Local economic development officials cite strong demand, address challenges for growth in Altoona and Eau Claire
October 25 Eggs & Issues at the Pablo Center for the Confluence, Riverside Theater
The Chamber’s October 22 Eggs & Issues breakfast featured a discussion on the economic development in Eau Claire, Altoona, and the surrounding Chippewa Valley. Governmental Affairs Vice President Scott Rogers moderated a discussion with Altoona city administrator Mike Golat; Momentum West Executive Director Steve Jahn; Eau Claire Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Luke Hanson; and the Economic Development Manager for the City of Eau Claire Aaron White. This event took place in a hybrid format, streamed remotely via Perigon at WIN Technology and in-person at the Pablo Center at the Confluence. The discussion included topics such as the current economic climate, upcoming projects, and concerns about growth.
When asked about what the economic climate looks like, each speaker agreed that there was great progress for the region. Aaron White states that many local businesses are looking to expand and there is a growing demand for pre-existing buildings. The cost of construction was a concern across the board, noting how it is difficult to find businesses willing to spend the extra money to construct new buildings. Mike Golat spoke about the amazing growth Altoona was having. He said they have had a 29% increase in population since 2010, 15% of the housing units were built in the last two years, and 147% growth in valuation since 2010. He noted how the new working conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as working from home, has created the “perfect storm” for growth.
Luke Hanson and Aaron White emphasized that the Eau Claire area is running out of land for new business developments. The Sky Park Industrial Park, along with other industrial areas in the Eau Claire region, are running out of space. Additionally, although the city has acquired 80 more acres of land for the new Fall Creek business park, it has proven difficult to find businesses that want to build new facilities in that space due to the high costs of construction. To combat this, the city is considering the idea of building basic warehouses or business complexes to allow for businesses to purchase and modify to their preferences.
There are multiple new housing developments in the Eau Claire area in the works in the effort to help fill the demand for more housing. New multifamily housing being developed in different areas of Altoona, the new Eau Claire transit center which will include 50-60 apartments above, and the recently announced P&R Companies Cannery District project were just some of the many residential projects the panelists mentioned. They all emphasized the workforce issues that have been occurring surrounding housing within the last several months. Housing has become very scarce in the Eau Claire region, making finding employees more difficult as it is less likely for potential employees to accept an offer without suitable housing.
Along with high costs of construction, the speakers noted several other obstacles to development in the area. Both Luke Hanson and Steve Jahn noted how they are working on creating more incentives for businesses to come to the Eau Claire area, financial and otherwise. Jahn noted how Momentum West has been working on a series of videos to advertise different aspects of the region such as housing and quality of life, which is also being used to address the workforce shortage.
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.