Grant to Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to support Initiative 41 — a collaborative effort to strengthen and diversify economy in region

OSHKOSH, Wis., August 23, 2016 – The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) today announced it has received a $3.1 million federal grant and will use the funds to work with the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (ECWRPC) and more than 20 partners on an initiative to help create greater economic diversity in the region.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Defense will be used to support a new effort called Initiative 41, which focuses on how businesses, governments, universities and technical colleges can collaborate to spur economic development, entrepreneurship and industry diversification along the Interstate 41 corridor in Outagamie, Winnebago, Fond du Lac, Brown and Calumet counties.

The initiative is a continuation of efforts headed by ECWRPC and others to diversify the economy along the I-41 Corridor so that companies in the region are less susceptible to declines in defense spending.

Projects to be launched as part of Initiative 41 include:

  • The implementation of the “aerospace cluster” strategy that is expected to include a private-public fund to invest in aviation companies that want to expand or relocate to the region.
  • A comprehensive outreach/branding strategy to promote the assets of the I-41 Corridor and will focus on businesses wanting to expand or invest in the region.
  • A regional entrepreneurship development system that will provide assistance and resources to companies that want to diversify from the defense industry into other sectors. This will provide a one-stop system of seamless resources for innovators and entrepreneurs.
  • A nine-week program in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO) that will provide entrepreneurs with support in developing products and securing angel investors.
  • A “Growth Management Academy,” also in conjunction with UWO, that will provide training and mentoring to second-stage businesses ready to take their business to the next level.
  • A program to assist family-owned businesses in developing succession planning to help those small companies survive the impact of decreases in defense contracts.

“The state of Wisconsin and the WEDC are appreciative of the Department of Defense grant and we look forward to working with our partners on an initiative that has the potential to transform the economy in east-central Wisconsin,” said Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who joined took part in an Initiative 41 kickoff event at Fox Valley Technical College on Tuesday. “What we’re doing here – focusing on economic development in a specific corridor not limited by municipal or county boundaries – is something that can be successfully replicated around the state.”

“I am grateful to the WEDC and its initiative partners for working tirelessly to secure this DOD grant, providing new resources and economic opportunities for the manufacturers, business owners and entrepreneurs in the east-central region who currently depend solely on the defense industry to pay their bills and support their families,” said Congressman Glenn Grothman, who announced the grant Tuesday. “While I’m proud of Wisconsin’s strong defense manufacturing sector, this grant allows for common-sense diversification of economic opportunities to help maintain healthy economies in these communities regardless of changes in defense spending.”

The initiative was formed as a result of layoffs by Oshkosh Corp. in 2012-13 that came as a result of defense spending cuts and not only affected that company, but also hundreds of area businesses that provide products and support services to the company.

“It wasn’t just a matter of one company facing a budget cut,” explained Eric Fowle, executive director of ECWRPC, who also attended the event. “The entire region was impacted and it was clear that there needed to be an effort to encourage economic diversification so that if something similar happened in the future, the impact would be significantly less. We hope to encourage that through Initiative 41.”

“We’re trying to get entities to realize there’s a need to think differently when it comes to developing, attracting and retaining business,” Fowle added. “Our economy doesn’t start and stop at a community or county border. To be successful, we have to look at collaboration across borders and acknowledge that what is a win for one community is a win for all of our communities.”

Initiative 41 project partners include: Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission; Brown County; Calumet County; City of Oshkosh; ECWRPC; Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation; Fox Cities Regional Partnership; Fox Valley Technical College; Fox Valley Workforce Development Board; Greater Green Bay Chamber; Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation; Moraine Park Technical College; New North, Inc.; Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance; Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce; Outagamie County; University of Wisconsin Oshkosh; Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation; Winnebago County; Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development; WEDC; and Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

For more information about Initiative 41 and how to get involved, contact Eric Fowle or Sarah Van Buren of ECWRPC at (920) 751-4770 or visit