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The Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) continues to receive national and state recognition for the success business entrepreneurs are realizing at the Food Enterprise Center which the non-profit owns and manages in Viroqua. Sue Noble, executive director of VEDA, shared this news and other highlights of the organization’s activities from the past year at its annual membership meeting held May 15 at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve (KVR) in La Farge.

Keith Ashley-Wright, chair of the Township of Stark and Critical Business Initiatives Program Manager at Organic Valley, opened the meeting with information about Stark Township within which the KVR is located. He identified the following strengths of the area: the La Farge Medical Clinic, La Farge’s small school district, Organic Valley “a huge employer,” and the KVR as a tourist attraction and “a big asset.”

VEDA is a 501©3 non-profit organization formed in January of 2006 by a group of community leaders and business executives from throughout Vernon County. VEDA’s mission is to create economic wealth and prosperity in the region. In talking about the group’s mission, Chuck Peterson, a VEDA Board Member and Warehouse Manager at Organic Valley, spoke about “meaningful work being key to a healthy economy. Economic development is about creating opportunities,” he said.

The opportunities for entrepreneurs that VEDA has created at the Food Enterprise Center were featured as a model in a national study conducted by the Food Works Group, a firm that focuses on food systems planning and business development. Their report was published in January of this year. Businesses in the Food Enterprise Center benefit from having on-site technical assistance, business counseling, access to resources, peer mentoring and an infrastructure that includes two commercial kitchens, loading docks, and space to start or expand a business operation.

“We are building wealth in the region by creating the environment for economic development to occur,” said Noble. “It’s community development from the inside out,” she added, referring to the 25 businesses now leasing space in the renovated former NCR manufacturing facility at 1201 N. Main St. in Viroqua. “Local entrepreneurs are creating their own economic solutions by creating businesses that create jobs and increase the tax base in our region.”

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VEDA’s accomplishments from the past year also include the following:

  • Assisting more than 90 businesses with one-to-one counseling and resources. These business contacts came from both within and outside Vernon County, including Stoddard, Coon Valley, Readstown, La Crosse, La Farge, Westby, Sparta, Viroqua, Soldiers Grove, Chicago, Trempealeau, Chippewa Falls, Lancaster, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Waunakee, Galesville, Eau Claire, and Blue River.
  • Connecting businesses to local investor funds
  • Seeing the Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club still going strong with monthly meetings offering valuable resources. Now in its 12th year, these gatherings of aspiring entrepreneurs and experienced business professionals have resulted in 10 new businesses and 40 new jobs. Meetings are open to anyone interested and are held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Food Enterprise Center beginning with networking at 5:30 p.m. and a speaker at 6 p.m.
  • Hosting two workshops on social media in partnership with Cashton Bank
  • Working with local growers to access markets for industrial hemp. Two tenants at the Food Enterprise Center, HempScience and Fifth Season Cooperative, are involved in this activity.
  • Continuing to work with the Village Board in Ontario for flood recovery and moving the vision for that village forward. Noble has also facilitated four Community Conversations in connection with this effort.
  • Helping Community Hunger Solutions, another Food Enterprise Center tenant, to distribute food to flood victims through the 2018 Labor Day weekend. A grant-funded project under VEDA, Community Hunger Solutions receives and packages excess or imperfect-but-still-nutritious produce from area farmers and delivers it to meal centers and food banks in the region. Noble shared a letter from Dan Stein from Second Harvest Food Bank in which he spoke highly of the cooperation the two food-related organizations displayed in meeting the emergency need following that flood. Since its inception, more than 900,000 lbs. of food have been distributed by Community Hunger Solutions to needy people instead of going to waste.

In addition, at the annual meeting organizational financial reports were presented and election of board members was held. Re-elected to the VEDA Board for three-year terms were Mike Breckel, Kay Buck, Chuck Peterson, and Jim Servais. At a Board meeting which took place after the annual membership meeting, the following officers were elected: Mike Breckel, president; Jim Servais, vice-president; Dave Maxwell, secretary; and Kay Buck, treasurer. Other members of the Board include Christina Dollhausen, Julie Emslie, Jeff Gohlke, Al Hanson, Kathy Neidert, and George Wilbur.

For more information on VEDA and opportunities to help support or become involved in a coordinated effort to economic development in our region, go to our website www.veda-wi.org. We look forward to your partnership!

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Kathy Neidert is a member of the Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA) Board of Directors.

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