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Sawyer a top performing county for small businesses

Sawyer County is one of the top performing counties for small businesses in Wisconsin, ranking No. 6, according to a new study from SmartAsset.

The online financial organization dug into IRS data nationwide to find places in the United States where small businesses are most prominent. SmartAsset looked at three factors: the proportion of people in a county with small business income, how much business income those people reported and the amount of tax a potential resident must pay on their income.

The organization compared the number of tax returns that report small business income to the total tax-filing population of the region. SmartAsset then compared the total amount of small business income to the overall amount of income reported in each region.

Sawyer County came in at No. 6 with small business returns at 26.02%, and 7.81% in small business income. The average of income taxes paid is $10,895 (as with all 10 counties on the list), and the small business index is 38.04.

Just ahead of Sawyer County was its neighbor to the north, Bayfield County, ranking No. 5. To the east, Washburn County came in at No. 10.

SmartAsset says small businesses are incorporated as "pass-through entities, meaning that the business owners pay income taxes on the company profits rather than the company itself paying income tax. Because of this, income taxes can play a major role in determining the financial success of a given household income."

The organization used the national median household income, then applied relevant deductions and exemptions. It then calculated federal, state and local income taxes for each location.

"It's not by accident that Hayward makes a list like this," said Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Ruckdaschel. "Our businesses here are very savvy when it comes to providing experiences, products and really, the most important of all, service that attracts people and then makes them want to return again and again. I think a high standard of performance exists here and that makes for a great business culture — everyone's game gets elevated."

Ruckdaschel said both tourism and local spending each contribute to the county's overall success.

"While we benefit greatly from our tourism-driven economy, the impact of local spending should never be underestimated," he said. "Here in the Hayward area, we feel the 'shop local' mentality has long been strong, but truly feel the priority on supporting our local economy — and therefore our friends and neighbors — has only continued to grow. It's a trend we certainly want to continue."

The last year was strong overall for many businesses, Ruckdaschel said, despite the unusual times. He said Sawyer County has broken a new sales tax collection record each of the last three years.

"Needless to say, that's a trajectory that's exciting to see and (I) am even more excited about what's ahead," he said.

The small business growth isn't strictly in the downtown/Main Street area, Ruckdaschel added.

"(I am) glad to say that the business success has been spread throughout the area, including businesses within the city limits, downtown and also many businesses throughout the general area," he said.

Sawyer County/Lac Courte Oreilles Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Mike Gardner attributes the county's success to many things, including the fact that the LCO Ojibwe Community College is close to the center of the community.

"That's a plus," Gardner said.

He said he feels that in the future, LCOOCC will be an even bigger part of growing the workforce in the county. He said the college has changed a lot already with the addition of a four-year program.

"I really think that's going to become . . . a major asset," he said.

Gardner said the fact that the county and LCO tribal community collaborate on the economic development is also a factor in the area's success, as many tribal communities in the north operate on their own system.

"I really think the potential (for growth) is magnified by that relationship," he said.

Gardner said that when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many businesses, the EDC did a response immediately and communicated with close to 300 businesses in the county and concentrated on federal programs. Many businesses were able to receive PPP loans through the government.

He said there is funding for the timber industry that hasn't even been released yet, since many PPP funds went to the restaurant sector. This will be big, as the timber industry is a big part of the county.

He added that a program called Shuttered Venues has been working to support places like the Park Center and the Fishing Hall of Fame. The website is not up and running yet, but it should be soon, he said.

"It's amazing what happened over the last year," Gardner said. "We worked closely with the small business center at University of Wisconsin-Superior."

The UWS center was able to assist startup businesses and offer consulting for free.

In the future, Gardner said, the EDC wants to fill the gaps for broadband access to the internet, which is a "challenge" in the northern counties. He said the state recently created an office for outdoor recreation, which would have a direct correlation to the broadband issue since many visitors to this area take advantage of the outdoors and also have a need for the internet since they are staying longer at their second homes.

