Driftless Development creating ‘Pathway to Progress’

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By Ted Pennekamp

The Driftless Development Corporation continues to make progress in working toward improving the economy of Crawford County and the surrounding region.
Driftless Development sent out surveys to area residents and met in a public forum to gather information from the public. Driftless Development has now established a “Pathway to Progress” with five main goals.
Goal number one, said Driftless Development Executive Director Jim Bowman, is to retain and recruit young talent and families.
Goal two is increase all types of housing options, including affordable subsidized housing, senior living, workforce housing, condos, new homes, apartments, tiny houses (perhaps on the riverfront) and more.
Goal three is to improve the perception of the schools of the area and to encourage more school-to-work programs.
Goal four is to bring high-speed broadband Internet to the region.
Goal five is to focus on the redevelopment of the downtowns and business districts in the region. He said finding “gaps” that municipalities have regarding small businesses would be one step. Bowman said one example of a gap in Prairie du Chien is the lack of a dry cleaning business.
Bowman said Driftless Development is now in the process of building a work plan and a budget to help meet the five goals established by area residents. Driftless Development will also be engaging interested people to harness their skills and take actions, mostly in baby steps, to meet the goals, Bowman said.
“We are building a core group and we will grow from there,” he said.
Bowman also noted that Driftless Development is building a website, which should be completed within about 30 days. “Our website is going to be impressive, he said.
Driftless Development has also begun a fund-raising campaign and donations have been coming in. Also, the Ho-Chunk Nation recently donated $70,000 to Driftless Development, said Bowman. Ho-Chunk has given $80,000 to Crawford County each year for the past five years because Ho-Chunk owns 80 acres in the county. Ho-Chunk owns 1,000 acres in Vernon County, thus Vernon County receives $1 million annually. Ho-Chunk had been donating money to the state of Wisconsin, but five years ago decided to give the funds directly to the counties.
In addition, the city of Prairie du Chien gave $5,000 for housing funding and the county donated $2,500. Bowman said the housing market would include Prairie du Chien, Seneca, Gays Mills and Soldiers Grove.
Bowman said a broadband committee has been formed and is working on developing a comprehensive plan to connect the entire county to high-speed Internet.
“High-speed Internet will be a game changer,” said Bowman. “It may take time but broadband is very important to rural America and for attracting and retaining businesses. There are lots of grants available in the area of broadband and we have got to be ready.”
Bowman said there will be a meeting on June 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Prairie du Chien City Hall to discuss the future of the downtown and how to best attract and maintain a workforce and create a vibrant community. He said Mayor Dave Hemmer is inviting business and property owners. Steve Kliest, the plant manager of 3M of Prairie du Chien, will help lead the discussion.
“Having a vibrant downtown is critical to our ability to recruit talent,” said Kliest.
“We all know Prairie’s downtown has not reached its potential; but it can if we all work together,” said Hemmer.

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