If you are “competing” for economic development why would you want to cooperate on a regional scale? Well, I guess that depends on with whom you think you are competing.

When I was a boy my father would read us bedtime stories. One of my favorites was about a family with four brothers. As boys will sometimes do they would fight with each other. One day the father sat them down and gave each of them a stick. He told them to break the stick and it was easy for each of them to do so. Then he took four sticks, bound them tightly, and gave the bundle to the strongest son. “See if you can break this bundle”, he told his son. Try as he may he could not break the bundle. “Individually you are weak, but when you stick together you are very strong”, the father said.

If you think you are competing with the community down the road you will come up with one approach, which would be to beat that community. Unfortunately for you, those 1950s approached have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. Experts today recognize that it is economic regions that compete on the world stage for economic advantages.

Why is that? It’s because of clusters.  It’s because of tax policy, financial services availability, and investment capital. It’s because of logistics and technology/communications. It’s because of proximity to raw materials and the production and availability of components of manufacturing.  It is because of access to critical workforce skills within the region.  It is about scale. And it is about quality of life issues. It’s the whole enchilada.

If you can build a powerful regional economy everyone benefits – it’s the “high tide floats all boats” thing. But it takes cooperation.

On the micro level it may make a difference between two nearby communities whether a company locates in one or the other. But to a region, as long as the company locates within the region benefits will accrue within the region, and that means to everyone in the communities and to the communities themselves.

So work together and build your regional economy. Look for your region’s competitive advantages. That should float your boat!



I was half awake when I checked my voicemail this morning and came across a message from a friend who informed me that Steve Hilgenberg had died.

If you were fortunate enough to know Steve you were lucky. I didn’t know Steve well but I had enormous respect for him. Some people go to the legislature and become reclusive and private. Steve was just the opposite. He was always willing to talk about southwest Wisconsin and our efforts to serve the communities. He looked you in the eye and told you what he thought. In an era of professional politicians he made it clear that he was only passing through and had no time to waste. He wanted to get things done. Now.

Once when I visited him at his office he asked if he could lay on the couch because he had pain in his back. I didn’t know then that it was the result of his prostate cancer. He apologized to me that he couldn’t sit at his desk. Can you believe that?

God, I’ll miss him! LTW

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has received recognition for her support for regional economic development in her District. The National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) honored Rep. Baldwin with their Congressional Partnership Award for the 111th Congress.

Lawrence Ward, Executive Director SWWRPC, presents Congressional Partnership Award to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin

“In these very tough economic times, we must use every tool in the toolbox to help our communities achieve sustainable growth,” said Congresswoman Baldwin.  “It’s been a pleasure to work in partnership with the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission on projects that will benefit our families, our economy, and our environment,” Baldwin said.

“We appreciate the leadership Congresswoman Baldwin has shown in helping us obtain the resources we need to help the people in our Region,” said Larry Ward, Executive Director of the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. “Tammy and her staff worked hard to get funding for the Economic Development Administration, which helps us fund our economic development operations. Thru EDA we were able to get funding to help build the infrastructure in the region’s industrial parks. In the last few years we received over $3 million to help the communities in southern Wisconsin. We also were able to obtain $959,250 to upgrade Mineral Point’s wastewater facility so their cheese plants could stay in the area, purchasing milk and providing jobs. These projects are significant in their positive impact on our region’s economy. To all of those communities we say congratulations. And to Rep. Baldwin and her staff we say “thank you and job well done!”

NADO President Tim Ware (Washington, NC) stated, “Rep. Baldwin is a true leader who has displayed an unwavering commitment to providing new economic opportunities for our nation’s local communities. Most importantly, Rep. Baldwin understands that federal programs for basic infrastructure, small business development, job creation and comprehensive economic development planning are essential for the long-term competitiveness of our local communities.”

Building on nearly four decades of experience, NADO provides advocacy, education, networking and research services for the national network of 520 regional development organizations.  The association is an advocate for federal community and economic development programs and policies that help local communities improve their local economy and quality of life.

NADO’s biennial awards program recognizes members of Congress that have displayed strong support of regional development polices. Winners were selected based on their support of NADO’s national legislative priorities, such as increased funding for the Economic Development Administration (EDA), and other federal community and economic development programs, strengthening the role of rural local officials in transportation planning, as well as supporting the work of regional development organizations at the local level.

This is a pivotal moment for southwestern Wisconsin.  As a rural region, we are at risk of being bypassed by the information age.  Our population is becoming elderly as our youth, whom we educate in our region, leave for more lucrative careers in cities.  Farming is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain as a way of life for small families.  We have limited access to technological resources as telecommunications companies resist wiring our communities with broadband, and we rely heavily on outside resources (e.g. food and fuel) even though we ourselves are the producers of many of these resources for other parts of the country.  Soon something will change for the better or worse.  We believe this moment is an opportunity to invest in our future.

