March 2, 2018: Community Forum

Hello, Black River Falls Community!  This is Dr. Shelly Severson with the School District of Black River Falls here to share this week’s installment of our Spotlight on Schools!  This week I’m going to talk a little bit about an excellent meeting that we hosted this past Tuesday at our district office.  We hosted a community forum for our businesses and were so pleased with the way the afternoon turned out!  We first heard from City Administrator Brad Chown as he talked about what the city is doing to try to attract new business and industry to our city.  The fact that the WalMart tax incremental district, or TID has gone extremely well for us has allowed the City to create a new TID district in the downtown area.  If there are entrepreneurs looking for a space to open a new business, our downtown has many great incentives currently active to help make that a reality!  Ray Ransom, the Jackson County Board Chairman, also spoke about the work of the county to also attract job opportunities to our county.  Both Brad and Ray spoke about the consistent challenge of some of our local businesses in finding a quality workforce to fill the open positions.  It was described as a bit of a chicken and egg...if there were better jobs available, would more families move here?  Or, if more families moved here, would more business and industry relocate here?  In the end, our goal is to get both the chicken AND the egg!  We also heard from Amanda Gunn, who is the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce. She shared several examples of individuals who came to our region to visit, and they fell in love with all that we have to offer and have relocated here.   Some of the challenges that were identified were consistent among all that spoke: the first and foremost was that there is a significant shortage in workforce.  It is believed that everyone that wants a job has one.  There is a predicted worker shortage predicted by the thousands in the coming years, this is a REAL problem to those of us that call this home.  The second recurring theme was the serious lack of child care.  There are parents that are having to quit their jobs so that they can stay home with their child as the waiting lists for young children can extend up to three years!  Another area identified as a need was the lack of affordable housing.  We have a shortage of nicer rental units, and a wide gap in the housing market; either really nice and expensive homes, or inexpensive or “starter homes.”  The mid-range market moves extremely quickly and is difficult for families looking to relocate to be able to secure.  Something that we all could agree upon was how lucky we are as a community to have so many of the amenities that we do!  If you are an outdoor enthusiast - there is plenty for you to do!  There were several comments about the need for a movie theater, bowling alley, or something along those lines for indoor entertainment, however, the Lunda Center can fill that niche during their hours.  

So why is all of this relevant to the school district?  Well, we are committed to this community for the long haul!  That means when we educate our youth, we want them to find meaningful work right here at home and not feel like they need to move 50-plus miles away to find rewarding careers.  We’ve changed a few things around in an effort to showcase the variety of quality jobs right in our community and we shared that with the over forty local businesses that attended; we used to bus our 8th grade students up to Eau Claire to a career expo, we are now inviting all of our local businesses in on a day in May to have a career and job fair right here in town!  We don’t want to inadvertently give the message that if you want an exciting job you have to go to Eau Claire to get it!  After the event is done during the school day, we will open it up in the evening as a community-wide job fair. Additionally, we have tripled the number of high school juniors and seniors that get released from an hour of coursework during the school day to do some type of work-based learning opportunity.  It is common sense that when a student sees a direct connection between the work that they want to eventually do and their coursework, they will engage at a much higher level!

In addition to this community panel, the district shared with the businesses an asset sheet of things that we could offer to any of our community partners and had some great discussions about assets that they have that could benefit our students.  It was such great collaborative conversation as we all had the same goal: to continuously and intentionally strengthen our collaborative partnerships to ensure Black River Falls continues to grow and thrive as the outstanding community that we all believe in so much.  If students go away for post-secondary education, we want them to come back and reinvest in the community that has invested so much in them.  There were some great discussions had, and a lot of ideas were hatched.  Moving forward our challenge will be to work together in new ways to make these ideas a reality.  It is exciting work and makes me so proud of our community!

Speaking of being proud...tonight our Tiger boys basketball team has regional play as they face Arcadia at the BRF  Fieldhouse beginning at 7:00 pm.  Hope to see you there!

As always, thank you so much for your support of the School District of Black River Falls!  If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me!  Let’s show our Tiger Pride in all that we do!
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