Community Update



Heavy Metal Bus Tour            

Last Wednesday, I joined over 70 area 8th-10th grade students, local and state leaders for the Heavy Metal Bus Tour.  The Heavy Metal Bus Tour is a program coordinated by the Heart of Wisconsin with the goal of exposing and encouraging students to consider jobs in the area of Manufacturing.  This is a great opportunity for area employers and Mid State Technical College to come together to benefit students by giving them exposure and awareness to careers in manufacturing.  During the day, students got the chance to tour some of our local manufacturing facilities.

Events such as the Heavy Metal Bus Tour are incredibly important for our area.  Manufacturing IMG_7936is the backbone of Wisconsin’s economy having dominance in many of cities like ours, and events like last week’s day-long tour shows students the highly technical and great careers in manufacturing.  Seeing firsthand what jobs in manufacturing entail provides students with the opportunity to explore and learn more about the compelling jobs the manufacturing industry can offer them.

For our area, there is also tremendous value in having programs such as the Heavy Metal Bus Tour.  Our area is fortunate to have a great combination for youth to succeed with jobs that are high paying, have good benefits and are in an area that offers a great quality of life.  Not only does our area have fantastic manufacturing employers like ERCO, Domtar, NewPage and Golden Eagle Log Homes right in our backyard; we also have an outstanding technical college to help give students the skills and education needed to fill the positions needed by these companies in the near future.

Rafter’s Opening Day

wisconsin-rapids-rafters-logoWith winter behind us, and a few much awaited sunny and 70 degree days, has made many residents, myself included, excited for spring and summer weather again!  Along with the warmer temperatures comes opportunities for outdoor recreation and activities, including catching a baseball game with our very own Northwoods League team- the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.  This week, the Rafters begin their 2014 season with a three game home stand, kicking off Tuesday at historic Witter Field.  This year also marks the 6th anniversary for the team.  I am proud to have the Rafters call Wisconsin Rapids home and look forward to the season! Be sure to check out their many improvements such as this one highlighted in the Daily Tribune. To view the Rafter’s schedule, visit this link.

Tribune Building

Last month officially kicked off Phase 2 of the Tribune Building meeting process, focusing on design and layout of the building.  At that meeting, residents were asked to get a head start on the design process to help the building flow in a way that responds to community vision.

The next meeting will be this Tuesday, May 27 at 5:30PM at the Centralia Center.  The meeting will continue to build on last month’s progress and aid in deciding design elements for all of the building’s spaces.  I’m looking forward to our community’s continued participation in the project. If you haven’t attended a meeting, I highly encourage it. Your voice will be heard!  Make your mark on this unique redevelopment on our riverfront.

Coffee with the Mayor

On Wednesday, June 4th, I invite you to join me at Sofia’s Restaurant, from 8:30-9:30AM.  All are welcome to join me for all or just part of the time, for breakfast or just coffee, so spread the word to friends and neighbors.

Memorial Day/Holiday

Today, as we celebrate the Memorial Day holiday, let us reflect on the freedoms that we enjoy in this country that were paid for by those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  A further thank you and recognition goes out to those who currently serve our country.

I hope everyone had a safe, healthy and happy Memorial Day!

Mayor Zach Vruwink



Community Update



Start-up Businesses and Retail

1776 Challenge Cup            

communityupdate1776Last Thursday and Friday, I joined  city leaders, visionary entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world for the “Challenge Cup,” organized by 1776.  1776 is an organization that seeks to connect startups with vital resources they need to grow- from mentorship to public/private connections to capital and media attention.  The 1776 Challenge Cup was a venue to do that and more.  The event sought to bring together individuals from around the world representing various backgrounds and industries to find transformative solutions to global challenges in the areas of health, education, energy and governing processes.

The Challenge Cup further reinforced the value of “smart cities”- the idea that local performance depends not only on a City’s endowment of hard infrastructure, but also on the availability and quality of knowledge, communication and social infrastructure.  Events such as the Challenge Cup- by bringing leaders and startups from all over the country together-  better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis.  The Challenge Cup Event also included valuable sessions on:

1) Union Kitchen tour – Housed in a 7,300 square foot former warehouse, Union Kitchen exists as an incubator to grow and promote small food businesses.  The goal is to provide a low-cost, low-risk full-service kitchen for local businesses to grow and establish their communityupdateunionkitchenoperations, eliminating the need for small businesses to take on debt, purchase expensive equipment and sign long term leases when starting out.  This tour was inspiring- the model works well for those businesses involved, and could have application in our area.  In the same way ideas that came out in the Tribune Building meetings, a food incubator leveraging the synergistic operations of different businesses that don’t have to invest alone in the capital required to launch- therefore removing many of the barriers to entry- as a way to bring development to our community. Recently I’ve received contact from aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to launch food businesses. This model would be more sustainable and cost effective for launch.

