29 Aug Telecom issues are among focus of upcoming western Wisconsin conference
Eau Claire, Wis. — Access to telecommunications and other communications services will be among the subjects discussed here Sept. 14 and 15 as representatives of nine western Wisconsin counties discuss economic development.
It will be part of the Synergy 2005 Conference, which will build upon discussions at a December 2004 kickoff luncheon.
The counties engaged in the process are Barron, Clark, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix.
Conference organizers such as Sharon Sabatke, the program director, had meetings for every one of the counties in an attempt to see what was happening in each of the nine counties and what were the most important issues in each.
The result is a conference agenda involving four topics: Quality of Life, Communication Services Access, Affordable Health Care, and Workforce Challenges and Opportunities.
“They said these four topics, and they were the ones that we covered last year, are of prime importance to our economy,” said Sabatke “No other organization is covering these four topics. Without these four topics, you don’t have economic development. It’s very important that we focus on those topics that face us.”
Panels and speakers of each of the topics will, respectively, cover how affordable housing, the arts, energy, and transportation development can contribute to the quality of life in the area; how to improve communities’ access to telecommunications and communication services; what businesses in the region can do to save money with affordable health care plans; and the changes that the workforce is undergoing – such as the baby boomers’ retirement and the younger generations’ role in replacing them.
“Those were the top concerns that communities within our region seemed to have, and they seemed to be shared by everyone in the region, so they’re not specific to cities or small areas,” said Laurie St. Aubin-Whelihan, the marketing manager of the Synergy 2005 Conference. “There will be a panel share plans that have been implemented, and models that our communities can look at that apply to us so that we’re not starting from scratch.”
Cornelia Butler Flora, a professor at the Iowa State University, will be the keynote speaker and breakout session facilitator for the Quality of Life focus. Thomas J. Asp of Virchow, Krause, & Co. will speak for the Communication Services Access area. Patrick Trotter, president of Health Solutions Ltd., will speak for the Affordable Healthcare area, and Steve Gunderson of the of Greystone Group, Inc., a former US Congressman for Wisconsin, will be giving the keynote speech and facilitating discussions for the Workforce Challenges and Opportunities area.
Conference organizers hope to have over 200 attendees at this year’s conference, including all industries in the nine-county area.
“There are three main elements to the conference: convergence – bringing people together, cooperation – industry, economic development, and education to work together, and collaboration – we all share a lot of the same concerns,” St. Aubin-Whelihan added.
While the conference’s four main topics – and its overall setup – are the same as the Synergy 2004 Conference, organizers have made sure to include as many attendees’ and nine-county representatives’ suggestions for improvement as they could.
“They asked us to go in a little different direction. For example, last year, in Quality of Life, we covered the transition from a rural to an urban environment. This year, we are covering the affordable housing, at how the seven community capitals … interact together for quality of life.” Sabadke said.
In addition, the Conference will be focusing on the changes it has begun to make in the region, and the significance of those changes. Attendees of last year’s conference created several Action Items that dealt with the topics of the conference, then created workgroups to tackle them. One such item dealt with the digital divide; an attendee took a survey of what kind of telecommunications infrastructure high schools in the region had, then sent the survey on to UW-Stout. The results of that compiled study, as well as the results of other workgroups’ efforts, will be presented at the Synergy 2005 Conference.
Gov. Jim Doyle is scheduled to make an appearance at the conference from 8:35-8:55 a.m. to help open the gathering.