Community Update – February 24

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Google Capital Invests $40M in Renaissance Learning

The big news of last week came Tuesday, when it was announced that Google Capital became a minority shareholder in locally founded and headquartered Renaissance Learning with a $40 million investment in the education and learning solutions provider. Google is not the first large-name to invest in Renaissance. Other well known partners include Apple, Inc. and Sylvan Learning Systems. The investment also allows for a Google representative to join Renaissance’s board of directors. This individual will be the second recent board member representing major tech players in recent months. Last December, Bruce Chizen, a board member for Oracle and former CEO of Adobe, joined Renaissance Learning’s board. Renlearn2Google Capital, the equity fund’s stated mission is to invest in companies that use technology to change the way people experience the world. If Google’s track record is any indication of changing people’s experience, there is much to come.

Google’s investment is a testament to the significant role Renaissance Learning plays in educational technology. Google’s investment strategy of targeting companies leading in their field affirms the dominance that Renaissance Learning has in their market. Further, it reaffirms the opportunity for us to make our community a place where young workers want to live and work. I continue to make this a priority of mine. Wisconsin Rapids is proud to have Renaissance Learning as part of our community. I am hopeful that this is only the beginning of further growth for the company locally!  In March, I will again meet with Renaissance executives to learn how we may be of assistance in attracting workers and training our local workforce to make Wisconsin Rapids their place of choice to continue to do business.

Technology will continue to be a critical facet of growing our local economy and Google’s investment in a local company is a demonstration of that. We must continue to embrace it and explore ways for other tech firms to start with an idea and grow here. Infrastructure assets like Solarus’ multi-million dollar fiber investment make us a community that is as wired as Silicon Valley and New York City. Now, it’s up to us to make it known to entrepreneurs and employers not yet here and for us to rival those more desirable areas as a place where people want to live, work and raise a family.

Article links: Wall Street Journal  New York Times

Chamber Annual Awards Dinner

Last Thursday was the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting at The Ridges. Members of the community braved the inclement weather to gather and celebrate the Chamber’s success in 2013 and recognize outstanding citizen and businesses contributions over the past year. I want to congratulate Mike and Bonita Wolosek as well as Kathy Rash for their efforts in 2013 earning them Community Spirit awards for their outstanding volunteer efforts making a significant impact in our community. Further, Heather Gygi was awarded for Ambassador of the Year, and Phil Brown was recognized as the Citizen of the Year as someone whose work, community service and involvement has positively impacted our community.

Finally, I’d like to extend my congratulations to area businesses who brought home awards and recognition last Thursday for their investment in the Central Wisconsin area: Jacoby Custom Cues – Innovative Business of the Year, Rubi Reds – Entrepreneurs of the year, and ERCO Worldwide – Business of the Year. Thank you for your continued investment in our community.

Coffee with the Mayor

Last week, I held a session at Cravings Coffee Shop, and next week I look forward to meeting with residents on Wednesday, March 5 at the Olympic II Family Restaurant. I am glad residents are attending to ask questions and provide me feedback. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet and have conversation!

Spread the word to friends and neighbors to join!

Regards,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – February 18

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Regional Infrastructure

Last Monday I hosted a discussion at City Hall on the large subject of infrastructure. In attendance were City representatives, members of the Regional Economic Growth Initiative (REGI) infrastructure subcommittee, and the City’s Account Manager from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

In this meeting, WEDC provided insight on resources potentially available to our infrastructure inquiry efforts and how our work could serve other regions in the state as a best practice. Additionally, the group had a productive discussion, taking a holistic look at infrastructure in our area and asking what else can be done with respect to capitalizing on existing capacities and plan future investments in infrastructure to offer a more modern and competitive infrastructure.

If we are going to successfully retain expansions and attract new firms, marketing our infrastructure ‘assets’ and understanding our gaps is critical. In recent years, the city has made significant investments in Wastewater. WW&LC has made continuous investments in the electrical grid serving our city. Solarus has made large investments in fiber connectivity. However, we cannot stop there, and the group is committed to furthering the conversation to ensure our infrastructure is competitive and attractive for business to create jobs. I will report more on this as our work evolves.

Tribune Building Meetings

Last Tuesday marked the fourth and final meeting of “Phase 1” of the Tribune meeting process. At this meeting, myself and over 150 people took part in selecting the future adaptive reuse of the building. To date, over 400 community members have been involved in this resident-led decision making process! This meeting focused on space utilization; exploring how priorities defined in earlier meetings could fit together in the 20,000 square foot of space available.  Tribune Ideas

I was struck by the energy in the room! Everyone who wanted to be heard was heard. Further, ideas started to take shape. Not every idea would fit, but compromises abounded.

