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Pierce County businesses honored at awards breakfast

The Professional Business Woman Award was presented by Russ Blasius (right) of WESTconsin Credit Union to River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau Chris Blasius (center). PCEDC Board President Russ Korpela is on the left. Submitted photo1 / 5
The Workforce Development Innovator Award went to Meyer Utility Structures, presented by Xcel Energy’s Andrea Jorgenson. Pictured are (from left) Field Recruiter Renee Flynn, Human Resources Manager Cindy Erickson, Plant Manager Ryan Skirvin, Production Coordinator Katie Stoudt and Human Resources Generalist Vanessa Harstad. Submitted photo2 / 5
The Career Pathways Award went to the Ellsworth School District Fab Lab. Pictured are (from left) presenter John Lisowski of Security Financial Bank, PCEDC Board President Russ Korpela, Ellsworth Fab Lab Supervisor Gary Skogsbergh, Ellsworth High School Principal Mark Stoesz, and EHS Technology Education Instructor Julie Winegar. Submitted photo3 / 5
Small Entrepreneurial Star Award winner Angie Whelan (center) is pictured with PCEDC Board President Russ Korpela (left) and presenter Katie Galloway of Associated Bank. Submitted photo 4 / 5
The EDC Cornerstone Award was presented to the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce. Pictured are (from left) Russ Korpela, Common Man Tap & Table; Scott Sweere, Ellsworth Creamery; Kim Beebe, Jenny Funk and Becky Beissel, Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce / Limelight Social Media; Angie Whelan, YB Urban?; Adam Westrich, St Paul’s United Church of Christ; Raynee Farrell, CCF Bank; Ellsworth Village Clerk/Treasurer Peggy Nelson; Joe Folsom, PCEDC. Submitted photo 5 / 5

The Pierce County Economic Development Corporation breakfast, held Feb. 26 at The Old Ptacek's Event Center in Prescott, celebrated the county's business community and its contributions to the county's economic growth and vitality.

The awards presented include:

• Workforce Development Innovator Award: Meyer Utility Structures

• Career Pathways Award: Security Financial Bank

• Professional Business Woman Award: Chris Blasius, CEO River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau

• Small Entrepreneurial Star Award: YB Urban?, Chris and Angie Whelan

• EDC Cornerstone Award: The Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce

Professional Business Women

The purpose of the Professional Business Woman Award was to honor "the extraordinary contributions of all women to our economy." The award, presented to River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau CEO Chris Blasius, recognized her as a business leader in the community.

Blasius moved to River Falls in 1999 and began classes at UW-River falls, to complete her Bachelor of Science in business administration. She graduated in 2002. While working full-time at the Municipal Utilities office, she was a full-time non-traditional student who was also raising two children. She served as the utility's administrative and communication coordinator for 13 years, before becoming the chamber's CEO in 2013.

She listed her passions as spending time with her family, helping other, community involvement, traveling, deer hunting and the Packers.

Her community involvement and volunteer activities include: Relay for Life, River Falls Rotary Club, River Falls EDC, Pierce County EDC, UWRF Chancellor's Advisory council, UWRF Summit on International Education and Engagement, UWRF Bowls for Hope, Kinni Corridor Project and the River Falls Business Improvement District.

Workforce Development Innovator

The Workforce Development Innovator Award, presented to Meyer Utility Structures, honored "an employer who uses innovative methods to recruit, retain and develop their workforce."

Meyer Utility Structures is a pioneer in the transmission industry. Roy E. Meyer founded Meyer Machine in the 1900's. In the mid 1940's the first set of tubular light poles were fabricated. By the early 1950's the tubular light towers were recognized and approved in building codes. The trade name Tulito (Tubular Light Towers) was coined. In 1952, the company transformed from a partnership to corporation. A few years to follow, in 1958, the first transmission poles were manufactured. Meyer Machine became Meyer Industries in the 1960's and developed a poly-12 shape (Elliptical 12 sided pole).

The Hager City plant was opened in 1971. Meyer was the first to utilize full-scale vertical testing that is located in Hager City and the first to develop wood-equivalent steel poles.

Meyer Utility Structures has kept the same design and expanded its skills to fabricate custom steel utility poles. Their skilled employees have 1,850 combined years of service within the plant.

