7 Rivers Alliance
601 Seventh St. North
La Crosse, WI 54601
Executive Director: Lisa Herr
Counties: Buffalo, Crawford, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Monroe, Pepin, Trempealeau and Vernon counties in Wisconsin; Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties in Minnesota; Allamakee and Winneshiek counties in Iowa
Population: 435,000 – Region total (including Iowa and Minnesota counties); 295,000 in Wisconsin
major industries: Food manufacturing, fabricated metal product manufacturing, lumber, animal production and aquaculture, machinery manufacturing, agriculture, manufacturing composites, truck transportation, hospitality, health care, education services
major employers: Gundersen Health System, Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, The Trane Co., University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, CenturyTel Service Group, City of La Crosse, Kwik Trip, Logistics Health Inc., Western Technical College, APAC Customer Services Inc., Chart Energy & Chemicals Inc.
Colleges and universities: University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Viterbo University, Winona State University, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Luther College, Western Technical College, Globe University, Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical College
1800 Bronson Boulevard
Fennimore, WI 53809
President: Ron Brisbois
Counties: Crawford, Grant, Green, Lafayette, Richland
major employers: 3M, Rayovac, Kuhn, S&S Cycle, Bemis, Rockwell Automation, Nu-Pak
major industries: Lumber, agriculture, agriculture equipment, cheese manufacturing, metal machining
Colleges and universities: UW-Platteville, UW-Richland Center, Southwest Wisconsin Technical College-Fennimore, Blackhawk Technical College
The 17 counties that collectively make up the 7 Rivers Alliance and Prosperity Southwest region share advantages and resources. In a 2015 regional business survey prepared by Winona State University, ninety percent of 7 Rivers Alliance businesses rated their company health as good or excellent, with 80 percent planning to grow in the next five years.
Farms in the region are among the more than 1,800 member farms in 36 states that supply Organic Valley, a prime example of a business utilizing the strengths and resources of this scenic southwestern Wisconsin area.
“Rural Wisconsin provides a workforce committed to our twin missions of organic farming and organic food,” said Organic Valley CFO Mike Bedessem.
Now the largest organic food producer in the nation, with products sold in 32 states plus Canada, England and Australia, Organic Valley has headquarters in La Farge and additional facilities in Cashton and Westby.
New Glarus Brewery in New Glarus also capitalizes on local ingredients for its ever-growing list of nationally popular craft brews. Wisconsin cranberries, strawberries, rhubarb, cherries and more, combined with unique brewing techniques, are the hallmark of this 22-year-old Wisconsin craft brewer, consistently named on the Brewers Association’s list of the Top 50 Overall U.S. Brewing Companies.
Food processing in general thrives in this region. “Manufacturing, food processing and health care are the sectors that are experiencing significant growth,” said 7 Rivers Alliance Executive Director Lisa Herr.
A recent report on the economic impact of Wisconsin hospitals by University of Wisconsin-Extension and Wisconsin Hospital Association, Inc. ranks La Crosse county number one in out-of-state patient visits. La Crosse’s two hospital systems, Gundersen Health System and Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare, account for $500 million of the $2.5 billion coming in statewide from out-of-state patient care. Gundersen Health Systems ranked first with 159,712 out-of-state visits annually.
“Health care is a major driver in this region. Gundersen Health System brings that care as close to patients as possible with regional partners, clinics in many communities, nursing homes and more,” said Michael Richards, executive director of external affairs.
Agriculture, agricultural equipment and manufacturing remain the top-performing industries for Prosperity Southwest. Rockwell Automation, 3M, Kuhn and S&S Cycle are among the manufacturing giants with facilities in the region. A leading motorcycle parts manufacturer, S&S Cycle plans to upgrade both its Viola headquarters and its La Crosse facility in 2016.
“We’ve been here for decades and we are proud to be part of this community,” said David Zemla, vice president of marketing.
Finding skilled workers for the rural Viola facility is more challenging than in La Crosse. “But the workforce we do get is excellent,” said Zemla. “Our average tenure here is 12 years, and we have a number of people here for over 25 years.”
Agriculture and manufacturing go hand in hand in this region, with numerous metal fabricators serving the ag equipment industry. “Metal machining is one of our main industries,” confirmed Prosperity Southwest President Ron Brisbois.
New development in Prosperity’s Grant County includes a 105,000-square-foot warehouse in Lancaster for Hurst Logistics, which expanded to the region from Dubuque, Iowa. “We are seeing quite a bit of interest out of northeastern Iowa into Grant County,” added Brisbois.
Wisconsin Whey Protein, Inc. in nearby Darlington built a new plant in 2015. Involved in both stainless steel welding and whey production, Wisconsin Whey is among whey producers in the region that are increasing their exports, primarily to the Chinese market.
The 7 Rivers Alliance also works with businesses to develop import-export relationships. “I’ve been in Argentina and Guatemala. We will be working with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Small Business Development Center and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to provide resources to companies seeking to increase their import export presence in new markets,” said Herr.
Representatives from Akita Company, Ltd., the largest egg producer in Japan, visited the Prosperity Southwest region last summer. “Akita Co. was exploring the importing of various feed products from Wisconsin, as well as developing new market opportunities for their company,” said Brisbois.
As in other regions, talent retention and attraction is a primary focus. Three of four businesses surveyed in 2015 cited difficulty finding skilled workers as a barrier to growth. “That was specifically evident in the manufacturing and food processing sectors,” said Herr.
To assist businesses, 7 Rivers and its partners will utilize a $50,000 WEDC grant to provide services and support to area manufacturers and food processing companies in 2016.
“We formed six multi-agency teams that are working to identify companies and promote the resources that are available through the WEDC grants,” said Herr.
Signs of growth are everywhere in the 7 Rivers/Prosperity Southwest Region. “The health of the region has been steadily improving over the last five years” said Brisbois. “We’re looking forward to the next five.”