These meetings served as a reminder of how unique our City is.  Incourage’s resident-centered and resident-led approach to adaptive reuse of a historic and iconic building in our community is further affirmation to me that our community has an abundance of creative thinkers willing to come together and be a part of renewing Wisconsin Rapids. Our residents have demonstrated that we are a community who believes in ourselves and are optimistic about our future. I look forward to the design and construction phase this spring. See tribunebuilding.org for more information.

Notable Meetings and Visitors

Last week I met with a staff member of the Family Center and UW Extension to discuss preliminary details of their plans to hold a “Parents Who Host” town hall meeting in May.  “Parents Who Host” is a public awareness program educating communities and parents about the health and safety risks of serving alcohol at teen parties. I am pleased to support their efforts.

The City Clerk and I had the pleasure of hosting 2nd graders from Washington Elementary. About 60 students toured the Police Department and learned about our local government’s legislative process, including holding “mock” City Council meetings and an election. The students voted on whether students should be allowed to have bikes at recess, as well as if McDonalds for school lunch was a good idea. Although votes were close, the “Student City Council” voted “Yes” for bikes at recess and “No” for McDonalds at lunch. As always, the students were full of good questions!  It was inspiring to see students enthusiastic and engaged in the democratic process at a young age!

Coffee with the Mayor

Last week, I held a discussion session at From The Ground Up Coffeehouse, and this week I met with residents at Craving’s Coffee Shop. I am glad residents are attending to ask questions and provide me feedback. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet and have conversation!

Next Tuesday, Feb. 25, I will be at Perkins from 7:30 – 8:30 a.m. The following week, on Wednesday, March 5, I will be at Olympic II Family Restaurant from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m. Spread the word to friends and neighbors and join me for breakfast or coffee and conversation!

Regards,
Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – February 11

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City Owned Property

The city is a large property owner for commonly understood reasons – parks, fire stations, city hall, vacant business park parcels, following road construction projects that involve right of way acquisition, etc. In late 2012, I met with a group of local Realtors who inquired about the necessity of city ownership of some parcels. The group inquired about the last time a comprehensive review of city owned parcels was completed. Over the last year and half, the Planning and Economic Development Director, Adam, led a project to classify parcels in three categories – No, the city cannot or should not sell, Maybe, and Yes. 

City Owned propertyI am happy to say last week I met with the team to receive their recommendation. It was determined that over 100 parcels could be considered for sale, 91 that should not and 19 that wouldn’t be marketed but could be sold in the correct situation. The formal recommendation will be presented to the Finance and Property committee for their consideration. The most logical example of properties that would be considered for sale are those remnant parcels which are no longer needed to be retained – often because they are too small for development by themselves. The best part of the program is that the parcels sold will be sent back to the tax rolls and could be put to higher use.

As far as Business and Industrial park lands, we continue to market the Rapids East Commerce Center land (see post). As staff, we have discussed marketing the Woodlands Business Park. Options for consideration will be presented at a future city council meeting.

Revolving Loan Fund

Did you know Wisconsin Rapids is part of a regional revolving loan fund? Last week we met with three entrepreneurs and prospective businesses to discuss their business plans and how their opportunities might merit an application to the city’s Industrial Development Commission. If you or someone you know who is in the process of starting or expanding a business, have them contact myself or Adam Tegen for more information. The terms of the loan are very attractive and intended to serve as gap financing in conjunction with owner equity and traditional bank loans.

Of particular interest at last week’s Staff Meeting, we recapped the State of the City address. We discussed the implementation strategy of the initiatives and their path forward. I am pleased there is continued energy surrounding the priorities.

Coffee with the Mayor

Last week, I held a discussion session at Sofia’s restaurant. Additionally, the Daily Tribune erroneously published a session at From the Ground Up coffee house. I am glad residents are attending to ask questions and provide me feedback. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet residents and be available for conversation!

This week, I will be at From the Ground Up coffee house (as previously misprinted) from 8 – 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 12. Spread the word to friends and neighbors to drop by at any point during the time frame for a casual conversation.

Regards,

Zach

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Community Update – State of the City recap

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2014 State of the City Address

Seeing through on my belief in a more informed and engaged citizenry, I gave my second annual and 2014 State of Our City address last Wednesday. I am thankful for the League of Women Voters of the Wisconsin Rapids area for sponsoring the event and to the Library for hosting. Watch it here.

I am pleased by the broad participation of residents whether in person, on TV or online. Further, this year we introduced the concept of ‘bringing City Hall to you’, where City Department Heads were on hand to distribute information about their departments and to interact and engage with residents at the reception before my remarks.

