Turning Vision into Reality

City of Eau Claire

Named Eau Claire or “Clear Waters”, by late seventeenth century French explorers upon discovering the pristine waters of the Eau Claire River, Eau Claire’s population has grown to over 66,000. Eau Claire is the largest city and regional center in West Central Wisconsin. Located on the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers, the city is approximately 85 miles east of the twin cities Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.

With a diversified economy and a low cost of living, Eau Claire was recently recognized by Forbes as one of the Best Places for Business and Careers for those small cities with populations under 250,000. The city was also recently named an All-America City by the National Civic League, “a unique and prestigious award,” Mike shares. This year’s award lists the top 10 healthy communities in the country with a focus on obesity, disease prevention, fitness and healthy eating. These are just two accolades among many for the city of Eau Claire says Mike, expressing that, “We feel pretty good about how others look at us when they’re analyzing Eau Claire.”

Room to grow

With three Industrial Parks – Sky Park, Gateway, and Chippewa Valley, Eau Claire can accommodate businesses interested in expansion, relocation or start-up. The Sky Park Industrial Center is less than a quarter mile from Interstate 94 and is suited for light manufacturing with fiber optic telecommunications systems available. The Gateway Industrial Park is one of west central Wisconsin’s largest industrial parks, with over 700 acres available. The Chippewa Valley Industrial Park is suited to heavy industry and conveniently located near the busy Hwy. 53, rail transportation and the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport.

Gateway Business Park, Eau Claire’s newest park, is home to Nestlé, Hutchinson Technology, Minnesota Wire, Silver Spring Garden, and the Chippewa Valley Technical College Manufacturing and Technology Center. Mike asserts that businesses considering Eau Claire need to know, “that the City has several options for businesses to locate and plenty of land to be considered.”

Growth in the construction industry is always a good indicator of a city’s healthy economic growth and Eau Claire ranks second in the nation for growth in this sector. “Eau Claire has had steady growth in the medical and education areas,” says Mike. “There have been a lot of construction jobs focused on those two sectors – plus we’ve had a strong revitalization of our downtown where we’ve had several new building going up. The combination of those three factors has kept construction firms busy here.”

A need for diversification

Local economies often rely on one booming production or trade sector as a source of jobs and economic growth; but this can be a dangerous reliance when a once booming industry is no more. “At one time the Eau Claire area was very heavy on the rubber industry,” explains Mike, referring to the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Company, the city’s largest employer since 1917. At its closing in 1992, over 1300 people lost their jobs. “We decided that it would be better to diversify and not have a large segment of our employment in any one sector. Our strategy for diversification and marketing includes looking at multiple approaches for businesses that might be in sectors that are growing… We try not to put all our eggs in one basket so we have a multi-pronged approach to reach out to different industries, always keeping that balance of diversification in mind.” He points to high tech companies that have recently opened in Eau Claire, including Intel, Invisible Connect, and Superion Technology. In addition, three plastic manufacturers have recently expanded – Phillips Medsize, Five Star Plastics, and Accu Tech Plastics.

Mike relates that Eau Claire’s two hospitals, the Mayo Clinic Health System and Sacred Heart Hospital, have continued to grow. The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire (UW-Eau Claire) is ranked one of the top regional universities in the Midwest. UW-Eau Claire is seen as a huge economic driver for the city, employing over 1300 and contributing millions of dollars into the local economy. “When companies look at communities one of the key criteria that they have is that the community be a university town,” adds Mike. “In economic development these days, attracting talent to your community is one of the biggest issues. You need to be able to match the job skills that businesses need with the people that have that expertise… we’re very fortunate to have over 10,000 students here at the university providing an annual infusion of talent into the local labor force.”

The Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) is also located in Eau Claire, and it too is instrumental in providing the technical workforce needed and encouraging economic growth in Eau Claire. Its Applied Technology Center, part innovation and part business incubator, provides education in the micro fabrication and nanotechnology areas. “CVTC is strong and known for working directly with industry,” shares Mike. “They play a big role in creating the skills expertise that our companies need.”

Revitalizing the downtown core

Eau Claire’s downtown redevelopment has been driving economic growth in the city. National trends show people and businesses are seeking downtown locations. Eau Claire is taking advantage of that trend, and with two riverfronts to work with, have seen the downtown transformed into “the place to be” in the city.

The City invested in creating Phoenix Park, a place where people gather along the rivers for music events, weddings, biking, walking, and tubing, among other things. A farmer’s market pavilion was also built there and it draws thousands of people weekly to the downtown. Phoenix Park in turn has attracted development to the area: Royal Credit Union built a four-story headquarters; several developers constructed mixed-use buildings, with retail on the first floor and loft apartments above. The valuation in the district has increased from $10M to $48M and 215 new apartments have been built in the Phoenix Park area, also known as the North Barstow Redevelopment District.

Other redevelopment projects include a proposed Confluence Project which is a public / private partnership led by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Haymarket developers, and local community arts groups. The Confluence Project includes a mixed-use building that will have 119 apartment units, retail on the first floor with sites for riverfront restaurants, and a parking ramp. The second building will be a Performing Arts Center that will house three venue spaces. The developers are seeking financing for the performing arts center from the City, County, and State. A public plaza will be built between the two buildings. The Confluence Project is considered a “game changer” for downtown Eau Claire.

In addition, two downtown hotels are undergoing renovation. A former Ramada hotel and convention center that closed has been purchased and will be redeveloped under the name “Hotel Lismore.” The redevelopment will include three eateries and a modern façade. The former Green Tree Inn is also being redeveloped by a group of young entrepreneurs that will turn a seedy, old building into a boutique hotel.

To top off the recent developments downtown, a company called JAMF Software is constructing a four-story office building with river views and will soon be moving in. JAMF Software creates management software for the Apple platform. The company opened a small office downtown in 2008 with four employees. They have now grown to 155 employees in Eau Claire and a like amount in the Twin Cities. JAMF’s new building can accommodate up to 300 employees.

Another game changer for Eau Claire was the recent announcement of a $10M gift from UW-Eau Claire alumni, John and Carolyn Sonnentag, that will allow the University of Eau Claire to build a new $50M sports and recreation complex near campus along the Chippewa River. The Eau Claire YMCA has announced that they will partner with UWEC and Mayo Health Systems and will build a new Y and Aquatics Center. While this project will take awhile before ground is broken, Mike says, “it again shows the type of partnerships Eau Claire has come to value in making things happen that otherwise might not.”

More than 6,000 people came to organized conventions and more than 21,000 to sporting events in 2013, making Eau Claire a hub of activity with numerous things to do and see. Some of those attractions include the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2014. The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire offers children and adults two floors of interactive activity with a focus on discovery, learning and creativity. The Museum was the enthusiastic result of community effort and was officially opened in 2004.

Completed in 2009, the locally owned and managed Metropolis Resort and Convention Center has one of the best indoor water parks in Wisconsin, combining business and family fun under one roof. The Center is a popular tourist destination.

Aside from some of these noted attractions, there are a number of music festivals to enjoy year round as well as rivers, lakes, parks and biking trails. For Mike, ultimately the vision is to “create a community where talented people of all ages want to live, work and play – to be a community that has a lot of recreation and events going on, and where people can gather. A quality place with a culture that allows entrepreneurs to succeed, and where people with diverse backgrounds can come together and form partnerships that better the community.”

July 16, 2018, 6:47 AM EDT

The Gig Economy

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