2) Startup Government –  This all-day conference examined the role of government at the state and local levels and how we use policy to drive innovation.  Admittedly, innovation is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when many people think of government- yet government can be a true driver of innovation, by bringing innovation to their communities to bridge technology gaps, increase transparency and provide essential service in more ways- engaging residents in things they care about.  The goal of this conference was to idea share best practices on how government can be a catalyst for innovation and what government agencies can learn from start-ups.  One such start-up relates to a summit I took part in last fall with Code for America.  Code for America has the goal of helping government leverage different technology solutions to solve community challenges (i.e. creating apps for government focused on improving citizen engagement).

Cultivating start up activity is crucial to ensuring a strong economic future for our community. Simple solutions that leverage our assets like locally headquartered tech company Renaissance Learning, MSTC, K-12, government and local businesses will help foster a startup ecosystem

RECon – Retail Real Estate Convention

From “Smart Cities” to growing our City’s retail spaces, this week I took the opportunity to attend 2 days at the largest Retail Real Estate Convention.  The convention provides networking, deal making and educational opportunities for cities, developers and retailers from around the country.  The event provides an opportunity to meet retailers to discuss opportunities for them to do business in our City as well as attend educational sessions to learn about the market trends for shopping centers and redevelopment.

In last week’s Community Update, I referred to the need for a mindful approach to filling our City’s vacant retail spaces- like those with the Rapids Mall.  Active marketing and management is a critical component to restoring vibrancy to the property. This conference provided the opportunity to not only meet with our mall owners to discuss strategies going forward, but also to network with potential tenants for a fit for vacant mall and other retail locations in our city. In the near future we will be gathering data to tell the story about gaps and opportunities in our market. This information will be shared with developers whose site criteria matches our area. In Saturday’s Daily Tribune, a story appeared specifically about the Rapids Mall.

The RECon convention also has several breakout sessions and panels for further learning best practices:

1) Retail Property Redevelopment in 2014 – This session addressed the challenges and opportunities in redeveloping and repositioning existing retail properties.  Panelists of experienced retail industry executives and local leaders reviewed recent successes and failures with a view toward lessons learned.  Our session focused on the topics of developing a strategic vision for retail spaces, the necessity for government sponsorship and support, and the value enhancement of retail spaces.  The session was eye opening in that it further evidenced that Wisconsin Rapids is not alone in the challenges we face with our retail spaces – specifically mall space vacancy and tenant attraction in our mall space.  Malls everywhere are facing challenges and forced to find new solutions to occupancy challenges related to the changing dynamic of retail.  This session allowed us to pool ideas and learn from each other to bring “best practices” back to our respective municipalities.

2) Successful Public/Private Partnerships for Retail Development – This session involved a panel of individuals representing both public and private sectors to discuss how their respective communities have created successful retail developments through partnerships with municipalities.  The panel discussion was insightful and had strategies that could be directly applicable for our City in helping revive or grow Rapids Mall tenancy numbers.  Economic development and success are reliant upon the support and strategic vision that the City and business owners coming together can provide. The City of Wisconsin Rapids, in coordination with the private sector, has a vital role to help showcase and support our economic, entertainment and recreational assets and opportunities. Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple was a panelist sharing his city’s ‘restarting economic engines’ strategy.

As your Mayor, I will continue to explore ideas and strategies to help address the long-term sustainability of all our City’s retail spaces.  Each of our retail spaces are unique, have different potential, and the City plays an important role in supporting their redevelopment.  It is no question that attracting new and growing our current retail spaces are key to our City’s (and area’s) long-term success and sustainability; strong community and municipal partnerships are crucial to this success.

Coffee with the Mayor

On Wednesday, June 4th, I invite you to join me at Sofia’s Restaurant, from 8:30-9:30AM.  All are welcome to join me for all or just part of the time, for breakfast or just coffee, so spread the word to friends and neighbors.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach


Community Update



Rapids Mall and Wisconsin Rapids Retail            

Recently I had the long awaited and much anticipated opportunity to meet with the ownership of the Rapids Mall.  Beyond sharing the most obvious concerns about attention to the internal and exterior state of the property, I also provoked a dialogue about it’s future. While we all have hopes (and maybe dreams) there is realistic action that can be taken now to better position itself for a positive future. With commitments from the owners in making the property much more presentable to current and future tenants, we also discussed other action items both the mall ownership, management, and city can take.  Considerations given to the former Younkers space, parking and outlots were discussed. Active marketing and management is a critical component to restoring vibrancy to the property. As we move forward building on this first contact in which I hope is part of a much more regular dialogue, we can effectively market the vacant spaces as opportunity to fill gaps in our retail offering.

