A New Day: County Strikes New Agreement With Business Council
Renewed partnership comes after Presley rails against past practices
By Brandi Makuski
The Portage County Board this week agreed to a one-year, $73,000 agreement with the Portage County Business Council.
But the agreement didn’t come easy. Some board supervisors questioned the annual stipend given to the business council, arguing the council spent too much time on extracurricular functions- and not enough time devoted to economic development- to warrant receiving taxpayer funds.
Similar arguments have been made by members of the Stevens Point Common Council in past years. The city, along with the county and Village of Plover, are all members of the PCBC, along with several area businesses and the Stevens Point School Board.
In exchange for membership fees, the council is expected to promote and support local business, and work to foster new development in the community and the Portage County Business Park.
All told, the PCBC gets more than $100,000 annually from the three municipalities. The Village of Whiting dropped its membership in 2012.
“As a county board supervisor, I can tell you what I see…[business] exchanges, Wines of the World, Business After Hours, Women in Business,” said Board Member Jeff Presley. “But what do I see about economic development in Portage County?”
Presley has been outspoken of his disapproval over taxpayer support of the PCBC since last year, when the council attempted to convince the school board to retain embattled Superintendent Attila Weninger, even though the school board had already accepted Weninger’s resignation. Presley was a member of the school board at that time and decried the PCBC as trying to sidestep the school board’s vote.
Presley spoke for several minutes on his concerns at the Sept. 16 County Board meeting, also complaining the PCBC had not been transparent in the past and did not respond to his email requests for information.
At one point in the meeting, Presley turned to PCBC members in the audience, telling them to “grow up”.
“You want our money? Treat us with respect; it’s that simple,” Presley said.
Others on the board had a more leveled reaction to the new agreement, admitting there were problems in the past, but saying they looked forward to a better future.
County Board Supervisor Jim Gifford said Partners in Education- known as PIE- has proved “very valuable for the county…and [the PCBC] has been very useful in that.”
But Gifford also said past leadership of the council had done “an absolutely minimal job” of promoting the business park.
“Now, we hope they can help us promote something down by the H2O project (also known as the ‘Aquaplex’ property in south Plover), so we can get it off the county’s back and back on the tax rolls,” Gifford said.
Board Supervisor Lonnie Krogwold defended the PCBC, arguing that developing vacant lots was only a part of economic development.
“A lot of [economic development] is working with the present people, the businesses in the county, looking at what education and jobs are needed by employees,” he said.
Todd Kuckkahn, the council’s interim executive director, said while he’s only been on the job four months, he’s taking in all the comments from local officials to help create better relationships.
“We are excited that we do get support from the city, county and Plover, and other communities,” he said. “But some of the challenge is getting people to understand the full aspect of what economic development is.”
Sometimes, Kuckkahn said, that means bringing in large business which require hundreds of new employees; sometimes it means promoting existing business, as well as educational opportunities and programs which benefit business owners.
“But it’s also being aware of the current job market, where existing businesses are in their hiring and their growth,” he said.
The board has asked Kuckkahn to report back twice a year with updates on those elements of economic development. Kuckkahn also said the council would begin to track regional job growth sometime next year, but declined to give details.
The County Board approved on a one-year agreement after amending it from the original proposal of two years, by a vote of 20-4, with one board member absent.