PCEDC celebrates 2023 award winners

Journal named EDC Cornerstone recipient

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 5/8/24

Road construction and a tumultuous downpour didn’t dampen the spirits of those gathered for the Pierce County Economic Development 2023 Awards breakfast Thursday, May 2 at Ridgetop.

While …

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PCEDC celebrates 2023 award winners

Journal named EDC Cornerstone recipient


Road construction and a tumultuous downpour didn’t dampen the spirits of those gathered for the Pierce County Economic Development 2023 Awards breakfast Thursday, May 2 at Ridgetop.

While navigating the maze of orange cones and detour signs for Highway 10 was not what one would consider fun, the buzz about local businesses and entrepreneurs inside the venue was worth the drive.

Board President Nate Boettcher of Pierce Pepin Cooperative Steves/SwiftCurrent Connect spoke leadership and its challenges.

“Thank you for taking your lives into your own hands, otherwise knowns as driving around Pierce County,” Boettcher joked in his opening comments. “It’s an adventure every day to get to work. Paying attention and staying alert is more critical now than ever.”

After thanking Ridgetop staff, Brooke Cupp (community outreach coordinator for Pierce Pepin) for organizing the event and PCEDC Executive Director Joe Folsom for his leadership, Boettcher turned his remarks toward that exact word: Leadership.

“Leadership is really hard,” Boettcher said five times. “I say that the five times that I say that, and I’ll probably say it another 10 times before we’re done. Studies have shown us that people have to hear things about seven times before it really sinks in.”

He said those words to the Ellsworth Village Board last summer when they began to consider a proposal from Danish biogas company Bigadan “to remind them of the responsibility they have as village leaders.” Boettcher said. “The easiest thing that we can all do is to simply say no. It’s a lot tougher to say yes to things. When you say yes to things, it means you have to defend your choice.”

He said his comments were meant to be a call to action for everyone in the room to provide the leadership that is so desperately needed in local communities, the state and the country.

“Look no further than a recent Pew Research poll that just came out last week,” Boettcher said “Fifty percent of those people that were surveyed in that poll would replace our two candidates for president, meaning that 50% of eligible voters out there would rather have two candidates running in the race … That should tell you a lot about where the state of American politics is. Leadership is hard.”

Boettcher credited Folsom with being a continued voice for economic growth in the county, working closely with Alcivia on their plant expansion near Hager City, supporting broadband expansion throughout the county, and providing connections and resources to Bigadan which allowed them to explore Ellsworth for their project.

“Joe continues to be a constant voice for tourism and housing,” Boettcher said. “And we’re very fortunate to have a guy like Joe at the helm in Pierce County … I’m really excited about the future of Pierce County. We have untapped resources and the ability to develop a county into something we can be proud of.”

Folsom plans to retire soon and the board is working through a transition plan.

Next on the docket was a presentation by keynote speaker Aaron Sundeen, director of business development at Derrick Building Solutions, who spoke about the area’s need for workforce housing. The problem was first identified in 2019 at a workforce housing seminar in New Richmond, Sundeen said. The supply of new housing has not kept up with demand, causing an unbalanced housing market with increased prices, making it a challenge for people to rent or buy, he outlined.

“Housing availability and affordability is important in attracting and retaining businesses,” Sundeen said. “Counties compete with other counties and cities for economic development and there is a critical need to create the right environment to build more housing.”

Employers are struggling to recruit and retain employees due to limited affordable housing options in the geographical areas in which they work. He encouraged communities to create a plan for residential development and where it should occur.

  • Be consistent with sticking to your plan in order to balance neighborhood and community interests.
  • Be flexible with zoning and land use regulations – lot/yard standards, parking, density, etc.
  • Allow “missing middle” housing types in some residential zoning districts.
  • Reduce red tape in the approval processes and remove unnecessary regulations and restrictions.

Sundeen defined missing middle housing as the type of housing that used to be build in many cities and small towns, such as duplexes, fourplexes, cottages, townhouses, etc. An example of a new solution is the Tiny Timbers Agrihood in St. Croix Falls, a neighborhood of tiny homes centered around a gardening space. The project is sold out.

He also spoke of repurposing old buildings such as schools and motels as affordable housing units, as was done in Hager City with Prairie View Elementary. Other ideas he broached included employer assisted housing, working with high school students for undertaking housing improvements, providing financial incentives to encourage private redevelopment of deteriorating neighborhoods or providing housing tool kits, a collection of tools and resources for developers, builders, lenders, realtors and homebuyers with information specific to the area.

“These are examples of small contributions, but they don’t always have to be a homerun,” Sundeen said.

Momentum West will host a housing conference 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday, June 5 at Northwood Technical College in New Richmond. Registration is now open.


Heidi Hanson, co-owner of Swinging Bridge Brewing, received the honor of Professional Business Leader of the Year. She was described as “a beacon of entrepreneurial spirit and community dedication” who fosters a vibrant hub for locals and visitors alike.

“Her commitment extends beyond the brewery doors,” actively shaping the economic landscape of River Falls with a steadfast dedication to fostering prosperity and innovation, her nomination reads.

Hanson thanked her husband and staff, saying everyone put together makes things happen.

The Pierce County Journal received the EDC Cornerstone Award for “consistently demonstrating an unwavering commitment to unbiased reporting, serving as a reliable source of information and informing the public on important topics from local governance to economic trends.

“Moreover, the Pierce County Journal’s support of our county’s communities goes beyond the pages of their publication,” the nomination read. “They actively engage with local businesses, providing them with a platform to showcase their products and services. Their coverage highlights the ingenuity and resilience of our entrepreneurs, inspiring others to pursue their own ventures.”

The recipients of the Workforce Development Innovator & Career Pathway award were Chippewa Valley Technical College, UW-River Falls and Northwood Technical College, nominated by EDC board member Becky Beissel. She said her daughter graduated from high school last year with 33 college credits thanks to a partnership between UWRF and CVTC.

“In a time when college debt and student loan debt is a big conversation, for her to take one year off and save that money is just going to give her a leg up into the future,” Beissel said.

UWRF Chancellor Maria Gallo said it’s important to the university and tech colleges to make transferring credits a seamless journey and an affordable education a priority.

The Small Entrepreneurial Star award went to Cortney Franklin of Bodhi Studio in Prescott. Franklin founded her yoga studio in 2020 during COVID by offering classes at Freedom Park. Her business grew and after outgrowing a rented space, she built a new studio in Prescott.

“She stands as a shining example of what tenacity is and let me tell you, if you don’t know Cortney, you don’t know tenacity because that girl’s got it,” said presenter Brooke Dusk.

Franklin said her industry is often misunderstood and she’s passionate about offering a place where anyone can practice.

“The goal is really to bring highly trained instructors to our region,” Franklin said. “I’m really proud and excited at how the community has embraced it and how we’ve grown.”

Pierce County Economic Development Corporation, annual awards, CVTC, UW-River Falls, Northwood Technical College, Heidi Hanson, Swinging Bridge Brewing, Cortney Franklin, Bodhi Studios, Pierce County Journal, business