By Joe Bachman
This will be an ongoing series of election briefs leading up to the 2016 elections on February 16th, where we interview candidates on important issues that face the community.
Zach Vruwink was elected Mayor in 2012 and re-elected in 2014. He is Wisconsin Rapids’ 22nd and youngest Mayor. Zach is a graduate of Lincoln High School, as well as the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he holds degrees in Political Science and Public Administration. He is also the owner of ZAXX Technology Specialists, which he founded at the age of 15. Zach is active in the Wisconsin Rapids community with his involvement with the Boys & Girls Club, Mead Elementary and the Arts Council. Mr. Vruwink has also won an array of awards for junior achievement, entrepreneurship and was even selected as a representative at the 2011 G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit in France. Zach hopes to be elected for a third straight term in 2016.
WRCT: Update us on the Riverfront Project and it’s progress.
ZV: In short, we’re at a point where we’re phasing it. We have to remind everyone that it’s a long range plan that cannot be accomplished in one cycle. It requires some outside support, and that is evident in the state grant we applied for. There is other grant opportunities we plan to put in for, but in short, we are looking to phase in the first component of this long range plan….It is progressing as scheduled in the sense that we wanted to know where the state was at with their grant submission, because we didn’t want to proceed putting in any of our own money without knowing if we had to match.
WRCT: Do you have plans to bring jobs into Wisconsin Rapids?
ZV: One thing I’ve learned in this position is the fact that government alone doesn’t create the jobs. It’s policies and the environment in which the Mayor, in my case, would create the opportunity for employment growth, and income growth. Part of what I’ve done as Mayor is a commitment I’ve heard from business leaders and business owners that doing business with the city was not exactly the most easy and most friendly, and so we made a very concerted effort to get everything online. Information that people should have to call the city hall for that they have to pick up the phone to call for is a delay and a detractor. The message that I’ve told people is that we’re putting that stuff at their fingertips, now. On their time and on their schedule, they can do business with city hall. Whether it’s permits, parcels, maps in the city, and if they can do that online at their own accord it creates more efficiency in the process.
WRCT: What will you do to address the growing heroin problem in the area?
ZV: Dealing with any abuse related to narcotics, there has been research in rural communities that this occurs more, and tonight the first step was taken in that in hiring a new narcotics detective. Arresting your way out of the problem isn’t going to solve the issue. It’s systemic and community-wide, and involve a collaborative approach with the stakeholders in the community. Today we held meetings with the Chief Medical Officer, to the superintendents of school districts in the area, to clergy; really a diverse group of people. Solving this issue will require discipline, but will also require a group of very diverse people working in their own circles, but together in a comprehensive strategy working towards a goal to solving this problem.
WRCT: What is the future of Mead Pool?
ZV: The meeting we had in fall, the council agreed unanimously that we shouldn’t spend anymore money on Mead Pool, and was because it was likely that those dollars would only get us a year. The early estimates showed in the couple hundred thousand dollar range, which the council said that they weren’t willing to do that just for one year. We need to agree to find something else. I’m committed, as they are, as well to finding a solution long term.
WRCT: What are Wisconsin Rapids’ greatest strengths and what are its’ weaknesses?
ZV: The strength of the natural resource of the river. That river provided economic life 100 years ago, and the same bodes for our future. We have a strong paper producing asset in this community that is here, and will be here for a long time. I also think the industry of cranberry production is strong, as well. Then I think of our small businesses that are showing great potential and growth, they are continuing to add positions, and that’s something that’s very assuring to me. The other asset I would mention is our headquarters at Renaissance Learning, and we can’t dismiss the potential and strengths that the company has. They are one of our largest employers and have a major economic impact on the community. Our airport and water treatment facilities will also continue to play a large role in community, as well. …The retirees that are nearing the end of the workforce is also untapped potential, that bring their talents and experience to the community. I truly think they are an asset to the community.
Weakness, though, would be domination by a major industry which is a bit of a challenge for us. Wisconsin Rapids must continue to think different about their future. and not so much whats familiar and comfortable, and those aren’t words that people like to hear, but its the truth. This community can be challenged by conventional thinking, and I think the voters and public want a better future and a better environment, but that’s not going to change unless continue to change the way we do things.