Make diversity and inclusivity a 2021 goal

It’s early 2021 and many of us are trying to focus on resolutions and goals to make this a better and more productive year both personally and professionally.

While the challenges of the pandemic will carry over into the new year and creates lots of economic uncertainty, that doesn’t mean that we should give up on moving forward. One goal that the 7 Rivers Alliance has added for 2021 is a concept that can be a part of every business. How do we improve inclusivity and diversity in the 7 Rivers Region?

These topics were the theme of the 7 Rivers Alliance annual State of the Region meeting held in November because they are an important part of our economic development and workforce. We had four speakers present programs and share information about why it’s important -- especially in our region, where more than 90% of our demographics are white, compared to 60% nationwide. That lack of racial or ethnic diversity puts us at a disadvantage to attracting a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Inclusive economic development, which is made up of community-based strategies, aims to improve economic opportunity for all, with a specific focus on  disadvantaged populations.

Inclusive growth means that more people share in the rewards of a growing economy and community. Inclusive growth communities are those that invest — through philanthropy, public policy, financial decisions, and community commitments — in the success of efforts like:

  • workforce training and talent development;

  • entrepreneurship and small business success;

  • personal financial security and access to financial resources;

  • neighborhood development and growth;

  • transportation and access; and

  • reducing gaps in health, education, safety, and housing.

The best way to achieve these efforts is through collaboration across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Working collaboratively is the foundation of the 7 Rivers Alliance.

At the conclusion of our State of the Region meeting, I challenged participants to think about how they can bring diversity and inclusivity into their business practices and said the 7 Rivers Alliance would do the same. So last month the 7 Rivers Alliance Board of Directors updated our strategic plan, adding a strategic priority to improve the region’s diversity and promote inclusive growth. We plan to do this by facilitating and encouraging dialogue on diversity and inclusion with employers and economic development professionals by providing best practices on diversity and inclusion.

If you or our business has questions about how you can incorporate diversity and inclusion into your organization, let me know. We’ll help get you started. You can’t accomplish anything without taking the first step.

Chris Hardie, CEO


Three join 7 Rivers Alliance board

The 7 Rivers Alliance announces three new members elected to its board of directors -- Marcus Lewis of Black River Falls, Garrick Olerud of Westby and Reva Witte of Melrose.The three join 13 others from around the 7 Rivers Region who make up the Alliance’s board.

Lewis is the owner of Key Change Consulting, a diversity, equity and inclusion company in Black River Falls. He’s also an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and has worked in diversity and equity for 10 years.

Olerud is a real estate broker and owner of Next Home Prime Real Estate in Westby, auctioneer and co-owner of the Great American Pancake Company in Cashton. He’s also a member of the Vernon County Board.

Witte, of Melrose, is the human resources manager at Regal Beloit Corp., in Black River Falls, where she oversees the plant’s 250-person workforce.

Both Olerud and Witte were 2020 7 Rivers Alliance Rising Stars recipients.

“I am so grateful that we continue to have excellent men and women from throughout the region who agree to support the work of the 7 Rivers Alliance,” said CEO Chris Hardie. “I’d also like to thank board members Brian Fukuda, Matthew Gobel and Rich Mikrut -- who are all leaving the board -- for their service.”

The new members will serve three year terms. If you’re interested in being a part of the 7 Rivers Alliance board, please contact Hardie.

7 Rivers, SBA to sponsor PPP program

The 7 Rivers Alliance and the U.S. Small Business Administration will hold a webinar at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 22 to discuss details about the new round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding.

Lisa Taylor, outreach and marketing specialist with the Wisconsin District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, will discuss a number of changes to the PPP program, the EIDL loan program and several other SBA programs in an effort to provide additional economic relief to small businesses.

More than $284 billion in funding for the new PPP was part of the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that was signed into law in late December. Further guidance on the act’s provisions are pending but the funding will be open to first-time borrowers and some who received initial PPP loans will also be eligible. 

Register for the webinar here.

The UW-La Crosse Small Business Development Center is also holding free webinars for businesses looking for information on how to obtain forgiveness for their first-round PPP loans valued at $50,000 or less.

The programs are Tuesday, Jan. 5 from 2 to 3 p.m. and Thursday, Jan. 21 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. The program will discuss using SBA Form 3508S. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss how to calculate loan forgiveness among as well as backup documentation.

Registration is required. Visit  If you have questions, email the SBDC.

Vernon County creates business directory

The Give Big, Shop Small in Vernon County campaign centers around a gift guide/business directory housed on the Vernon County Economic Development and Tourism website Featuring locally owned and operated businesses, sharing offerings and links directly to the business’s websites. The directory also allows users to select from a wide variety of categories; i.e. art, health, food, home/gifts, etc… in order to find exactly what they are looking for, all while supporting a local Vernon County business.

“We wanted to do something to put the spotlight on our locally-owned businesses and all of the amazing products, services, food, and experiences that they have to offer,” said Christina Dollhausen, Vernon County’s Economic Development Coordinator.”

All Vernon County area businesses are invited to submit their business to the directory by filling out the form on the website or feel free to contact Vernon County’s Economic Development Coordinator, Christina Dollhausen or 608-209-7727

Lansing women’s business group formed

By Julie Berg-Raymond
The Standard

A group called Lansing Women in Business (LWB) -- an organization of women in the Lansing area who conduct or operate their own business in the community and who are committed to giving back through community events and charitable giving -- has been started.

LWB is part civic organization, part business network and -- given the effects of a global pandemic that reached the United States less than a month after the group’s formation in January, 2020 -- part support group for small business owners working together to meet the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic.