A vibrant future for the Rapids Mall is all but certain.  As your Mayor, I will continue to explore new ideas and strategies to help address the long-term sustainability of all our City’s retail spaces.  Even as early as next week, I will be working with the mall ownership to solicit interest in not only our mall ‘opportunity spaces’ but spaces for development all across our City.  Each of our retail spaces are unique and have different potential, however, the City plays an important role in supporting their growth. Economic development and success are reliant upon the support and strategic vision that the City and business owners coming together can provide. The City of Wisconsin Rapids, in coordination with the private sector, has a vital role to help showcase and support our economic, entertainment and recreational assets and opportunities.

National Nursing Home Week

WRT 0513 NursingHome SA

Photo credit to Daily Tribune Media – Casey Lake

This week, Wisconsin Rapids joins cities around the country in celebrating National Nursing
Home Week.  National Nursing Home Week recognizes the incredible work that nursing homes in our area and throughout the country do in caring for members of our community.  I participated in kicking off National Nursing Home Week in Wisconsin Rapids with the reading of a proclamation and a balloon release in celebration at Strawberry Lane. I heard loud and clear from residents how much they enjoy the visit from friends and loved ones- make it part of your routine to pay a visit!

Teen Leadership Graduation

10294281_668410286560274_277259658087378960_nLast Tuesday marked a special evening for a group of high school sophomores in our community.  The 2013-2014 Teen Leadership group celebrated their graduation from the program with a dinner held in their recognition of their accomplishment.

Teen Leadership is a program of Incourage Community Foundation and supported by our area local businesses and organizations that offers hands-on learning for high school sophomores from our five area high schools, with untapped leadership potential.  A capstone of every Teen Leadership class is a community project, aimed at applying their skills.  Last year’s project included beautification of the stormwater retention pond at 16th and Two Mile; this year’s group focused on prepping and painting bikes to help get the local bike share program, River Riders, closer to start up.10246661_668410283226941_1277702372130922131_n

I took the opportunity to speak to the teens about the significant role they each can play in our community.  As a young professional and millennial Mayor, engaging and encouraging young adults to be active in the community is critical to our growth as a community.  I reminded the graduating class that just because the Teen Leadership program was coming to a close, it was just the beginning for them to make their mark on their community.  Having youth, young adults or newly involved individuals step forward and take action in various leadership roles is important.  “We” as a community will be looking to see where their interests lie as we see and hear about thier community involvement going forward.  Congratulations to the graduates and thank you for learning leadership skills to apply in our community!  For more information on the Teen Leadership program, please visit this link.

Judging 6th Graders Speech Competition

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to participate as a judge for Wisconsin Rapids Middle School’s sixth grade speaking contest.  The contest consisted of 12 students giving a 3-5 minutes speech on the theme of “The Importance of Healthy Living” and scored in the areas of content, organization and delivery.

The students gave an impressive array of speeches on topics ranging from exercising and leading a healthy lifestyle to more serious and complex issues of tobacco and drugs and health issues of meals in the prison system.  I was pleased to see students giving effective presentations on complex issues as well as local solutions.

Parents Who Host Lose The Most

Last Tuesday, the Family Center arranged an event that aimed to take steps to avoid tragic alcohol related deaths involving young adults by holding a “Parents Who Host Lose the Most” Town Hall at the Wood County Courthouse.  The event was part of a larger public awareness campaign seeking to draw attention to the risks associated with underage consumption of alcohol.  A panel discussion occurred with residents and stakeholders from Wisconsin Rapids and surrounding communities.  I was joined in attendance by our Police Chief and the Wood County Sheriff, as well as members from the Family Center and Wood County employees.  I would like to thank everyone who joined in the conversation for their time and participation in raising awareness for this important matter.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach


Community Update – May 5



Bike Routes, New Trails and Complete Streets            

Last week, the Parks & Recreation Commission met and had a productive discussion around aspects of the City of Wisconsin Rapids Outdoor Recreation Plan approved in 2012.  The plan reviewed our existing park and recreational system in the city. It also pointed to many recommendations to be considered. A few months ago, I suggested we dust off the plan and take a look at those recommendations.  The two elements of focus at the meeting were the existing Ahdawagam trail system and a concept called “Complete Streets.”

