Survey says: Hard to hire


“Hiring new employees is extremely difficult. We have many unfilled positions and no candidates.”

“The price of everything is going up and up and up. The wages we are paying are rising but still no one will even apply for a job.  It is a vicious circle, higher prices, higher wages from our suppliers, we have to pass that on to our customers.”

These two comments from western Wisconsin businesses who participated in the latest general business survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis tell the story of the state of our regional economy, which is still recovering from the ongoing pandemic.

The 7 Rivers Alliance has been a partner with the Fed in helping to promote this and all of the surveys that have been conducted since the pandemic began. The next survey will be conducted in October.

As with all surveys, there are some caveats. This survey was conducted July 26-29 -- prior to the recent increase in infection rates from the Delta variant, which will lend additional uncertainty to our economic recovery as we head into fall. 

There are some positives. About twice as many firms reported revenue gains as those seeing revenue declines in the previous three months and almost half expected revenue gains over the last year. Of course, for some the last year comparisons are against periods with pandemic shutdowns, so growth would be expected.

Size also matters. “Larger firms reported significantly more positive performance virtually across the survey, and performance tended to decline as firm size shrank,” the survey said.

Larger businesses -- in general -- were able to minimize the impact of the pandemic. That is a challenge when the vast majority of our local businesses are smaller and did not fare as well.

The top three challenges for businesses are: 1. Labor availability; 2. Price increases and 3. Supply chain disruptions. 

Firms overall reported no net growth in workforce over the previous three months while 22%  percent reported both increases and decreases. Larger firms reported strong net staffing growth and 80% said labor was moderately or extremely tight. Wages increased moderately but more for larger firms.

Some local businesses have raised wages and others said they still can’t afford to. And some wage increases create other problems. “Any new hires we can find are being offered salaries above current pay scale which is causing wage inflation with existing employees,” said one Wisconsin respondent. 

Some businesses have had to reduce hours because of lack of staff. “We are reducing hours and products that we offer as we can't fully staff our store,” one Wisconsin respondent said.

Several businesses said they hope to see an influx of new workers seeking jobs when enhanced unemployment benefits end this month. Others are staying cautious.

“We are trying not to over hire as we expect challenges ahead,” one commented. 

Inflationary pressures are layered on top of supply chain issues.Two-thirds of the respondents said they’ve seen wholesale prices rise by more than 5% and 33% said they have raised more than 10%. Much of those increases have been passed along to customers.

Despite these challenges -- which may or may not become worse with Delta -- businesses remain optimistic. Fifty-six percent said they were somewhat or very optimistic for the coming six months compared to 20% who were pessimistic. 

Like any surveys, the more that participate, the more accurate the results will be. I will share when the next survey goes live in October. I encourage you to take a few minutes and make sure you’re represented. 


Nominations close September 9 for the sixth annual  7 Rivers Alliance and River Valley Media Group Rising Stars under 40. We take nominations from all around the region for outstanding young and women who make a difference in their community.

The winners will be selected and recognized in special coverage in River Valley Media Group publications and with videos online.

Tell us about your colleague, friend, neighbor or co-worker who is a rising star. You can click on the nomination link below.

The winners will be announced at a later date. 

Chris Hardie, CEO

LADCO promoting development properties


The La Crosse Area Development Corporation (LADCO) is a not-for-profit entity which has been operating for 49 years as an economic development agency for the greater La Crosse area. One of LADCO’s major roles is to facilitate the promotion real estate solutions within the La Crosse Coulee Region. Below are a few featured properties within the Coulee Region. If you’d like more information, please follow the links or contact Economic Development Coordinator, Sam Bachmeier, at or (715) 563-7100.

Coulee Region Business Center – 1100 Kane Street, La Crosse, WI 54603

ENTREPRENEURS WANTED! Welcome to the Coulee Region Business Center, a 35,000 SF start-up incubation facility that provides below-market lease rates and entrepreneurial resources for your start-up businesses. The spaces range from 1,000 SF to 5,000 SF and accommodate a variety of uses, including light manufacturing and retail. Our facility also includes an 1,800 SF commercial kitchen, fully equipped with commercial kitchen appliances and amenities. Learn how you can position your business for success by visiting the Coulee Region Business Center website or contacting CRBC Manager, Sam Bachmeier at or (608) 784-5488.

2700 Midwest Drive, Onalaska, WI 54650

A landmark Class A office building located off I-90 in the Onalaska/La Crosse corridor.

Beautiful setting with a treelined entrance. Grand two-story lobby to greet guests.

Three floors of high-quality office arrangement featuring executive offices and open office areas on all floors. Training & presentation areas as well as sunlit cafeteria and patio.

For more details, please view the Property Listing.

Hawkeye Sites, Holmen, WI 54636

Commercial/Industrial sites ranging from 4.18 acres to 19.92 acres, starting at $2.50/SF.

