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

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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.

Lombardi Time

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Lombardi Time

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Coaching has changed dramatically since the Vincent Thomas “Vince” Lombardi football era in Green Bay. He was a tough-as-nails, no nonsense guy. As the late Packer Henry Jordan reportedly said, “Lombardi treats us all the same – like dogs.” Lombardi’s mantra was, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” It seems scoreboards are erected at playing fields for a reason.

One thing is certain. Lombardi demanded greatness which Green Bay converted to championships. On New Year’s Eve 1967, he coached the Packers to the famous Ice Bowl victory against Dallas featuring a game time temperature of minus 13 degrees. The term ‘wind chill’ may not have yet been invented. Lombardi also coached the Packers to the first two Super Bowl wins in 1967 and 1968. Green Bay would win two more Super Bowls, in 1997 and 2011, but Coach Lombardi’s life was cut short by cancer in 1970. Starting in 1971, the winning Super Bowl team is awarded the Lombardi Trophy. A fitting tribute.

Being punctual was part of Lombardi’s coaching foundation. He insisted players and coaches arrive 15 minutes before a meeting or practice. Being on time was not good enough. Anything less was considered late. Lombardi once told a rookie, “You are eight minutes late.” The rookie arrived at practice seven minutes before its start.

According to Packer lore, being 15 minutes early became known as Lombardi Time. A clock tower overlooking Lombardi Avenue was erected at Lambeau Field several years ago. It stands above one of the gates to the stadium. As a nod to Vince Lombardi, it runs 15 minutes ahead of the actual time. Diehard fans appreciate the subtle reminder of the importance a great coach placed on personal discipline.

A retired banker here in the St. Croix Valley had a practice of closing his door at the precise moment his meetings started. Not quite Lombardi Time, but those arriving late suffered the indignation akin to a walk of shame. The banker’s meetings started on time. His staff got the message.

Packer fans from the far western side of the state have likely witnessed Lambeau’s clock tower or heard the story of Lombardi Time. The next time a traveler or sports enthusiast is in Green Bay, see it for yourself. But don’t be late for that meeting or engagement. Give Lombardi Time a try. It worked for Saint Vincent.

Change The World

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Change the World Starting with a Simple Task

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

In May 2014, Naval Admiral William H. (Bill) McRaven gave the commencement address at the University of Texas. Admiral McRaven came to the speech with an enviable pedigree – himself a grad of the University of Texas, a 35+ year Navy SEAL, and later, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He also designed the SEAL raid that took out Osama bin Laden. Wow.

McRaven’s commencement address played off UT’s slogan, “What starts here changes the world.” He challenged each of the system-wide graduates to change the lives of just 10 people. If each of those 10 changed the lives of another 10, and each of them another 10, in just five generations 800 million lives would have been changed. Another W-O-W.

McRaven then reflected back on his military career and what he learned in SEAL basic training, calling it “a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.” He set the stage for 10 lessons he learned during SEAL training and offered them to the UT grads.

McRaven’s first lesson involved the daily inspection of beds in the barracks. He called making a bed a simple task, perhaps mundane, but SEALs were taught perfection. He said if a bed is made every morning, the bed maker will have completed the first task of the day, setting the stage for the completion of several more tasks. According to McRaven, a bed made to perfection reinforces the notion that the little things in life matter. He told the grads if the simple things in life could not be done right, then big things will never be done right.

In wrapping up the first lesson, McRaven said, “And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made – that you made – and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.” McRaven’s summary: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

All 10 of McRaven’s lessons can easily be found on the Internet or YouTube (you can see it here). They include, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers; get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward; don’t be afraid of the circuses (life is full of them); don’t back down from the sharks; and don’t ever ring the bell.

Many may suggest Admiral McRaven’s lessons should be taught earlier, starting with toddlers, or pre-teens at the latest. Regardless, the 2014 UT grads got them firsthand. They are now four years into changing the world for the better. It starts with a simple task.