Nature and recreation was identified as a top consideration by you our residents in the community-wide survey.  Additionally, just last week, it was reported that Wisconsin climbed 5 spots to #3 in the rankings for most Bicycle Friendly States.  This further evidences that recreational activity is a statewide focus and priority, as such, taking a look at past planning and considering future action is appropriate. Today, over 20 miles of trails or “routes” are designated throughout our city. However, the connectedness to our city parks is lacking and is ripe for improvement. The commission voted to consider additional recreational routes that connect to city parks and assets throughout the city. City staff will propose new routes at the next meeting.

Additionally, while the city today has both separate recreational trails and designated recreational routes, one way to accomplish new routes without actually building new trails is through “Complete Streets.”  Complete Streets is a term used to describe roadways that are designed and operated to enable safe, convenient and comfortable access and travel for all users of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.  There is no one design for a complete street, and it is likely that in traveling, you’ve seen numerous examples of the concept in other regions and municipalities.  Given the diversity of the natural and built environment in Wisconsin Rapids, flexibility in accommodating different modes of travel is essential to balancing the needs of all users.  An excellent example of a Complete Streets program in Wisconsin is in the City of La Crosse.  In 2012 La Crosse passed a Complete Streets Ordinance and today all corridor projects are considered for incorporating the Complete Streets methodology.  Wednesday’s meeting served as an introduction to the concepts and possibilities of implementing a Complete Streets program; It is my hope that a future meeting will further the discussion and possible adoption of the program for Wisconsin Rapids.

With the natural beauty of our City on the river, we are poised to be a destination for visitors, and further, a more attractive place for residents and future residents.  The connectedness of existing trails and 8 city parks located along the banks of the Wisconsin River gives our City the potential for our recreational assets to be some of the best of any city around.

For more information on the Parks & Recreation Commission, including agendas and minutes, please visit this link.

Rapid Improvement Reporting

Last Wednesday, the City concluded its second round of Rapid Improvement training at which time another milestone was achieved- over 25% of our employees have been trained. This round included 19 trainees from 9 City Departments in learning the fundamentals of Lean Six Sigma, communityupdaterapidi
equipping them with training in the concepts to be involved with improvement projects within the City.  The trainees also worked on a new project during the training sessions examining the long grass/weeds enforcement process by Ordinance Control, with the goal of reducing or eliminating some of the many areas of delay in the system resulting in better customer satisfaction.

Finally, CommunityUpdaterapidi2Wednesday’s class concluded by bringing together all of our current and past trainees for a “group report out” session where each group updated on where each of the current projects are at in the Improvement process.  I am inspired and encouraged by each team’s commitment and progress in examining various city processes differently and their work to improve them. As I’ve said before, the essence of the Rapid Improvement initiative is continuous improvement. Projects will continue to be started and completed with varying degrees of impact. The steering team has scored employee-submitted projects to be worked on in the near future. Residents, too, may submit improvement projects for improvement by contacting me.

Where’s the Money?, Tribune Building Phase 2 and Speaking to 3rd & 4th Graders

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of joining area business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs for a “Where’s the Money?” program, sponsored by the North Central Community Action Program, NCCAP.  This program was aimed at providing information to current and aspiring entrepreneurs alike interested in going into business or expanding their current business.  I spoke on the City’s revolving loan fund and what criteria exist to qualify.  I was pleased by the turnout of individuals in our area interested in learning more about what options are available for them to start their business in our community!

10173593_10203687304926800_4057299482109334243_nAlso on Tuesday night was the first meeting of “Phase 2” of the Tribune Building process.  That meeting saw another fantastic turnout of residents taking part in deciding design elements for all of the building’s spaces.  Phase 2 meetings are planned to take place the last Tuesday of each month this summer.  Mark your calendars for the next meeting May 27, 2014 and RSVP by visiting this link.

Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting with 3rd and 4th graders at Howe Elementary School on Bmp40fBCYAADcrC.jpg-largeFriday.  I spoke about 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.  The students,“If they were Mayor”,  also shared ideas they had for park improvements and investments.  As always, the students were full of questions and ideas!  I appreciate invitations like these to ensure all people have direct access to their Mayor.

Parents Who Host Town Hall Meeting

This Wednesday, May 7 from 5:00-6:00PM,  the Family Center will be hosting a town hall meeting on underage drinking and the Parents Who Host Lose the Most campaign.  The meeting will take place at the Wood County Courthouse Auditorium and will include a panel of experts from the community that will take part in answering questions as well as sharing thoughts on solutions to a problem that cities all across the nation face.  I look forward to hearing the feedback and ideas shared at this meeting.

Coffee with the Mayor

This Tuesday, May 6th, I invite you to join me at The Hotel Mead’s Cafe Mulino, from 8:00-9:00 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.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach