Linda Clark is the energy company's front person for economic development in the Valley. The mission couldn't be in better hands.
By Mark Gunderman
Linda McIntyre and Paula Stolp had a dream, and a problem.
McIntyre, executive director of the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce, and Stolp, director of the Menomonie Main Street program, envisioned a joint facility in one of the historic buildings in downtown Menomonie.
They found their building, which needed extensive renovation. They even found the money, partly in a state tax credit program for historic renovations.
The problem was, they couldn't get at the money. Their two organizations were non-profit.
"We couldn't capture any tax credit dollars," McIntyre said. "We needed an investment partner."
So they called Linda Clark.
More correctly, they called Xcel Energy, which everyone should know by now is the former NSP. Clark works for -- perhaps it would be better to say through -- Xcel as the Wisconsin division's economic development specialist.
Xcel is a much greater partner than many people realize in economic development, and Clark has a well-deserved reputation for getting things done. She came through for Menomonie, and it wasn't the first time.
"It was my job to advocate for the project and get a buy-in from my two bosses," she said.
As a result, Xcel invested money in the project, which the company recouped through the tax credits. Today the building houses the Chamber and Main Street offices as well as the Menomonie Tourism Council, with the upper floor as apartments.
"Linda and Mary took on a huge project. They deserve the credit," Clark said. "Menomonie is really lucky to have them."
And the Chippewa Valley is lucky to have someone of Clark's ability and sentiments as an advocate within Xcel.
"She definitely went to bat for us," said McIntyre, recalling the $87,000 grant. "This was huge. It allowed us to do some things we wouldn't have been able to do."
It's not as if Xcel Energy just started doing economic development when Clark was hired in 1995. The company was instrumental in helping form Eau Claire's Gateway Industrial Park before that, just to name one project.
But it also wasn't as if Clark just start making a difference in the Chippewa Valley when she started working for Xcel.
She spent seven years teaching second grade in Chicago while her husband, Dr. Dan Clark (now with Midelfort Clinic in Eau Claire), practiced medicine. They moved to Eau Claire in 1973 and Clark spent the next 15 years staying at home with the couple's three sons and doing a fair amount of community work.
When her middle son was about to go to kindergarten, she learned some disturbing news.
"The school was around the corner but it was too full and he was going to be bused out of the neighborhood," she said.
That spurred her on to run for school board. She won, serving 12 years, including a term as board president. One of her accomplishments was to help put together a strategic planning process examining programs, facilities, staff and populations.
"It was a very important community-wide effort that set the stage for the next 20 years," Clark said. "It made me realize that community-building is something that regular people can and must do."
Clark decided not to go back into teaching, but to pursue a career in community development work after the boys were grown. She earned a second degree, in economics, from UW-Eau Claire, and a Master's from the University of Minnesota.
She worked in St. Paul doing community development work for a few years until she was hired by Xcel in 1995 as a market research analyst. She slid over into economic development in 1996 and now heads the department headquartered in Eau Claire. And it has been from that position that she has been Xcel's front person on a number of key projects.
Xcel, for example, is a one-third partner in the Stout Technology Park, with the university and the city of Menomonie. Each shared an equal burden of the start-up costs.
"It wouldn't have been possible without that third partner, because of the utilities," said former Menomonie Mayor Chuck Stokke, emphasizing the necessity that the partner be Xcel Energy. The company was able to invest in the utilities to have them available for tenants.
Through that process, Stokke worked with Clark on the technology park's board.
"Linda is very assertive, a good idea person," Stokke said. "She's very knowledgeable and she's been able to put packages together."
"We're a source of 'patient capital,'" Clark said, explaining that Xcel is large enough that it can afford to invest in community development with a long-term and sometimes uncertain payback.
Xcel is repaid for its investment in the technology park through land sales, the same as the other investors. Of course, there is no guarantee the full investment will even be recovered.
The company also plays a role in putting packages together for specific industries locating in an area. Xcel's work is easily seen in the massive Anderson Windows building in Menomonie. Clark's department worked with other corporate departments and the city of Menomonie to put together the package that closed the Anderson Windows deal.
"It took a lot of careful planning on how the company and the city would structure incentives," she said.
It also involved working with the state in solving a wetlands issue. Also, Xcel's account representatives researched and suggested design changes to save the company money and make the project more feasible. The windows along the top perimeter of the building are designed to save the company money on lighting.
Much of the coordination of Xcel's efforts on the project went through Clark's office.
Likewise with the Phoenix Park project in Eau Claire. Xcel actually owned much of the property that RCU wanted to use for its new corporate headquarters and the property the city needed to finish off the park. Clark represented Xcel on a number of task force groups working to secure the project.
"That was a very exciting project to work with," she said. "Initially we had a team of about four or five to coordinate the project. It's more complicated than you think turning over land to a city for park purposes."
That's particularly true when some of the land has environmental problems dating back to before industries knew there was such a thing as environmental problems.
"They worked very hard to make their property available to combine with some already owned by the city to create Phoenix Park," said Mike Schatz, Eau Claire's economic development specialist.
Besides the big projects, Clark is there on the less dramatic parts of economic development. She currently serves or has served on boards for the Chamber of Commerce, Eau Claire Main Street, Momentum Chippewa Valley, the Convention and Visitors Bureau -- even the Chippewa Valley Business Report.
"Linda's wonderful to work with," Schatz said. "She's very enthusiastic about the Chippewa Valley. She brings a lot of skills in terms of how she analyzes projects."
Clark is enthusiastic about more than business development in the Chippewa Valley, though. She and Dan can been seen kayaking local waters -- or floating into the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. "We love kayaking. We live to get on the water," she said.
They have a cabin on Red Cedar Lake, east of Rice Lake, and like to hike the Ice Age trails in that region. They are fans of the bicycle trail system around the valley made possible through Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation projects. They like to bike up the river trail, and in their adventures they've seen eagles building nests.
"We track the eagles up there to see if they are still building the nests in the tall pines," she said.
And when she returns to work, she sees that businesses are still building success stories in the Chippewa Valley.
Mark Gunderman is the editor of Chippewa Valley Business Report. Contact him at 738-1607 or through www.chippewavalleybusinessreport.com
Email this story
Print this story