Women in the group work in a range of fields -- from government and education to the arts, the hospitality industry, and retail. Among the members are a dentist, an attorney and a realtor. They’re owners of salons and spas, photography studios, restaurants, and clothing and gift shops. Their businesses also include a printing company, an art gallery and framing shop, a travel agency, and a fitness center.

Read more here:

Local child care initiative is recognized

The Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN), launched in Vernon and Monroe Counties, has been selected to receive the 2020 Wisconsin Top Rural Development Initiative award, one of two awards presented in 2020 by the Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc. 

With direction from and the support of Kickapoo Conversations, Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN) started serving child care providers in January of 2019, with funding from A Healthier Wisconsin (AHW) through a Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program (HWPP). Technology is used to help child care programs become more efficient and effective, and a professional development model is embedded (so required continuing education can be responsive and done onsite, reducing travel and registration expenses), and highly qualified child care substitute teacher pool – Relief Squad – is available, addressing one of the biggest needs identified by providers.

The goal of WEESSN is to reduce program closure and turnover during a time of unprecedented decline in regulated child care programs.  Specifically, WEESSN helps programs save time and money by streamlining services through technology, providing qualified substitute care, and offering site-specific needed supports. This allows child care programs to thrive, so children, families, and communities can also flourish. Additional developmental screening supports for child care programs also means healthier children.

Currently, two other communities (Dane and Milwaukee) launched regional WEESSN cohorts. Work is underway in another seven counties (Jackson, Crawford, Richland, Grant, Green, Iowa, and Lafayette) with funding made available through the Preschool Development Grant (PDG) from the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Including the Vernon-Monroe programs and the new expanded region, WEESSN will be serving 130 child care programs and more than 2000 children.

Additional information about the Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network can be found at . Questions or comments about WEESSN can be shared with Kelly Matthews, WEESSN Co-director, at

WWBIC offers online business classes

WWBIC offers classes statewide for new entrepreneurs, seasoned business owners and anyone looking to improve their financial health. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, all of the upcoming classes will be offered as webinars.  

To find information about classes, click here:

If you have any questions, please reach out to Amber Brantner, the regional WWBIC specialist or call her at 608-799-5163. 


Fed conference on regional economy Jan. 13

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis will hold its fourth annual conference on our regional economy from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13. The event is free and open to the public.

This year’s conference will focus on the economic impact of COVID-19 to date. Our keynote speaker is North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who will talk about the challenges and opportunities facing the Peace Garden State and take questions from Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari. Other speakers include prominent economists from across the district, which includes Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, northwestern Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

To register for the conference, click here

 WEDA economic conference Feb. 3-5

The 2021 WEDA Governor’s Conference on Economic Development, which will be held VIRTUALLY this year on February 3 - 5, will address equity in economic development while exploring ways to support businesses, large and small, during difficult economic times. The conference will highlight Wisconsin businesses that have met the new demands of this past year with creative, collaborative approaches and explore the unique challenges faced by minority and women-owned businesses.

Keynote speaker William Fruth of POLICOM Corporation will share the twenty wealth-producing industrial sectors that will grow in the 2020’s and how these will influence economic growth for communities across Wisconsin and the United States.

Full conference registration includes all programming on Thursday, Feb. 4 and Friday, Feb. 5. An optional fee is required to participate in the Wednesday, Feb. 3, webinar.

Registration Fees:

  • WEDA Member: Full Conference – $350; Thursday only – $275; Friday only – $100

  • Non-Member: Full Conference – $375; Thursday only – $300; Friday only – $150

To register, click here: 

 2021 travel on hold for many until summer 

According to the most recent Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers, almost two-thirds are planning for no travel before the summer of 2021. About a quarter of travelers expect to take their first trip of the year during the summer, and another quarter are not sure when they will take their first trip in 2021.

 “The arrival of vaccines and inoculation schedules has shaken up travel planning for next year,” said Amir Eylon, President and CEO of Longwoods International. “We expect the situation to be fluid in coming months, as consumers learn more about when they might be vaccinated and the impact of vaccines on the perceived safety of traveling.”

Almost half of travelers are pausing travel while waiting for the arrival and impact of a vaccine(s). That percentage is up from about a third of American travelers in October.

To see the survey, click here:

Western Dairyland offers child care grants

The Western Wisconsin Women’s Business Center is partnering with Child Care Partnership to offer a $2,500 grant for new child care businesses in Buffalo, Trempealeau and Jackson Counties

Right now, there are three children for every available child care opening in our communities. With uncertain school schedules and closures this academic year, families of essential workers are struggling to secure safe care for their children. You can help by opening your home to children in need and becoming a part-time or full-time child care provider today! If you have any questions, please contact the Western Wisconsin Women's Business Center at 715-836-7511 or for more information. 

There are income requirements that apply. For more information, click here

Houston County gives $1.18 million in grants

The Houston County Board of Commissioners allocated COVID-19 relief grants to 245 applicants for a total $1,187,166.36 in grant funds. The grant program is currently closed, and all grant dollars have been used. 

Eligible Houston County businesses included registered or licensed state businesses in good standing, non-profits with a physical brick and mortar building, sole proprietors who provided a schedule C tax return, and farmers who could provide a schedule F tax return.

The county anticipates more funding from the State COVID Relief Bill. The county will use these funds for another COVID-19 relief grant for businesses in 2021.  Please check back for more Questions should be directed to Houston County EDA Director, Allison Wagner by e-mailing or calling 507-725-5836.


Covid-19 business resources

The business impact of Covid-19 is having an enormous impact on the business community in the 7 Rivers Region. We are committed to being a resource and a guide to get you through these challenging times.

Here are links for Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota and nationally that has important information for your business. We will update this page as more information becomes available.

Covid-19 business resources


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601 N. 7th St., La Crosse, WI 54601

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