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JUNEAU — The Dodge County Board of Supervisors heard from ThriveED representatives Tuesday on their progress during the last year.
Victoria Pratt, ThriveED president and certified economic developer, and Nate Olson, Dodge County manager of planning and economic development, spoke to county board members on the positive results they’ve reached and what the public-private organization needs to accomplish to attract additional businesses to Dodge County and employees to help create more vibrant communities in the county and increase their economic vitality.
“This past year, we revised our five-year strategic plan to better align with our fundraising outcomes,” Pratt said. “We had set a goal of $3.2 million, and at the end of our first capital campaign, had raised $2.1 million, so we adjusted our plan and our work is focused on three key areas: business development, workforce development and branding and marketing.”
She said with business development the “opportunity pipeline” captures the work ThriveEd does with any existing business, site selections, new-to-Jefferson or Dodge businesses, and “start ups” looking to invest in either of the two counties.
Pratt said there were 58 new investment opportunities in what she called the “pipeline” from Sept. 1, 2017-Sept. 30, 2018. During the same time frame there were 53 site searches in Jefferson County and 15 in Dodge County with 10 site searches for both Jefferson and Dodge counties, 43 for Jefferson County online and five for Dodge County only.
Pratt stressed Tuesday site searches are customer driven.
“We search where they ask us to search using the criteria established by the customer,” she said.
Both Pratt and Olson agreed the businesses they met with have said they continually have problems with finding employees.
“Every business we visited this past year spoke about hiring challenges,” Pratt said. “We routinely heard about a lack of workers. But no one was talking to the labor force, and we knew we needed a change.”
Pratt said they commissioned a “labor availability analysis” focused on understanding the availability of labor in Dodge and Jefferson counties.
Olson said with the hub of manufacturing positions right in Dodge County it made sense to have the study find workers who have a willingness to accept jobs in the manufacturing field and to document this information to include their desired wages and benefits.
In Jefferson County, the study showed there are 713,048 individuals in the labor pool with 400,895 in the civilian labor force and another 238,289 in the available labor pool. Pratt said 75 percent of those individuals are willing to work outside their current field of work for new or different opportunities.
In Dodge County, the same study revealed 657,906 in the labor pool and 384,778 in the civilian labor force and another 223,727 available in the labor pool with 76 percent willing to work outside their current field of work for new or different opportunities.
In both counties, the average of those interested in manufacturing is 50 with 33 percent of them women in Jefferson County and 28 percent of them women in Dodge County.
Pratt said also this year ThriveED unveiled its new website, thriveED.org detailing the assets of those businesses in Dodge and Jefferson counties. She said they have loaded 72 available buildings and 61 available sites into the searchable database found on the site.
Olson said the long term goals of ThriveED include engaging younger residents in Dodge County, find diversified housing, which includes housing for recent retirees such as condos and attractive relocation packages. In the short term, he said they want to conduct a countywide housing study, develop a plan to eliminate cell phone “dead zones” within the counties and prepare for industrial growth.
Pratt said she would encourage the county board to put together a task force to assist in the short- and long-term goals, which would also include making sure students in grades kindergarten through high school graduation have the tools they need to prepare for careers in manufacturing, if they so desire.
The Dodge County Board of Supervisors scheduled their next meeting for 9 a.m. Nov. 13 in the boardroom of the Dodge County Administration Building in Juneau.
Article originally appeared in the Watertown Daily Times. View it here.