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Create Wisconsin brings state and regional business and economic development leaders to Rhinelander to showcase ‘creative economy’

Katie Thoresen
The Creative Economy Tour stops by Makers North downtown Rhinelander.

Create Wisconsin knows art can drive boost an economy.

It’s why the organization brought state and regional business and economic development leaders to Rhinelander Monday.

The “Creative Economy Tour” consisted of two roundtable discussions and visits to local businesses.

The focus of the visit was focused on how the Northwoods tourism and entertainment industry has recovered from the pandemic.

“It struck me, just the resiliency of the community and how quickly, especially with creative businesses, they pivoted to really fill gaps in the community that didn’t exist. That definitely struck me. When you’re involving creatives and artists in community development that’s what happens. They find unique ways to respond to things that are happening in the community,” said Beth Haskovec, the director for rural prosperity for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Another thing that stuck out to the visitors on the tour was how the Northwoods has grown during the pandemic.

More people have made their vacation homes their permanent residence and more people have been visiting.

“Obviously there’s a lot of things the state needs to do to help with broadband to help ensure they stay here. But also, the disconnect. If people are moving here with current jobs how are we still helping the current employers and existing businesses to make sure as they stay maybe they get the skills and help the communities and local businesses,” said Danielle Williams, Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Makers North and Childs Frame Co. in downtown Rhinelander were two of the local business stops on the Creative Economy Tour.

At Makers North, the people on the tour heard from the owners the idea behind their new business, a downtown storefront where Northwoods artists display and sell their work.

Bria Swartout, who runs Northwoods Embroidery, and Jill Kuczmarski, who’s the creator of ‘Happy the Hodag’, came up with the idea.

“Joining forces to amplify both of our businesses and then bring other artists along with us since we have the space, and we were going to go through the effort it made sense to kind of open that opportunity up to other artists, makers, and designers because there’s really no other space in town that offers that,” said Kuczmarksi.

When the representatives on ask about challenges they’re facing, Kuczmarski and Swartout pointed to time, financing, and getting the word out about their business.

The two are both running their separate businesses while trying work the storefront and promote Markers North.

“Drawing in, not only the makers, but getting the public walking in our doors to see what our makers can offer this area,” said Swartout.

“We have a great marketing plan. We just don’t have time to implement the marketing plan,” added Kuczmarski.

Katie Thoresen
Childs Frame Co. owner Jaron Childs talks to local, regional, and state economic leaders during the Creative Economy Tour.

It’s a similar story for Jaron Childs who owns Childs Frame Co. around the block from Makers North.

Childs told the group business has been good in his first year owning the store, but with all the loans and startups costs, he’s looking at breaking even.

It makes it hard to do things like replace the awning out front with the old store name or take other steps that could lead to expansion.

“We’re not really positioned to do anything like that. Things are going well, but we’re having to look at kind of creative ways try to expand and grow the business,” said Childs.

Williams and Haskovec said they’ll be taking everything they’ve learned back to their offices.

“Formerly, I was an executive director of an arts agency. I really care about creative businesses and artists. I think they have a lot to offer to helping communities enhance their identity and attract tourism. Mom and pop shops create small jobs and it’s really important that we’re recognizing what their needs are and helping to find solutions for them,” said Haskovec.

The Creative Economy Tour also included roundtables at ArtStart and Nicolet College with local leaders.

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