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Paineful Prose: Not always an axe to grind

Vice President of Economic and Community Development Tricia Braun, a UW-River Falls alumnus, poses for a picture with UW-RF Chancellor Dean Van Galen. Braun spoke with the group at Greater St. Croix Valley Legislative Day on Wednesday, Feb. 8 on behalf of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. (Photo courtesy of Agnes Ring)

Imagine a room full of people talking politics.

It’s likely that you pictured people divided by their differences.

That was not the case Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Greater St. Croix Valley Legislative Day in the state Capitol in Madison. The day was productive and positive with an eye towards how the Greater St. Croix Valley can improve economically.

The hearing room held at least 32 ordinary citizens, including Republicans, Democrats, ordinary independents and a journalist. The topics ranged from bike paths to broadband; from bridges to Badgers football.

My favorite part may have been overhearing a person say he didn’t realize the extent of the political issues that go on in the area. He also didn’t realize how much of an impact the state government could have on the area.

No administration would ever agree to this, but there are portions of the state that they want to do even better than other parts. If you live in one of those regions, that’s exciting.

The St. Croix Valley is definitely one of those areas because of its proximity to the Twin Cities.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a former TV reporter in Rockford, Ill., and Milwaukee, is the self-proclaimed biggest advocate for businesses in the area.

She spoke at length about the importance of preparing the St. Croix Valley for future businesses that she plans to convince to move from Minnesota to Wisconsin. When they settle their businesses down in the area, she wants the area to be ready.

She mentioned that as she discussed the need to prepare the workforce to take jobs that come into the area.

On the other side of that coin is making sure that the area is a place where future employees want to live and start families.

The group that made the trip for the day was split into groups of three or four people. Leaders of each group made efforts to set up meetings with at least four different legislators to speak about issues specific to the area.

A topic that came up in every discussion was broadband. Every staff member and representative that our group spoke with recognized the value of broadband, but no one individual seemed to actually understand what it’s like living in an area that doesn’t have access to 21st century fiber quite like Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma.

In the hallway on her way to her next meeting, she stopped to talk to our group for a brief conversation that turned into us listening to her struggles living at her farm without reasonable internet speeds.

To welcome business in our area we have areas to improve, but one of the speakers from Wisconsin Economic Development that the 32-person group heard pointed out that Wisconsin may need to rebrand itself.

Instead of letting people stumble upon Wisconsin and falling in love with it, we need to go out of our way to tell people to “come to Wisconsin because we’re better than almost all the other states.”

Politics don’t have to be about constantly having an axe to grind — especially in Wisconsin where we actually have the axe in our trophy case instead of having a place for an axe in a trophy case.