Wood County Economic Development Proposal
The time has come for Wood County to take bold actions in order to save the local
economy. The loss of jobs throughout the county especially in the Wisconsin Rapids
area has been well documented. Significant job losses at Consolidated- New Page,
combined with the closing of the Domtar Port Edwards mill and the Schreiber Cheese
plant have devastated our area. We desperately need to find good jobs to support our
local population or the negative spiral will simply continue.
One business that has continued to grow throughout all the downturns has been the
cranberry industry. Wood County is the leading county within the State for cranberry
production. Several area businesses rely on the cranberry business as an important part
of their business servicing the industry.
The cranberry industry is actively searching for land that would allow for expansion of up
to 5,000 more acres of cranberries. Large tracks of land that could meet Federal and
State permitting requirements and have access to the volume of water necessary for
cranberries is very difficult to find. Ocean Spray is actively looking at land in New
Brunswick Canada because they have had little success finding land in the United States.
The County of Wood owns over 55,000 acres of land. I propose that the County along
with the cranberry industry create a development plan on 10,000 acres of current Wood
County owned land that would provide the land needed for actual cranberry beds and
support land necessary for 5,000 acres of new cranberry beds right here in Wood County.
It is my belief that research with a local survey firm would confirm that the County owns
significant land that could meet all the necessary conditions for cranberry development.
The long term benefits of this proposal are significant.
If the land was sold for typical recreation land values it would bring in $20,000,000 to
$40,000,000 from the initial sales. The fund proceeds could be restricted for future land
purchases or other uses as the county Board sees fit. The interest on the funds alone
would help significantly with ongoing budget issues. The sales would come with a deed
restriction requiring that at least 33% of the land purchased would have to be planted into
cranberries within 7 years or a significant additional payment would be required each
The building of the cranberry properties would require a significant investment by the
grower owners of about $150,000,000 to $250,000,000 for earth moving, vines, culverts,
farm equipment, irrigation equipment, houses, sheds and shops etc. A significant portion
of that capital would be spent within the county and help add to employment by other
Ocean Spray is on record that it would double the size of it plant here if they could get
the fruit from Wisconsin. The current sweet dried plant will handle 400,000 to 500,000
barrels of fruit. If the full 5,000 acres were planted it would bring in between 1,000,000
to 1,800,000 more barrels depending on the harvest each year. Thus TRIPLING the
current plant is not unreasonable. Other area cranberry businesses are also aggressively
looking for more fruit like Urban Processing, Wisconsin Growers Cooperative, Gardner
Cranberry, and Alpine Foods. One can only assume that additional fruit would cause a
need for additional employees at all of those industry members.
I believe that in total the project could create 500 or more good paying jobs in an industry
that has been a big part of our area economy for a long time. With the cranberry
properties and the plant it would add an estimated $300,000,000 to the local assessments
to help fund schools, police, fire, roads, infrastructure and thus reduce our current tax
burden. The annual income from the harvest would be kept here in our local economy to
be reinvested and to be deposited at local financial institutions. Undoubtedly local
charities would benefit from the increased local capital.
I believe that this is a great opportunity for everyone in the area to “win”!
I understand that some will object to the loss of recreational land but the time has come to
act in the best interest of all the taxpayers of the county not just a few that use the land for
recreational use. Please note that within the proposal I suggest that the County earmark
funds from the sale to purchase additional land in the future. There is land available that
would be excellent recreational land but it could not be used for cranberries.
The county would be selling the land at fair value not some reduced amount so within my
proposal I am not asking for any kind of tax breaks or reduced values. The taxpayers
would get full value and they would see the land return to the tax rolls at significantly
higher values when the land is converted. The new jobs would trickle through the current
businesses and hopefully cause a demand for additional employees. Communities all
across this country are offering huge tax incentives to try to attract a business that will
supply 500 jobs. We have an opportunity to provide 500 jobs without tax breaks.
I have informally discussed this proposal with various local business leaders, local
politicians, Ocean Spray representatives, other cranberry growers and the Wisconsin
State Cranberry Growers Association and all have thought it was a great opportunity for
our area to explore.
I understand that a comprehensive plan would require significant fine-tuning from my
initial proposal but I am confident that a well-intentioned group could develop a program
that would be a true winner for everyone in the County.
I would be glad to serve on any group interested in pursuing this matter.
CEO Cranberries Limited Inc.