Sauk County business group has new road map

A group that strives to promote Sauk County business has a new road map for the future after a months-long effort to revamp its organizational structure.

The 40-year-old Sauk County Development Corporation – which until now has primarily been overseen by representatives of local governments – will seek more involvement from the private sector. It also plans to focus more on assisting existing businesses, rather than attracting new ones.

Until 2014, SCDC’s primary source of funding was annual contributions from local governments. But in that year, government leaders from several communities expressed frustration in the organization’s effectiveness and threatened to withdraw funding, prompting its board of directors to undertake a massive restructuring effort.

What resulted was a task force comprised of six private sector members, each representing a different community. The task force spent 120 days creating a new road map for the organization, and its final report – which is available online – was approved by SCDC’s 10-member board of directors late last month.

The plan includes four suggested areas of emphasis: Business retention and expansion, work force recruitment and development, housing, and business attraction, financing and loans.

Task force member Eric Sauey of Seats Inc. in Reedsburg said when SCDC was formed, there was double-digit unemployment. The organization’s goal was to bring new businesses to the area so that unemployed people had more options.

But the tide has turned. With 4 percent unemployment locally, Sauey said, SCDC’s new goal should be to help existing businesses retain and attract quality workers.

“The intent is to have (SCDC) be directed more by private than public entities and have more private funding – as well as public funding – so it follows the needs of business,” he said.

Working with facilitator Keri Olson, the task force looked at how successful economic development organizations in other communities are organized.

For each area of emphasis, the task force established a plan of action and identified staff and partners who might help accomplish the goal. For example, in the area of business retention and expansion, the task force said SCDC should identify companies from all sectors and coordinate face-to-face visitations to build relationships.

Sauey said it’s unclear exactly how SCDC will go about measuring its performance in the four categories the task force highlighted, although he acknowledged that will be an important thing to do.

He said he hopes to see SCDC become a sort of clearinghouse that local businesses can tap into when they need guidance.

Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm, one of three SCDC board members who helped recruit the task force, said he was impressed with the candor representatives of the private sector brought to the planning process.

His hope is that a greater emphasis on private sector involvement and funding will take politics out of the equation, and increase SCDC’s ability to move efficiently.

He said it will be important for SCDC to keep track of action it takes toward the four areas of emphasis identified by the task force. For example, if a community’s goal is to increase access to affordable housing, SCDC could organize a “realtor day” in that community in which it takes realtors on a tour to show them what currently exists, and what areas might be available for development.

A transition team of current board members was formed last month to begin implementing the task force’s recommendations. On March 21, the team approved revisions to the organization’s bylaws that pertain to board composition.

“We already have business leaders from throughout Sauk County expressing interest in serving on the new board,” said Andrew Strathman, a village of Prairie du Sac trustee who became the SCDC board president in December. “As we recruit new board members, we are also recruiting investors for the new Sauk County Development Corporation.”

Strathman said SCDC plans to hire an executive director this year. The organization also may change its name, although that decision will be left to the next board of directors.

Palm said SCDC must be willing to change with the times. “Once that program is up and running, it also needs to be fluid enough that if the marketplace is changing, we can change with it,” he said.

Sauk County business group has new road map