The site is highly visible, located at the HWY 53 and 35 interchange. Across the highway is a large residential development.

The developer of this site is to complete streets and utilities and provide a build-ready site. The site is serviced by Xcel Energy and Village of Holmen utilities.

The location is 15 minutes from the La Crosse Regional Airport and Downtown La Crosse.  

For more details, please view the Property Listing.

Property Contact: Damon Olson at Coldwell Banker, River Valley Realtors

 Lakeview Business Park – West Salem, WI 54669

The Lakeview Business Park is a unique high-end commercial and industrial development in West Salem, Wisconsin.

The park features low utility and tax rates, an attractive, professional design, and comprehensive transportation access, including Interstate Highway and rail service. Also, fiber optic communications and three-phase electric infrastructure are available at this site.

In addition, the West Salem area boasts a high quality of life, with short commutes, affordable housing, and abundant recreation.

For more details, please view the Site Details.

Property Contact: Seth Hudson at Cedar Corporation


Coulee Region Business Center Open House

Please mark your calendar for the Coulee Region Business Center’s Open House, taking place on Wednesday, September 15th. This event will offer the opportunity to learn more about our region’s tremendous entrepreneurial asset and the 17 start-up businesses that occupy the facility.

Additional information will be forthcoming, please find the attached Save The Date.

 Please register at


Lighting the Way for Rural Prosperity registration link:



$250 million grant programs to help communities

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has announced two new competitive grant programs to help communities across Wisconsin rebound and recover from the coronavirus pandemic by providing $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to help communities build long-term, sustainable economic success.

The programs includes a $200 million Neighborhood Investment Fund grant program, as well as a $50 million Healthcare Infrastructure Capital Investment grant program for transformational capital projects that will help neighborhoods recover from the pandemic and that address the equity gap in our state—like housing projects, transit and childcare solutions, and increasing access to healthcare in underserved communities.

“Wisconsin continues to rebound and recover from the coronavirus pandemic, but at the end of the day, we don’t want to just recover,” said Gov. Evers. “If we want to see Wisconsin’s families, communities, and economy succeed for years to come, then we need to make the investments today to build long-term, sustainable economic wellbeing for tomorrow. And what better place to make those investments than in our people and our neighborhoods so every Wisconsinite has access to the infrastructure and resources to thrive.”

Local and tribal governments will be eligible to apply for Neighborhood Investment Fund Grants to help their communities to deliver innovative public services, including new or improved facilities. Governments could pursue new projects like workforce and entrepreneur innovation centers, affordable housing initiatives, transit and childcare solutions, or public space development, with a particular emphasis on increasing services for underserved individuals and populations. 

 The Healthcare Infrastructure Capital Investment Grants will provide funding to local and tribal governments or non-profit healthcare organizations to invest in capital projects that specifically support increasing access to healthcare for low income, uninsured, and underserved communities and the ability to respond to future pandemics response needs. Projects could include new or upgraded facility space that enables additional capacity for care within a community. 

Both programs are funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act and will be administered by the Department of Administration (DOA).

Shared office space to open in Lansing

Maryann Baldwin stands in front of Lansing Office Works + Innovation Lab. Photo and story by Julie Berg-Raymond/Waukon Standard

Another new business is preparing to open on Lansing’s Main Street.

That is good news, in itself; but it gets better - because this business, a co-working space conceived on a membership model, is opening a place for multiple entrepreneurs, small business owners and, of particular note in the face of a changing workforce, remote workers to have a workplace outside their homes without having to purchase or rent “brick-and-mortar” spaces of their own.

Called Lansing Office Works + Innovation Lab, it’s the dream-project of Maryann Baldwin, former owner of the Lansing Fitness Center. “When someone becomes a member of a co-working space, it’s a mix of being in a place to work that says, ‘I’m going to get down to business now,’ while enjoying all the benefits of a workplace - with people you see every day, plus services and events that help members pursue their personal and work goals,” Baldwin says. “We know professionals are more often allowed to work remotely - based on technology and accelerated by the pandemic - and we also know that more people than ever before are forming their own LLCs in order to start businesses and have more control over their work hours and life/work balance,” she says.

Read more

Arcadia school opens childcare center 

Alexandra Retter/Winona Post 

In a remodeled wing of Arcadia Elementary School, books, toys and cribs — as well as the teachers who carefully arranged them — are ready for children to arrive. Over the past few months, teachers and administrators have been creating a new center from the ground up to help fill a need for child care in the community. 

Little Raiders Childcare is now set to open soon. Staff hope for the early childhood education programming to help prepare children for school, support working families and keep community members in Arcadia. 

The woodland-animal-themed center will serve children from the ages of six weeks to 12 years old. Staff will provide full-time, year-round care, before and after school care and full-time summer care. At first, center organizers hope to serve up to 110 children. Childcare Center Director Jolynn Bourland would like to increase that number over time. 

