Economic development corporation takes on new focus, coordinator

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Pictured (front row, from left) are Bob Moses, board president, Chamber CEO; Lori Bekkum, EDC coordinator; Dan Kanis, vice president, Nelson True Value; Bob McDonald, past president; (back row) Dan Strnad, Cabela's; Nate Gilberts, common council, ex-officio voting rep; Paul Ginkel, Crossing Rivers Health; Jeff Nack, 3M; Don Ostert, Lady Luck Casino; Chris Mara, Tricor Insurance; Chris Kane, Universal Forest Products; Peg Baxter, ex-officio non-voting rep, Upper Iowa University; Aaron Kramer, city administrator, ex-officio voting rep. Not pictured are Mark Forsythe, secretary/treasurer, Peoples State Bank; Bill Adamany, Wm. Adamany Enterprises; Becky Hackett, Century 21 Realty; Dawn Hillenburg, Dillman/Astec; Mark Oehler, utilities rep, MG&E; Pete Flesch, ex-officio voting rep, Crawford County EDC; and Jason Wood, ex-officio non-voting rep, Southwest Tech. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

“We sell Prairie du Chien—it’s what we do!”

That’s the philosophy of the reinvigorated Prairie du Chien Economic Development Corporation. A new office is in place, a new coordinator is on board and positive things are happening.

Lori Bekkum, of Prairie du Chien, was hired in January for the part-time role of driving the 65-year-old entity toward its present-day goals, of course, with direction from the 18-member EDC board. Bekkum, a Crawford County native, former chamber president, and longtime employee of Community Development Alternatives, is delighted for the opportunity to share her vibrant positivity about the community and its offerings. She will generally spend time (15 to 20 hours) on EDC work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Her office is located at 129 E. Blackhawk Ave., Suite B (next to Gillitzer Law Offices).

“We’ve decided to change the focus of the group. We wanted it to become more about economic development than just industry,” explained Bob Moses, EDC board president. “We looked at the city’s comprehensive plan and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis and we did our own to evaluate what we wanted to do.”

Formerly known as the Prairie du Chien Industrial Development Corporation, from 1951 to 2010, the organization was once comprised of stockholders from the community. The industrial development corporation’s largest industries were National Decorated Metals and 3M Company, according to Bob McDonald, the board’s past president who will hand over his projects while serving as mentor to Bekkum through the current year.

In recent years, the EDC’s mission has been to bring more business, industry and people to Prairie du Chien and the surrounding region. The latest commitment came in December 2015, when the city, EDC and chamber extended an incentive package to Solomon Corporation, an electrical transformer company based in Kansas, to open and operate in the city’s North Gateway Business Park. About 16-20 jobs are expected to come from this development—a number that could grow to 25-30.

“I think we have a strong relationship with the city and the chamber. We’re all trying to do the same thing—push business and industry,” Moses said. “So much of what we do overlaps. It’s really all about collaboration.”

“When you have people working together toward a common cause, you can accomplish great things,” Bekkum added.

“In my time, this is the most aggressive we’ve ever been,” stated McDonald, who became a board member in 1974. “We’re already being recognized by the state as being extremely active in southwest Wisconsin, and the fruits of our labor are going to come to the forefront.”

McDonald noted that there’s been “a lot of interest in both retail and industrial” development in Prairie du Chien in recent months. “There’s been so many prospects flying in and out,” he said. “It’s starting to pay off and, from that, we’re just going to keep moving forward.”

Though economic development involves work that is most often carried out behind the scenes, the main street office will hopefully draw more attention to the PDC EDC’s existence.

“It’s important that people know we are here and that they spread the word,” Bekkum said.

“As much as we think our name is out there, this gives us a physical presence and accountability,” Moses commented.

“There’s been a lot of interest in our downtown,” McDonald added, noting that, just as the attraction of new businesses is a key focus of the EDC’s mission, so is the support for existing businesses.

Bekkum is motivated about her new position and the consequential projects that come with it. She’s excited about working with the soon-to-be-hired Crawford County Economic Development Corporation coordinator in a few weeks. She’s also looking forward to reaching into her repertoire of connections and knowledge as she works to “sell Prairie du Chien.”

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