The Burnett County Development Association (BCDA) is looking ahead to encourage a number of unique business development ideas, including the possibility of creating a commercial driver’s license (CDL) certification course and center, on top of a whole host of other interesting future projects and business opportunities.

BCDA director Richard Hartmann outlined some of the latest updates for the county at an association board meeting last Wednesday, Nov. 17, where he gave the latest timeline on the elaborate Jordan Buck project in Danbury, as well as several promising development plans and pending projects in the works.

CDL training facility

Hartmann has been working with staff from Northwoods Technical College (formerly WITC) to develop or shepherd a CDL training and certification course, which would also have a local track/course to learn the skills of truck driving, more than just the rules of the road, but also the delicate art of loading, unloading, parking, negotiating an obstacle course, and even inclement weather driving.    

“There’s an acute shortage of CDL drivers, and there’s also a problem with finding and training (school) bus drivers,” Hartmann added, a sentiment that local school district administrators have echoed for over a year, as well. 

Hartmann had his eyes on a potential parcel of 14 acres of tax-deeded county land in Siren for the possible creation of the CDL facility, but recent demands for development property seemed to have beaten Hartmann and Northwoods Tech to it.

“We’re still pursuing (a facility) even though that site is apparently no longer available,” Hartmann said. 

CDL training requirements are not ‘one size fits all,’ as there are several steps of CDL licensing, depending on whether you’re hauling hazardous materials, equipment, children or even the types of brakes the vehicle has.

“It’s a fairly extensive program(to be certified) and well worth the project,” Hartmann said.

He is hoping to secure funding for such a project, which may have an extra push with the recent shortages of necessary drivers to release the huge backlog of goods piling up at the nation’s shipping ports and rail centers.

“We’ve been looking at potential (funding) sources to build a (training) track,” Hartmann said. “It could be a big opportunity for students in the county.”

He said they are also looking at possible locations outside Burnett County for such a facility, but he is hoping to secure a spot near the county, at least.

 

Infrastructure updates

There are going to be a number of grant-worthy projects ahead, now that the $1.2-billion Infrastructure Bill was passed and signed into law last week. Hartmann sees the county as ripe for projects, from enhancing school ‘fabrication lab’ programs through the Wisconsin Department of Economic Development, which would include training equipment for students in industries that are also blossoming in the county, from 3-D printing to all types of fabrication, welding, robotics, laser engraving to CNC and plastics production.

Hartmann said he is also hoping to leverage American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help with the ‘Fab Labs’ program, which is already offering school districts up to $25,000 in incentives for such expansion. 

“It’s things to give kids a leg up, once they graduate,” Hartmann said. “I believe there’s more money coming in for that program, as well.”

The newly-passed Infrastructure Bill may also offer up training monies, down the road, although it is still unclear what might be eligible.

Jordan Buck update

The legendary massive buck project has been in the works for years, and Hartmann said he is finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, and it probably will start to shine next spring in Danbury, at a location beside the Gandy Dancer Trail.

Hartmann said they are working with the Burnett County Highway Department, as well as the local municipalities, to get prepared for site work next spring. They have even secured a landscape designer for the site, which will offer a unique entertainment and educational offering for visitors, as well as a very large version of the legendary buck first shot on the shores of a Danbury creek.

“It’s all really moving forward now,“ Hartmann said, noting that the statute is completed and being stored, with the rest of the site being designed for walkways, lighted displays and more, all prepared to enhance the massive statue.

“It’s really pretty impressive,” Hartmann opined on the buck, while adding that the problems of labor, equipment and supply shortages also affected the timeline for the project.

“Not much really happening until spring,” he added.

New manufacturing coming

Hartmann said the BCDA is also working on securing several light manufacturing expansions in the county, including one plastics facility being proposed in Webster, as well as expansions to an existing industry in the industrial park. The one project is looking at building a 15,000-to-20,000 square-foot facility. 

He also pointed out the progress in Grantsburg at the former Northern Manufacturing facility, being taken over by Fresh Industries for furniture production using the vacant building, as noted in the Sentinel in recent months. 

Hartmann said the Fresh Industries folks are moving ahead at not only preparing the huge facility for production, they are in the process of changing their name to Northern Furniture Manufacturing, to reflect the local history as well. 

Hartmann said they are working with the Northwoods Community College staff to help in developing a commercial sewing program, which would open up a number of future jobs for the furniture facility down the road. 

He also noted an expansion of the Siren Industrial Park on the south side of the village, as MSA Engineering is currently working on the expansion plans for the 66-acres set aside for development and residences, with water, sewer and street plans underway. He also said a large, New Richmond-based developer is also considering work or expansion at the Tewalt Road project.    

FLAP

There is a possibility of using a Federal Lands Acquisition Program (FLAP) to allow better and more secure access to a landing on the St. Croix River, south of Grantsburg.

The Burnett County Highway Department is working to upgrade a road that is currently pretty difficult to use, and making it a more friendly access. 

“It’s a real benefit to the county to upgrade that road,” Hartmann said of the roadway, which is on County Road O in the Town of Anderson.

The FLAP program is highly competitive, but he believes the county has a very good shot at getting the grant.

Broadband expansion

The need for expanded broad service was an often noted failure in some rural areas for students last year, during pandemic lockdowns, and the need for expanded Internet service is also a huge business development and property sales tool, with several local utility companies working with the county and state to secure expansion to underserved areas, where utilities often might delay bringing service for some time, due to overhead costs.

“The Infrastructure Bill has a big chunk of money in there for broadband (expansion),” Hartmann stated. “Our goal is to have everyone in the county connected.”

The problems of zero service or minimal, at best, reared its head during the lockdowns, and when students or teachers were forced to work from home. 

“Some students were really left out,” Hartmann said, adding that educators and businesses are not the only ones using and relying on broadband now, as even things like telemedicine, banking, shopping and more are advancing with Internet access. 

Hartmann said that Voyager Village is part of a big expansion program, as are other rural areas.

“Everything is going to streaming,” he stated.   

Marketing our local goods

Hartmann also said there is an effort underway to bring together a large variety of agricultural producers to create e a production group, for everything from vegetables, pork, chicken, berries and spirits to apples, pumpkins, and other products, meant to enhance the ‘buy local’ campaign and work to create a sort of homegrown supply chain. 

“They’re looking at providing local marketing,” Hartmann said. “It’s pretty exciting.”