Community Update – March 31

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Mayor’s Council On Beautification

Last Tuesday, I was joined by residents to kick off the Mayor’s Council on Beautification.  The Mayor’s Council on Beautification was first announced at the 2014 State of the City Address.  The intent and focus of the group is to be action oriented in identifying potential projects, work to secure project funding through grant opportunities and subsequently scoring and prioritizing projects.  The CN grant previously written about serves as leverage for potential projects.

The meeting was hiIMG_0129ghly productive, with a great turnout of residents.  Initial project ideas included planting trees, beautifying City entrances and hanging flower baskets on Grand Ave.  I am proud to see another example of resident-led engagement, this time in beautifying our City.  I’m reminded of a study I read recently by the Knight Foundation that concluded one of the factors driving people’s attachment to a city is aesthetics. It goes without saying, resident-led investment in our city’s appearance is completely connected in stimulating community satisfaction and economic growth.  I look forward to what future meetings will bring.  If you’re interested in participating, please contact me to be added to the contact list.

Get Your Business Online – Breakfast Before Business

Last Thursday morning, in conjunction with Google’s Get Your Business Online week, I was joined by over 50 area businesses to formally launch the Get Your Business Online with Google Wisconsin Rapids initiative. At Breakfast Before Business, I reiterated that in  2014, it is vital that businesses large and small have an online presence. Businesses that are online grow 2x as fast. As mayor, raising awareness and connecting our local businesses with the tools and resources to get online or improve their online presence is very important and that is why I am proud to bring the partnership with Google and to launch this initiative in Wisconsin Rapids.

Please remember that this DSC_1965is the first event in what will be a year-long emphasis of our local businesses.  Stay tuned for future events and information pertaining to this important initiative.  A link to the event’s presentation can be found here.  Additionally, my blog post from the event (with links to the website and materials handed out) can be viewed and shared here. If you know of a local business who could benefit from this partnership, please spread the word!

Other Meetings and Visitors

As part of our ongoing discussions with Renaissance Learning, following their recent announcements, I met with their leadership on the subject of workforce and competitiveness. Understanding their challenges and opportunities reaffirms many of the initiatives in the works here at City Hall. Emphasis on Innovation and Technology to further create an environment where tech companies, like Renaissance, can access talented and experienced workers is a must. Further investments in our parks and public spaces will undoubtedly position us to compete with other areas where talented programmers choose to live, raise a family and ultimately work.

As Renaissance Learning has assured us that their headquarters will remain in Wisconsin Rapids, we must continue to foster an environment where tech firms can start, grow and thrive right here in Wisconsin Rapids. We will stay in close contact with their leadership team and CEO as IT continues to grow as an emphasis in recreating and diversifying our local economy. Creating a pipeline that starts in K-12 is critical for firms like them to find the appropriate talent.  With my background, I couldn’t be more energized for what is possible

I also had the pleasure of meeting with 20 preschoolers at St. Lukes last week.  I spoke about various City departments and what role they play in making many of the things they look forward to in the summer (i.e. pool, playgrounds, parks) run.  I enjoyed answering questions and discussing my role as Mayor.  As always, the students were full of good questions! I appreciate invitations like these to ensure all people have direct access to their mayor.

Attempting to Set a World Record with the Boys & Girls Club

Last Friday, I participated in an event that served as a celebration to a week of activities aimed at recognizing National Boys & Girls Club Week at our local Boys & Girls Club.  This week-long celebration calls attention to the important role Boys & Girls Clubs play in advancing the success of nearly 4 million young people.  Friday’s event-part of a club-wide progrIMG_0158am focusing on getting kids up and moving- saw the Boys & Girls Club of Wisconsin Rapids join Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most people exercising to a fitness video within 24 hours.  I was given the opportunity to speak to those in attendance, as well as help facilitate the Club’s exercise session.  It was estimated that more than 30,000 participants from 700 clubs nationwide participated in the effort to secure the world record.

I was proud to be a part of the activity and make an exciting announcement in celebration of the Boys & Girls Club of Wisconsin Rapids 20th Anniversary.   On August 30, 2014, staff members and supporters of the club will participate in a 20 mile run- one mile for each year that the club has been in existence.  The run will help raise funds to support club activities, serving the Wisconsin Rapids area.  Time to get training!

