Mayor’s Innovation Project
Last Thursday and Friday, I joined city leaders committed to developing high level policy, shared prosperity, and efficient government approaches for the Mayor’s Innovation Project-Summer Meeting in Chapel Hill, NC. Based in Madison, MIP was founded in 2005 with the goal of bringing Mayors together to foster an ideas exchange on common problems and solutions, while also providing sound strategies and effective tools to address issues in innovative and inclusive ways. Last week’s sessions included discussions on entrepreneurial incubation/acceleration, community investments in healthcare research and facilitating meaningful civic engagement in our community. Details of several of the breakout sessions follow:
One of two Business Incubator and Accelerators we visited.
1) Fostering Entrepreneurship – in today’s economy, many cities are turning to entrepreneurs and high-growth startups to accelerate economic development. In conversations with other municipalities and two visits to entrepreneurial spaces, the consensus we had was that entrepreneurs are looking for places that have innovative markets, a good quality of life and monetary/community incentives. From these conversations, I am proud of the progress Wisconsin Rapids is making in positioning ourselves to better meet entrepreneurial needs for incubation and acceleration. Just this year at my State of the City Address, I announced the future development of the GrowRapids web portal – a solution that seeks to provide information to budding entrepreneurs on market information, community resources and incentives available. Additionally, I pledged to Get our Businesses Online, by partnering with Google to provide website resources, free of cost, to our community’s small businesses. In relation to quality of life, I spoke to the need to further invest in our City parks and increasing the quality of our city’s public spaces offerings, as it is directly tied to the attraction of young adults/families, not to mention, increasing the quality of life for all residents. These are a great start, but there is more work that can be done. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are important to achieving greater economic prosperity; I will continue to develop solutions to improve our current processes and better respond to their needs. To learn more about the importance of finding additional ways for Cities to foster entrepreneurship, additional resources can be accessed here.
2) Increasing Wellness and Lifestyle Behavior Changes – Many conditions in our communities have a direct impact on residents’ ability to lead a healthy life. Communities that have access to vital resources such as recreational facilities, healthy foods, medical services, safe neighborhoods and quality educational services often result in better health outcomes for those living in and around those areas. With the goal of increasing wellness and lifestyle behaviors, this session examined what communities throughout the nation are learning as changing conditions resulting from health care reform occurs and new opportunities arise for investment in healthcare. I was proud to share information about the collaborative partnership taking place here between the John E. Alexander YMCA and Riverview Hospital. The potential stemming from this announcement, both for expanded offerings for Riverview and services for the City, are significant. Our community also has taken large steps for encouraging healthy lifestyles through promoting biking with a bike-share program, as well as encouraging healthy eating and lifestyle habits through Get Active Wood County. We visited UNC’s Medical Center where discussions were had on promoting workplace wellness for our City’s, as an employer, and our local small businesses. The local Chamber of Commerce shared a partnership with a local hospital where a program was created to offer medical and dental services to the area’s small employers. It was informative to hear some of the best practices that other Mayor’s brought to the discussion on how cities work with citizen-led groups to increase the community’s wellness. I will continue to work with our local groups to implement some of those ideas and increase the health and well-being of our residents.