Packerland Embraces Ancient Viking Game

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Packerland Embraces Ancient Viking Game

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

In the St. Croix Valley, neighbor may be pitted against neighbor when the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings play football twice a year. Of course there’s always the odd family who cheers for the Chicago Bears, further adding to the rivalries in the valley.

Green Bay fans may be unaware, but an ancient Viking game, now adapted as a lawn game, is growing in popularity right here in Packerland. In fact, nearby Eau Claire, Wisconsin lays claim as the game’s North American Capital.

The game? It’s kubb (rhymes with tube); also called Viking chess. Others describe it as a cross between bowling and horseshoes. Players on opposite sides of a small rectangular field toss wooden batons at their opponents’ blocks, or kubbs, and then try to knock over a single king piece in the center. Modern batons and blocks replaced the ancient game pieces a few centuries ago, said to be the skulls and femur bones of Viking enemies. Rather than shed blood, the marauding Vikings perhaps found civility and settled their differences by using skeletal remains instead of swords and clubs. Blessed are the so-called peacemakers.

Modern kubb is considered a social activity combining mental skill and physical strategy. Rivals soon turn into friends, leading to a cold beer or two during and after the contests. This can also be traced to the ancient Vikings. The mental image of a gritty Viking with a mug of grog in one hand a thigh bone in the other has been replaced by today’s players opting for micro-brews and sun visors. Yes, society has come a long way.

Back to Eau Claire. Mr. Eric Anderson is credited with bringing kubb to Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley. He picked it up during a visit to Sweden followed by a grad school stint in the same country a few years later. Anderson came to Eau Claire in 2007 as a planner with a quasi-governmental organization. The Anderson’s played the obscure game of kubb as a way to meet people and then started the first tournament in the U.S., attracting 15 teams and 35 players in August 2007. Eau Claire now regularly hosts the U.S. National Kubb Championship. In mid-July, the 12th annual national championship was contested, drawing 128 teams and over 450 players from 12 states and four countries. It is one of the largest tournaments outside of Europe. Anderson called it “world class kubb.” The economic impact of the national tournament in Eau Claire is estimated at around $160,000.

The U.S. National Kubb Championship is governed by an IRS 501(c)(3) non-profit entity. Tournament revenue is divided up among several charities. Anderson continues to serve as a tournament director for the U.S. Championship. Kubb is now taught in schools and Eau Claire is home to the largest weekly kubb league in the world. In conjunction with the U.S. Championship, Kid Kubb (i.e. the U.S. Junior Kubb Championship), open to players 12 and younger, was also contested. Kid Kubb is the largest kubb tournament for kids in the world. Anderson also launched WisconsinKubb.com; USAKubb.org and Kubbnation Magazine as media outlets for the lawn sport.

Packers, Vikings, or occasional Bears. There are differences aplenty. Perhaps kubb can supplement bag toss games or serve as a social break at halftimes. If St. Croix Valley residents see an odd looking lawn game in a front yard or neighborhood park, it’s just kubb. And it rhymes with tube. Maybe there’s a St. Croix Valley championship in someone’s future. The economic impact is secondary. Meeting new residents and visitors come first. Followed by Skol, of course.

Early Signs of Autumn in the Valley

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Early Signs of Autumn in the Valley

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

A tired lawn, eight-foot high field corn, football training camps, and receding lake levels all point to a fleeting summer in the St. Croix Valley. It’s been another good run for summer and many days of hot and humid weather remain. To most, Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer, meaning autumn is near. The 90ish days of September through November may be the best season in the St. Croix Valley.

The Saint Croix Valley Regional Tourism Alliance is a two-state resource serving the valley since 1994 in the promotion of tourist-related activities. According to lore, Alliance bylaw signatures were witnessed by Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson on a boat in the approximate middle of the St. Croix River. Both recognized the value of working together for the benefit of border communities from St. Croix Falls-Taylors Falls to Prescott-Hastings.

