Friday, May. 4th, 2018

Double-Digit Growth Has Made Eau Claire a Top 10 Tourist County

For the first time ever, Eau Claire has cracked the top 10 among Wisconsin counties in tourist spending, with double-digit growth in the volume of dollars pumped into the local economy by visitors in 2017.

Direct spending by visitors to Eau Claire County grew 12.5 percent to $257 million last year, placing the county at No. 10 statewide, according to figures released Friday by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. That growth rate was the third-best in the state, behind only Florence and Kewaunee among Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Statewide, direct visitor spending grew a bit over 3 percent to $12.7 billion.

Tourism spending supported an estimated 4,578 full-time equivalent jobs in Eau Claire County last year, generating $107 million in salaries and $32 million in state and local taxes.

“What these numbers are showing us is that the growth we’ve seen in our downtown, our creative economy, as well as our efforts to bring large meetings and sporting events to the area, is having both a local and a statewide impact,” said Linda John, executive director at Visit Eau Claire, the region’s tourism promotion agency. “Last year’s numbers show that we are doing the right things to make our community a destination worth traveling to and I say we keep that momentum going.”

Overall, total tourism-related business sales in Eau Claire County rose 9 percent to $404 million last year.

Tourists also provided healthy infusions to the economies of Chippewa and Dunn counties. Direct visitor spending rose a robust 10.6 percent to $98.4 million in Chippewa County. Jackie Boos, tourism director for Go Chippewa Falls and Chippewa County, credited the growth to a new marketing campaign, area music festivals, last year’s 150th anniversary celebration by Leinenkugel’s, a big lineup of performers at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair, and numerous year-round attractions.

Meanwhile, direct spending by visitors in Dunn County rose about 1 percent to $45.8 million.

In a press release, Gov. Scott Walker declared that Wisconsin’s travel and hospitality industry was “booming.” Here are some key takeaways*:

• The total seven-year growth of tourism activity in the state is $5.8 billion, a nearly 40 percent increase according to Tourism Economics, the research firm for the Department of Tourism.

• Visitor volumes topped 110 million visits, an increase of 17.5 million, compared to 92.5 million seven years ago. This is a 19 percent increase since 2011.

• Traveler spending on recreation, which includes all activities travelers choose to do on vacation, had the fastest growth at 5.5 percent in 2017.

• Tourism directly and indirectly supported 195,255 jobs in Wisconsin’s labor market in 2016.

• The growth of tourism over the last seven years has helped add 23,255 jobs, a 13.5 percent increase.

• Visitors generated $1.5 billion in state and local revenue and $1.2 billion in federal taxes, saving Wisconsin taxpayers $660 per household.

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Thursday, May. 3rd, 2018

Midwest Living Features Eau Claire, Focuses on Music

It's always nice to be noticed. Midwest Living published this quick overview of the city’s developments after the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival rose to fame, as well as its merits as a vacation destination.

The piece discusses Justin Vernon’s part in putting Eau Claire on the map (as many of these travel articles do) after his 2012 Grammy win for Best New Artist, the Eaux Claires IV no-line-up line-up, and the evolving identity of what was once a lumber town.

“Standing on the roof of Ramone’s, Blayne Midthun points to all the life around his new ice cream shop: street sculptures, chefs opening trendy restaurants, two boutique hotels. And a $60 million performing arts center opens this fall. Beside it, Phoenix Park replaced a brownfield site with green space, water access, paths and an amphitheater at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers. ‘This all used to be an industrial dump,’ Blayne says. ‘Come down here five years ago, and there would be nothing going on.’” – Midwest Living, May 2018

Writer Timothy Meinch characterizes the Oxbow Hotel as a “woodsy romantic,” and the Lismore as the “chic urbanite.”  For fun times between music festivals, the Eau Claire Downtown Sculpture Tour is recommended, as well as a jaunt out to Chippewa Falls for a Leinie’s tour, enjoying a ride on the Chippewa Valley’s extensive bike trail system, or going for a paddle on our multitude of waterways and lakes.

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Economic Development Week Salutes Local Job-Creators

It’s time to tip our collective hats (and maybe tip back a pint or two) to all those who help our job creators in celebration of the Third Annual Economic Development Week, which runs May 7-12. In Eau Claire, the week will be marked with business lunches, mixers, educational sessions, and even an official proclamation.

So what’s Economic Development Week? It was created a few years back to the International Economic Development Council to “increase awareness for local programs that create jobs, advance career development opportunities and increase the quality of life.” Economic development is the often behind-the-scenes work at the intersection of the public and private sectors that keeps the economy humming. According to a press release, the City of Eau Claire is marking Economic Development Week “to celebrate the profession and the professionals that work hard to create opportunities for all citizens and their communities.”