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach

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Breakfast Before Business- Launch of GYBO with Google

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Get Your Business Online with Google

DSC_1907This morning, more than 50 individuals representing Wisconsin Rapids area businesses joined me for “Breakfast Before Business” to formally kick-off the Get Your Business Online initiative in the City of Wisconsin Rapids. Their attendance speaks volume of the importance of the initiative- that in 2014, it’s vital that businesses large and small have an online presence. The role of the city and purpose of the event is to raise awareness of the importance of being online. I am appreciative that Solarus’ Medishower, who has made significant broadband fiber investments in recent years, co-sponsored the breakfast. Solarus recognizes their investment is an asset only when businesses in our community ‘get online’. Solarus now has the capability of providing Gigabit speeds in our community!

The breakfast served as the formal launch of the initiative during Google’s National Get Your Business Online Week. All week long, Google has Photo by David Farmbroughbeen hosting live webinars, access to additional resources and live help to those looking for additional assistance with developing their online presence. All of these resources are also available on their website to view, even after the completion of the week’s activities.

Getting Wisconsin Rapids’ businesses online will take time- and that is why we are planning this year long initiative- and further, is why I need your help. Businesses of all sizes need to be where their customers are and in 2014, it is online. Businesses not online are at a disadvantage. If you know other businesses who would benefit from getting an online presence, please share this post or the information presented to them.

The handouts from this morning can be accessed here:

1) Website Design

2) Google+ and Increasing your online presence

TodaDSC_1965y’s events were captured by River Cities Community Media, and will be broadcast on their YouTube Site for those who could not attend. I’d like to stress that this is just the first event in what will be a year-long initiative to work with our local businesses to get online. I am excited to see our local businesses grow with the use of these tools and those by our local providers. It’s time to get our City’s businesses online!

Finally I’d like to thank our local partners in this initiative as we all know it takes a team; the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce and North Central Community Action Services.

Statistics show that businesses online are 2x more likely to create jobs. We sincerely appreciate all your efforts in helping ensure our local businesses get online, gain more customers, and hire more people!

Mayor Zach

View the PSA for the initiative here.

Community Update – March 24

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Get Your Business Online

This week is Get Your Business Online Week.  Last January, at my WisconsinRapidsState of the City Address, I announced that our city is partnering with Google in their quest to get our area businesses online. In my role as Mayor, it is my responsibility to make sure our businesses are just as competitive as those in other cities. This partnership is a tremendous opportunity for us to do just that.  As part of Get Your Business Online Week, throughout the week, Google will be providing tools, coaching and support to educate and inspire businesses to harness the power and potential of the web.  A capstone of the six-day event will be Google’s hosting of  free virtual workshops covering topics ranging from how to build a website to measuring results online.  The week’s activities will not only showcase the value of the internet as a tool to help small businesses grow, but also provide an opportunity for local business owners to connect and share best practices and insights.  Some of the sessions offered this week include:

  1. Building a website and website best practices – Tuesday 12:00pm
    2. Getting online and on the map – Wednesday 12:00pm
    3. Expanding your online presence – Thursday 12:00pm
    4. Measuring success with website analytics – Friday 12:00pm

    breakfast before business postcard

The week comes to a close on Saturday, March 29 with a celebration of small business stories on social media.  Visit gybo.com to learn more details about these valuable workshops and details on how you can take advantage of resources offered.

In conjunction with Google’s Get Your Business Online Week, I felt it most appropriate to formally kick off the initiative by inviting our area businesses to be introduced to options available to them to increase their online presence via a website, or further enhancing their business’ visibility on the web.  A formal launch will occur at “Breakfast Before Business,” taking place at the Hotel Mead at 7:00-8:00AM on March 27. All area businesses are invited to attend. (RSVP required by Tuesday, 4PM here.)

$25,000 FROM CN WILL ‘SEED’ MAYOR’S BEAUTIFICATION INITIATIVE
Mayor Vruwink Accepts the Check on behalf of the city

At last week’s City Council meeting, we had a special presentation by CN Government Affairs representative, Kevin Soucie, who paid a visit from Washington DC. Mr. Soucie awarded the city with a $25,000 check to support the Mayor’s Council on Beautification for trees and various
beautification projects.  See the full announcement here.

Our first Council on Beautification will meet Tuesday, March 25th, 4:30 pm at City Hall in the first floor conference room. Residents interested in participating are invited to attend. If you are interested but cannot attend, please contact me to be notified of future meetings.

National Boys & Girls Club Week

This week, more than 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs across the country will celebrate National Boys & Girls Club Week. This week-long celebration calls attention to the important role Boys & Girls Clubs play in advancing the success of nearly 4 million young people.  This year’s theme is “Open the Door, Take the Tour,” encouraging communities, families and supporters of Club members to experience first-hand how Boys & Girls Clubs make a difference in the lives of young people.

