A brisk conversation is underway on the future of economic development efforts in Kewaunee County, especially in light of a half-million-dollar infusion of cash from Dominion Resources Inc.
In settling the dispute over the assessment of the decommissioned Kewaunee Power Station nuclear plant, the corporation agreed to provide the county government $500,000 a year over 10 years, with a request that the money be used for economic development efforts for at least the first two of those years.
Despite that, the 2018 county budget that heads to the County Board for final approval Nov. 11 contains a 40 percent cut in county support for the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp., the public-private partnership that was formed in 2002.
The board’s contribution to KCEDC operations is reduced from $30,000 in 2017 to $18,000 under the 2018 budget submitted by County Administrator Scott Feldt and passed by the board’s Finance Committee.
Kewaunee Mayor Sandi Christman sent an email in support of the KCEDC Oct. 12 to County Board Chairman Bob Weidner, Finance Committee Chair Lee Luft, Kewaunee Supervisor John Mastalir and County Administrator Scott Feldt.
Christman said the agency was instrumental in securing funding for the $4.2 million state grant that allowed the city of Kewaunee to repair its seawall and lighthouse and upgrade Harbor Park.
“I have spent a lot of time down there since the construction has been completed and there are always people enjoying this new amenity,” she said. “A lot of the people that I have encountered are not residents. They are visitors/tourists. This is the result we were hoping for: to increase tourism.”
The next step is to develop the city owned property by the seawall with a multi-use development, and KCEDC Executive Director Jennifer Brown is expected to play a key role in that effort, Christman said.
“We as the City of Kewaunee do not have someone on staff like Jennifer Brown to help us with economic development,” she said. “We have relied on KCEDC for this support.”
The mayor asked why the Dominion funds aren’t being used to fund the county’s contribution to KCEDC.
Luft responded that the reduced funding was finalized after several meetings with KCEDC board president Lynie Vincent and “additional dialogue” with Brown.
“Our funding decision was not arrived at hastily or without a great deal of thought in which we considered the county’s budget constraints and some ongoing concerns which we have discussed candidly with KCEDC,” Luft said.
As for the Dominion funds, Luft said the board wants “to utilize those funds in the most cost-effective and impactful way possible, and we would want to consider directing those funds to specific projects that could help spur development in all areas of Kewaunee County.”
Weidner said it has always been the county’s intention since KCEDC was formed to gradually reduce the annual contribution as the organization became more self-funding.
“My personal view has been consistent from the beginning (2002) that the county would step down financial support as the organization became more self-sufficient,” Weidner said. “By that I mean that both private and public entities that are benefiting from KCEDC initiatives would commit funds proportional to the services rendered.”
Brown weighed into the email discussion by noting that government cannot develop an economic development plan without industry input and vice versa.
“I am not certain where the continued disconnect lies within Kewaunee County, but I am concerned that overall there is a general lack of support and maybe even misunderstanding for economic development,” Brown wrote. “Most economic development organizations are not sustainable without support from the pubic sector and private sector, hence the word partnership. I have experience in both rural and urban economic development. So, I feel confident in my professional opinion that there is a greater need for partnership and support (of economic development) from the public sector in Kewaunee County.”
She shared statistics from 20 other counties with economic development corporations with county contributions ranging from $192,000 in Fond du Lac County to $34,462 in La Crosse County. Adjacent Door County has committed to an annual $60,000 investment for at least the next three years, Brown said.