How one town did it

March 26, 2007 11:00 pm

By Thea Skinner

Triplicate staff writer

Vision, leadership, goals and commitment were among the topics discussed by Connie Loden, executive director of Heart of Wisconsin Business and Economic Alliance at Del Norte County's 2007 Economic Summit on Saturday.

The goals of the summit were to identify the community's roles and improve infrastructure.

"No one person or organization is responsible for directing our community," said Jay Freeman, organizer of the summit and Hambro Forest Products Inc. vice president/controller. Hambro is also the former President of the Del Norte County Chamber Of Commerce.

Similar to Crescent City, Loden's central Wisconsin community was dependent on the forest products of the timber industry for over 100 years. The paper mills were sold to a multinational outfit, resulting in a loss of 35 percent of jobs and a diminishing leadership. The Wisconsin community began asking themselves how they can compete on a national level.

"We saw a need for additional inspiration," Loden said. "The state was not going to save us. The government was not going to save us. George Bush does not lie awake at night worrying about us.

"Be in it for the long haul. You need to be the demand, because they are serving you."

Loden advocates building economic growth within a community through businesses. This is done through exchanging ideas and pairing people's character with ideas through leadership coaching.

Loden and her central Wisconsin community observed first hand the framework offered by Australian economic guru David Beurle. She shared how her community implemented similar approaches to those used by Beurle at the summit.

Loden along with the Community Progress Initiative offered a framework or example of how to create economic change in the community through leadership. Leaders coach and develop leaders in a community by encouraging entrepreneurship.

"Leadership is a foundation you have to have to create a vibrant community," she said. "Ninety percent of employment today is created by small business. By 2025 more then 50 percent of the population will be self employed.

"Our intent has been community driven instead of (corporate). It has become a community ownership."

She emphasized a holistic view and leadership style with a network of leaders at all levels of a society.

In a bold stance Loden and the community created a common vision: Create an innovative, self reliant and business friendly culture in a vibrant and positive community.

The Community Foundation of South Wood County in Wisconsin partnered with the Community Progress Initiative and brought funds to the program.

Two out of state couples, with roots in south Wood County of Wisconsin donated a $1 million gift to the foundation. The donation, partly a contribution, supported grant writing that assisted in creating the initiative. A matching funds program was created as a result.

A transfer of funds analysis showed that a high amount of wealth resided in the children. Consequently, if the children obtain education and move out of the community the wealth is driven out of the community.

Cultivating a strong and positive community begins with youth. Turning to the 24 Del Norte High School economics students in attendance, she asked if students felt that they have strong leadership. Pausing in their note taking, the students replied with a quick yes. The students were the first student presence at a local economics summit.

"Taking something involving the community and having traditions that get people involved," Del Norte High School class president Eurees Vue said that is what leadership means. Del Norte High School offers a morning AP leadership course.

When asked what she thought about an education involving leadership she said, "It would improve motivation and help find things that we are passionate about."

To foster positive interactions in the Wisconsin community cards with goals were distributed to serve as a reminder of the thoughts that drive change. People carried the cards on their person. "People started calling others in negative conversations," Loden said.

The cards instill pride in people to be a part of the solution and shift attitudes or perceptions into positive interactions.

To accomplish building a strong and positive community Loden's community focused on: community rallies, creating a can-do culture, community visioning, leading programs from youth to seniors and creating progress teams to communicate with people.

The initiative succeeded with more than $2 million invested. Through government grants, program revenues, contributions, participants, financial institutions and fees for programs the initiative earned a total revenue of $225,373. Out of city influence along with creating internal and global partnerships fostered the initiative's success.

A business-friendly environment was created through entrepreneurial boot camps and technical support, business innovation seminars with speakers, and an investment group for a loan fund program.

Since beginning the initiative's program in 2004, more than 50 percent of the entrepreneurial boot camp graduates in Wisconsin started a new business.

She shared that her group focused on several key industry clusters: tourism, agriculture, financial service, downtown, new industries, small business, world force and paper and forest products.

Loden deemphasized a centralized focus on competition among businesses and emphasized collaboration. She referenced the infamous happy cow TV commercial, and explained a hometown joke to have a friendly competition with Crescent City for the community with the happiest cows. Through the laughing audience a voice chimed, "We win."

The Community Progress Initiative's future expansion will focus on following a national trend involving youth entrepreneurship and an advanced leadership institution for existing leaders and study tours.

The group traveled to Ireland to study the economy and leadership. Ireland's President, Mary McAleese commenced her second term in November 2004 and her successful "Building Bridges" presidential theme is noted as a model framework in leadership textbooks.

Loden's speech appeared to excite the audience. "There is a lot of energy," Grant Scholes director of marketing and public relations for Sutter Coast Hospital said. "We need to use our energies and aspirations to go in the right direction."

Loden displayed a slide to the group with arrows pointing in different directions indicating an unfocused path.

"Her presentation about arrows was accurate," Scholes said. "Sometimes we are duplicating or canceling our arrows. If we can focus then we can accomplish something. We have a marketing plan to help move us forward. We have got to be unified and get everyone involved."

Freeman said, "It hit home and I felt it resonated with the audience.

"It will be our commentary and ideas that structure this (improvements)."

Discussions about the future of Del Norte County's economy will continue when David Beurle facilitates collaborations on a to-be-determined day between May 3-7.