River Falls EDC: Business is its business
People usually know when a company starts, moves or expands in River Falls, but they typically do not see or hear from the local group of volunteers who work to bring those businesses here, the RF Economic Development Corporation.
The year 2013 marks a few milestones for the RFEDC. It celebrates a 25-year anniversary, having been established in 1988 to replace the city's industrial advisory board. The RFEDC also bids farewell to two longtime board members who are retiring, Fred Benson and Carl Gaulke.
The organization has also been working to upgrade its website and marketing materials highlighting the business properties and sites available in River Falls.
RFEDC exists as a non-profit, non-stock corporation powered by a board of up to 12 volunteer directors. The body works cooperatively with the city, area partners and the Pierce and St. Croix County EDCs.
City Administrator Scot Simpson directs the local EDC, and Leslie Bleskacheck leads as its president. Other directors are Jack Cullen, George Hauser, Jim LeTourneau, Don Piepgras, Glenn Potts, Bill Rubin, Paul Schwebach and Jerry Wilkens. Simpson and Bleskacheck said the board is "in the process" of adding two new directors.
The group meets 7 a.m. the first Thursday of each month at City Hall.
So what does an EDC do? Simply summarized, it helps business start, grow, expand and thrive locally. The RFEDC still uses as a guideline, the original four goals with which it was charged in 1988:
- Create and maintain a list of land and buildings available for business
- Establish space for industrial business
- Maintain an organization to coordinate the marketing, finance and ultimate sale of property to businesses
- Support and encourage 'incubator' ideas from conception to job creation.
Simpson said the RFEDC participates in several networks but also relies on locals to spread the word, "The most important source of prospective businesses is the existing business community."
He said the RFEDC markets local business land and space through its website, community connections, visits to businesses, and advertisements at local events and in some publications such as the "Community Guide." Simpson said the EDC also works within its community-venture and community-investment networks.
The city owns business-park land, and the RFEDC helps fill it. Both entities' general mission has been to make sure River Falls has room for business to come.
River Falls Industrial Park, at the north end of Main Street, was established in the early 1980s and is now home to two dozen businesses. The city's oldest business park has only one buildable site to offer, one site with a building and several opportunities for space within existing buildings.
River Falls bought land in 1994 to develop Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park at the north end of the city and adjacent to Hwy. 35. Fourteen businesses call Whitetail Ridge home, several of them have expanded, and the park has four open sites remaining.
With the recent transaction fresh in their minds, Simpson and Bleskacheck hold up the popular Rush River Brewing Company as a "success story." After leasing their building for many years while growing their business, the brewery recently bought its building from the city.
River Falls agreed in early 2011 to purchase about 100 of 300 available acres in the Mann Valley for future use as business-park land. The raw property sits on the city's west side in the town of Troy and has no infrastructure running to it. City officials projected in early 2011 that it would be several years before any dirt moves out there.
Midway through 2011, River Falls decided to also purchase 74 acres in the Sterling Ponds subdivision situated directly across Hwy. 35 from the Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park. The housing developer set out in 2003 to build 632 homes but by 2011 had only built 137, and the city will rezone it and use it as corporate park land.
The land has established infrastructure nearby and is near the location of Radio Road and Hwy. 35 where the DOT plans to build an interchange in 2013.
Simpson explained after the second purchase in 2011 that River Falls should now be "set" with enough developable land for the next 20-40 years.
Asked why it is so important to encourage light-industrial and corporate business development, Simpson said the commerce creates jobs and balances the local tax base.
"Communities that rely too heavily on residential property-tax base have a more difficult time of keeping taxes relatively low and still providing quality services," he said. "Once a business park is fully developed, it can contribute taxes in excess of an entire residential subdivision."
He emphasized that in a small community like River Falls, very little of the development happening in business parks is private, "If we want it done, we have to do it as a community," he said.