"While there are many reasons that Sawyer County is an attractive place for small businesses, I really think the biggest key for the area's small business success starts and ends with the people behind them," Ruckdaschel said. "(I) can't tell you how impressive it is to see firsthand the talented, hardworking and intelligent people that don't just contribute to but drive the success of our area."

People can view the full study, methodology and interactive map at smartasset.com/checking-account/savings-calculator#wisconsin.

LCO vaccine supports mass clinic to community

A generous donation of COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine from Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Health Center made it possible to hold a mass clinic for the public, no appointments necessary, on Friday, April 16, at the Hayward High School Gym.

The LCO Health Center provided 1,000 first dosages of the Pfizer vaccine.

The clinic was supported by the professionals from LCO Health Center, Sawyer County Public Health staff, students for the LCO College nursing program and volunteers, including several retired nurses and firefighters from the Round Lake and City of Hayward fire departments who directed traffic.

The clinic started at 10 a.m. with a long line waiting for the vaccine, but once the doors opened people flowed smoothly through the gym.

By 1 p.m. 225 people had been vaccinated

"We are anticipating that we're going to have more people come probably between 3 and 6 p.m.," said Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julia Lyons. "Right now people are coming in from their lunch."

The mass clinic was well organized and no one had to wait more than 10 minutes for a shot.

"I think this is awesome because we are building these awesome relationships with the county and with clinics and the hospital," said Christian Clarquist, registered nurse and co-director of nursing at LCO Health Center. "We are all getting to know each other now. We are all getting familiar with each other now and we are all one big community. We all live here. We all work here. We all play here. We should be helping each other get back to normal."

Dr. Steven Miszkiewicz, medical director at LCO Health Center, discussed the decision to share the vaccine with the community

"Christine and I and Dr. Gary Girard (LCO Health Center director) along with Louis Taylor (chairman of the LCO Tribal Governing Board), felt that it was our duty to share our abundance," Miszkiewicz said. "Through a combination of luck and skill back in August we started with IHS (Indian Health Services) and we bought a large, deep sub-zero freezer so we could store large amounts of the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first vaccine approved, so we were ready."

On Dec. 16 the LCO Health Center administered the first COVID-19 vaccine in the county to staff and some of the Tribal Governing Board as a way to instill community confidence. Besides vaccinating tribal members, the health center also vaccinated staff from the Sawyer County Ambulance and the Hayward and Winter school districts.

In early March, LCO Health Center received a large amount of Pfizer vaccine and discussions began on how to distribute more of it into the larger community.

"We decided to reach out to Julia Lyons and the hospital and say, 'We've got plenty. Let's do something together and get over this,'" he said. "I'm just so tired of COVID. I want it over with and I think the only way to get over with it is to vaccinate people."

The Record spoke to several people at the clinic, and all were thankful to the tribe and LCO Health Center for making the vaccine available to the community.

"We got into our (health) careers because we want to help people," Clarquist said. "This is what we are doing. We are doing our best to vaccinate our whole county and surrounding counties."

Once people realized vaccine was available at LCO Health Center, Clarquist said many requested it, including some from Minnesota, Illinois and even Colorado.

"I really want to emphasize the cooperation of our health director and our tribal governing board has been awesome," Miszkiewicz said. "It's the only way we could have done this."

Lyons said that without LCO making the vaccine available a mass clinic wouldn't have been possible.

Two sisters from the Minong area who attend Northwoods School drove over for the vaccine. They were sitting in the bleachers waiting the mandatory 15 minutes after the shot to show there was no reaction.

"I think it is really good because it's around here and not far away," said Kelsey Schultz.

The sisters were unaware the vaccine was a donation from the tribe, but once they did they were very appreciative.

"They did a great job making us feel welcomed," said Kayla Schultz.

"I'm grateful," said Janelle Kufahl, who had received the vaccine. "It's a huge blessing."

"We could not do this number without LCO," said Linn Newton, a volunteer and retired nurse. "The fact that they came in with this huge number allows us to do this without scheduled appointments. We are hoping people continue to come in today. With the summer coming we want to have close to herd immunity in this community before we get all the visitors coming in."

Paulette Smith, another volunteer and retired nurse, said she was also thankful for LCO's participation.

