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Meet Melissa Meschke, St. Croix EDC’s newest Executive Director

Jan 16, 2024 – by Jack White, Star Observer

St. Croix Economic Development Corporation’s Bill Rubin retired from his post as Executive Director after 27 years of working in economic development. EDC tabbed Melissa Meschke to replace Rubin.

Meschke, who starts the new role Jan. 25, lives in New Richmond. Recently, she’s worked as an Economic Development Outreach Manager for University of Wisconsin System Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship for over two years.

Before that, she was the Director of the Small Business Development Center at UW-Stevens Point for around four years. “So I’ve known the area for a long time. I love living here. I love raising my kids here,” she said.

Meschke has also helped run a marketing company and winery, in addition to working in small business consulting prior to taking this new job.

The Star-Observer spoke with Meschke about what she brings to the table pertaining to the Executive Director role: why she wanted to take it in the first place and how she will go about replacing Rubin’s wealth of experience.

Disclosure: Rubin used to write guest columns for the Hudson Star-Observer. Note: this interview has been edited for style, conciseness and clarity.

Q: How do you think your [past experience] will translate into this different role where you’re trying to amplify these businesses on a broader level?

A: Especially [since] I’ve been working in Wisconsin, I’ve really worked to build a really broad network of resources. I pride myself on being able to answer the phone and being able to direct that person to the needed resources that they have. My work has brought me all across the state and all different levels of rural and urban — small business, big business — economic development and everything in between. So I think my experience as well as my network is going to be very beneficial in the role that I’m taking on.

Q: Going to the economy now, unemployment is low. St. Croix EDC reported in late December that St. Croix County’s November unemployment numbers went to 3.1%, down compared to revised final rates from the previous two months. But that’s sometimes hard to reconcile with public opinion. What would you tell people now about the current state of the economy, generally?

 

A: In general, the labor market is tight, which expresses that the Wisconsin economy is very strong. A strong employment equals a strong economy. But it is a struggle for our businesses to find the employees that they need. So we’re seeing a lot of work in the innovation space: a few people are playing with automation all the way into artificial intelligence to look at the jobs that they have and look for innovative opportunities. I think we also focus a lot on making St. Croix Valley a great place to live and to raise a family and bring people to the area with the great quality of life we have here. We’ve got great amenities. We’ve got great events to bring people to the area.

Q: What are you doing before starting the new job in late January?

A: I am working my other job up until the day before. And I’ve already become involved with St. Croix EDC. I’ve attended some meetings. Made some phone calls. Set up some contacts. A lot of people have already reached out and put things on my calendar. I’m very much the type of person to hit the ground running. I am available to talk pretty darn soon here.

My [Economic Development Outreach Manager] role right now… at U-Wisconsin Systems, is convening and ecosystem building in the entrepreneurship-led economic development space. I do statewide outreach, statewide convening, statewide resources building for entrepreneurship, but on a broader level I think I’ve been brought in to a lot of conversations that are more generally speaking about economic development not just entrepreneurship-led economic development.

Q: What did you like about this current role that you’re in?

A: I really love meeting people. And I think that this position I’m in now has led to me getting a lot of opportunities to really get to know people from all across the state in various roles in economic development. I just really like hearing what everybody does and seeing the big ecosystem picture. I’ve tried mapping it — it’s virtually impossible to map. But I’ve made a lot of connections and connected a lot of dots over the last several years in this space. I just love hearing what people do and connecting those dots for people is really invigorating for me.

Q: This position opened up because of Bill Rubin retiring. What was your relationship with him like? 

A: When I moved to St. Croix County two and half years ago, I had reached out to Bill just as a local, economic-type resource, looking for opportunities to get involved with the county. I really, really enjoyed Bill. It’s a lot to step into a position that has been held by somebody else for 27 years. I’m excited for that challenge. But Bill has actually reached out and welcomed me and wished me well, which I really appreciated.

Q: Will your role here be similar to what Bill did or will it be different?

A: I bring a different skill set. I bring a different network. I bring a different view of things, just from my background and moving around the state and working on these different levels of, not only entrepreneurship myself, but small business consulting and economic development. I think I’ll put my own flavor into it and I don’t think I can define that at this point.

Q: You mentioned earlier things on your calendar already. Are there any things you want to tell people about?

A: Our 31st annual business awards program will take place on February 22nd at Kilkarney Hills Golf Course at 5 [p.m.]. (Register for the banquet here.)

Q: Any future goals as of now?

A: I’ve got a lot of learning to do and a lot of connections to make. On this local level, looking at the towns and cities and municipalities that we serve in this county. Just building those relationships and looking at the picture is going to help me really understand what my goals should be. I want to serve the county in the best way that I can. I don’t think I’ve set clear goals yet, but I really am looking forward to learning and understanding the direction of this position as I get into it.