Small Entrepreneurial Star Award presented to YB URBAN! Pictured (L to R) are Russ Korpela, PCEDC, Angie Whelan, YB URBAN! And Katie Galloway, Associated Bank. Photo by Paul J. Seeling
Small Entrepreneurial Star Award presented to YB URBAN! Pictured (L to R) are Russ Korpela, PCEDC, Angie Whelan, YB URBAN! And Katie Galloway, Associated Bank. Photo by Paul J. Seeling

By Paul J. Seeling, Gateway News, with Heather Hines, PCEDC

PRESCOTT, WI – The Pierce County Economic Development Corporation (PCEDC) held their annual meeting and awards presentation as an Awards Breakfast this year where five honors were presented. The event was held on the blustery winter morning of Tuesday, February 26 at The Old Ptacek’s Event Center in Prescott, Wisconsin.

There were 71 guests registered for the PCEDC Awards Breakfast, but not everyone made it given the crazy snowy weather we have been having of late. I would estimate there were 60 or so on hand, which made it well attended for a hearty breakfast meal prepared by the Ptacek’s Event Center crew.

PCEDC Board President Russ Korpela of Common Man Tap & Table in Ellsworth welcomed everyone; he noted that the event was not cancelled like so many others lately before he turned the podium over to PCEDC Executive Director Joe Folsum for a “Conversation” highlighting all the great things that have transpired in the last year in Pierce County.

Following Joe’s insights, it was time for the awards to be presented. The EDC diverged from the usual “Businesses of the Year” presentations and offered five new honors.

They were as follows with whom they were presented by.

The Workforce Development Innovator Award presented to “That employer who uses innovative methods to recruit, retain and develop their workforce.” It was presented to Meyer Utility Structures (with a main plant in Hagar City, WI), by Andrea Jorgenson, Xcel Energy.

The next award was the Career Pathway Award, “To be presented to a K-12 school district, a Technical College campus, University or other non-profit that demonstrates leadership with creative programs to better prepare the County’s future workforce.” John Lisowski, Security Financial Bank presented the award to the Ellsworth High School Fab Lab. The Fab Lab creation was a win-win for their students and the community who were able to access the Fab Lab too.

The Professional Business Woman Award, “To honor the extraordinary contributions of all women to our economy this award will recognize a business professional who is a business leader in her community.” This was presented by Russ Blasius, WESTconsin Credit Union to Chris Blasius, Chief Executive Officer of the River Falls Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau. Chris was recognized for her many accomplishments and contributions not only with the RF Chamber but her community and family.

Next was the Small Entrepreneurial Star, “The backbone of the Pierce County economy is the group of entrepreneurs who develop the small companies providing unique and innovative products and services.  This award recognizes the individual or company that is a shining example of entrepreneurial spirit in our County.” This honor was presented to YB URBAN!, LLC by Russ Korpela on behalf of Associated Bank.

YB URBAN! is a health and wellness company located in the Pierce County countryside near Ellsworth with owners, Angie Whelan, and her husband Chris. Angie received the award for the company. YB URBAN! products can be found at many retail locations around the region and at local events and festivals throughout the year.

The last award was the EDC Cornerstone Award, “Awarded to an individual, company or organization that has made an extraordinary contribution to furthering economic development in Pierce County.” It was presented by Joe Folsom, on behalf of the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery to the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Ellsworth Chamber has always been committed to supporting their business members. Over the past few years, some key areas were identified by the Chamber’s board to make a short and long-term economic impact for Ellsworth.

The first was their Cheese Curd Festival. With the growing popularity of foodie experiences, guest feedback told them it was time to rebrand the community event into a full-fledged food and music event centered around their reputation as the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin and their agricultural roots. The Chamber's Cheese Curd Festival Committee rolled up their sleeves and began retooling various aspects of the event. The vision was to create experiences that would attract MMP's (Minnesota Money People) from the Twin Cities.

In 2017 they applied for a Joint Effort Marketing Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and thanks to their support in funding a new branded look and an innovative marketing campaign—along with the hard work of the Chamber's Cheese Curd Festival Committee and hundreds of community volunteers--the event grew from a small community event with attendance of 3,500 to an event of 5,000 in year one, and 30,000 in year two. The impact of the 2018 Cheese Curd Festival was felt far beyond the festival grounds in Ellsworth's East End Park. Based on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism figures, the event made a $2.55 million-dollar regional economic impact. In Ellsworth, bars and restaurants had to have emergency food and alcohol deliveries to keep their businesses open through the event. Some closed the day following the event for staff to recover and to replenish supplies!

These five honors exemplify some of the best efforts of entrepreneurship in Pierce County, congratulations to all of the 2019 Pierce County EDC Awards winners!