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Milton chamber promotes community despite downturn

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Stacy Vogel
September 21, 2009
— The Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism has had bad luck with the economy in its first three years of existence.

After all, it's hard for a fledgling economic development group to show results when the country is mired in one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression.


But the chamber is weathering the storm by serving its existing members and making sure it's ready for any breaks in the clouds, Executive Director Christina Slaback said.


"I think we're really just working on making sure we're in a position so that when those opportunities do arise, we can go ahead and move forward on them," she said.


Economic development

MACCIT formed three years ago by combining the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, the Milton Industrial Economic Development Corp. and the city's tourism development committee. It has become the marketing arm for economic development in the city, in addition to its four other service areas of member services, community improvement, tourism and advocacy.


The city agreed to give the organization startup money in each of its first three years: $20,000 in 2007; $16,000 in 2008; and $12,000 in 2009. It also pays MACCIT to market Crossroads Business Park and other tax incremental financing districts, about $6,000 or $7,000 a year, City Administrator Todd Schmidt said.


Schmidt expects the organization to ask for money in 2010 as well, he said.


The city sees the business park as a key to economic development. Crews have spent the summer relocating Highway 59 in anticipation of building a Highway 26 bypass in a few years. The project will give the business park optimal highway access besides the rail access it already has, Slaback said.


It's MACCIT's job to make sure everyone knows about the park's potential, she said. It serves as the first contact for businesses looking to move to the area, scoping out potential sites and connecting the companies to city officials and resources.


Schmidt credited the organization with helping Freedom Graphics Systems decide to build a new warehouse in the park in 2007.


Member services

MACCIT is staying busy as it waits for more development opportunities. It offers 54 yearly programs, activities and services, and its membership has risen from 120 three years ago to about 140 now, Slaback said.


MACCIT recently advocated for a liquor license for the expanded Piggly Wiggly and assisted potential occupants of the former Twisters building, now the Red Zone Pub & Grill, Slaback said.


The board conducted strategic planning this year, President Greg Linder said. It's looking to focus less on certain events—possibly making its Women's Expo and Christmas Walk biennial instead of yearly—and more on member services, he said.


One service is the Healthy Communities Cooperative getting started late this year. The cooperative insurance program spun out of a MACCIT idea three years ago, Slaback said, and now encompasses 10 chambers of commerce in six counties.


The co-op will start accepting applications in October, with insurance to start in January, she said.


"Our members have been so excited," she said.


Bridging the gap

The organization's efforts have earned praise from city and regional officials.


James Otterstein, Rock County economic development manager, said MACCIT bridges the gap between the public and private sector.


"MACCIT has become kind of a melting pot for specific ideas (and) initiatives," he wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette.


Schmidt said the organization has been especially valuable in communication and promotion, using its Web site, e-newsletters and even Twitter to get the word out about Milton.


Schmidt expects MACCIT to ask for about the same amount of money in 2010 that it received in 2009, $12,000.


Slaback said MACCIT hasn't decided if it will ask for city money and if so, how much. It has been working to become self-sufficient by adding members and increasing revenue from events, but it might not be there yet, she said.


Mayor Tom Chesmore said he'd like to see the organization become self-sufficient but doesn't mind giving it money in 2010 because of the work it does on the city's behalf.


"They're doing a lot of things that Todd (Schmidt) used to do, which frees him up," Chesmore said. "They have professional people in places now that can go out and make the contacts on behalf of the city."


Crossroads looks to have potential

Crossroads Business Park has been a major focus for the Milton Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in its first three years.


The organization earns tax incremental financing money from the city for marketing the area. One of its first acts was recommending the city change the name from Eastside Industrial Park to one that emphasizes the park's easy transportation options.


Crossroads already offers rail access and in a few years will be the site for the Highway 59 interchange on a newly constructed Highway 26 bypass.


The interchange has huge potential for Milton as the area comes out of recession, said James Otterstein, Rock County economic development manager.


It could encourage mixed-use developments typically found in larger cities, he said.


MACCIT held an open house for real estate agents and developers to learn about the business park last year and will hold another Wednesday, Sept. 30, to talk about residential and business sites available in Milton.


Bill Mears, a Janesville commercial broker, attended last year's open house and plans to go again.


"Their last meeting was really helpful in terms of educating me of the developments of the park," he said. "It's a good, strong industrial park location."


The open house will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 30 at Ott Schweitzer, 616 Gateway Drive.


For more information and to RSVP, contact Christina Slaback at (608) 868-6222 or christina@maccit.com.

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