The Oneida County Economic Development Corporation (OCEDC), one of the many entities providing assistance and information to small businesses as they weather the COVID-19 pandemic, has a new executive director.
Jeff Verdoorn, who retired last October as a vice president of Ahlstrom-Munksjö, the Swedish company that bought the Rhinelander paper mill in 2018, started in the position on May 4, he confirmed in an interview Tuesday.
He succeeds Stacey Johnson who left in January for a state position.
The OCEDC is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental agency whose mission is to stimulate the orderly growth of businesses and industries in Oneida County. It works in cooperation with the area chambers of commerce, Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
Right now, OCEDC's main mission is to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's all about networking," Verdoorn said. "We're being Zoom meeting-ed to death right now in terms of trying to coordinate the response."
Verdoorn said he stepped forward so this pivotal position would not be left vacant at a critical time.
"This is an interim role, with Stacey (Johnson) leaving and this whole COVID-19 thing going on. I've got a lot of experience in the area, the board asked me personally if I would assume the role for a period of time," Verdoorn said. "I was already on the executive board, plus I had obviously used our services for the (Expera) coater project, I know the value of the organization and I saw it as an opportunity to give back to a community that has really given me so much."
"Right now, it's all hands on deck in terms of helping our small businesses with this COVID-19 response," Verdoorn added.
Brittany Beyer, executive director of Grow North, is glad to be able to tap into Verdoorn's expertise.
"Grow North is happy to see Jeff Verdoorn act as Interim Director at Oneida County Economic Development Corporation. In a short period of time, Jeff has jumped in to help the businesses here in Oneida County. His past experience at the paper mill makes him an excellent organizational strategist while still knowing that the heart of the Northwoods is shouldered by small businesses. He walked into the job knowing he had to support businesses in uncertain times, and I believe he will certainly do that," Beyer said.
Verdoorn said many area small businesses are faced with having to make up over two months of lost revenue, due to shutdowns caused by the pandemic.
"I can't imagine trying to be in their shoes. Our goal is to marry up the money that is starting to be available with the need," Verdoorn said. "We work hand-in hand with the state WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation), they have resources that we can go after."
Verdoorn was hesitant to compare the present economic downturn with the Great Depression.
"This is such a short time frame that I don't know if it can be compared," he said. "A lot depends on is there going to be wave 2, who knows? Right now we're just trying to get businesses up and going again. Hopefully, we'll be able to stay going."
One thing that is different from the Depression is the internet. OCEDC has been working for years to get more of the county covered with broadband service.
"That's one of the things I'm really proud of in the OCEDC in terms of the work we've done to bring broadband to a lot of the area of Oneida County. It's really been invaluable during this whole stay at home time frame. That's something our organization worked with and led and something I'm very proud of," Verdoorn said.
"We've got 90 percent of the county by area essentially covered at this point," he added. "I'm a firm believer that we have got to get it out to the entire county."
Verdoorn said the OCEDC has secured five grants so far to aid in this effort.
"We're working on the 2019 grant as we speak," he said.
Lower sales tax revenue, as a result of the businesses closures, is likely to have negative impact on the budgets of towns, city and county governments, he noted.
"We have to sort all that out," Verdoorn said. "That's why it's so important that we get our businesses back up and going and what we're working so hard to do."
It's going to take a team effort to pull the region out of this downturn, he noted
"I'm trying to build a network, and if folks want to learn more about us or how we can help, please give us a call," he said.
The OCEDC can be reached at 715-525-1542.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at jamie @rivernewsonline.com
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