your gratitude. Give credit when it’s due—and even when it isn’t. It will make you look good.
*Read something uplifting. Deep-six the trash. You wouldn’t eat garbage—why put it in your head?
*Don’t abandon your old-fashioned principles. They never go out of style.
*When courage is needed, ask yourself, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
*Take better care of yourself. Remember, you’re all you’ve got. Pass up that second helping. You really don’t need it. Vow to eat more sensibly. You’ll feel better and look better, too.
*Give yourself a reality check. Phoniness is transparent, and it is tiresome. Take pleasure in the beauty and the wonders of nature. A flower is God’s miracle.
*Walk tall, and smile more. You’ll look 10 years younger.
*Don’t be afraid to say, “I love you.” Say it again. They are the sweetest words in the world.
*If you have love in your life, consider yourself blessed, and vow to make this the best year ever.

Thanks, Miss Landers. Your advice from 1991 is still relevant. In 2019, B-E-L-I-E-V-E.

Time Out: Chuck Taylor All Star Shoes

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Time Out: Chuck Taylor All Star Shoes

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Before there was a Jordan, Kobe, Curry, or LeBron basketball shoe, there was the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star model. Make that the iconic Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoe. Make that the nearly 100-year old All Star shoe. Yes, the same shoes worn by the mythical 1951-52 Hickory Huskers in the movie, Hoosiers. And Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. And the cast of Happy Days. And now, worn by hipsters and fashion wannabes, young and old, who seek a retro-style.

Today, there are many, many options with basketball shoes. As for the Chuck Taylor All Star, the options may have been white or black, and ankle cut or hightop. A company called Converse starting making basketball shoes in 1917, and in 1921, a semi-pro basketball player named Charles “Chuck” Taylor, joined the company in sales. Converse relied on Taylor’s suggestions for a better design. The circular “All Star” logo was added to protect the ankle, followed by Taylor’s signature, giving the shoes an endorsement of sorts, likely among the first of its kind in athletics. Taylor was soon conducting basketball clinics at YMCAs across the country and promoting the Converse All Stars. Sales soared.

In reality, there was nothing particularly special about the All Star shoe. They were made of cotton canvas, with a distinctive toe cap and brown, non-skid rubber sole. The shoe’s so-called “loose lining” of softer canvas was said to offer greater flexibility and prevent dreaded blisters. City players, country bumpkins, professionals, U.S. military, and Olympic athletes all wore the All Stars.

Several hundred million pairs have been worn since the 1920s. But by the 70s, the shoe lost its popularity. Canvas was passed by with leather and along came an upstart company known by its swoosh. Converse filed for bankruptcy and was acquired by that swoosh company in 2003. The All Star brand got new life. Various models like the Chuck II have been introduced and marketed. Some were commercial failures, but others offer the causal look in numerous colors and prints.

The semi-pro player turned salesman is long gone but his name on a pair of shoes lives on. Spectators would be hard-pressed to see basketball players wearing the All Star model on the court. However, their popularity can be found on patrons in coffee shops, bass guitarists in grunge bands, and artists.

Long live the Chuck Taylor All Star shoe, whether it’s a hightop or ankle cut, or in bright pink or silver.

In the Giving Season, Give Cheese

SCEDC BLOG

In the Giving Season, Give Cheese

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Only true Green Bay Packer fans are able to recite the origin of the foam hat designed to resemble a mighty wedge of cheese. All others must rely on Google and Wiki, neither of which are stellar fortresses of accuracy.

According to lore and corroborating websites, Chicago Bear fans began taunting Packer fans with the Cheesehead term after the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986. Packer and Brewer fans embraced the nickname, and sometime in 1987, a chap named Ralph Bruno created the first wedge of foam cheese while cutting up his mother’s couch, perhaps otherwise destined for a landfill. Or porch. Or alley. Necessity is once again the mother of invention. Bruno later started a business to sell the Cheeseheads as novelty sporting apparel. Foamation, Inc. of St. Francis, Wisconsin owns the Cheesehead trademark and manufactures dozens of other cheese-related foam products, including bowtie, baseball hat, championship belt, dagger, and (Lombardi-like) trophy.

Fast forward to November 4th. Jamie Kiesl, while sporting a Cheesehead at a Milwaukee Bucks basketball game, was able to name 27 different cheeses in 30-seconds as part of a fan contest. She also demonstrated multi-tasking skills by holding a young daughter on her hip during the contest. A Bucks player, Sterling Brown, only named 17 cheeses in the pre-recorded segment for the contest. When asked about knowing so many types of cheese, Kiesl was said to have replied, “I’ve lived in Wisconsin my whole life.” The Journal Sentinel summed it up best by noting, “There is nothing more Wisconsin than this.”