Read more


Employers can host on-site vaccination clinics

Schools, faith-based, community-based organizations, or community events who want to hold an on-site clinic for a group of individuals ready to be vaccinated, can communicate their interest to DHS by filling out the vaccination clinic matching survey and learn more on the DHS COVID-19 vaccine partner resources webpage. Employers can also hold an on-site clinic for their employees and their families, visit our COVID-19: Businesses, Employers, and Workers webpage to sign up.

Commute with Enterprise offers carpooling options

Commute with Enterprise is a carpool and transportation program now being offered in Wisconsin. 

The program works to eliminate the transportation barrier that prevents employees from getting a job or staying employed and addresses the following transportation needs:

  • Transportation for 2nd and 3rd shift

  • Weekend transportation

  • Transportation for low income workers

  • Transportation for companies that are not on a bus route

  • Transportation that crosses city/county/state borders

The program functions like a large carpool, can accommodate groups of 4-15 people per vehicle and includes insurance, maintenance costs, and roadside assistance.

For more information, visit

WWBIC offers new program guide for the region

WWBIC’s Electronic Program Guide for the Southwest Region is now available. This new guide provides information on WWBIC’s upcoming class schedule, business loan program, specialty services such as Kiva, the Initiate Portal, and the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center, one-on-one assistance, a contact map and more.
WWBIC is a leading statewide economic development corporation that is “Putting Dreams to Work”.  They provide resources for individuals interested in starting, strengthening, or expanding businesses with access to resources. 

 WWBIC’s new Program Guide for July – December 2021!  Click here for Southwest WI –  Crawford, Grant, Iowa, Juneau, La Crosse, Lafayette, Monroe, Richland, & Vernon Counties

If you should have any questions, please contact Mara Keyes at or by calling (608) 668-4401.   


Racism and the Economy: Focus on Health is Sept. 9

You are invited to join on Sept. 9, from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EDT (1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. CT), for “Racism and the Economy: Focus on Health.” This is the next event in our virtual series, which examines the impact of structural racism on our economy and advances ideas to improve economic outcomes for all Americans.

People without good health or health care often struggle to fully participate in the economy. This event will examine how systemic racism impacts health and, ultimately, economic outcomes. Social determinants of health like economic stability and housing affect the kinds of jobs people can access. During the COVID-19 pandemic, low-income people of color disproportionately worked in more risky, high-contact jobs, and this led to higher infection and mortality rates. Racial and ethnic health disparities can also be barriers to employment. The session will explore the intersection of health, racism, and the economy because it’s so critical to the Federal Reserve’s work to promote a strong economy and maximum employment.
Register here

La Crosse area women's summit is Sept. 22

Attend the La Crosse Area's First Women's Leadership Summit on Sept. 22. Guests will connect with female business leaders from throughout the Driftless Region, and: 

  • Become empowered as a leader, in your home, your work, and our community.

  • Leave with actionable strategies in your toolkit for leading through your strengths and navigating the new normal. 

Network with local leaders as we gather during breakout sessions, lunch, and cocktail reception.
Register now

Destination marketing organization grants announced 

The Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) announced that applications are now open for the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) Grant Program, which will award up to $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) federal funding. The program will provide financial support for the promotion and development of tourism activities in Wisconsin, including meetings and conventions and events, as part of Wisconsin’s continued bounce back from the pandemic. Additional details, including grant program criteria, is available on the program website. Applicants are encouraged to submit questions and check back on a regular basis for updates, including forthcoming details regarding an informational webinar and FAQs.

Applications are being accepted now through September 29, 2021. This program is being administered by DOA. Grant recipients will be announced this fall.

Wisconsin Fast Forward grant applications announced

The Department of Workforce Development's Office of Skills Development (OSD) is again accepting applications for the Wisconsin Fast Forward grant program. 

We have redesigned our grant offerings into a single grant opportunity, "Industry Sectors Worker Training Grants." This grant program is designed to help fund the development of innovative and collaborative customized worker training programs.

Key features of this grant program:

  • Grants are available to all industry sectors and companies of any size;

  • Grant award amounts may range from $5,000 to $400,000;

  • Cash or in-kind match equal to 50% of the grant award amount is required;

  • Grantee must complete training of at least 85% of the contracted number of trainees; and

  • At least 65% of trainees must be placed in positions with the placement partner(s) identified in the grant application that require the skills taught in the provided training.

For more information and to apply, please see the Grant Program Announcement (at summarizing program requirements. For assistance, please email

Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin is back

The Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin is back for the sixth straight year. WMC is partnering once again with Johnson Financial Group to highlight the manufacturing industry and ultimately determine what is the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin.

 You can participate in this contest right now by visiting to nominate a company and product that's made in Wisconsin. The nomination period ends on Sept. 3 and voting will begin Sept. 14.