The week will begin with an official proclamation issued by Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid at the council’s meeting on Tuesday, May 8. Other events are as follows:

Wednesday, May 9

• 1 Million Cups – Eau Claire | 9-10am at the Chippewa Valley Technical College, 620 W Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire

• Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce Sixth Annual Working Mothers Luncheon | noon-1:30pm at the River Prairie Center, 1445 Front Porch Place, Altoona

• Musky Tank Mixer – Betting on the Right Jockey! | 6:30-8pm at Modicum Brewing Co., 3732 Spooner Ave., Altoona

Thursday, May 10

• Business Loans in Greater Eau Claire hosted by the City of Eau Claire | noon-1pm at The French Press, 2823 London Road, Eau Claire This event features presentations from the Western Dairyland Revolving Loan Fund, Regional Business Fund, and the City of Eau Claire Loan Programs.

• Chippewa Valley Job Fair | noon-12:30pm (veterans only), 12:30-4pm (general public) at Eau Claire Indoor Sports Center, 3456 Craig Road, Eau Claire

• Business Plan Basics | 6-9pm at Western Dairyland Business Center, 418 Wisconsin St., Eau Claire

Saturday, May 12

• Creative Economy Week Eau Claire is celebrating Creative Economy Week May 12-19. As a key strategy of economic development in the Eau Claire area, check out all events beginning May 12 to celebrate the Creative Economy.

To learn more about the City of Eau Claire’s economic development efforts throughout the week (or anytime), check out @ECEconomicDevelopment on Facebook or visit eauclairedevelopment.com.

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Tuesday, May. 1st, 2018

Eau Claire Police Department Wins National Social Media Honors

Image: ECPD
Image: ECPD

What city has the government agency with the coolest social media presence?  That’d be New York City.  But coming in second in the Government Social Media Golden Post Awards Outstanding Social Media competition was none other than the Eau Claire Police Department. How so and what for? They won for posts like this ...

When Officer Kyle Roder received a scam phone message claiming he would be arrested by local officers for a tax violation if he did not return the call, he decided to con the con artist. Watch the video below to hear Roder’s award-winning conversation with an IRS agent impersonator.  It’s hijinks like these that make the ECPD’s social media pages a multi-award-winning Chippewa Valley favorite.

“It is always great to be recognized nationally and internationally because it shows that what we are doing locally is working,” Roder said.  But it’s not all about the glory, he said. “Social media is all about results, not awards. Just like our officers on patrol, we deliver a professional, sincere service to our community and the results and recognition follow.”

The Government Social Media Awards are given at an annual conference hosted by the Government Social Media Organization, an advisory institute that provides networking and educational opportunities to government agencies that practice social media outreach.  This year’s convention was held in Denver, Colorado.

After the phone call in the video ended, ECPD was unable to reach the scammers again to follow up. “Although I was never able to reveal my identity, with 14 million YouTube views there's a good chance 'James Maxwell Johnson' saw the video," Roder said with a smiley emoticon.

We assume these honors are almost as important to the ECPD as their big 2nd place social media win in Volume One's 2018 Best of the Chippewa Valley Reader Poll. Find them on Facebook.

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Wednesday, Apr. 25th, 2018

Eau Claire People and Businesses Featured in Statewide Video Project

For Midwesterners looking for a place to live that offers a rich, fulfilling life both on and off the clock, Eau Claire’s siren song seems to grow stronger every day. A number of recent videos produced by In Wisconsin – for their “Wisconsin Stories” series – focus on the city as a place with thriving local businesses, culture, and community.

In Wisconsin is a partnership between the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Wisconsin businesses and community leaders. The goal is to highlight the restless drive Wisconsinites exhibit to invent, create, and achieve what makes the state a great place to live, work, and play.

The In Wisconsin website features statistics, photos, videos, and more, offering up resources for finding housing, jobs, and fun things to do in the state of Wisconsin. Check it out to see pieces on Eau Claire, including Ambient Inks (above), Ramone’s Ice Cream, Eau Claire Downtown Coffee, and local nonprofit leader Wesley Escondo (below) sprinkled throughout. You can also find them on YouTube and Facebook.

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Monday, Apr. 23rd, 2018
Thursday, Apr. 19th, 2018

Eaux Claires 2018, Artist-Led Festivals, and the No-Lineup Lineup

Eaux Claires 2017
Eaux Claires 2017

At this point, it’s been well established that the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival is doing stuff differently for its fourth annual installment on July 6 and 7. Most significantly, curators Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner are intentionally not releasing a lineup of music acts. At least not in the traditional sense.

