County considers use of 1039 Ellis St. as IDEA Center
An idea is brewing in Portage County, one that officials hope will reduce a shortage in young professional workers over the next 10 years.
Portage County Space and Properties Committee members last week asked to have County Executive Patty Dreier and community partners provide more information on exploring the possibility of using a portion of the 1039 Ellis St. building as a startup location for the IDEA (Innovators, Designers, Entrepreneurs and Artists) Center.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to move ahead some pretty significant efforts,” Dreier said.
The IDEA Center project would identify a single space where people can go to engage different ideas that could become incubator business concepts or connect with creative youth in the community to keep their interest in this area’s workforce.
Space and Properties Committee members requested that Dreier bring more information on the center and its needs to the committee next month before members voted on a direction. The next Space and Properties Committee meeting is planned for April 5 at the Ellis Street building.
“It would have to be temporary as far as that building is concerned,” said Portage County Board Chair Phil Idsvoog, who also is a member of the Economic Development Committee of the Portage County Business Council, one of about 20 community partners in the project.
The North Central Wisconsin Planning Commission projects a 16,000-person worker shortage by the year 2025, the result of business growth, retirements and fewer people moving back into this area.
“If we can improve the supports we have in place to launch creative ventures and then market that capacity to larger communities around us, we believe we can attract a strong class of new professionals to the area,” said Greg Wright, executive director of the Arts Alliance of Portage County, a partner in the project. “The IDEA Center is a great place to start.”
The IDEA Center is still in its conceptual stage.
“We have identified a number of programs and supports that we hope to offer, but we realized we couldn’t finalize our business plan without seeing what users will choose to engage with this space,” Wright said. “In that way, the IDEA Center itself is the first idea we hope to grow.
“Communities with strong creative economies tend to do a better job at attracting new professionals,” he said. “The Stevens Point area has a strong creative economy with a participation rate higher than the state average. We are arts rich and have a successful track record of launching businesses and community initiatives that go on to have a national or international impact.”
Some thoughts on programs to offer include classes on writing, filmmaking and visual arts; artists and innovators in residence; coding classes for those interested in IT sector; satellite programming and prototyping.
More than 20 different models across the country were studied and pieces have been incorporated into the ideas for the center, Wright said. And again, this is a concept that many partners are attempting to make a reality.
The use of the Ellis Street building would be contingent upon not interfering with the current tenant, would be an in-kind contribution from Portage County, and would serve only as a location to start the initiative, committee members said.
“Once you move people in it’s very difficult to move them out,” Committee member and County Board Supervisor Jeanne Dodge, District 21, said.
“One of the outcomes of this proposed startup is a plan to sustain this IDEA Center model on its own out in a permanent community location,” Dreier said.