Entrepreneurship Economy

Chippewa EDC: Feeding the Fire of Economic Development

for decades of change, the Chippewa Economic Development Corp. has been been boosting the Chippewa Falls area

Hatch: An Idea Pitch Competition.
Hatch: An Idea Pitch Competition.

For more than 30 years, the Chippewa Economic Development Corp. has kindled the fire of capital and talent investment in the greater Chippewa Falls area. Through all phases of the economic cycle, the CEDC has focused on helping entrepreneurs by attracting, retaining, and expanding businesses in Chippewa County – and that remains its focus today.

“We just want to reignite the flames,” explained CEO and President Charlie Walker, citing the theme of the organization’s annual meeting, which will be Friday, May 17. That theme serves as a reminder that public and private leaders in Chippewa County have a history of working together to solve problems, and that the same can-do spirit can be brought to bear today as the region addresses the closure of two hospitals, including HSHS St. Joseph’s in Chippewa Falls.

"Reigniting the Flame" is the theme of the Chippewa Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting on May 17, 2024.

“Each year we come together to have a celebration where we highlight the best of entrepreneurs and the best of expanding businesses,” Walker said. “This year is important in how we approach coming together, because the last month and a half has been a pause in our economic development mindset. And so we’re gathering to reflect and to stay motivated, knowing that together we can reignite and kickstart a different approach to economic development that learns from the past, but more importantly embraces the opportunities of the future and how we all work together to grow, create jobs, creative wealth, sustain the tax base, and renew with new talent and new business ideas. That’s what the meeting is about.”

The annual meeting will be held at the Eau Claire Event District (5633 20th Ave., Eau Claire), which opened last year as the new home of the Country Jam and Reverb music festivals. While the venue has an Eau Claire address, it’s located in Chippewa County – a reminder of the interdependence of the region’s economy, which transcends city limits and county lines. As Walker noted, “We’re all in it together.”

The event will feature a keynote address from Kip Ritchie, CEO of Potawatomi Ventures, the economic development business of Wisconsin’s Forest County Potawatomi Community. It will also include the presentation of awards to a number of businesses, individuals, and organizations who had helped improve the region’s economy.


Charlie Walker.
CEO and President Charlie Walker.

Of course, the Chippewa Economic Development Corp. does far more than hold an annual meeting. Through numerous programs, events, and initiatives, it serves as a catalyst for economic growth and vitality in Chippewa County and beyond. Over the years, CEDC actions and programs have resulted in nearly $800 million of capital investment. More than 100 private investors are part of the CEDC, and the organization also maintains partnerships with local units of government, the Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire chambers of commerce, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., and others.  

The CEDC’s numerous activities and initiatives include:

HATCH COMPETITION. Each fall, the CEDC is one of the hosts of HATCH: An Idea Pitch Competition, which brings together investors, innovators, and community partners to celebration the Valley’s entrepreneurial spirit. Local entrepreneur organizations sponsor contestants, who pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges. The most recent winner – Whitney Stuart of Half Moon Clay in Eau Claire – received a $5,000 grand prize to help expand her business.

LEGISLATIVE SPEED DATING. The organization connected state and federal legislators to more than 40 representatives of the local banking, heath care, agriculture, manufacturing, education, and construction sectors in a “speed dating” event in March. Five local members of the state Assembly and Senate, as well as a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, rotated among the tables at Chippewa Family Restaurant, where they learned about a variety of issues important to the region’s economic health.

BEAR EXPANSION AND RETENTION (BEAR). “BEAR” encompasses a number of CEDC initiatives, including visiting existing businesses and advocating for them with policymakers; holding discussions and “lunch and learn” programs to foster communication among businesses and stakeholders; granting awards to local businesses as well as nominating them for regional, state, and national awards; and the ongoing BEAR Discussions podcast, in which Walker interviews local entrepreneurs about their business dreams and accomplishments.

STEAM NIGHT. The CEDC recently collaborated with Chippewa Falls Senior High School to hold a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Night, which featured more than 40 employer-sponsored booths to showcase regional careers in STEAM fields. More than 1,000 students experienced firsthand the intersection of these disciplines and their real-world implications.

Lunch & Learn.
Lunch & Learn.


All of these programs and more are meant to help the region’s economy “go to the next level,” Walker said. He compared the work of the CEDC and its partners to “economic gardening”: Crops need watering and weeding, but they also need encouragement. “Maybe it’s time to talk to the plants,” he quipped.

It’s a fitting analogy considering the importance of agriculture to the region’s economy as well as the fact that Chippewa County will host Wisconsin Farm Technology Days later this summer. From Aug. 13-15, Close Farms – a family-owned grain operation outside Cadott – will serve as the host farm for the event, which annually draws tens of thousands of visitors as well as hundreds of vendors. The state’s largest annual outdoor agricultural event will be held on the adjacent grounds that host Country Fest and Rock Fest, and will showcase the latest developments in farming technology.

True to its role, the CEDC has been heavily involved in helping ensure the event is a success, from engaging volunteers to organizing the “tent city” of exhibitors. It’s all part of its mission of catalyzing economic development across the region.

“When one speaks of Chippewa Falls, you can’t ignore the economic development activities and the organization behind creating jobs, helping entrepreneurs grown, helping those existing businesses succeed,” Walker said. “For over 30 years, Chippewa Economic Development Corp. has done just that.”

This article was produced in partnership with the Chippewa Economic Development Corp. To learn more about the CEDC and its programs, visit the EDC’s website at chippewa-wi.com. You can also find the Chippewa County EDC on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, or reach them by phone at (715) 723-7150, via email at staff@chippewa-wi.com, or in person at 770 Technology Way in Chippewa Falls.





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Mason Companies, Inc
Northwestern Bank