Creating a sense of belonging in southern Minnesota

By Tim Penny
Many of us who grew up in, or currently live in, rural Minnesota know that there is something about our communities that fosters a sense of belonging. It might be that the nature of small towns makes it easier to get to know people, or that festivals, historic downtowns and beautiful natural landscape provide a way to feel connected to a place. However, everyone has had moments where we felt like we didn’t belong. For some people, that experience might be because of language barriers or cultural differences, and it might last a long time. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), we know that the communities in our 20-county region have the power to make everyone feel welcome.

Several years ago, SMIF became a member of Welcoming America, joining many other organizations and communities in our region which are dedicated to making southern Minnesota a welcoming place for all. At SMIF, we strive to contribute to a welcoming atmosphere in the region through all of our programming and investments. We are here to support all families in our region – whether through distributing books to children for early literacy support or working directly with children on developing social-emotional skills for lifelong success. We are also here to support all entrepreneurs in our region through accessible business financing opportunities, some of which is funded through the Minnesota Emerging Entrepreneur Loan program which helps ensure that business owners from populations who have historically faced barriers to accessing capital are able to get funds to start and grow their business.

While we hope that all of SMIF’s opportunities contribute to a welcoming region, there are several programs in particular that have been explicitly created to break down barriers and create pathways for growth. In 2016 SMIF launched a program called The Prosperity Initiative. This program provides free business coaching and training to entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). Whether folks already have a business, or just an idea for one, they are paired with an expert coach who guides them through the process of building a business plan, creating a marketing plan, finding access to financing and navigating regulations. Over the past six years, 67 entrepreneurs have graduated from The Prosperity Initiative, and we recently welcomed a new cohort of eight to the program.

Last year, SMIF held a special, one-time grant opportunity called the Inclusive and Equitable Communities Grant. In partnership with Region Nine Development Commission and SE MN Together, SMIF approved 10 grants through this program, totaling $160,000. Over the past year the organizations that received the grants have been working on initiatives which either increase equity and inclusion within communities or support entrepreneurs in communities of diverse backgrounds.

One of those grant recipients is Rice County Neighbors United which has been developing plans for a business association to empower existing and new minority-owned businesses in the county. The Village Community Garden and Learning Center is using their grant to increase the capacity, knowledge and support for immigrant farmers in the Rochester area who grow culturally relevant food. In Winona, the public schools are using the grant to improve educational outcomes for refugee and immigrant students and identify ways in which the schools can make systemic changes to build a more welcoming, affirming and richer learning environment for all students.

There are many other ways we are working to be welcoming to everyone in our region. SMIF recently held two First Aid/CPR trainings in partnership with Healthy Community Initiative in Rice County for child care providers who speak Spanish as a first language. We have also been able to increase our distribution of books that are bilingual or focused on inclusive themes to children and families in the region. In everything we do, we strive to foster a sense of belonging.

We are also looking forward to Welcoming Week this September 10–19, a nationwide celebration through Welcoming America. Welcoming Week, themed “Belonging Begins with Us,” is a time when a chorus of thousands – in communities large and small, rural and urban – celebrate the benefits of an inclusive society and deepen their commitment to creating places that are welcoming to everyone, including immigrants. This week is an opportunity to celebrate the values that unite us as neighbors, parents, and colleagues and to make our communities more welcoming to all those who call southern Minnesota home.

Many communities and partners in our region are holding events during Welcoming Week. Rochester Diversity Council is hosting a workshop about developing cultural inclusivity and Project FINE is hosting a workshop in Winona about recognizing and respecting differences and practical tips to foster a welcoming environment. Other communities, like St. Charles, are hosting community celebrations. You can find a listing of events in our region at

Belonging begins with us. We can all help make southern Minnesota a welcoming place for all.

We are currently recruiting additional members to join this year’s Prosperity Initiative cohort. Contact Maddy Fisher at or 507-214-7029 or visit for more information.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or (507) 455-3215.

Tim Penny is the President & CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Tim represented Minnesota’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982 – 1994.

Urban non-employer businesses lead Wisconsin growth

University of Wisconsin Madison Community Economic Development

Since The Great Recession, businesses with no paid employees (i.e., non-employer businesses) have led business growth in Wisconsin. This growth is most pronounced in urban communities, growing near 10% since 2010.  Employer businesses—or businesses with paid employees—have grown much more modestly, even declining in rural Wisconsin. This rise in self-employment through non-employer establishments is an entrepreneurial seedbed for the Wisconsin economy. These firms provide income for owners themselves and are potential sources of future job creation.

Non-employer establishments, sole proprietorships and partnerships without any paid employees, are an important part of the country’s economy. As of 2018, they made up a large and quickly growing share of businesses in the United States at 77% of the total while the other 23% of establishments were employer businesses…

Read more

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