The Alliance publishes an annual visitor guide of activities, including arts and culture, bicycling, motorcycling, parks, and tours. Many of them are free. Others require the parting of a few dollars from a wallet or purse. A return on investment may include smiles, friendships, and memories.

Here’s a random list of Alliance member activities, akin to a Top 10 list, but skewed toward the Wisconsin side of the river.

1. Art on the Kinni (River Falls), September 8th                  (www.RiverFallsCAB.org)
2. Apple Splash Festival (Somerset) September 15-16 (www.SomersetChamber.org)
3. River Falls Bacon Bash (River Falls) September 15-16 (www.RiverFallsBaconBash.com)
4. New Richmond Heritage Days (New Richmond) September 21-23 (www.NewRichmondChamber.com)
5. Spirit of the St. Croix Art Festival (Hudson), September 22-23 (www.DiscoverHudsonWI.com)
6. Western Wisconsin Pottery Tour (River Falls), September 22-23 (www.WesternWisconsinPotteryTour.com)
7. Main Street Art Crawl (River Falls), October 19                (www.RiverFallsCAB.org)
8. Christmas Tour of Homes & Craft Sale (Hudson), December 16-18 (www.DiscoverHudsonWI.com)
9. Tie: River Dazzle (River Falls), November 23 (www.RFChamber.org); Hometown Holiday (New Richmond), November 29 (www.NewRIchmondChamber.com); and Candlelight Stroll (Hudson), November 30 (www.DiscoverHudsonWI.com)
10. Tie: Main Street restaurants, bars, wineries, and breweries-taprooms (every community). Dates are ongoing. Support independent business owners and entrepreneurs!

Mark your calendars early. Download your copy of the 2018 visitors guide from the Alliance website, www.saintcroixriver.com, under the “Welcome” tab. And enjoy autumn in the St. Croix Valley.

Office Space Too Small

SCEDC BLOG

 

Office Space Too Small?

St. Croix EDC is pleased to debut the first in a series of short videos informing our audience of the various services we offer to new and expanding businesses in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Enjoy, and please share with your network.

If you need more space for your business but don’t know where to turn, give us a call. We can point you in the right direction. (715) 381-4383 or bill@stcroixedc.com.

Worth the Wait: River Crossing Turns One

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Worth the Wait: River Crossing Turns One

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

To fanfare, the St. Croix River Crossing opened on August 2, 2017. History teaches us that good things come to those who wait. The St. Croix Valley waited decades for its moment last August. The opening event was widely covered by national news and Twin Cities media.

At the ceremonial ribbon-cutting held on the morning of August 2nd, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton spilled the beans by saying the new bridge would open later in the day. Into the microphone Gov. Dayton asked his transportation commissioner, “Charlie (Zelle), is it still 8:00 p.m.?” The program’s emcee, Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber, was quick with a reply, “The Governor has ruled it will be 8:00 p.m. tonight!” Cheers rang out. Until that moment, MnDOT had played it close to the vest about the exact day and time the new St. Croix River Crossing would open. Perhaps it was the worst kept secret in engineering circles.

If one bridge was set to open, then another would close. August 2nd marked the closing of the historic Lift Bridge in downtown Stillwater, MN. The last car across the Lift Bridge was a vintage 1931 Stutz convertible, the same year the Lift Bridge opened. The starter on the Stutz reportedly failed as it made its way across the bridge and even Stillwater’s Mayor helped push it along. At least it did not run out of gas as it appeared the Lift Bridge would. Old and tired, the erector-set-of-a-bridge was just about done. It served the St. Croix Valley well.

Fittingly, the Lift Bridge gets a second chance as a recreational amenity for the St. Croix Valley. The bridge is in the middle of a restoration. It is expected to reopen in mid-2019 for pedestrians and bicyclists to enjoy as they cross between Wisconsin and Minnesota on a loop trail connecting it to the new bridge.

