A Tale of Two Villages

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By Dave Eckmann, Economic Development Director, MCDEVCO

In Charles Dickens classic work A Tale of Two Cities,he began by stating “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Dickens, through literary device, was making a comparison between Paris and London during a period in which optimism prevailed in one city while pessimism cast a gloom over the other.

Now, we do not live in such international cities as Paris and London and rest assured, I’m no Charles Dickens. However, there is a story that is unfolding before our eyes in northcentral Wisconsin. We have a Tale of Two Villages connected by one river. The story unfolds like this…

Over a century ago, the regional economy was being built on the wood and paper industries. Lumber, wood products and paper were being exported to domestic and international customers. Today, our community enjoys many of the benefits that come from those industries and the wealth that was created here. Indeed, times change. Ironically, today’s change, is driven by a highly competitive international economy.

The Villages of Rothschild and Brokaw, both with rich traditions in paper manufacturing are facing changes. For Rothschild, it is “the best of times”. Domtar, a Canadian owned paper manufacturer, is making a long term commitment to its presence in the region and has partnered with WE Energies to build the new $255 million biomass plant that will help reduce energy costs which will help to maintain strategic pricing in a competitive international paper industry. The leadership of the Village of Rothschild is moving forward to plan for the future enhancements and improvements of the community, to make it a better place to attract families, businesses and consumers. They are optimistic and excited about their opportunities for growth.  

Meanwhile, north about seven miles, the Village of Brokaw is facing “the worst of times”. With the closure of the Brokaw papermill, Wausau Paper Corporation is working to ensure its position in the global paper marketplace. Like any business, they have to make changes in their business model. It’s about doing business and staying in business in a tough marketplace.  

Imagine a teeming and thriving community of yesteryear that had the paper mill, jobs, stores, restaurants, its own jailhouse, company baseball teams and hundreds of families. As I toured the village and those descriptions were presented to me, it all came to life. What hit me is the love and pride Wayne Utecht and Jeff Weisenberger have for their community. Wayne continues to live in Brokaw in the house where he was born and Jeff has lived in the community and worked at the mill for 35 years.

While Brokaw suffers the loss of the paper mill, they also face a variety of municipal issues. The biggest water customer and user of municipal services is no longer there. As is the case with historically positioned industrial properties, there will likely be environmental contamination details to work through as well.

The village has to make major changes to how the community is managed and how services are funded. How does a Village of 400 face the challenges that lay ahead? It’s going to take hard work and bootstrapping. I can tell you that the Brokaw Village Board is ready to roll up their sleeves and lace up the boots, tightly.

In the best of times and the worst of times, communities require assistance. Economic development is a team sport in which many, many resources are brought to bear to help communities. In the case of Village of Rothschild, MCDEVCO is helping them to establish their marketing position as well as connecting to Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation community development experts. Experts that will ensure Rothschild is taking the correct sequencial steps to success and positioning themselves for additional resources down the road.

Along with the Village of Brokaw, MCDEVCO is working with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and federal resources can help to solve immediate problems with the water system and to set a new course for the future, where opportunities can be identified and leveraged.

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