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Group: Evansville has 'phenomenal base for change'

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GINA R. HEINE
April 18, 2008
— Taskforces presented a “phenomenal base for change” in Evansville, a consultant assisting the city said Thursday night after hearing from the five groups.

“The next step is up to you,” consultant Judy Whalen said.


More than 30 business members have been working since the city’s economic development summit in January to create goals and action items for a city economic development plan.


Members of each taskforce offered their recommendations to the economic development and redevelopment authority committees Thursday. Those committees will be charged with putting together a final plan in the coming months.


Here are some highlights from each taskforce:


Workforce development

Jim Brooks of the workforce development presented action steps in four networks:


-- Business: Brooks said the school system is good at preparing students for college but could do a better job at preparing students who plan to enter the workforce right after graduation. Grants should be used to develop career tracks and start sessions of a basic skills training program through the Wisconsin Investment Act.


-- Education: The community should double the business participation in the co-op education program.


“This is a way businesses can be involved in developing the workforce of the future,” Brooks said.


-- Community-based organization: Adult programs for English as a second language and basic education should be developed and the Junior Achievement program should be expanded to kindergarten to 12th grade.


-- Government: Have a regularly scheduled job service training program.


“It doesn’t say here ‘provide money,’” Brooks said of the business involvement needed to accomplish the plan. “It’s time; it’s involvement.”


Intergovernmental relations

Evansville’s governmental relationships with neighboring bodies and state officials are the best many of the taskforce members can remember, Betsy Ahner said.


The group recommended creating an economic development alliance—a public-private partnership—growing out of the existing collaboration between the chamber of commerce and city.


The chamber would provide the office space while the city would fund a staff member to be the city’s go-to person for economic development, Ahner said.


Downtown revitalization

John Gishnock presented four action items:


-- Organize a downtown retail start-up fair to connect entrepreneurs with information on maintaining or opening a business.


-- Form a steering committee to develop a user-friendly manual that lists low-cost tools and strategies for revitalizing the city’s downtown.


-- Develop a pilot business to create a template for new business start-ups and a “how-to” guide.


-- Create a green business initiative to form the “Allen Creek Collective,” a green business mall.


Marketing

The goal is to “stop the leak” of consumers buying outside of Evansville, Don Meggers said. Action steps include:


-- Work with community newspapers, TV, radio and billboards to advertise events and spotlight businesses.


-- Expand existing Web sites and blogs to promote Evansville businesses.


-- Improve signage and take advantage of summer events.


-- Brand the city by making it “Home of the ____.”


-- Create incentives for existing or beginning businesses.


Entrepreneurial environment

The group developed three ways to facilitate the interaction of entrepreneurial people, ideas and resources, Eric Larsen said.


-- Create a better networking environment for local business by developing an inventors and entrepreneurs club and working with the school’s business and internship programs.


-- Develop greater access to high-speed Internet by exploring options and surveying needs.


-- Create a business resource center for the city through a Web site and likely expanding the materials available at the Eager Free Public Library.



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