Both Governor Dayton and Wisconsin Governor Walker were in rare form during the ceremonial opening. Gov. Dayton vowed to place a tollbooth on the new bridge and Green Bay Packer fans would pay double. Gov. Walker responded with a reminder of 2018’s Super Bowl game in Minneapolis and how convenient it would be for Packer fans to attend and cheer on their team. Alas, neither the toll booth nor Green Bay playing in the Super Bowl panned out.

Governor Walker may have summed it up best by saying, “This river may divide us, but this bridge unites us. It unites our commerce and our economy. It unites our employment base. … It unites our education, particularly higher education, and yes, even today, it unites us even as Packer and Viking fans.”

Whether it’s a birthday or anniversary, the St. Croix Crossing will have served the St. Croix Valley for one year as of August 2nd. Well played.

They Build Things and They Tear Them Down, Too

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They Build Things and They Tear Them Down, too

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Excavators are salt of the Earth-type people. Before things can be built starting at eye level and above, excavators are called in for site grading or to install water and sewer pipes beneath the ground. Sometimes demolition is needed. Dangerous but rewarding work, indeed. Big kids in a sandbox.

Demolition progress at the former St. Croix Meadows Greyhound Racing Park in Hudson, Wisconsin has been tracked since April. Just like eating an elephant one bite at a time, there is no easy way to grind up acres of asphalt parking or demolish a multi-level grandstand, both of which faced years of neglect, going back to its closure in 2001.

The grandstands have mostly come down, and observers will find piles of material, sorted by useful value – – metal here, steel there, and concrete over there. Reportedly, there is an hour of cell phone video involving a tug-of-war between the last of the upright, twisted steel beams and big-time excavation equipment. Back-and-forth, the upright beams refused to come down, followed by more equipment and another round of tug-of-war. Physics may have favored the stubborn beams. One hour later, the excavators broke for lunch. Perhaps it was halftime.

Fast forward to July 3rd and the state’s top guy from Madison arrived at the old greyhound track for an announcement. The beams were still upright. As a backdrop to the sound system, a huge America flag was flying, secured between earthmoving equipment. The excavating crew took their spot between the flag and the speakers. Fittingly, several photos captured them in their orange vests and blue jeans. Following his announcement, the top guy shook their hands and mingled, perhaps his way of acknowledging their important contributions to the project.

The remaining beams have come down. Years from now the demolition crew may remember the effort it took to overcome both physics and structural integrity. In its place, the development group envisions corporate sites, hospitality, office, commercial, hospitality, and a right-sized stadium that will be home to a Northwoods baseball team in a year or two. It would be ironic if some of the recycled beams made its way back to the site. Maybe but maybe not.

Here’s to the gritty part of progress. Here’s to the excavators. They build things and they tear them down, too.

Happy Dairy Month All Year ‘Round

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Happy Dairy Month All Year ‘Round

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

A self-described city slicker from the St. Croix Valley by way of southern Minnesota knows enough about dairies and dairy cows to be considered dangerous. Most of that danger is self-imposed. To this day, the city slicker walks gingerly though the dairy barn at county and state fairs, avoiding raised tails, hind legs, and even eye contact.

“Slick’s” enjoyment of dairy products has never wavered. Daily intake of milk is a given. Cheese is enjoyed atop burgers, crackers, or sliced between pieces of bread in a grilling pan. Ice cream is a weakness. Enough said.

The media blitz of stats and figures behind June’s designation as Dairy Month has been successful. Some of them sunk in. While the dairy industry could be considered a big business, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) proclaimed 96 percent of Wisconsin dairy farms as being family-owned. Wisconsin is also home to more dairy farms than any state in the country, according to DATCP.

Along with 88,000 residents, St. Croix County hosts another 18,400 dairy cows. Clark, just a couple counties away, boasts around 68,000 milk cows and Marathon has 61,000. In the case of Clark, there are nearly two milk cows for every resident. Even rapidly-growing Dane County, with its own gravitational field around Madison, has 55,000 milk cows.

