Aug 28, 2013

Evansville Mayor Sandy Decker reflects on MadREP and Regional Cooperation

Evansville Mayor Sandy Decker’s Column

As appeared in the Evansville Review

In 2010, the City of Evansville became a member of Thrive, the eight-county economic development organization that includes Rock County.  We had learned about Thrive in 2008, shortly after it was launched by the Collaboration Council, a forum of 38 leaders from business, government, academia, and nonprofits in our region that were dedicated to building a regional culture and enhancing quality of life. 

Our city saw the many economic challenges resulting from the recession and recognized the value of a regional approach to addressing business development.  The annual fee for governmental “investors” in Thrive is based on population.  The yearly cost for Evansville participation has been just under $400.

Two years ago, Thrive undertook an extensive process to create economic development strategies and an implementation plan to ensure a strong economic future for the Madison Region.  In December 2011, Thrive made a presentation of the nearly completed Advance Now initiative to the Evansville Economic Development Committee and the Chamber of Commerce.  The launch of the Advance Now implementation plan occurred in May of 2012.

Implementation of Advance Now includes goals, objectives, yearly action plans, and measurement tools.  The five goals identified by Advance Now are:  Advance the Madison Region’s Story; Advance Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Advance Human Capital; Advance Economic Competitiveness; and Advance Regional Cooperation, Leadership and Diversity.

A key objective in advancing the region’s story is promoting the region nationally and internationally.  The organization name was changed this spring to better identify the region.  The Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) was selected to provide identification to external audiences; thrive remains a great descriptor of organizational purpose for our region.

Market Street Services, the Atlanta-based economic development consulting firm that spearheaded the Advanced Now process, has pointed out that Midwesterners are rather stoic; we do not broadcast our successes.  We need to do a better job at telling our stories.  Promotion will be an ongoing effort throughout the five-year implementation plan.

MadREP has worked on the goal of advancing innovation and entrepreneurship in Evansville.  At this month’s Evansville Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club, the director of Sector67, a successful hacker incubator, was the speaker, and was sponsored by MadREP.  Michael Gay, Senior Vice-President of MadREP, attended and participated in the meeting.  Our I&E Club is a regional success story!  Many area I&E clubs are fizzling.  Our vibrant Club has had strong attendance since its formation in 2008. 

Evansville Women Entrepreneurs began meeting this spring and provide valuable networking opportunities and resources to the more than 70 women current business owners and prospective entrepreneurs.  MadREP is very interested in seeing further development of the entrepreneurial environment here.

Advance economic competitiveness is another goal where MadREP has been at work in Evansville.  Business retention and expansion are critical components to improving our region’s business climate.  MadREP President Paul Jadin visited Evansville in February to talk about Advance Now and tour three of our large employers, Baker Manufacturing, VP Buildings, and Landmark.  While here, he learned of our businesses’ specific regulatory issues and roadblocks to expansion.  Paul has provided valuable subsequent assistance to the City in working with our businesses.

MadREP efforts to advance human capital can be seen locally as well.  MadREP has been supportive of the Southern Wisconsin Agricultural Group (SWAG) efforts to develop an agricultural education and career training facility that will provide workforce for agriculture and food systems and life sciences, business sectors clustered in our region.  MadREP held a meeting of its Economic Development Professionals at Larson Acres in May.

MadREP has begun addressing the goal of advancing regional cooperation, leadership, and diversity.  Locally, they have assisted Nicole Sidoff, our new Community Development Director, in obtaining information helpful to her job.  They have fostered communication among communities in our region.  I participated in a focus group meeting of the MadREP Economic Development Professionals that was led by a staff person from Market Street Services.  There were representatives from Madison, Sun Prairie, Jefferson County, Columbia County, Brooklyn, and Evansville.  We discussed current economic development activity in our specific localities.  We discussed MadREP recent efforts in our communities.

Advance Now implementation is in its second year.  MadREP is gathering metrics and other information, such as in the focus group discussion I attended, to determine the success of the action plan for year one of the five year implementation and to refine the year two plan.  I have communicated Evansville’s satisfaction with MadREP’s multiple efforts on behalf of our city.  With MadREP spearheading the effort, we look forward to future regional collaboration and cooperation in securing economic vitality for all.