WEDA Announces 2023 Community and Economic Development Award Finalists 

Finalists for the 2023 Community and Economic Development Awards (CEDA) were announced today by the Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA). The CEDA Awards were established by WEDA to recognize and celebrate businesses, projects, and organizations that are making significant contributions to Wisconsin’s economy.

“The WEDA Community and Economic Development Awards is Wisconsin’s premier awards program for the economic development community and was established to recognize outstanding and innovative projects that are driving economic growth and prosperity across the state,” said WEDA President and CEO Mary Perry. “WEDA is excited to hold the 2023 CEDA Awards program in beautiful downtown Wausau to celebrate economic development and the tremendous success of each finalist.”

Three economic development projects or programs were nominated as finalists in each of the four following CEDA categories: Business Retention and Expansion; Economic Development Initiative; Real Estate Redevelopment and Reuse; and Talent Attraction, Development, and Retention. The winners in each category will be announced at the in-person awards ceremony luncheon, which will be held on Thursday, September 28, 2023, as part of WEDA’s Fall Best Practices Conference in Wausau, WI.

Listed below is an overview of the recently announced 2023 CEDA Award finalists in each category:

  • Business Retention and Expansion– This award recognizes a single economic development project in which a community successfully mobilized to retain and/or expand an existing business of great importance to the community.
    • Falls Meat Service, Pigeon Falls – The family-owned and operated Falls Meat Service has been a thriving small business in Pigeon Falls, WI since 1974 and has a reputation for quality, safety, and integrity. However, due to limited capacity and insufficient processing space, the company could not meet the growing demand for locally processed meats and the greater need by farmers in the region to access local processing plants. Falls Meat Service needed to expand, and thanks in part to a $250,000 Community Development Investment Grant from WEDC and a $200,000 USDA grant, they were able to complete a $1.6 million expansion project. The expansion will allow Falls Meat to grow from its current location and allow them to sell meat outside of Wisconsin through online sales. The project, which retained 17 jobs and created 3 new full-time jobs, enjoyed tremendous support from the small, mostly residential Pigeon Falls community that historically has had limited opportunities for economic development and job growth.
    • ND Paper, Biron – The Biron Paper Mill has a long and storied history in Biron, WI, and has been a cornerstone of the local economy. However, the mill has had multiple owners in recent years, and its long-term future was uncertain. That changed in 2018 when the mill was purchased by ND Paper, a multinational paper company headquartered in Hong Kong, with North American headquarters in Chicago. ND paper wasted no time upgrading the mill, investing $325 million to convert the mill’s paper machines to lightweight recycled packaging products and transforming the mill into a 100% recycled  paper facility. The conversion set the mill up for long-term success, retained over 315 jobs, and increased wages for incumbent workers. ND Paper also obtained a $323,000 Fast Forward grant from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to provide employees with the necessary skill sets to operate the equipment and ensure efficient operation. The capital expenditures and ongoing mill operations have boosted the Biron economy and provided new opportunities for local businesses.
    • Paper Transport, Green Bay – Paper Transport (PTI), a De Pere-based for-hire truckload carrier, which offers regional truckload, dedicated truckload, intermodal, and logistic services, is a true local success story. PTI’s humble roots were planted in 1990 as part of the Greater Green Bay Chamber’s Startup HUB Incubator program, and the growing company now has multiple park locations and terminals throughout the Midwest and Southern United States. Due to continued growth, PTI began exploring the acquisition of additional office space to house up to 100 employees. Although the company considered making this investment in another state, with assistance from the Greater Green Bay Chamber, PTI ultimately secured a new location in the new Railyard Innovation District in downtown Green Bay. It is estimated the $1.6 million project, which received incentives from WEDC, will create 100 new jobs over the next five years and retain 100 jobs.
  • Economic Development Initiative– This award recognizes innovation in community and economic development that promotes economic growth within communities and regions.
    • City of Fitchburg North Fish Hatchery Road Construction Project, Fitchburg – North Fish Hatchery Road serves as the gateway to the City of Fitchburg, serving more than 46,000 vehicles per day. The road is also the north and south arterial to the Beltline Highway in the greater Madison region serving more than 120,000 vehicles daily. In 2018, the city created a Strategic Plan with two strategic directives – Building Places & Spaces” and “Brand & Identity” – that identified placemaking as a priority. With the roadway at the end of its useful life, the City of Fitchburg, Dane County, and the City of Madison took the opportunity to create a welcoming entrance into the community, transforming the corridor into an urban, walkable neighborhood. Tax Incremental Financing was used to help fund the $28-million project, which has generated more than $150 million in private sector investment into both residential and commercial spaces. The impact of the project has been recognized regionally, statewide, and nationally. It received three public works and engineering awards, which highlight the engineering aspects of the project, the aesthetic benefits of the placemaking, and the economic impact to the area.
