Janesville63.9°

Evansville leaders developing plan to guide city’s economic future

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GINA R. HEINE
February 20, 2008
— Downtown development. Economic growth.

They’re both issues Janesville and surrounding communities are studying and pushing. Now it’s Evansville’s turn.


On the heels of an “economic development summit” the city held last month, officials, business leaders and community members are developing a plan to lead the city in coming years.


Nearly 100 local business people attended the one-day summit, and the goal was to keep the interest and momentum moving along quickly afterward.


“The thing we don’t want to do is have all this work done, and then just watch it disappear,” said Bridgit Larsen, promotional director of the chamber of commerce.


About 30 business people are serving on five task forces, which the economic development committee came up with based on feedback at the summit:


-- Entrepreneurial environment and networking;


-- Marketing, including attracting new businesses, tourism, cooperative advertising of the businesses, engaging commuters in “buying local”;


-- Downtown revitalization;


-- Workforce development, including collaboration with the school district, Blackhawk Technical College and UW-Rock County;


-- Government relations, including relationships between the city, businesses, school districts, towns and county.


Task force members are expected to complete their work by the end of March to present their reports to the economic development committee in April. The plan is set to be complete by the end of May, Mayor Sandy Decker said.


The idea is to develop goals within each focus area with an action plan, she said. For example, the downtown revitalization group might have objectives such as an active solicitation of new businesses to fill storefronts or have additional events downtown to bring people there, she said. An action item then could be having an additional downtown festival, she said.


“That’s how we envision working under each five,” she said.


Some ideas the groups are exploring include starting an inventors and entrepreneurs group, a discussion on strong, consistent Internet providers for the area and the creation of some form of a job center for the city, Larsen said.


“The chamber as a whole is looking to embrace whatever we can that results out of these task forces,” she said.


The city budgeted $25,000 in 2007 for a consultant, Judy Whalen of Whalen & Associations. Whalen facilitated five study groups last August and will be working with the city until the economic plan is compete, Decker said.


“It’s up to us to do the implementation,” she said.


More money would need to be budgeted based on the action items agreed on by the city, she said.


“I just really think there’s a lot of positive enthusiasm,” Decker said, “and the one thing that we heard really strongly at the summit was, ‘Keep this going; let’s keep moving,’ and we’re making sure we’re doing that.”



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