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Evansville goes under umbrella for economic development

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GINA R. HEINE
July 13, 2009
— The umbrella is up in Evansville.

While stormy economic clouds loom, the city is fighting off raindrops by bringing together several groups to try to capture opportunities and improve communication.


After months of studying area organizations, a new umbrella council is forming to become the one-stop-shop for economic development in Evansville.


The nine-member volunteer group—unofficially named the Evansville economic development council—includes representatives from the city's economic development committee, the school district, the chamber of commerce and Evansville Community Partnership.


"It's exciting to finally be at this point," Mayor Sandy Decker said.


The top goal of the economic development plan adopted last year is the creation of an organization to reduce duplication and to lead economic growth.


Over the last six months, city leaders interviewed groups including Forward Janesville and the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Tourism, or MACCIT, and discussed what the best fit would be for Evansville.


Decker said organizers didn't want to dismantle any of the groups involved, which is what happened in Milton when MACCIT formed.


The result: the umbrella council.


The council's vision statement says it is to coordinate a collaborative, efficient, streamlined and continuously improving approach to facilitating and promoting a strong business, community and economic climate throughout the greater Evansville area.


The umbrella group will meet later this month to elect officers and possibly a name.


New business inquiries will be one focus of the group, said Tony Wyse, an alderman and head of the economic development committee. A council member can be assigned to a prospective business to walk them through the process and find answers, he said.


The city has built a framework and infrastructure to pursue its economic development goals, Wyse said.


Over the last five years, the city's downtown was rebuilt, including the replacement of belowground infrastructure, the brick paving of Main Street, façade improvements to several storefronts and the renovation of the Eager building. The city created tax incremental financing districts, though Wyse admits it's a sign of the times that "not much is happening" in the TIF districts.


"But all that has to be in place first," he said.


If a prospective business inquired about such incentives and the city responded with, "We're going to create this for you," they'd probably say, "Let us know when you have it," he said.


The chamber has added 13 new members since the start of the year, and most of the Main Street storefronts are filled, said Ellen Brown, executive director of the chamber.


James Otterstein, Rock County economic development manager, said Evansville's coordinated approach to economic development will be more efficient and effective.


"I think they've realized by combining insights, knowledge and resources that the outcome will be much stronger," he said.


Tourism efforts


The downtown renovations and the dredging and reopening of Lake Leota have put Evansville in the spotlight, officials said. The lake's grand reopening July 2 and subsequent Fourth of July festival attracted a "marvelous" turnout with lots of positive comments, Decker said.


The city has a new 7 percent hotel tax to help pay for marketing efforts to bring people in for overnight stays, Decker said. The tax brought in about $9,000 last year and $3,500 in the first quarter of 2009.


The city is spending $36,000 over three years on a marketing package with Discovery Mediaworks that includes the production of a "Discover Wisconsin" episode about the Evansville area, radio programming, Web site features, trade shows and advertising, Decker said.


A TV crew will film area landmarks and major events during all four season over the next year. The Discover Wisconsin episode featuring Evansville will air June 12 and 13, 2010.


The show reaches 8.1 million homes in seven states, Brown said.


The refilled lake already is drawing more visitors to the park, and other tourism efforts are underway.


A public art exhibit—Windmills on Parade—will feature more than a dozen windmills decorated by artists lining Main Street later this summer. The fall Harvest Windmill Festival is turning into a three-day event, Oct. 2-4.


"We're not just a bedroom community anymore," Brown said. "We have a lot to show."



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