The Siren Area Economic Development Advisory Committee (SEDAC) has just completed phase two, the engagement phase, of their planning project with their consultant Civic 4 LLC of Madison. Appreciation is given to all who provided input during this part of the process which has resulted in development of preliminary goals.

SEDAC was formed in January 2018 with membership from the Siren Village Board, Siren Chamber of Commerce, Siren School, Siren Tourism Commission, Burnett County Development Association, WITC-New Richmond, key business segments and civic organizations - with the County Administrator and St. Croix Tribe as ad hoc members. The Town of Siren and Town of Meenon joined the group to represent the broader Siren area. The Committee meets monthly and early initiatives included customer service and social media training classes, regional guest speakers, etc.

In fall 2018 the decision was made to pursue a formal economic development plan for the Siren area and to work through a consultant to lead the project. A request for proposal was written and published in January 2019 with five responses being received by the March deadline. Following Committee review, Civic 4 LLC of Madison was selected as their partner given their:

  • fresh, new and innovative project approach;
  • planning and consulting being their core competencies and sole focus;
  • familiarity with northwest Wisconsin and highly positive client recommendations;
  • experience working with an even smaller tourism-based community;
  • total cost least expensive of all proposals submitted.

To complete the planning project, a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for Planning from the Wisconsin Department of Administration was pursued to help with the funding. With Civic 4 a grant application was submitted in May and awarded in June, with the final agreement receipt in July.

The planning project kick-off with the Committee and Civic 4 was held on July 17th. The project includes three phases: current plan analysis, public engagement, and project goals/action plans. Upon completion of these deliverables, an update to the Village of Siren Comprehensive Plan will also be prepared and presented to the Village Board for adoption. At this time the first two phases are complete.

Project Phase 1: Current Plan Analysis

All Siren area planning activities undergone in the last 20 years were reviewed by Civic 4. All information was compiled, and key takeaways were noted.

The Siren area is very proactive in planning for the future.

The community understands the importance of attracting/retaining young talent.

Every completed community plan has led to improvements and positive changes.

The Village’s commitment to continuously plan and implement solutions is an important reason why they are where they are today.

Planning and visioning continue to help the Siren area move towards a better future.

Sophie Parr, Civic 4 owner/principal planner, states: “When leadership is invested in the community it can lead to stronger investment from residents, business owners and other stakeholders. There is a lot of pride in and commitment to the future of the Siren area which creates a strong foundation for growth.”

Project Phase 2: Public Engagement

Public input is critical to a process such as this, i.e. the plan is only as good as the community input received. From September to November 2019 Civic 4 held two ‘pop-up events’, a public forum with 25 attendees, and hosted an online survey with 150 responses. Also, throughout September and October, they met with 25 individuals and focus groups/organizations to receive direct insight into various challenges and opportunities facing the Siren area - plus held a Main Street Vision Workshop with several property owners on Main Street.

The results of the public engagement phase helped to validate the challenges that Siren has faced in the past and continues to discuss today: need for more housing, opportunity for more sustainable wage jobs, and desire for different kinds of education programming to support trade positions. There was also an understanding that tourism is an important part of the Siren area’s future and needs to be recognized as such. Lastly the community is very proud of the place they choose to live and work - a possible future marketing focus for the area.

The major themes garnered from the individual and group interviews were:

  • Quality workforce, e.g. inflated wages, living wage definition, better high school and employers connection, drug situation, etc.
  • Affordable housing, e.g. current housing stock needed improvements, need for all housing types, labor and material cost, etc.
  • Community-centered growth, e.g. co-op style store or “pop-up shop” venues, young professionals networking, community center for every age and income level resident, etc.
  • Community coordination, e.g. healthy competition and cohesion to build success and stronger county economic base, Village/Tribal/County partnership, etc.
  • Investment in trades, e.g. high demand, build high school trades program may encourage young adults to stay, ability to serve under-employed adults, etc.
  • Local investment, e.g. local business marketing to Siren community, investment in arts, culture more accepting of new residents, etc.

The online survey yielded numerous data points, including:

  • Demographics - Residential Location
  • Respondents were asked to identify where they reside. Over 25% of all respondents live within the Village of Siren followed by 23% that live within the Town of Siren. A majority of respondents (33%) actually live elsewhere in Burnett County but most likely frequent the businesses and services within the Village of Siren.
  • Demographics - Age
  • Ages of respondents varied from under 18 to 75 and older. A majority of respondents fell into the age category of 45-54, followed closely by 55-64.