    • Green County Development Corporation 2023 Small Business Series, Green County – With limited entrepreneurial support in rural communities throughout Green County, the Green County Development Corporation, in partnership with The Bank of New Glarus, and the Southwest Wisconsin Small Business Development Center, created a free, in-person Small Business Series. The five-part training series offered one-hour training sessions held over a four-week period, with the fifth week reserved for participation in a pitch contest. Twenty-one inspired entrepreneurs participated in the sessions, and seven of those participants opted to pitch their businesses in the final contest. The collaborative effort, which was supported by local leaders, helped make the program a success. This program netted four business starts with a capital infusion of $1.75 million. The Small Business Series is scheduled to continue with quarterly sessions, and another five-part training series to be held in the spring of 2024. Its success was recognized by Compeer Financial, who awarded Green County Development Corporation $5,000 in grant funds to support an entrepreneurial Pop-Up Shop program. This grant will support entrepreneurs with initial rental assistance for storefronts within Green County communities.
    • Wisconsin Small Business Development Center’s Capital Access Clinic, Statewide – The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center’s statewide network of more than a dozen locations provides regional experts who facilitate growth for entrepreneurs and small businesses. In January of 2022, their team identified a need for entrepreneurs and emerging businesses to find better access to capital and financial planning, and they created the Capital Access Clinic. The Capital Access Clinic provides entrepreneurs free access to a team of consultants who aid in developing financial projections and coach them through the financing process. The Capital Access Clinic has achieved notable results including serving more than 200 clients, generating $27 million in capital infusion, facilitating 16 new business start-ups, and supporting more than 600 jobs. The Clinic has fostered strong cross-community collaboration by working closely with various Small Business Development Centers and community partners. Last fall Construction Business Group announced an official partnership with the Capital Access Clinic, aiming to help minorities, women, and other historically disadvantaged business entrepreneurs succeed in the transportation construction industry. The Capital Access Clinic’s achievements have positively influenced the economic growth and vitality in communities throughout the state. 
  • Real Estate Redevelopment and Reuse– This award recognizes innovative real estate redevelopment or reuse projects that demonstrate measurable and quantitative impact on employment and tax base, as well as sustainability measures, such as conservation of energy and water.
    • Allie Family Companies River North, Manitowoc – Nominated by Progress Lakeshore, River North is a catalytic project in the City of Manitowoc. The River North development was the first in the River Point District, a 20-acre peninsula located downtown, along the Manitowoc River, and just a few blocks from Lake Michigan. This district was blighted, contaminated, and underutilized for over 50 years. The city made investments to prepare the site for development including EPA funding and the WEDC Brownfield Grant. After many public meetings and visioning sessions, the city made its first sale of land to a local developer, Allie Family Companies. The Allie Family Companies took a chance on an area that was just beginning its clean up, improvements, and new infrastructure. As a result, 87 market-rate housing units now fill this 1.6-acre, six-story multifamily housing development in downtown Manitowoc. The project has attracted approximately 150 new tenants to the area and spurred additional investments in the district.
    • Beebe Lofts, New Richmond – After years of disrepair, the once prominent Beebe Building was an eyesore in downtown New Richmond. In 2018, the city acted swiftly to acquire the hotel with hopes to rehabilitate the site. Understanding the great need to increase its housing stock, the city aimed to utilize Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and state and federal Resources to entice a developer partner to bring the project to fruition. It was the first time New Richmond engaged as a major partner on a redevelopment project. After four years of public investment and major clean up, the Gerrad Corporation purchased the site and constructed a senior housing development. Beebe Lofts, a catalytic project in New Richmond, has provided 50 new senior housing units for the growing 55 and older population. In addition, the project has had a positive economic impact on the community, providing a new customer base for downtown businesses, increasing the city’s tax base, and sparking many new developments throughout the community.