All week, our local Boys & Girls Club will be hosting activities including club tours, and other community events to showcase the various programs they provide.  These activities include an open house at the Pitsch Center tomorrow night from 5-7PM.  There will be activities for families as well as a meal served.  Interested individuals should call the club (715-424-2582) to sign up.  Additionally, this Friday starting at 4:00PM, the Boys & Girls Club of Wisconsin Rapids will join Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most people exercising to a fitness video within 24 hours.  I will join the event and will make an exciting announcement.  More to come!

I encourage residents to take the opportunity to learn more about programs and activities offered by Boys & Girls Clubs across the country.

Coffee with the Mayor

This Wednesday, March 26, I invite you to join me at the Four Star Family Restaurant, 2911 8th Street South, from 7:30-8:30AM. All are welcome to join me for all or just part of the time, for breakfast or coffee, so spread the word to friends and neighbors.

I am glad residents are attending to ask questions and provide me feedback. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet and have conversation!

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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$25,000 from CN will ‘seed’ Mayor’s Beautification Initiative

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I am thrilled to announce that the City of Wisconsin Rapids was successful in it’s pursuit of $25,000 from CN. The money will be used to purchase trees and related shrubbery for the City’s public spaces, as part of the Mayor’s Council on Beautification Initiative, first announced at my 2014 State of the City Address, with an initial meeting on March 25th at 4:30pm.

Kevin Soucie, CN US Government Affairs presents the check to the city March 18th, 2014

Kevin Soucie, CN US Government Affairs presents the check to the city March 18th, 2014

CN’s funding opportunity aligned well with my community initiative on beautification and sustainability. CN focuses its funding by supporting three main areas in municipalities: safety and sustainability; transportation education; and diversity. The funding received for the City’s beautification initiative falls under the safety and sustainability category.

The City applied for the grant because of the desire for Wisconsin Rapids to remain a Tree City, along with the desire of residents to plant trees and shrubbery for beautification and environmental purposes.  I felt this funding opportunity was a perfect match to ‘seed’ our Mayor’s Council on Beautification.

We are constantly looking for ways to enhance the City’s ‘living environment’ for residents as it relates to a place where people want to start or grow a business. Often times, the two priorities are interconnected.Mayor Vruwink Accepts the Check on behalf of the city

By enhancing our living environment and building on our assets, the quality of life for residents and visitors increases, leading to greater satisfaction and pride in our community. For this reason, we recognize that an emphasis on beautification can provide tangible results with positive impacts on the community.

The Mayor’s Council on Beautification serves as another opportunity for residents to get involved. Residents have told me they would like the city to consider beautification as a means to be more attractive. This group will do just that. It is through grant opportunities such as this one from CN the group will have financial resources to accomplish their goal of a more beautiful city.

All residents and visitors will benefit from the beautification initiative. The contribution compliments future Love your Block neighborhood revitalization efforts building pride residents have in their neighborhoods.

Residents wishing to participate in the Mayor’s Council on Beautification and Sustainability may contact the me directly at zvruwink@wirapids.org.  The initial meeting will take place on Tuesday March 25th in the City Hall First Floor Conference room at 4:30pm. Questions about this grant can be directed to the Mayor’s office by phone (715-421-8216) or email (nflanagan@wirapids.org).  Please visit www.wirapids.org for more information.

In closing, the success of this funding opportunity demonstrates the importance for the mayor and city to continue to build relationships and partnerships outside the city to improve our city.  I appreciate the City Council’s willingness to support our pursuit of this funding opportunity requiring no additional expenses to the city.

Mayor Zach Vruwink

Baseball, Business and Technology

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Renaissance Learning’s Sale

For the second time in the last month, Renaissance Learning made national & international headlines when it was announced last Thursday that the private investment firm Hellman & Friedman will buy the company for $1.1 billion.  This announcement comes just three weeks after the announced $40 million investment from Google Capital in the education and learning solutions provider.

Keeping in close contact with Renaissance CEO Jack Lynch and his team is a high priority and  I look forward to the ongoing conversations. My focus, to make Wisconsin Rapids their place of choice to continue to do business- whether it is understanding our role in attracting workers, training our local workforce to meet their needs, or being an attractive place to live, work and raise a family.

Renaissance Learning plays a significant role in education technology and analytics and is demonstrated in the recent announcements.  We are proud to have Renaissance Learning headquartered in our area, welcome the new ownership, Hellman & Friedman, and look forward to their continued investment in our community.  I am hopeful that this is only the beginning of further growth for the company locally!