There’s an estimated 1.28 million dairy cows in Wisconsin, producing 30.1 billion (with a ‘b’) pounds of milk. Milk production per cow is estimated at 23,550 pounds or 2,739 gallons. For cows to produce at those levels, they have to be content and well cared for. Wisconsin’s milk production is second nationally to the groovin’ cows of California. Wisconsin trumps all states in cheese, making just over 26 percent of what’s produced in the U.S.

Dairy farms continue to decline. The sharpest decline in dairy farms in St. Croix occurred in the 1980s, which coincided with tough economic times all over. Today, there may be 160 dairies, and that estimate continues to shrink. The American Ag Alliance wrote that producing a gallon of milk today uses 90 percent less land and 65 percent less water, along with a 63 percent smaller carbon footprint than in 1944.

As counties like St. Croix continue to grow, land conflicts are inevitable. The city slicker believes farmers to be good stewards. Bigger herds means issues of storing and spreading waste. Innovation and new technologies can result in greater stewardship and efficiencies. Dairy farmers appear ready to embrace new changes. Watch as St. Croix County assumes a leadership role.

The recognition of a single month as Dairy Month is a misperception. Dairies are 24/7 and 365. If urban folks like the city slicker from the St. Croix Valley wish to enjoy those dairy delights, then the milking parlors, cheese plants, and ice cream makers may wish to up their games in the future.

Traveler Spending Adds Up

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Traveler Spending Adds Up

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

In May, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism released its annual estimate of traveler (tourist) spending for 2017. Spending is up locally, across the region, and for the state, providing evidence of worthwhile local attractions and healthy disposable incomes from which transactions are derived.

According to Tourism, 2017’s traveler spending in St. Croix County increased 4.11 percent to $110.6 million. From art fairs to bacon bashes and everything in between, curious travelers are willing to attend local events and spend some money before they depart for home or other destinations.

St. Croix is not known as a huge tourist hot spot. The $110 million spent in St. Croix is a far cry from the nearly $1.1 billion generated in Sauk County, home of the Dells, waterslides, and excursion boats shaped like ducks. St. Croix has its peppers (North Hudson), chili (Baldwin), and good neighbors (Roberts), etc. The 4.11 percent gain in St. Croix still tops Sauk’s 3.67 percent increase but not Chippewa County’s 10.55 percent increase. Indeed, the Leinenkugel brewery is a major draw.

Tourism spending is a multi-billion dollar industry in Wisconsin. Travelers generated an estimated $12.7 billion across the state in 2017, resulting in a respectable 3.17 percent increase from 2016. Another $19.9 billion in total business sales are attributable to tourism and travelers.

Tourism spending also creates job, even though many are seasonal and most could be described as low-paying. Tourism’s report revealed nearly 2,000 jobs in St. Croix are supported by traveler spending, an increase from 2016. Across the state, around 194,000 jobs are linked to travelers.

Tourist spending pays its share of taxes, reducing the burden to homeowners, businesses, and retirees. An estimated $13.9 million in state and local tax revenue in St. Croix County was attributable to travelers last year. Put all 72 counties together and almost $1.54 billion in local and state taxes was reaped. Cha-Ching.

Whether it’s a snow cone vender or pottery booth, if the person in line does not look familiar, there’s a good chance he or she came from out of town to enjoy a local festival.

Thanks travelers. Keep spending at local events.

Econ 101: Housing Demand Outpaces Supply

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Econ 101: Housing Demand Outpaces Supply

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

There are fewer things hotter in the St. Croix Valley than home sales. Sellers may receive multiple offers, and in some cases, exceeding the list price. Home builders are part of this hot market, too. As fast as they can be built, new homes are sold and crews move on to the next one, just like in the good old days.

A big part of home buying revolves around personal confidence and a strong economy. If buyers are confident about their financial course in life, they’ll jump into the market and incur debt for fifteen or twenty years. Low borrowing rates add to the confidence of buyers. The state and national economies are strong. The top elected guy in Madison tweeted Wisconsin’s unemployment rate for April was the fifth-lowest in the U.S. The top guy also reported a record number of Wisconsinites working, estimated at 3,086,100 people, as well as a ‘Top 5’ labor force participation rate of nearly seventy percent.