Small Entrepreneurial Star

The Small Entrepreneurial Star Award is meant to honor " he individual or company that is an shining example of entrepreneurial spirit in our county." That honor went to YB Urban?, a health and wellness company located near Ellsworth. Owner, Angie Whelan, and her husband Chris joined the city-to farm movement in 2012, relocating their young family from inner-city Las Vegas to rural western Wisconsin in the quest to live a more simple, natural life.

While Chris' passion lies in agriculture and farming, Angie's passion for art and crafting led her to create a line of artisan made body, bath, and home care products using natural ingredients.

In 2017, the two purchased a hobby farm in the El Paso township.

Angie shares her love of wellness in the Ellsworth community in many ways. Besides her natural skin and home care products, she is also a certified Personal Trainer and group fitness instructor specializing in Yoga and Pilates.Through 20 years of self-study and using essential oils, she has formed relationships with experienced distilleries to source pure essential oils and offers her own line of these individual oils and proprietary blends. She is currently training through the Aromahead Institute to become an Essential Oil Specialist and Certified Aromatherapist.

The couple has plans to expand their homestead to provide for their business by growing luffas, raising bees, and growing a number of therapeutic plants to use in their products. Also passionate about community redevelopment, Angie sees the possibility of opening a studio and storefront in Ellsworth's downtown.

Career Pathway Award

The Career Pathway Award was presented to the Ellsworth High School Fab Lab for demonstrating leadership with creative programs to better prepare the county's future workforce.

As the new school year approached in the Fall of 2018 the EHS Fab Lab started offering open lab nights every Thursday from 4-8 p.m. The Fab Lab Team invested in setting up the behind the scenes technology and strategies to create machine usability / fab lab exposure, along with showing everyone sample ideas of things they can make during an Open Lab or Theme Night. .

Community members who have utilized the Fab Lab are getting more comfortable with the Fab Lab machines and realizing their ideas can come true as they learn and see what can be done. They encourage users to share their ideas.

One goal is to have those users who would wish to become certified users of the equipment to be able to do so at Open Lab times as the district progresses with processes. They want the community to utilize the Lab, not just students.

EDC Cornerstone Award

The EDC Cornerstone Award, awarded to the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce, embraces "an individual, company or organization that has made an extraordinary contribution to furthering economic development in the Pierce County."

The Ellsworth Chamber, over the past few years, identified key areas to make a short and long-term economic impact for Ellsworth.

The first was the revamping of Cheese Curd Festival. With the growing popularity of foodie experiences, guest feedback told them it was time to rebrand the community event into a full-fledged food and music event centered around their reputation as the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin and their agricultural roots.

The Chamber's Cheese Curd Festival Committee rolled up their sleeves and began retooling various aspects of the event. The vision was to create experiences that would attract people from the Twin Cities. They formulated a plan that included more creative cheese curd dishes and tasting experiences centered about the festival starring foods, as well as regional craft beer, wine, and hard cider, all with an eclectic mix of music on the side.

In 2017 they applied for a Joint Effort Marketing Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and thanks to their support in funding a new branded look and an innovative marketing campaign—along with the hard work of the Chamber's Cheese Curd Festival Committee and hundreds of community volunteers--the event grew from a small community event with attendance of 3,500 to an event of 5,000 in year one, and 30,000 in year two. The impact of the 2018 Cheese Curd Festival was felt far beyond the festival grounds in Ellsworth's East End Park. Based on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism figures, the event made a $2.55 million dollar regional economic impact. In Ellsworth, bars and restaurants had to have emergency food and alcohol deliveries to keep their businesses open through the event. Some closed the day following the event for staff to recover and to replenish supplies.

Since the Design Ellsworth Visit, a new revitalization effort has begun, with community residents getting involved. Short-term goals, such as public art and beautification projects, are underway. Longer-range goals are being identified and the foundation put in place to support them.

Next month the Village Board will adopt a resolution to create an official Housing Redevelopment Authority to identify blighted areas and work toward redevelopment. A group of passionate area residents is in the process of establishing a broad-based non-profit in the form of a Community Development Corporation, to focus on educating the community about economic development initiatives and to seek out grants and private funding for quality of life projects. While initial results can't be quantified in dollars just yet, there is a new pride and energy that can be felt that many in the community believe could lead to a new chapter in Ellsworth's history and a new and bustling downtown.