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Business, civic leaders off to Madison Feb. 6

Greater St. Croix Valley teams met with legislators in Madison last year: (left-right) Steve Healy of Polk County EDC, Beth Waldhart of West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and Tom Elbrert of River Falls Industrial Center. <i>Submitted photo</i>

Over 30 volunteers from Dunn, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties will participate in appointments at the state capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 6, as part of the Greater St. Croix Valley Legislative Day.

The event coincides with the start of the annual Governor's Conference on Economic Development and several participants from the four-county region will remain in Madison to attend it.

The EDCs and chambers in the four counties find value in promoting legislative issues to senators and representatives. The four-hour distance to Madison means regions like the Greater St. Croix Valley have to familiarize state officials with specific priorities each year.

Teams of two or three people from the St. Croix Valley will meet with legislators from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 6. The final appointment is in the Governor's conference room for a meeting with a policy advisor.

The 2013 legislative issues promoted by the Greater St. Croix Valley include:

--Restore the Income Tax Reciprocity Agreement with Minnesota. The terminated reciprocity agreement impacts commuting workers from Superior to La Crosse, including several thousand in the Greater St. Croix Valley. Wisconsin officials presented the framework of a new agreement, but Minnesota demands an additional payment to offset a limitation in its tax code. A restored agreement is important to regional economies crossing state boundaries.

--Address the Skills Gap. Employers across Wisconsin have unfilled positions because the skills of available workers are not aligned with the openings. The problem is compounded by retiring workers, fewer people entering the workforce and the out-migration of recent graduates. A study entitled "Be Bold 2" identifies strategies to close the skills gap.

--Connect Rural Wisconsin with Broadband. The deployment of fiber into rural areas of the Greater St. Croix Valley creates economic opportunities for residents and businesses. Modern farm practices, e-commerce for small business and distance education all rely on high speed internet.

--I-94's Impact on Economic Vitality. Interstate 94 is the main artery for economic development in the Greater St. Croix Valley. Several coalitions and agencies are working together to address the transportation needs along the I-94 corridor. Protecting transportation funds for their intended purpose ensures scare dollars are spent on maintaining and expanding infrastructure.

--Supporting an Early Stage Venture Fund. The Greater St. Croix Valley can benefit from the creation of a venture capital fund aimed at assisting scientific and technology-based companies past their research and development stages.

--Education Priorities. UW-River Falls, UW-Stout, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) and Chippewa Valley Technical College have a major impact in the Greater St. Croix Valley. Several legislative issues highlight the priorities of these institutions, including capital building/renovation projects, adding capacity to address the skills gap and expanding administrative flexibility in the UW System.