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Employed is a weekly reporting series focused on the new Northwoods.The landscape of living, playing, and working in the Northwoods is changing. Where we work, where we shop, where we reside, and how we support our families looks different than it did even a decade ago. It continues to shift as industry, tourism, retail, services, and natural resources shift.Entrepreneurship, broadband, work-from-home, and COVID-19 are all part of that mix. What makes you wonder, or what story ideas do you have for Employed? Submit them below.

With Broadband Comes Growth: Digital Infrastructure Spurs Company in Vilas Co.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

One of the first things a visitor to the Solution Center in Land O’Lakes notices is the clocks.

Clocks of different styles line the walls.

Some of them work. Some of them don’t. It doesn’t really matter.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
A few of the clocks on the wall at the Solution Center in Land O'Lakes.

“It’s kind of just a key reminder why we’re here, is to give people their time back,” said Marsha McVicker, walking through the building.

McVicker is the founder and owner of Errand Solutions, which produces an app and concierge service called Luv Your Life.

Need someone to walk your dog? Pick up groceries? Find a trusted plumber? Arrange anniversary reservations and flowers?

If your employer has a deal with Errand Solutions, the company will find someone to do it well, no matter where you live.

Credit Errand Solutions
The request section of the Luv Your Life app.

A few years ago, McVicker was about to open her first Solution Center, the place where Errand Solutions employees set up those dog walks, errands, and projects.

She planned to do it in Florida.

Instead, it’s now in rural Vilas County, a place where economic developers view community access to high-speed internet as vital.

It’s as important, they say, as electricity.

Drawing Errand Solutions here on the back of top-notch broadband serves as an example of digital infrastructure creating entrepreneurship, jobs, and innovation.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The Solution Center in Land O'Lakes.

McVicker thought up the idea for Errand Solutions 20 years ago as a MBA student at UW-Madison.

“I’m really an accidental entrepreneur,” she said.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Errand Solutions Founder and CEO Marsha McVicker.

Now, Errand Solutions has agreements to serve the employees of dozens of companies around the country.

McVicker herself is from Chicago.

She had vacationed in the Northwoods for years, but never lived here, and never saw it as much of a place for business growth.

“What’s going on with entrepreneurs here in the Northwoods?” she asked herself at the time. “I had solely viewed it as a place to relax and chill out and avoid work.”

Three years ago, looked at opening the company’s first Solution Center in Florida.

Then, on a whim, McVicker started talking with the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC).

“I kid you not. They had totally convinced me, because Land O’Lakes had made an early investment in broadband, and they convinced me within three weeks that this was where I needed to be,” she said.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Vilas County Economic Development Corporation Chairman Jim Tuckwell.

Earlier this decade, even the best internet connections in Land O’Lakes were DSL.

“You can do email,” Jim Tuckwell said of the technology, “and that’s about it.”

Tuckwell is the VCEDC chairman.

The Town of Land O’Lakes invested in, and VCEDC pushed for, state-of-the-art fiberoptic broadband service in the area.

They got it about four years ago.

“If you’ve got high-speed internet, you can be any place and do business anywhere,” Tuckwell said. “And if you don’t, you can’t.”

It’s the way Vilas County’s economy will grow, Tuckwell said.

“We have literally no industry here to speak of,” he said. “We recognized over the last couple of years that the infrastructure we need isn’t superhighways. It isn’t railroads. The infrastructure we need is broadband. With broadband, we can attract remote workers, entrepreneurs, and expanding businesses.”

Attracting businesses like Errand Solutions, which opened the Solution Center in 2017, is within reach, but only with the right digital infrastructure.

Without broadband in Land O’Lakes, McVicker never would have come.

“Oh, yeah. No broadband in Land O’Lakes, no growth at all,” she said. “Zero.”

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Downtown Land O'Lakes.

They’re mostly working from home now, but ten people are based at the Land O’Lakes Solution Center, serving the needs of 45,000 corporate employees for companies like Kohl’s and Intuit.

“They love this connectivity with this Midwestern team, but they’re shocked that I chose Land O’Lakes and not the Philippines, or not India, or not Florida,” McVicker said.

Solution Center Manager Amelia Gagliano leads the team, which gets countless routine requests each day.

Other days, the requests require more creativity.

“Some person had gotten a pet iguana, and it had eaten a Lego. It was choking. We found an ER vet, a mobile one, to go save the iguana,” she said.

Instead of leaving the rural area with her master’s degree, working at Errand Solutions allowed Gagliano to stay.

“I feel very blessed to work here. I grew up in this area. I went to [Northland] Pines, graduated in ’05,” Gagliano said. “I don’t want to leave. Most of the folks my age are in cities working, right? That wasn’t me. I wanted to live in this rural area and somehow make it work.”

Every day, she solves problems for people from across the United States. Every day, they’re amazed a tech business like Errand Solutions operates in an unincorporated, rural community.

“That’s always one of the main questions. ‘So you’re really serving people in California from Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin?’ Yep, we really are,” Gagliano said. “Pretty cool.”

By the end of the year, McVicker hopes to hire five new employees in Land O’Lakes.

“We bought [the building] next door as well so that we can push out and expand. We’re not going anywhere. We plan to stay here,” she said.

Underneath the clocks on the wall at the Solution Center, Errand Solutions estimates it saves its clients an average of 16 hours per month. Its app has expanded to include news, company communications, food and travel ideas, and even ways to fight racism.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Clocks on the wall at the Solution Center.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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