The supply of homes listed for sale is impacting the hot market. A couple of associations track monthly and year-to-date home sales. They are the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association and St. Paul Area Association of REALTORS®. Agents in the St. Croix Valley have their choice of associations, but the summaries depict similar findings – the inventory of homes for sale has fallen and prices continue to rise.

Sounds like a case of simple economics akin to Econ 101. When the supply dips, the price rises, and vice versa. The St. Paul association says its inventory of available homes is currently below two months, reflecting a decline of twenty-five percent over the previous year. In January, the inventory had fallen to only forty-five days. The Wisconsin association reported a four month inventory of homes on the market across the state in April. This estimate is lower in urban areas and higher in rural areas.

Meanwhile, prices continue to rise. The Wisconsin association estimated St. Croix County’s home sales in April had a median price of $236,500. The year-to-date median price in St. Croix is $230,000. For perspective, the year-to-date median price in nearby Eau Claire County is estimated at $167,000 and the state’s median price is $174,000. The median price estimates from the St. Paul’s association is nearly identical to the Wisconsin group. Things do not improve westward into Minnesota. The year-to-date median home sale price for the 16-county metro area is $257,000.

As long as the inventory is low in the St. Croix Valley, buyers can expect to pay a premium. Buyers can expect a gain on their investments, however. With annual appreciation running between five and ten percent, maybe higher, home buying is a good investment. The longer prospective buyers wait, the more it will cost them. When in doubt refer to Econ 101.

Planet Coffee

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Planet Coffee

BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Coffee has ushered in a new era of consumer spending, whether it’s in pursuit of fresh-roasted beans, flavored grounds, bigger and bigger mugs, brick and mortar stores, or main street diners serving the finest selections from Ecuador or Costa Rica.

Toney and fashionable Edina, Minnesota was in the news a while back when its city council gave preliminary approval to a new Caribou Coffee shop. The news? When the shop opens, it will be the tenth Caribou store in Edina, which already boasts eight Starbucks and a single Dunn Bros Coffee. More news. . . the proposed Caribou will replace an existing 5,000 square foot Jiffy Lube, making it a teardown in the name of progress. And caffeine.

Locally, two brothers and a high school friend have a small but growing empire of coffee shops in the St. Croix Valley. Their franchised stores include two in Hudson, one in Stillwater, and the newest in New Richmond. Add in a sandwich and soup shop and they’ve got their hands full managing associates, customers, beans, grounds, and their bottom line.

Society has come a long way in its embrace of coffee. A tough-as-nails WWII vet from southern Minnesota only knew coffee one way – percolated from a pot laced with Folgers® brand grounds. Top it with condensed milk as a creamer (gulp) and the world was safe until at least mid-morning when another round was consumed from a thermos.

Convenience stores may have been late to the caffeine party. There is money to be made in coffee products when numerous blends are available, as found in c-stores. Coolers in the c-stores also feature the latest coffee-based products, allowing for more choices on the same spin. Even grocery stores are aligned with franchised coffee conglomerates. A jittery shopper pushing a cart in aisle three may have the same hair trigger tendencies as a motorist navigating rush hour traffic on the highway.

The younger generation from a North Hudson, Wisconsin neighborhood is occasionally rewarded with a coffee/caffeine stop from a drive-through lane. The menu board is cryptic. English may be spoken when orders are placed, but neither the driver nor the payer (i.e. the same adult) comprehends. Hot, iced, cold pressed, double shot, caramel, vanilla, espresso, or latte . . . it all amounts to the same – I scream, you scream, we all scream for caffeine.

Here’s to coffee. Here’s to the coffee shop owners and franchisees. Here’s to the local roasters and wholesalers. Here’s to the consumers who push the envelope for creative new spins from an age-old product. Welcome to Planet Coffee.