Grow North aims to expand broadband to boost tourism, wood industry

For Angi Schreiber, the new executive director of Grow North, expanding high-speed broadband Internet is key to boosting the northern Wisconsin region’s economy in industries ranging from tourism to wood products.

Schreiber, who replaced Don Sidlowski this summer, also serves on the Langlade County board of supervisors and is a small-business owner. She cited a recent study that said visitors would lengthen their vacations by two or three days if the region’s resorts had more reliable and faster Internet service so they could be better connected to their jobs and homes.

“Absolutely, that’s certainly important to tourism,” she said, lauding a recent state grant for Langlade County and several other counties to expand broadband.

“But there is a whole lot more going on up here in the North Woods besides fishing resorts. We have a huge forestry and wood products industry that is vitally important. The sector and all the others, including healthcare and education, would benefit from faster broadband. The majority of that state grant money went to the North Woods, which is great, because there is a lot of area to cover up here. Any help from the state is very welcome.”

She said the region’s rural communities also would benefit from expanded broadband.

“That service isn’t just for vacationers, but the people who people who live and work up here as well,” she said. “Just about everything these days seems to be centered around the Internet and if you aren’t well connected, you are really at a competitive disadvantage. We have been diligently working hard on that. Businesses are absolutely pushing for better broadband.”

She said her group is also working with 12 other Wisconsin counties and six in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to bring more rail service to the area. She said that service is is now limited and holding back growth.

“We need to be able to get into the connecting lines to help manufactures and wood products producers,” she said. “We have a problem and some mills and manufacturers are saying they could add another shift and hire more employees, but they can’t get product.”

Another effort is aimed at better marketing the wood products industry in all its different aspects, from logging to making furniture to producing paper bags for popcorn.

“We are working with New North (a neighboring economic development organization) to get a targeted industry development grant to hire a consultant for this project,” she said.

Schreiber said a group from Grow North recently returned from an Atlanta trade show to promote the region in front of firms from around the globe.

“It was a great success,” she said. “They talked about doing business with our companies and we developed 52 solid leads, including wood buyers from Canada, China, California and Australia – some of whom were looking for wood flooring. They also talked to a company that many donate advanced computer-assisted-design (CAD) software to our wood technology program in Antigo, so we’re certainly not sitting still.”

— By Brian E. Clark