Community Update

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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

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