"It's really fulfilling because everyone is happy to be here," she said. "It makes the job easy."

Those who had their first Pfizer vaccine at the mass clinic on April 16 need to return to the high school again May 7 for the second dose.

School board extends face covering mandate through June 4

The Hayward Community School Board voted 4-3 Monday, April 19, to continue to require all persons inside school buildings to wear face coverings through the end of the school year on June 4.

Monday's vote affirms the board's previous 6-1 vote March 15 to require face coverings through the fourth quarter of the year.

Board member Mike Kelsey made the motion to extend the requirement through the remainder of the school year, "based on information we received from our insurance company and lawyer, and on the success we've had keeping most of the students in school throughout the year."

Voting in favor of the face covering requirement were Kelsey, Dr. Harry Malcolm, Linda Plante and Jim Ahrens. Voting against it were Derek Hand, Stacey Hessel and Lynell Swenson.

Monday's vote came in the wake of a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that Gov. Tony Evers did not have the authority to extend a statewide face covering mandate beyond April 5. The court ruled Evers exceeded his authority by issuing multiple emergency orders in response to what it said was effectively the same emergency.

However, Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julia Lyons stated that "health professionals strongly recommend that you continue to wear a mask and maintain a safe social distance from others when in public spaces through May. Masks and distancing slow the spread of he virus until a greater percentage of our population is vaccinated. We want to avoid a rise in cases attributed to new strains (of coronavirus)."

Supt. Craig Olson told the board that "in the last three weeks we've had one case of COVID-19. The numbers seem to be going the right way."

In a March 30 memo to parents and staff posted on the district's website, Olson said, "We recently became aware that two middle school students and one high school student have tested positive for COVID-19."

Olson noted that last Friday, April 16, a mass vaccination clinic was held in the Hayward High School gym, with vaccine donated from the LCO Community Health Clinic. More than 300 people received COVID vaccine shots.

COVID relief funds

District business manager Jennifer Frank stated that the Hayward Schools will receive $2.215 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, which can be used for a variety of programs to help students achieve over the years 2021-24. The amount of money each district receives depends on the district's number of Title I children (those in low-income families).

The board voted to use the ESSER money to hire seven new staff: an instructional coach in English language arts in grades K-5; instructional coach in K-5 math; behavior coach in grades K-3; art teacher for grades K-2, an early childhood teacher related to upcoming referrals, a social worker for grades 6-12, and a CARES coordinator to work with at-risk students in the middle school and high school.

Olson said, "We can use the money for anything that helps kids achieve."

Frank added, "We're excited; we have some great opportunities."

Olson said that finding qualified staff willing to move to Hayward "will continue to be a big issue for us."

Summer school

The board also voted to hire 57 teachers and support staff for this year's summer school in June. There is still one vacancy, for an intermediate school math teacher.

To date, 368 students have enrolled in summer school, of whom 296 are in grades K-5, 60 in middle school and 12 in high school.

The board voted to approve the updated student transportation contract with Hurricane Busing Inc. for 2021-22, for an increase of 2.5% in compensation. The district pays 75% of the fuel cost and Hurricane Busing pays 25%.

The board voted to contract with E.O. Johnson to provide copiers and copy paper to the district for 2021-22 for $78,000, which is less than the current $92,000 cost per year with another vendor. There are 21 devices, 12 leased, and seven devices will be upgraded.

The board renewed a contract with the Northwood School District to share a full-time occupational therapist, with the Hayward district paying 80% of the salary and Northwood 20%.

The newly-elected board members recited their oath of office and signed the oath document: Linda Plante, Derek Hand and Stacey Hessel.

Personnel actions

In other personnel matters, the board:

• Accepted the retirement resignation of second grade teacher Julie Johnson, who has taught for 38 years, including 36 years in the Hayward School District. She thanked the administration and board for "all that they do in putting children first and supporting teachers and staff."

Johnson said she has been "fortunate enough to accomplish many career goals. Not only have I successfully instructed, nurtured and cared for many Hayward students, but I have developed relationships with parents and community members. My students will always be 'my kids.'"