The focus of the event was to update residents on where we have come as a community and where we are heading. In the last year and a half since I took office, I’ve spent a great deal of time finding ways to strengthen our community – by way of making Wisconsin Rapids a more attractive and competitive city positioned for growth. This goal requires a strong foundation and, in many respects, significant shifts from our traditional ways.

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2014 State of the City

I highlighted some of the accomplishments from 2013 including:

Ways of “getting our city on the map” such as receiving certification of the largest piece of land in our Rapids East Commerce Park. See Announcement. With the ‘shovel ready’ designation it is now marketed to site selectors and prospective businesses around the world.

Proactively identifying vacant and possibly contaminated parcels to prepare for redevelopment. Through our Brownfield assessment program, we’ve identified over 80 parcels, many of which are in progress or completed. This positions property owners and prospective property owners piece of mind in selling or buying real estate for redevelopment, more quickly.

Further, I highlighted efforts in community involvement through the RapidServes initiative over the last year, as well as significant impacts realized from the Rapid Improvement Initiative, which empowers all employees to identify areas of improvement and gain new perspectives in streamlining government operations to be more efficient, effective and customer friendly.

I also made several announcements for the upcoming year. They focused on three areas: growing our local economy, enhancing the quality of life for residents, and the modernization, effectiveness and efficiency of city government.

Wisconsin Rapids is excited to be partnering with Google in 2014 to help get all Wisconsin Rapids businesses online! Small businesses grow twice as fast when they are online. At no cost to the city or businesses, if one small business gains one new customer, it is a success! More information will be available in the coming weeks.

Two initiatives aimed at cutting the “red tape” for prospective developments and projects. First, the creation of a Citywide Business Advocacy Team (CBAT): a cross-department team with a mission to serve as ‘problem-solvers’ to proactively review ordinances and policies.

The second, “Grow Rapids”, a simple, easy to use one-stop-shop available 24/7, 365! Businesses and prospective businesses will have access to resources on-demand, on their schedule, without a trip to city hall with information on business planning, loans, ordinances, etc.

The 3rd space – where we spend our time beyond work and home. I drew attention to the areas for improvement, particularly our parks. The natural beauty of our city on the river can be a destination for visitors and further, a more attractive place for residents and future residents. I called for a multi-year investment in our parks that involve input from you – our residents.

Our people are our greatest asset. Whether they are our employees or our residents, people possess tremendous potential when they are engaged and participating. With one, well two, successful Love your Block initiatives completed in Ward 1 last year, I look forward to more. Residents will have the opportunity to apply in early 2014. Further, I will be inviting residents to participate in a Mayor’s Council on Beautification and another on Sustainability. There is much to be done in both of these areas, and I believe residents must be involved.

I encourage you to watch and share the State of Our City presentation with your friends and neighbors. I welcome your feedback.

It is both a privilege and an honor to serve this great city. I can confidently say that progress was made in 2013 and 2014 is off to an energetic and exciting start! I thank you for the opportunity to be your mayor.

January 2014 Urban Alliance Meeting

Last Friday afternoon, I joined mayors from cities around Wisconsin for the January League of Wisconsin Municipalities Urban Alliance meeting. The recently announced anticipated $912 million state budget surplus has created a dialogue on how it might best be used. It is without question, the surplus has been generated as a direct result of growth in Wisconsin’s cities and towns. I believe the state should invest at least part of the surplus in local communities to spur further job creation and economic growth and put Wisconsin on the road to permanent financial stability. ImageRick Chandler, Secretary of the Department of Revenue joined us to update us on tax reform and to hear our perspectives on the surplus.

It is no question that thriving cities are key to Wisconsin’s long-term success and sustainability and that a strong state and municipal partnership is crucial to having successful communities.

  1. Stressed the need for our state to restore the 2012 cuts to shared revenue and other municipal programs so municipalities can attract and retain employers that create jobs. Cities do not have the option to plow snow, collect garbage or invest in infrastructure. As such, restoring the $30 million cut made in 2012 to general transportation aids that go to cities to maintain local streets is a start.

  2. Discussed municipal objections to proposed legislative initiatives interfering with local control, like PILOT legislation, the Room Tax bill, etc. As local elected officials, we are closest to the people and subsequently issues. Maintaining local control is imperative.

These topics, all very important to our city, reminded me that Wisconsin Rapids is not alone in many of our challenges – economic and others. Meetings such as this with the Urban Alliance affords us the opportunity to have conversations with other city leaders on their approaches and advocate for further investment in our cities.

In closing, I invite you to join me for coffee Wednesday, February 12 from 8 – 9 a.m. at From the Ground Up coffee house. If not there, I am available in my office, by phone, email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Zach