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Bob Egan Praised For Helping Vilas County Grow Business Opportunities

Vilas County Economic Development Corp.

LAC DU FLAMBEAU – Bob Egan, retiring as executive director of the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC), received a standing ovation at the group’s annual meeting Friday at the Lake of the Torches Resort Casino, Lac du Flambeau.

Egan assumed the duties of executive director on an interim basis after the previous executive director had a medical emergency. That “interim” role lasted about eight years, said Egan, with a chuckle, as he made the rounds earlier to greet the several dozen attendees.

Jim Tuckwell, VCEDC board chairman, praised Egan and also introduced the group’s new executive director for the public-private, non-profit corporation. “The advice and counsel I’ve gotten (from Egan) has been invaluable,” said Tuckwell. He presented the retiring official with a plaque and a monetary gift from board members and others. Egan will remain as a board member.

New executive director

Kathy Schmitz took over from Egan as executive director on Nov. 13. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism at Marquette University and a Master’s degree in Business Administration at Cardinal Stritch University. Since 2013, she was executive director of the Medical Society of Milwaukee County and Medical Society of Milwaukee Foundation.

A former vacationer in the North Woods, Schmitz told the group, “There is nothing better than returning to Vilas County as an adult to live and work, serving the Economic Development Corporation.” She noted that the expansion of high speed Internet offers not only opportunities for individuals and families to have the experiences that she had as a child, but also to make a living. Imagine, she said, living in a county with 1,300 “beautiful lakes” and with high speed Internet and a laptop computer or phone and being “able to communicate with colleagues around the state, country, around the globe. We truly offer the best of both worlds. “So I am so inspired with our combined leadership expertise that together we will strengthen existing businesses, and bring in new, small, medium and large businesses to sustain and create jobs so they too can live their dreams.”

Randy Soulier, COO of the Lac du Flambeau Business Development Corporation, spoke about the different services and operations of the tribe. He said meetings, such as this one, help encourage partnerships from the various communities. The tribe employs nearly 1,000 people, with about half being non-tribal members. As such, they are the largest employer in Vilas County, he said.

Richard Nelson, president of Nicolet College, spoke on the ways the community college is changing to meet the needs of a new generation of students, many of them older than traditional students and savvy with social media and other communications. Rather than chasing “smokestacks” (large industries) that are not likely to relocate in rural areas such as Vilas County, the focus should be on using local business talent – active and retired – to grow business opportunities, the college official said. “We have successful people that want to be here that we can tap their success to help other succeed as well.”

Nicolet College offers the E-Seed Entrepreneurship Training program to county residents who want to run their own businesses. Sandy Bishop, Nicolet’s executive director for Economic & Community Development, also had praise for Egan. “Bob Egan has been a tremendous supporter and friend of the college,” she said. “He’s been our main point of contact here for all of our entrepreneur initiatives.”

Egan also serves on the Nicolet board of trustees as an employer member.

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