Johnson added that over the years, she has worked with "an excellent teaching staff who believe that children are our future and should be our priority. I am honored to work with this team. Everyone will be sadly missed."

She said she plans to remain in the Hayward area and is willing to serve as a substitute teacher parttime.

The board thanked Johnson for her service and the board and audience applauded her.

• Accepted the retirement of primary school paraprofessional Cindy Brandau.

• Voted to transfer high school academic coach Jill Bonicatto to a new position as high school special education teacher. The board also voted to hire Mike Anderson to replace Bonicatto as high school academic coach/teacher for 2021-22.

• Hired Darrell Morse as head Nordic ski team coach for 2021-22. He replaces Andy Kreyer.

Dr. Harry Malcolm, finance committee chairman, said children enrolled in 4-year-old kindergarten will have the opportunity to attend full days rather than half days in 2021-22, providing for all-day activity of which half is academic and half sensory issues and hygiene. Child care, breakfast and lunch would be provided.

The district will have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the LCO Tribe to accept 30 children in the Hayward 4K program, with the tribe covering the cost.

Olson told the board that in June administrators will probably recommend a hybrid virtual program for students in grades 6-12 for the next school year, but no virtual program for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

The board approved two new scholarships and a recent donation:

• Craig Cooper of Broadleaf Sawmill donated approximately $400 worth of wood to the Hayward Middle School Technology Education Department.

• The Bryon Schroeder Memorial Scholarships were established. Four students will receive $1,000 each who are pursuing careers in industries that are prominent in the Hayward area, including natural resources, emergency medical services, law enforcement, firefighter, tourism and hospitality, restaurant management and small engine repair.

• Shell Lake State Bank has established a $500 scholarship. The recipient, to be chosen by the high school scholarship committee, must be majoring in business, finance, marketing, accounting or management of information technology.


Site work begins for new Kwik Trip in Hayward

Site work has begun for the construction of a new 24-hour Kwik Trip store and fuel station at 15870 U.S. Hwy. 63 in Hayward, the former location of the Northern Lakes Co-op mall and Gordy's Market.

According to Kwik Trip's building permit issued by the City of Hayward, the new station-store will encompass 11,033 square feet and be valued at $1.3 million.

Steven Wrobel, public relations spokesman for the La Crosse-based chain of more than 700 stores in three states, said, "Our new store is scheduled to open at 5 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23. A ribbon cutting grand opening event is set for 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 30.

Building or remodeling a home? It might be next year

Jeremy Hill, owner of Hill Construction in Hayward, a builder of new homes and major additions, said these day he often receives calls from prospective clients asking, "Do you have time for us next year?"

Not "Do you have time this summer or fall or winter?"

"A lot of people must be calling around and realize how busy everyone is because 80% are asking about next year," Hill said.

Like most building contractors these days, Hill is busy trying to keep up with demand, and even with his five construction crews, there's little likelihood of a new client getting onto the 2021 schedule.

"This is the busiest year I've seen," he said. "We're booked out a solid year, which is further I've been booked out with so many crews before."

A common lament of homeowners is how difficult it is secure someone in the construction field — electrician, carpenter, drywaller or plumber — even for an emergency.

"If there is an emergency and something has to be done, we will drop whatever we've got to do to help," said Dave Carlson of Carlson Electric.

But when it comes to new construction or major remodeling, Carlson has a different tune. "We're not taking on any more projects right now. We're kind of booked as far as that goes."

Chuck Gunderson, a general contractor and developer with his wife, Tracey, who also works in real estate, said, he's working on several projects with subcontractors whom he's worked with for years and those relationships are why he's getting the help he needs. But even for himself, when he and his wife needed a carpet layer for their Davis Woods development, they had difficulty finding a contractor.

"I'm hearing from people I sell homes to that they are looking for someone to do some work," Tracey said. "I can give them names of people but everybody is scheduled out."

Maybe next year

In the last year the real estate market has been hot and there's many new homeowners who want work on their new purchases or want to build on a lot. And there are those who've owned seasonal homes and have moved up North permanently who are looking for additions or renovations. They, too, are having difficulties finding contractors.

