TGB Votes to Continue Support for Economic Development Corporation
By Joe Morey
Two members of the Sawyer County/LCO Economic Development Corporation (EDC) came before the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) to request continued support from the Tribe and share information on their current activities. They were Jessica Wagner-Schulz of the LCO Ojibwe College who serves as president of the Board of Directors, and Mike Gardner, Executive Director of the EDC.
The Tribe commits $15,000 annually to the organization, in addition to $25,000 committed by Sawyer County from the Tribe’s annual gaming dollars distribution in accordance with the gaming compact with the state of Wisconsin.
After lengthy discussion, the TGB voted unanimously to continue support of the EDC, but not before questions were raised on what the Tribe was actually getting for their investment.
LCO Secretary-Treasurer Michelle Beaudin said the Tribe currently has $91,000 in bills for memberships in county organizations that are also meant to benefit the Tribe. She said they include the EDC, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, and a tribal deputy to the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department.
“How is this benefitting our tribal members,” Beaudin asked.
TGB Member Tweed Shuman added to the question stating, “All of our money we put into this and we haven’t had any big wins for the Tribe.”
Shuman said the Tribe could use help in economic development with housing, broadband internet and their business properties, such as development of Al Capone’s Hideout.
There are currently 20 members of the EDC Board of Directors which include business owners, elected officials, and community organization heads from the Hayward area, but only three of them are members of the Tribe. Those members are Beaudin and Shuman along with Jason Weaver of the LCO Grants Department.
Wagner-Schulz said there are open positions on the Board and that more representation from the Tribe could be appointed to the Board.
Wagner-Schulz also addressed Broadband stating there is a map of the county where internet is strong and where it is not. She said the LCO Reservation is left out of that map and that’s not okay.
According to the EDC Annual Report, a grant was achieved to expand broadband in a small section of the county, but that doesn't include the Reservation.
Mike Gardner took over as executive director in July. He was originally hired in March as part of Recovery Response Team as the pandemic began.
“My job was to monitor the rollout of the Covid recovery plan. We helped over 40 businesses navigate through the pandemic,” Gardner explained. “I’ve been really pleased to be involved with this organization. I’ve been involved in a lot of boards but the greatest asset this organization has is its Board of Directors.”
Gardner said he was excited to see a business incubation center included in the college’s master plan for expansion. He explained the EDC has funding available for a specialized consultant. They are currently doing market research for a business incubation center and are looking at all potential business start-ups and what would work in our community.
“The college’s plan for expansion is great to see. To be able to have community members and tribal members get educated right here is a big deal for our community,” Gardner stated.
Gardner said he believes some keys to success for economic development in the county include more housing and broadband internet access for business innovation.
“The second homeowners are here. They are people who have the means and a vision. They may want to stay here and develop their own business and with an aggressive EDC, we can help them,” Gardner said.
According to the Annual Report, several project highlights are listed including a training grant procured to provide curriculum and practical experience in the Construction Foundations program to five Sawyer County Jail inmates enabling them to work in the construction field and earn an income higher than minimum wage.
The LCO News published this story in February regarding the program. The LCO TGB donated $5,000 to help with the construction costs of a new garage built at Pathways to Hope shelter. The program aimed at reducing jail recidivism through the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) Correction to Career grant was created where inmates from the Sawyer County Jail would learn job skills in the building trade by constructing the storage garage. The inmates included several LCO Tribal Members.
Other project highlights include helping individuals expand or start their own business and a Placemaking event that was held in Hayward where 70 community members gathered to identify areas in the Hayward area that could use improvements.
The EDC listed several achievements they have recently done which included the broadband expansion, promotion of the downtown Hayward area, establishment of the Covid Recovery Response team and housing expansion which includes the Rock Creek Road Development of 16 new rental units near North Star Gardening Center and a local developer who plans to build 42 homes.