Forbes; Wisconsin Rapids Tribune; Re/code

Information Technology Summit

Last week, the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development  hosted a summit on the subject of Information Technology workforce. There, I joined employers, educators, and other workforce partners from the central wisconsin region to learn, plan and discuss future IT workforce initiatives.  Conversations took place around topics such as building better IT pathways in education, examining IT initiatives already taking place, and pursuing grant opportunities to fund future IT workforce initiatives. With all the buzz about tech firms throughout central Wisconsin recently, we must continue to understand their workforce challenges and develop solutions to meet them.

The afternoon event which brought a cross section of representatives, was a productive start to engaging in a strategy that not only meets our ‘local’ needs but also connected to a regional strategy. I was excited to be a part of the conversation; as a leader who recognizes the role and importance of embracing technology moving forward as a means to grow our local economy but also humbled to better understand that if we as a region do not meet the IT workforce needs of our local employers, they will be faced with an even greater challenge to fill their job openings and do business locally.

2014 Baseball Season!

Although the winter weather has been slow to go away, the break in extreme cold temperatures has made residents, myself included, excited for spring and summer weather again!  With the warmer temperatures comes outdoor recreation and activities, including catching a baseball game with our very own Northwoods League team- the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.

Last week, I met with John Fanta, new General Manager of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, to discuss the upcoming 2014 season.  I’m excited for the enhancements, planning and additions being made in the offseason, and for the season to kick off May 27! Ticket packages are still available.

Coffee with the Mayor

Last week, I held a discussion session at Perkins Family Restaurant.

On March 26, I invite you to join me at Four Star Family Restaurant, 2911 8th Street South, from 7:30-8:30 AM. All are welcome to join me for all or just part of the time, for breakfast or coffee, so spread the word to friends and neighbors.

I am glad residents are attending to ask questions and provide me feedback. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet and have conversation!

Own or operate a business?

WisconsinRapidsNext week is Get Your Business Online Week- so save the date for March 27th at 7 AM for Breakfast before Business. RSVP here:

More to come!

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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New development, a relocation and heroin

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March 3 – March 9

Heroin Summit

Last week, Stevens Point Mayor Halverson and Police Chief Ruder hosted a summit on Heroin. There, Police Chief Heuer and I joined health professionals, Judges and county officials from Wood & Portage to address the ever growing epidemic of heroin use.  Recently, our communities have suffered tragedies resulting from use of Heroin-a drug once believed to be exclusively a “big city problem.” The demographic and size of Wisconsin Rapids and our neighboring communities make for a logical first step to collaboratively address and discuss heroin issues facing our cities, towns and villages. The drug is highly addicting and is incredibly dangerous, often resulting in overdose at first use- of major concern to law enforcement and health care professionals. We were told this is not the heroin drug of the past.

The daylong event began laying out the foundations for an action plan. We heard from the University of Wisconsin Chief Riseling on their approaches in Dane County. Through presentations and a productive round-table discussion, it became apparent that our community is not alone in dealing with this epidemic.  It was also clear that this is not a problem we can “arrest our way out of,” and that a mindful, collaborative approach between leaders, law enforcement and stakeholders with an “all of the above” attitude to address this widespread problem. Wisconsin Attorney General, JB Van Hollen joined us to talk about his department’s role and how they can assist us in our regional effort. We will be meeting on this very important subject soon as we chart our path forward.

County Facilities Input Meeting

Recently, Wood County has introduced the findings of their space needs study. Last Tuesday, I and members of my staff met with members of the Wood County Space Needs Implementation Committee to discuss the opportunities that might exist through a partnership, and how that might positively impact their financial investment in county facilities in the near future.  The Committee is in the process of soliciting feedback and input from the public (April 14th) and other officials before considering recommendations.

Our meeting last week reinforced the opportunities that exist for the City and County to work together to find a solution that includes the best use of land surrounding the entire Courthouse.  I look forward to the continued discussion with county representatives and members of the Space Needs Implementation Committee to find a solution that not only meets their needs but also provides greater benefits and return on investment to the taxpayers.

New Business Visit, Business Relocation, and the ‘Third Space’

This week presented us with the opportunity to meet with a new company locating in Wisconsin Rapids.  This company, known for dehydration and food processing, will create 12 full time positions initially, with strong promise of more after they become operational.  When asked “Why Rapids?”, the answer was short and simple- you have available buildings at a very competitive cost, available labor force and are close to food production. I am excited to welcome their investment in Wisconsin Rapids.  They will be operational mid-April and will formally announce more at that time.

Additionally, last week the Industrial Development Commission took the necessary steps to approve a micro loan request to aid the relocation and expansion of Higher Grounds Cafe to a new location on 8th Street.  They will be open in April featuring bulk foods, unique coffee (with drive-thru) and very tasty bakery items (I know because I’ve indulged in a few myself!). The business is located next to Sleep Inn, in front of Park Institute Karate. If you know of someone interested in starting or growing their business, the revolving loan fund and attractive terms may be a fit. Contact me for more information.