And now, holiday shopping approaches, complete with lists for the naughty and nice. Why not make it a little more Wisconsin this season? In the giving season, give some Wisconsin cheese. Artisan cheese shops large and small are equipped with on-line ordering capabilities. These shops offer a wide selection, including obscure and exotic, all reflected in the price. Without playing favorites, a jolly old elf may call out, “On Bass Lake Cheese Factory, On Cady Cheese Factory, On Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery (Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin) and On UW-River Falls Falcon Foods (note: the student-run cheese plant reopens in 2019 following extensive renovations). . . .” When in doubt about cheese shops and respective locations, try an elf named Google.

This season, give cheese. There is nothing more Wisconsin.

Sign of the Times: Help Wanted

SCEDC BLOG

Sign of the Times: Help Wanted

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The U.S. unemployment rate was recently announced at 3.7 percent making it the lowest since 1969. A few may remember 1969. Most will not. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has been reported at 3.0 percent or lower for eight straight months. It is not uncommon for some Wisconsin counties to report unemployment rates under two percent. St. Croix’s is at a modest 2.4 percent for September.

Human resource departments and job recruiters have their work cut out for them as they seek new workers. Some have reverted to comedy. In the case of a local bar and restaurant, a portable sign read, “Want some alone time? Have your kids work here.” Comedy aside, St. Croix continues to be among the fastest-growing counties in the state.

Other signs may have less desired results:

“Now Hiring” was placed atop a banner that read, “Fried Turkeys”

“Now Hiring 2 sausage biscuits $1.77”

Must read carefully: “Now Firing – Apply Within – Positions Available”

Found on a manhole cover: “Now Hiring: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Inquire Within”

“Help Wanted (Siruis persons only please)”

An oldie but goodie: “Sponge Bob is Here Hiring Managers”

“Now Hiring – Must Have a Clue”

Sad but sometimes true: “Because your boyfriend will eventually ask for gas money – Now Hiring”

A sign reads, “We’re looking for computer engineers who like to solve difficult problems. Call us at this number now” (a formula is provided where “x = 24” and “y = 30” . . . .)

And so it goes. From entry level positions to executive openings, jobs are available. Manufacturing, healthcare, education, construction, and retail sectors are all chasing the same scarce commodity. It seems “soft skills” will go a long way to landing a job, along with ambition or strong work ethic. The economy is strong, but outputs could be improved if critical positions were filled. Good luck recruiters. Good luck job seekers.

Interstate Takes a Pounding

SCEDC BLOG

Interstate Takes a Pounding

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

We can thank a former president and military general, Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, for the U.S. interstate highway system. President Eisenhower was inspired by Germany’s efficient highway system he witnessed as a general during World War II. His support led to the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which secured funding for America’s first 41,000 miles of the interstate system.

The interstate is also called the Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Wait. Defense Highways? Yep. Eisenhower was concerned about the ability to evacuate major cities in the event of war, including a nuclear attack. Of course Uncle Sam needs to move its equipment at a time of crisis, too. It seems mile markers and numbered exits serve more than a basic purpose of assisting travelers.

The interstate has made a big impact on St. Croix County communities going back several decades. In late October 1959, a 41-mile segment of I-94 opened from Hudson to Menomonie. Another stretch, Menomonie to Eau Claire, opened soon thereafter. The celebrated opening produced fanfare. Attending dignitaries included governors from Wisconsin and Minnesota, U.S. Senators and Representatives, county board members, and local officials from communities dotting the interstate.

At nearly 60-years old, the interstate has every reason to be worn and tired. Standing outside a convenience store along the north or south frontage roads in Hudson confirms the intensity of east- and west-bound traffic. Cars, SUVs, and semis combine for a steady Zoom! Daily traffic counts are estimated at 90,000+ vehicles at the St. Croix River, maybe higher. It’s no wonder there are 11-inches of concrete atop a 20-plus inch base of aggregate material. The original concrete may have several layers of blacktop, as old applications are milled off to make room for new ones.

Construction cones and barricades are constant reminders of upgrades to I-94. A resurfacing project from Exit 4 to Roberts was recently completed. A more intensive project, from the Wisconsin-Minnesota border to Exit 4, will take a little longer. It includes upgrading and replacing deteriorating sections of roadway and shoulders, bridge decks over Front Street, concrete barrier walls, widening the bridge deck over State Highway 35 (River Falls exit), and adding some noise barriers. Hang in there motorists, commuters, and residents.

Traffic counts at key intersections along I-94 in St. Croix are very comparable to traffic numbers between Madison and Milwaukee. As the St. Croix Valley continues to grow, civic leaders need to intensify their drum beats in Madison to secure additional fix-it funding or accelerate projects on a mythical Wish List. The Madison region gets its fair share. So does Milwaukee. Don’t overlook St. Croix’s needs. Help beat the drum.