Priorities by Income Level

Two of the top three priorities are the same for all income levels - ‘growing industrial/manufacturing opportunities’ and ‘encouraging local entrepreneurship.’ However for those with income levels at $55,000 and lower, their third priority is ‘developing affordable housing,’ while those with income levels at $55,000 and above, selected ‘increasing recreation and tourism’ as their third priority.

Reasons for Living/Working in Siren Area

‘Family and friends,’ ‘rural atmosphere,’ ‘quality of life,’ and ‘recreation opportunities’ topped the list for reasons to live and work in the Siren area. By age, ‘friends and family’ is the main reason for those under 25; 25-44 year old respondents chose ‘quality of life’ and ‘recreation opportunities’; ‘rural atmosphere’ topped the list for those 45-64; and 75 and over are in the Siren area for ‘quality of life.’

Challenges and Assets

‘Providing adequate job opportunities,’ ‘attracting and retaining young people,’ and ‘providing a suitable range of housing options’ are seen as the main challenges. Key assets identified include ‘recreational opportunities,’ ‘small town character,’ and ‘sense of community.’

Housing

The main housing challenge is ‘not enough year-round affordable rental housing options’ at 35%, followed by 19% for ‘not enough senior housing,’ and 14% for ‘not enough single family housing’ - while 17% said ‘Siren does not have a housing problem.’ Regarding housing options, 38% chose ‘single family housing,’ with 14% for ‘condominiums’ and 13% opted for a housing ‘blend’ of single family and townhomes/multiplexes.

Educational Opportunities

At 51%, the highest ranked educational opportunity is a ‘2-year associate degree/apprenticeship,’ as ‘short-term courses/training’ and ‘community continuing education programming’ received 35% and 33% respectively.

Attracting and Retaining Young People

At 43%, ‘become a hub for trade education and employment’ is seen as the best idea to attract and retain young people. ‘Grow a culture of local entrepreneurship,’ ‘recruit new restaurants and retail,’ ‘encourage agricultural business growth,’ and ‘invest in parks, open space and recreation’ were next each scoring in the 30%’s.

All public engagement input was distilled into the following preliminary goal concepts, in priority order:

  • Become a leader in rural housing initiatives.
  • Create a hub for trade education/employment and cultivate/support entrepreneurial businesses.
  • Increase the number of young families living in the community year-round.
  • Be recognized as a four-season community for residents and visitors.
  • Transform Main Street into a community destination.
  • Create an identity that stands out among the county’s communities.

Project Phase 3: Project Goals/Action Plans

Given completion of phases one and two, Civic 4 is presently focused on developing action plans associated with each preliminary goal concept. These activities will be defined for 5-year, 10-year, 15-year, and 20-year time frames. The tentative completion is scheduled for February delivery to the Committee. Upon review and initial approval, presentations to key stakeholders and the public will be held in March.

The final planning project report and recommendations will be made for acceptance in April, followed by the Village of Siren Comprehensive Plan update for approval later in April. The CDBG planning project close is targeted for May.

The complete ‘Current Plan Analysis’ and ‘Engagement Report’ can be found on the Siren website, VisitSiren.com, under the ‘Village’ tab and ‘Economic Development’ section of the ‘Village Government’ drop-down menu. Links to both documents are listed where full details can be reviewed, even all open-ended question answers can be seen in the appendix.

SEDAC would like to thank everyone who provided their input as we have progressed with this project. If you stopped by our ‘pop-up’ booth, were an interviewee, participated in our public forum or Main Street vision session, or completed our online survey, your opinions and ideas are truly appreciated by the Committee and Civic 4 who was so impressed with the sheer number and level of responsiveness by the area community.

In addition to these plans, in 2020 SEDAC has recently begun researching and investigating the possibility of converting from an advisory committee to a more formal economic development entity such as an EDC (economic development corporation). Your ideas and input are also welcome as we start this process.

For any questions on the planning project, please contact Chris Moeller, Siren Economic Development Director, at econdev@VisitSiren.com or stop by the Siren Village Hall. As well, if you have plans for your current or a future business, please see Moeller to discuss your ideas and options that may be available to support you in your pursuit.