If you’ve listened to the slew of audio clips the festival released over the winter with your Shazam app open or followed Vernon’s subtle-not-so-subtle nods on Twitter, you can probably piece the slate together for the most part. Those bread crumbs lead to names like Noname, Phoebe Bridgers, serpentwithfeet, Julien Baker, Moses Sumney, Hiss Golden Messenger (plus, it wouldn’t be Eaux Claires without the likes of Francis and the Lights and Phil Cook).

But that’s really not the point.

The idea is to subvert the norm of bloated music festivals that have heavily proliferated the country as they become trendier and trendier. The Coachellas and Lollapaloozas of the world are doing their thing and raking in cash, but Vernon and Dessner feel like they have an opportunity with Eaux Claires to create a weekend haven that’s less about a bottom line and more about a collective experience.

Attendees willing to fork over their trust are going in blind, which will be an artistic boon, but how it shakes out financially is anyone’s guess. Either way, changing the conversation and the money-heavy mindset of major music festivals is worth the risk for Eaux Claires, Vernon says – the festival is prominently featured in a Pitchfork story today that discusses how artist-led music festivals like Eaux Claires are changing the game around the country for the better, but it’s not easy.

Here’s a few salient quotes from the piece:

That longevity is the crux. In the first year of Eaux Claires, when Bon Iver returned to the stage after a three-year hiatus, the festival was instantly profitable. Then Eaux Claires lost money for the next two years, Vernon admits, requiring organizers to make some changes. But the bottom line is not the primary focus.

“You can’t just sign up for profit every time,” says Vernon. “But we’re not blindly throwing money down the toilet—we’re adjusting to a more sustainable model.” He compares the festival’s balance sheets to the decades he spent toiling in groups that never made much money, long before he found fame with Bon Iver. “You have to be committed,” he adds. “This is a 20-year thing.”

“There is something artist-driven happening with festivals, even if I don’t think it’s clear where we’re going with it yet,” says Adam Voith, a longtime booking agent for the likes of Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend. “Artists are much more excited about these events than standard festivals now, because there’s a recognition that it’s music-forward and collaborative from the jump.” Voith pauses, then sighs. “But it’s going to take a lot of smart people to figure out how to make these viable long-term.”

With Eaux Claires keeping this year’s lineup a secret until the festival begins, they’re betting they don’t even need a traditional promotional poster at all. For Vernon, his team, and, it seems, most every artist risking their own time and money to build such an idealistic event, the risk seems to be a test worth taking. The broad goal is to push back against entrenched festival rules and change the tone of a conversation in which, sooner or later, they all participate. These bands still play major festivals with corporate boosters, after all, because those outsized paydays help fund everything else they do. But that doesn’t have to be the only option.

“Why does it have to be about maximizing profits every time there’s a question about everything? That bugs me,” says Vernon. “We’re not trying to be the biggest festival in the world. We’re just trying to be the best we can be.”

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Tuesday, Apr. 17th, 2018

Eau Claire: One of the "Best Budget Destinations in America"

Check out this slideshow of Eau Claire action shots from BudgetTravel.com, which included Eau Claire in its list of Best Budget Destinations in America 2018, Part II: The Midwest.

They say, "We’re rounding up value trips across the U.S. (one in each state, plus DC) to inspire Budget Travelers to see more of America for less money. Here, the best of the Midwest."

Of Eau Claire, they say, "In 2014, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary included “Brooklyn” as an adjective. Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is very Brooklyn. Often referred to as the “Indie Capital of the Midwest,” the college town with a decidedly collaborative spirit has become known as an incubator for emerging musicians. They’re even one of the many homegrown attractions at the weekly downtown farmers’ market ..." Read more.

Thumbnail image: Visit Eau Claire

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Thursday, Apr. 12th, 2018

Sculpture Tour 2017 removed! New sculptures on the way ...

Image: Julie Pangallo
Image: Julie Pangallo

This year, a third of the sculptures to be featured in the tour were created by local artists, a significant increase since the tour’s inception in 2011.

Notice something missing in downtown Eau Claire?  This morning in the wee hours, workers were hustling to take down last year’s Sculpture Tour installations; and according to Program Director Julie Pangallo, they did it in record time.  Stay tuned over the next several weeks as new art is placed around downtown.  The official Installation Day is May 9, but you might see a dinosaur stomping around near a downtown parking garage as early as Monday.

This year, a third of the sculptures to be featured in the tour were created by local artists, a significant increase since the tour’s inception in 2011. “I’m so excited because we haven’t sacrificed quality to do that,” Pangallo said. “We have so much talent here in Eau Claire and in the Chippewa Valley.”

“There’s some really neat pieces we have, that I think people are going to be really impressed with the variety,” she said.

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Tuesday, Apr. 10th, 2018