Finally, I had the pleasure of introducing progressive ideas regarding our public spaces and park enhancements to the Parks & Recreation Commission last Wednesday.  This directly relates to investments in the 3rd space, introduced at my 2014 State of the City Address. At the Address, I drew attention to the areas for improvement, particularly our parks, and called for a multi-year investment in the City’s recreational assets. The natural beauty of our city on the river can be a more of a destination for visitors and further, a more attractive place for our residents and future residents.  I am excited for the coming months, with opportunities of further discussion on the topic to introduce a formal opportunity to involve residents interested in improving our City’s parks and public spaces.

Coffee with the Mayor

Last week, I held a discussion session at the Olympic II Family Restaurant.

This Friday, March 14th, I invite you to join me at Perkins Family Restaurant, 2311 8th Street South,  from 7:30AM-8:30AM. All are welcome to join me for all or just part of the time, for breakfast or coffee, so spread the word to friends and neighbors.

I am glad residents are attending to ask questions and provide me feedback. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet and have conversation!

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – March 4

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Central Wisconsin Days

Last week, Central Wisconsin Days 2014 convened for a day and a half in Madison. There, I joined Heart of Wisconsin Chamber leaders, regional business leaders, state officials- elected and appointed, and my local counterpart representatives to bring our economic development interests and challenges in Central Wisconsin to Madison.  Central Wisconsin’s economic vitality and its ability to remain competitive with other areas- regional and beyond- depends on the engagement and interaction of local representatives in the idea-sharing of issues having regional significance. As local representatives, we are closest to our people’s challenges and opportunities, therefore, it is important to speak with our state lawmakers and administration officials.

CentergyCentral Wisconsin Days is held annually in Madison and organized by Centergy.  For those unfamiliar with Centergy, it is the Central Wisconsin Alliance for Economic Development- a non-profit organization consisting of businesses, chambers, convention and visitors bureaus, educational institutions, cities and individuals- working together to improve the region’s business climate and civic infrastructure.  Centergy’s mission is to align resources, encourage cooperation among all sectors of our regional economy, and promote the value of doing business in Wisconsin-to stimulate measurable economic development.

It is no question that thriving communities are key to Wisconsin’s long-term success and sustainability and that strong community and municipal partnerships are crucial to having successful communities. The Central Wisconsin Days event included valuable sessions on:

        1. Legislative Visits- Our large group divided into smaller groups to, in effect, ‘swarm the Capitol’. We visited with our state representatives and those serving on committees important to our legislative agenda. The groups advocated for the enumeration of the Highway 54 bypass, important to the redevelopment of the former Domtar site in Port Edwards. Other topics included, spanning from fostering small business growth, enhancing tourism and economic development, to housing and real estate, energy & utilities and state & local finance. These conversations allowed participants to get pressing and relevant issues in front of legislators. Their session is coming to a close but consideration for the next state budget remains.
        2. In addition to the legislative visits, our group heard several presentations by Cabinet Secretarys or their representatives from the Department of Transportation, Department of Administration and the Department of Workforce Development, to name a few.

The topics discussed at Central Wisconsin Days, all very important to our City, reminded me that our City is not alone in many of our challenges- economic and others.  Meetings such as this with representatives and businesses of neighboring municipalities and state legislators affords us the opportunity to have discussion and advocate for action steps supporting economic development in cities.

Chamber Annual Awards Dinner – Recognition

Last week, I acknowledged the recipients of the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards and recognition.  In doing so, I unintentionally omitted an important recipient of recognition at the meeting.  I want to congratulate the Wisconsin Rapids Kiwanis Club, who brought home the night’s Shining Star Award.  The Kiwanis Club  was a truly deserving recipient of the award for all of the involvement they have in supporting youth in our community.  I thank the group for all the work they do in our community!

ARTi Gras 2014

A celebration of the Arts will take place Thursday March 6th-9th and is a collaborative effort by the Wisconsin Rapids Community Theatre and the Central Wisconsin Cultural Center. The days  and evenings are packed with events, some one-of-a-kind! Guest comedians will return to their roots of Wisconsin Rapids on Friday, and a Masquerade Ball is planned Saturday night. I commend the two organizations for joining forces to make this event possible. I hope to see you at one or more of the events! View event details here.

Coffee with the Mayor

Last week, I held a discussion session at Perkins 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!

This Wednesday, March 5th, I will be at The Olympic II Family Restaurant, 2520 8th Street South,  from 8:30AM-9:30AM. Spread the word to friends and neighbors.

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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