And, our region has been preparing for this moment.  All of our counties, cities, villages and virtually all of our townships have adopted smart growth plans in the last eight years. These plans identify our impending housing, labor, and transportation challenges.  Further, we have begun to develop a regional comprehensive plan that we will adopt early next year.  These plans collectively begin to assess our regional strengths and weaknesses, but they fall short of addressing our real concern:  how can we become a more self-sufficient, resilient and sustainable region?  The Sustainable Communities Plan will allow us to build upon the work that we have started, to develop a more robust and representative plan that will address the sustainability of our future.

Our goal is to capitalize on the resources we have locally – to produce our own energy and food, to minimize commutes and maximize employment of our local population.  People here talk about how they want to maintain their community’s rural feel and way of life. We want to remain rural, and in doing so, become a model for 21st century rural self-sufficiency.

This project is a partnership between Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program (SWCAP), Southwestern Wisconsin Workforce Development Board (SWWDB), Southwestern Wisconsin Transit Team’s LIFT and University of Wisconsin- Platteville. The Dubuque MPO (DMATS), which serves a very small area in southwestern Grant County, also is part of our Consortium.

This project will produce several outcomes that are critical for regional sustainability.   First, we will develop a robust, regional data repository that can be accessed by the public via the internet.  Our second outcome will be a partnership at a regional scale, unlike anything that has been done before in southwestern Wisconsin. Our third major outcome will be the creation of our Sustainable Development Framework.  Our fourth major outcome will be the opportunity to implement a robust public participation plan that makes use of the latest technology.  Our final major outcome will be the Plan itself.  In the Plan, we will place emphasis on the issue of transportation in relationship to housing and employment centers, while addressing all six of the livability principles.  This Plan will guide our region into the future and help assure that we are ready to address the 21st Century in a self-sufficient, resilient and sustainable way.

Yesterday, the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission marked the 40th anniversary of our organization with an open-house and dinner celebration.  Executive Director Larry Ward took time to thank our commissioners for their great leadership and continued support.  All the commissioners, past and present, have sacrificed their time and energy for the benefit of Southwestern Wisconsin.  We also thank the people of Southwestern Wisconsin for their participation in the many plans our organization has produced over the past 40 years.  Their input has helped to shape comprehensive plans, transportation plans, and economic development plans that are suited to address the specific needs of our communities.

Larry Ward, Tim McGettigan, Ed White, Jack Price

After an open-house at our offices, the dinner program began on the UWP campus.  Jack Price, Economic Development Coordinator for the EDA, presented an award marking the economic development efforts in our region.  There was a welcome by Barb Daus, Executive Director of International Programs & External Relations at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, our hosts for the evening.  SWWRPC Vice-Chair Tim McGettigan marked the Anniversary of the commission and asked attendees to continue their support for the future of Southwestern Wisconsin.  The dinner program concluded with a thought-provoking presentation by Mark O’Connell, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Mark O'Connell begins his presentation.

Thank you to all who attended, and we hope to see you next year.

To celebrate our 40th Anniversary we are planning an event concurrent with our Annual Meeting, which this year will be held on Tuesday, July 27, on the University of Wisconsin Platteville Campus.  Following a business meeting we will host a reception at our offices on the seventh floor of the Pioneer Tower. After the Reception we will have dinner at the Ullsvik Center. Our featured speaker will  be Mark O’Connell, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Counties Association, who will speak on the importance of regionalism in Wisconsin and the future of the state in a changing, globalized world. Mark is a terrific speaker and you will enjoy his informative and thought-provoking information and ideas.

Our upcoming Annual Report publication will include details about the annual meeting and an invitation to the event.  For more information please visit swwrpc.org.

We hope you join us in celebrating SWWRPC’s “40 Years of Helping Communities Reach Their Goals!”

Recently I attended a meeting with Tourism Secretary Kelli Trumble to talk about a project that is near and dear to my heart. The Fox/Wisconsin Heritage Parkway is a project that SWWRPC is working on with the East Central Wis. RPC, Friends of the Fox, Native Americans, and several other groups. Our goal is to promote the appreciation of the river route that Native Americans, Marquette, Joliet, and the other explorers used to “open up” Wisconsin and the rest of the Midwest. Federal designation as a historical Heritage Corridor is pending and state recognition is expected to follow. This corridor cuts across Wisconsin from Green Bay to Prairie du Chein, with a portage at, ta da, Portage. The concept is to make people more aware of the importance and location of this route and to celebrate its role in Wisconsin’s history.