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We’ve heard much about the challenges faced in the region, state and nation in the area of available talent.

Needless to say, talent attraction, development and retention are a key factor in attracting and advancing business and industry in the region.

There are many factors that come into play when addressing the workforce shortage, one being adequate housing for our existing and future workforce. This exists through the region, especially in smaller and more rural communities.

It is not easy to identify housing needs, let alone develop a plan with participating partners to address a need, but it is easy to gravitate toward the most apparent perceived housing category that appears to lack sufficient volume.

Communities are conducting studies to determine where they have deficiencies — deficiencies that are often not the most obvious.

A shortage of senior housing might force families in smaller homes from purchasing larger homes still occupied by seniors looking to downsize.

Young professionals and new families hoping to purchase their first home might have a limited market to select from as a result. The real need, or deficiency, might be disguised due to lack of movement somewhere else in the housing cycle.

A few months back Momentum West hosted a housing summit. The goal was to bring communities, developers, support agencies, potential funding sources, state agencies and others together with the hopes that we can identify the real needs and ignite development in the region.

Since then, we’ve seen several groups of developers from the Twin Cities visit communities in the region, with several projects in conversation.

For any of these projects to garner a high level of success, collaboration is becoming more important.

Two examples of this collaboration have surfaced since this summit. This summer meetings took place involving representatives from the city of Altoona and the city of Eau Claire, as well as partners from the region to form the Chippewa Valley Housing Task Force.

According to co-facilitators Scott Allen, community development director for the city of Eau Claire, and Joshua Clements, city planner for the city of Altoona, “housing has increasingly become less affordable and accessible across the Chippewa Valley. This is a complex and complicated issue that requires an informed, collaborative and sustained approach to solutions. Our collective ability to meet this challenge may determine future health and vitality of our region.”

This group continues to meet and drill down on deficiencies with the goal being to formulate a collaborative effort to address these needs.

In Menomonie, members of a collaborative effort involving the city of Menomonie, the Community Foundation of Dunn County and the Greater Menomonie Development Corp. are welcoming local businesses and industries, medical service providers and educational institutions to participate in a program named Home Sweet Menomonie.

This program is intended to help employers attract and retain employees by offering no-interest, partially forgivable loans for down payments to purchase homes in the city of Menomonie.

The goal of the program is “to increase awareness and resources for homeownership with local employees, increase homeownership rates within the city, increase resources for the renovation of homes, and root local employees within core neighborhoods,” said Dan Ostermann, senior vice president for BMO Harris Bank and vice president of the Greater Menomonie Development Corp., as well as an organizer of this new loan program.

Ostermann said supporters believe the program will help attract employees to businesses in Menomonie and retain them through home ownership.

The first significant supporter has already committed to the program. Ostermann said, “I could not be prouder of the Greater Menomonie Development Corporation’s commitment of $100,000 toward the success of Home Sweet Menomonie. They clearly understand the difference this program will have on employee retention and recruitment and the long-term attributes it will bring to Menomonie.”

As we continue to identify and address the regions housing challenges, regardless of where in the housing cycle the deficiencies exist, more of these creative, collaborative efforts will surface to resolve these challenges.

It’s great to see the Chippewa Valley take the lead.

As we continue to identify and address the regions housing challenges, regardless of where in the housing cycle the deficiencies exist, more of these creative, collaborative efforts will surface to resolve these challenges.

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Steve Jahn is executive director of Momentum West.

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