Economy drives much of Superior Days agendaWhen Superior Days got its start 28 years ago, the ultimate goal was to improve the economy in of northern Wisconsin.
By: By Shelley Nelson, email@example.com, Superior Telegram
When Superior Days got its start 28 years ago, the ultimate goal was to improve the economy in of northern Wisconsin.
And this week, more than 100 delegates packed meeting rooms in the Capitol throughout the day Tuesday to drive that point home with state agencies.
From regulations that stand in the way of economic development to issues that could enhance economic development efforts in the north, numerous issues on the agenda this year were a direct result of efforts to improve the state of the regional economy.
From building a technology park in Ashland, increasing broadband availability, expanding health and retail sectors, mining legislation and streamlining air permitting for industry and wetland regulations, the issues were many.
“Broadband for economic development and education and quality of life is huge,” said Cliff Grand of the Ashland Area Development Corp. “Our population is low, income is low — that doesn’t make a good business model for any broadband provider.”
Grand cited two issues brought to his attention after he brought up the issue last fall during the Superior Days issues identification meeting.
One involves a disabled veteran who owns architectural and engineering firms in New York, Wauwatosa, Wis., and Ashland, which he calls home. Most of the work is handled out of the Wauwatosa office in the Milwaukee area because the speeds available are greater.
Another involved a woman whose 10th grade daughter uses electronic books, takes tests over the internet and doesn’t even have a DSL connection, he said. He said while schools make the assumption that every home has internet connectivity, that’s simply not true in rural communities, and the solutions are “costly and cumbersome.”
“Economically, education-wise, broadband is just a huge, huge factor in this current marketplace,” Grand said.
But northlanders aren’t setting their sights on the internet alone.
Good paying jobs could be a boon for a small city like Ashland.
With mining bills making the way through the legislative process, Dale Kupcyzk, director of the Ashland Area Development Corp., asked that mining permitting and reclamation balance the environment and economic benefits for the region.
He said the objective of the issue was neither an endorsement nor effort to discourage mining in the region, but requested that local residents would be given a voice and local communities be given the opportunity to consider the impact of mining and negotiate local agreements.
While a feasibility study has been done and land for the Lake Superior Technology Park has been identified, the region needs funding to purchase the land, build infrastructure for the site, and construct what could be the first of up to 14 buildings for technology-based businesses, said Tim Kane of UW-Extension Bayfield County.
“We’ve brought this issue down the last couple years and we think it makes a lot of sense, Kane said.
But it wasn’t just tangible projects that delegates asked agency secretaries to consider.
Ian Meeker, youth educator for Bayfield County UW-Extension, proposed a “concept” that could enhance the region with good-paying jobs — bringing existing state jobs to the northland.
“There have been huge changes in terms of what telecommunications can do — in terms of videoconferencing, sharing files within systems from remote locations,” Meeker said. “What we’re asking for is could we have a feasibility study, see if this is possible.”
The delegation also sought help with a research facility at the U.S. Geological Survey dock for the research vessel Kiyi, built in 2008 and 2009, and an aquaculture education center in Bayfield.
Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said where the structures are concerned, he would need to have more details to enumerate the proposals, get cost estimates and define the state’s role in the proposals.
And Huebsch agreed that broadband will be essential to the future of the economy in northern Wisconsin.
“The governor talks about infrastructure all the time,” Huebsch said. “When he talks about infrastructure, it’s important to recognize that most of it is highways and bridges, but he also talks about our energy infrastructure and technology infrastructure.”
He said currently, about 85 percent of all jobs in Wisconsin are within about four or five miles of a major highway.
“Most of the jobs in the 21st Century are going to be within about 10 feet of a broadband system,” Huebsch said. “ … We know it’s going to be as important as building our highway system in the 1950s.”