Every municipal and county government across the country needs to attract new residents and businesses. For some communities, the key to success in their economic and community development initiatives lies in placemaking. According to the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking concepts leverage a community’s unique attributes to reimagine public spaces as the heart of a community. By strengthening the connection between the place and the people, local governments are able to better market themselves and, ultimately, attract new residents and businesses.

Placemaking in Sauk County, Wisconsin

During the last year, Sauk County embraced placemaking concepts to market the County as a desirable place to live and work. Although specific placemaking concepts had been top of mind for years—such as funding the arts, historic, and cultural initiatives—Sauk County’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan focused on the importance of community amenities. In 2013, the Sauk County Board reaffirmed its commitment to placemaking as a strategy to achieve its business, economic, and community development goals. Promoting the County as a preferred place to live, work, and visit was a top priority.

Through their efforts, the County discovered a new normal within the realm of economic development. Historically, employees followed jobs, but today’s workforce is different. With the ability to work remotely, the need to live near work has become less important. What’s more, as the values and priorities of the workforce have changed, Sauk County found that many workers first decide where to live and then find a job that is proximate to that location. As a result, attracting the high-caliber talent pool today’s businesses demand requires a strong partnership between municipal and county governments, not-for-profits, and local businesses to market the community as a desirable place to live.

Sauk County leadership believes universal buy-in is fundamental to the success of placemaking initiatives. Initially, the Sauk County Development Corporation and the County Board of Supervisors drove placemaking efforts. The concept of moving forward collectively, with various local government, business, and not-for-profit partners, only recently began to coalesce as the County began hosting intergovernmental forums for idea sharing. Today, the County continues hosting forums and presentations to help guide placemaking initiatives and garner buy-in from key stakeholders.

While specific activities are still under development, Sauk County allocated $125,000 in its 2015 budget for placemaking efforts. The County plans to hire a designated project manager to coordinate and oversee these efforts going forward. The County is also researching and pursuing grant funding as specific plans come to fruition.

Promoting your community

Though placemaking is not a new concept, the idea appears to be gaining traction in some Midwestern communities. Placemaking provides an innovative way to address the values and priorities of younger generations, while considering and preserving those of the older generations. By creating a place where everyone can enjoy living and working, attracting the residents and businesses your community needs to thrive will only get easier.

For more information on this topic, or to learn how Baker Tilly state and local government specialists can help, contact our team.

Kathryn Schauf, Sauk County Administrative Coordinator, contributed to this article.

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