    • Belle City Square, Racine – A fusion of the past and the present, the former site of the Horlick Malted Milk Factory in Racine, is now Belle City Square, a 16-acre adaptive reuse development. J. Jeffers & Company purchased the site in 2018 and is tackling this historic renovation with the help from key partners. The City of Racine contributed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and other financial assistance towards the project. The rehabilitation also received $13 million in New Markets Tax credits from First-Ring Industrial Redevelopment Enterprise (FIRE). This mixed-use development includes retail, commercial, and new affordable housing options in the community. The $23.9 million, 32,000 sq. ft. project is part of the larger Belle City Square development and will provide 313 new housing units, create 80 indirect and direct jobs, serve community organizations, and retain quality and accessible jobs in a severely distressed area. A focal point of the project will be the Inclusive Bean, a coffee shop partnering with Sonnenberg Schools, to provide employment opportunities for students that have special needs.
  • Talent Attraction, Development, and Retention– This award recognizes initiatives or programs that can document successful talent attraction, development, and retention outcomes.
    • La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce First Friend Newcomer Connection Program, Greater LaCrosse – When the 2017 WISE plan, developed by the 7 Rivers Alliance, identified that the region would be short 15,000 workers over the proceeding 10 years, the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce sprang into action to implement one of the plan’s key recommendations. The Chamber launched the First Friend Newcomer Connection Program in 2019 with its first community concierge. The concierges deliver results for area businesses by complementing their recruitment and retention efforts. They serve job candidates and new hires by providing community tours, sharing resources about the region, providing accompanying partner career assistance, and connecting people to organizations, hobbies, and others who share their interests. Since 2019, the program has served almost 500 First Friend participants who have relocated to the Greater La Crosse Area. Job acceptance among program participants is 74% and 93% of those new hires choose to stay in the region for more than two years. The program has also addressed diversity and inclusion recommendations of the WISE plan with 48% of program participants being from diverse backgrounds.
    • NEW BOOST™ for Hidden Talent, New North Region – NEW BOOST™ for Hidden Talent leverages the strengths of program partners to support individuals in New North’s 18-county region who need foundational digital computer skills. NEW BOOST™  – Building Opportunities for Overlooked Sustainable Talent – aims to address workforce entry challenges that disconnect African Americans and Latinos from the workforce by providing free digital literacy training and mentoring to eligible individuals. The program expands access to resources for people to connect with digital educational opportunities and training to position them to secure employment with family-sustaining wages. Additionally, program partners provide outreach to unemployed individuals to assist with new job opportunities and to underemployed individuals to help with job advancement, as well as to provide upskilling options to support employee retention needs. This collaborative effort is funded through a Worker Advancement Initiative grant from Bay Area Workforce Development and a grant from Microsoft Philanthropies and managed by New North, Inc. Lead partners include African Heritage Inc. and Abaxent with participation from several community partners.
    • Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce Futuro Program, Dane County – The Futuro Program at the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce aims to revolutionize the childcare landscape in Dane County by creating a robust pipeline of Latino entrepreneurs dedicated to establishing and growing daycare centers. The cornerstone of the initiative is the mentorship program, where participants are paired with experienced daycare owners and spend 30 hours shadowing, gaining practical insights into daily operations, challenges, and successes of running a childcare center. Participants actively engage in educational workshops and as a part of Futuro, grants are available for participants to assist in upstart costs of opening a childcare center or expanding capacity of an existing center. The program plans to graduate 20 participants per year. With the first cohort, 52 new childcare slots are expected to be created and an estimated 15 new childcare centers will be established by December 2023. Upon completion, a total of $32,800 in grants and funding will be dispersed to childcare centers and program participants.

Nominated projects were screened and selected by an impartial panel of judges comprised of WEDA members and partners. The independent panel reviewed many projects that were submitted for consideration, but the 12 finalists were ultimately selected based on the significant economic impact each project has on its respective community or region.

The 2023 CEDA Awards would not be possible without the support of WEDA’s generous partners and sponsors, including the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation; the Green Bay Packers; Alliant Energy; Dairyland Power Cooperative; First Ring Industrial Redevelopment Enterprise; Madison Gas & Electric; US Bank; the Wisconsin Economic Development Institute; and Xcel Energy.