3) Facilitating Meaningful Civic Engagement – With the changing technological landscape in today’s society, computers and smartphones allow people to connect with information at any time instantly. As a result, citizen’s expectations for how quickly they can connect with their government and receive vital services has also changed. To adapt to these expectations, Cities across the country are being met with finding new ways of doing business and improving citizen access and participation. The discussion last week was inspiring, as Mayors in attendance explained what best practices their municipalities have in place, and explored new opportunities for furthering their reach. Just recently, I spoke of the upcoming GIS webpage being worked on inside the City that will allow for accessing information, available 24-7, by residents. The page aims to provide answers to frequently asked questions, or information on road construction, brush pickup schedules and even locations of parks. Further, through the Rapid Improvement initiative started just over a year ago, projects are being worked on that provide information to residents more quickly and will also allow for resident and business-feedback to help improve important City functions such as ordnance control and business inspections. From our conversations last week, it is clear that while information is important, we stop short of true engagement when all we seek to do is inform people about what is happening in the community. There are also opportunities to consult with the public, collaborate with citizens in finding innovative solutions to problems, and involve the public through committees or council meetings. I firmly believe that all local governments need a long-term engagement plan that is not crisis-driven. Instead of waiting for a problem to arise that needs a solution, we must find a way to engage the public to provide input and improve our community proactively. This concept is one that I’m encouraging through the formation of Mayor’s Councils on Beautification, Youth and Sustainability. The goal of the group is not only to “fix” what is in disrepair or an imminent problem in our community, but also to proactively identify improvement areas and develop a plan for addressing these opportunities- be it planting trees around our community or finding sustainable waste and refuse collection practices within our City. Soon, we will be kicking off the Mayor’s Council on Sustainability. More details will follow in future community updates and communications. Great examples of community engagement in various communities can be found here.
Events such as the Mayor’s Innovation Project- by bringing municipal leaders from all over the country together- better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis. It was beneficial to take part in the many conversations with Mayor’s on these very important topics. Further, it was encouraging to see that Wisconsin Rapids is on the right track in addressing some of the important topics facing all municipalities today.
Safe Routes to School – Planned Safety Improvements
With school starting next week, the safety of our City’s youngest residents as they make their way back to classes is once again at the forefront. Earlier this year, the City of Wisconsin Rapids received a federal grant of $221,000 for the Safe Routes to Schools Program. With that money, planned projects include:
1) Replacing the amber flashing pedestrian signals with overhead flashing signals
2) Installing a raised pedestrian island in the center of 8th Street S. and Grove Ave.
3) Painting “ladder” pattern crosswalks at the intersections of 8th St. S. and Pepper Ave, Lincoln St. and Clyde Ave, Lincoln St. and Grove Ave., and Lincoln St. and Airport Ave.
Finally, there are three sidewalk installation projects planned:
1) On the south side of Clyde Ave., from Lincoln St. to Port St.
2) On both sides of Washington St. from 54 to 28th St. North
3) On both sides of 28th Street North from Washington Street to Washington School
Since these projects are federally funded through the grant, construction for these projects is scheduled to begin in late October. I look forward to seeing the improved safety measures for our City’s children and young adults to get to school safely.
Citywide Chip Sealing Begins
Starting this week, weather permitting, you will begin seeing City crews sealcoating roads throughout the City. Sealcoating, or “Chip Sealing” is part of asphalt pavement maintenance designed to extend pavement life of our streets and provide a good driving surface. The common lifespan for an asphalt street in Wisconsin is 30 years. With regular maintenance of streets through sealing (performed on streets every 7-12 years, depending on traffic usage) we can prolong the life of streets by as much as 30 years, essentially doubling the life of our City’s asphalt streets.
The sealcoating process requires the application of loose gravel which stays on the road’s surface for several days before being removed. Locations for sealcoating include:
1) 1st St. S. from E. Riverview Expressway to Two Mile Ave.
2) Lincoln St. from Grove Ave. to Airport Ave.
3) Airport Ave. from 8th St. S. to 16th St. S.
4) Baker St. from 8th St. S. to 15th St., S.
Motorists are asked to please use caution when near and around the street department workers and equipment during this process so everyone is safe.
Fallen Rapids Native
Last week, our nation mourned the loss of Rapids-native Matthew Leggett, who died in the line of duty in Afghanistan, his third deployment to a combat zone.
Sgt. Leggett was a decorated soldier, with numerous awards including a Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart. Sgt. Leggett’s death is a reminder of the ultimate sacrifices people are willing to make to keep our country safe. Our nation is safer due to Matthew Leggett and all our military’s contributions. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.
Thank you for reading,
Mayor Zach Vruwink