The Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce has the intriguing job of balancing the needs and demands of a wide variety of member businesses. Our membership is not solely tourism or retail oriented, nor does it consist of mostly heavy industry partners. Our membership reflects the economy of our local area – a bit of heavy industry and professional services with a good mix of retail and hospitality partners.
Maintaining this balance means we often need to focus our resources on special initiatives that can benefit the full cross-section of our membership and community. This is certainly no easy task especially considering that Chambers of Commerce are typically viewed as tourism-centric organizations. However, there are certain opportunities that arise that can hold great potential in making this a great place to do business no matter the sector you’re in.
One such opportunity is expanding our recreational infrastructure-specifically in the form of easily-accessible, interconnected walking and biking trails. This type of infrastructure has many value-added benefits than help make the Northwoods an even more attractive place to live and do business. Much of its value lies in the fact that it can draw non-locals to our area (resulting in a cash influx to the economy) while also providing services that make the area desirable for young families and professionals to live.
Our neighbors to the north in Vilas County have already done a great job of developing their own trails which connect Boulder Junction, Sayner and St. Germain. These trails are seeing increasing use which is motivating future plans to extend the network to include even more towns. This is a great model we can use in our own county and maybe even tie into to eventually create an entire network of Northwoods biking and walking trails.
The economic impact of these types of activities is far from insignificant. A 2010 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin found that bicycle-related activities alone had greater than a $1.5 billion impact on the state’s economy. Close to $1 billion was spent in tourism related sectors (dining, lodging and travel) while an additional half billion was spent in manufacturing, sales and related services. For comparison, snowmobiling generates just over $1 billion in Wisconsin.
That large of an impact should not be overlooked. Developing our tourism-related assets means a greater cash-flow into our local economies. Additionally, I’ve heard anecdotally from many large local employers that it’s hard for them to recruit and retain good young talent in this area. We need to recognize that trends amongst young professionals and families are increasingly focused on healthy lifestyles and easy-access to natural resources. Hunting and fishing are great pursuits but are ones that don’t always fit into every family structure.
I hope that our community begins to recognize this potential and to seek ways of developing this type of infrastructure. We’re already surrounded by great beauty that could be made even more accessible to both young and old alike. By doing so, we simply add value to the resources already available to us. If you have opinions or suggestions on the matter, please send me your thoughts or contact your county representative.