OCEDC begins to prepare for transition

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Pending retirements part of 2-year work plan

Warren Bluhm, wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com

Transition is on the horizon for the Oconto County Economic Development Corp.

Paul Ehrfurth, executive director of the public-private sector partnership that works with businesses to move in or expand locally, told the county board Oct. 18 that Assistant Director Nancy Rhode plans to retire next year, and he plans to hang up his stirrups himself at the end of August 2020.

A transition committee of the OCEDC board of directors is already working on how to replace two of its three full-time employees.

“We both have a great deal of reverence for this organization,” Ehrfurth said. “We want to make sure that succession is done in the proper manner, and that we have good, capable staff members to come on board and continue this important work.”

In his monthly report to the board, Ehrfurth reviewed OCEDC’s work plan for 2019-20, which he said will be his last two-year plan as head of the organization.

One major task will be to work with the county to close out the revolving loan programs that have used dollars provided by the state Department of Administration. The DOA has decided to close out about $100 million in such programs around the state.

Companies have been reluctant to apply for the money to the extent they could, because it’s tied to federal Housing and Urban Development Department regulations that can be cost-prohibitive to follow, Ehrfurth told the board.

The DOA will instead put the money into a reserve fund, and counties will apply to use those dollars for “eligible projects,” he said.

The OCEDC will need to find replacement dollars for its revolving-fund microloan program, which has been effective locally, Ehrfurth told the board.

“In Oconto alone, there are four brand-new storefronts on Main Street that are funded as a result of the microloan program,” he said. “We struggled, as you know, to loan larger amounts of money. But these small projects really seem to have taken off, so it’s going to be critical that we replenish those dollars.”

Among other items on the 2019-20 work plan:

• The OCEDC will continue to identify and support projects to expand broadband service. State grants are currently being used to improve internet access in northern Oconto County and the Oconto Falls Industrial Park.

• The Business Education Alliance Program will continue to meet bimonthly: “It’s our way of communicating with the K-12 system and bringing manufacturers and educators together to jointly work on common problems and open communication between those two groups,” Ehrfurth said.

• The new Leadership Oconto County program will continue, aimed at providing chambers of commerce and other organizations with more leaders who will get involved in their communities in years to come.