The recent influx of urbanites seeking solace in the Great North represent one pressure on contractors, but Sawyer County Zoning Administrator Jay Kozlowski said contractors have been steadily becoming busier each year since 2011 (three years after the Great Recession). And for the last four years, the two weeks before road bans are lifted in April, Kozlowski finds himself saying the same thing about the demand for land-use permits: "The last two weeks have been the busiest I've seen."

Steve Boss, a building inspector who issues building permits for several municipalities, including those in northern Sawyer County, said he was busy last year and he's busy again this year.

"There's lots of building going on," Boss said. "It's mostly new construction."

Tom Smedley, general manager of Nelson Lumber in Hayward, expects the pressure on contractors to continue for some time with so many vacant lots being bought up by those leaving urban areas. That can only mean more construction in the future.

"They are selling their homes at a fairly high premium and they're coming up here and they're ready to go," Smedley said. "With that influx, they are all looking for the same thing, and we only have a finite number of contractors in this area to meet the demand. Couple that with the fact that almost every contractor in this area will tell you that they're having a hard time finding employees, and build turnaround time is an issue; it's not industry specific, it's across all industries."

Hill said he is always looking for experienced carpenters, and to keep the ones he has he offers a competitive wage along with benefits, including health, dental, vision retirement and vacation pay.

Michael Covelli, general manger of Northern Lakes Cooperative, said many contractors use the Do It Best Hardware store for supplies and tell him they are busier than ever.

"If you find a contractor, they're scheduled so far out because they've got so much work right now," he said.

The demand for construction supplies has put a strain on keeping some items in the store.

"Right now, I can tell you we are out of PVC pipe," Covelli said. "There's a shortage of that because of demand."

He added, "I've been doing this for 14 years now and I have never seen anything like this. In paints and tools, those two categories, we've more than doubled our sales. People need tools, power and hand tools. That's a category that has really taken off."

Up, up, UP

Along with your favorite contractor being tied up for months, another new reality for consumers is the higher cost for building materials. For example, Carlson said a roll of wire that used to cost him $62 three months ago is now costing him $189.

Hill said 7/16-inch oriented strand board (OSB) that had cost him $7 to $9 a sheet is now up to $35 or more.

The other day a man with a small pickup load of 2-by-4's said he was in "sticker shock" over what he had to pay.

"I would say across the board everything is going up," Smedley said.

In early 2020, some mills curtailed production over concerns of COVID-19 impacting the economy and slowing construction. But then by May 2020 construction took off like gangbusters and the mills were caught off guard.

"The mills are still trying to catch up," Smedley said. "Normally, November to March is their time to build inventory. They've been unable to do that with the demand that continued through the winter. There's a huge demand and all the mills handling across all the different materials are having a hard time catching up."

Smedley said the only thing that would drive prices down is lack of demand, but with mortgage rates remaining low and more and more people wanting to buy real estate and live in areas like Sawyer County that's not likely to happen soon.

"I just think the demand is going to remain high for a while yet, certainly through this year and probably next," he said.

Hill said because of the fluctuating prices he will not make a bid for any long-term project that includes a fixed price for building materials.

"We're just saying material prices are volatile and they're going up," he said. "We're just going to print our lumber receipts when we're all done and say, 'this is what the price is going to be adjusted to because we can't guarantee anything else.'"

For electrical, Carlson said the higher prices are nearly doubling the material costs, causing some to consider waiting another year to see if prices fall.

Some experts told the Record said those higher prices might lead more people to put off projects for the next year or beyond, but then others, like Smedley and Covelli, believe next year will not provide any relief on price pressure. In particular, Covelli predicts that as the economy improves petroleum prices will rise, adding even further pressure on building materials.

Kindly advice

On Facebook the Record asked its friends for their reaction to availability of contractors and higher prices.

One reader, Will Wallus, who described himself as a busy contractor from the Birchwood area, offered a couple of tips to those who are frustrated: "Be ready for sticker shock when it comes to labor and lumber," and "get organized . . . know what you want done and do some research if it even can be done" and "be patient — everything is taking longer than it should."


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