Luce sees growth in natural resources
Roger Luce has only been an the job less than eight weeks, but he’s already making his presence felt around Oneida County.
Luce, the new Executive Director of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, said that the county’s “business clusters,” along with its abundance of harvestable natural resources, make the county a prime location for future industrial growth.
“I believe this area is ripe for opportunity,” said Luce. “It is such an easy area to market to industry. With the natural beauty, people want to be here.”
That natural beauty is what drew Luce to apply for the role after former executive director Jim Kumbera announced his retirement from the organization. “My wife and I have always wanted to live in Northern Wisconsin,” said Luce. “I believe this area is on the cusp of a huge amount of growth. I’m here because I want to be, not because I have to be.”
Luce comes to the area from Marathon County, where he served a long time dual role as the executive director and CEO of the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce and as executive director of the Marathon County Economic Development Corporation from March 1985 and September 2010. He resigned from the position last year, saying he was “burned out,” but also taking the opportunity to spend time with family. He got back in the game this past spring, taking on several special projects in the economic development field in Marathon County. “I found myself having fun again,” said Luce. “I was energized.”
In his short time in the county, Luce has identified several business clusters, most notably in the food packaging industry, that he believes could see substantial growth. He also identifies two somewhat controversial industries in the Northwoods-mining and forestry-as areas of large potential economic growth. He said the establishment of a log yard in Oneida County along the Canadian National Rail Line could bring a huge amount of industrial growth to the area.
“In Ladysmith, the county built a log yard and operated it at a nice profit for several years, then sold it to a private company for a huge profit,” said Luce. “That could happen here too. The management of the forests is always going to be a huge issue here. It’s important that everyone remembers that you can keep the beautiful Northwoods and also have sustainable and profitable forestry.”
Luce also sees huge potential in metallic mining in the county, specifically the Town of Lynne deposit the county is currently seeking bids on.
“I know my attitude concerning mining probably isn’t going to win me a lot of friends around here, but I truly believe that if people are properly educated about the present state of the mining industry, it would end much of the negative stigma that’s attached to that word,” said Luce. “I know its possible, because I was once a huge detractor myself.”
Luce pointed out that he was always in the “anti-mining” contingent whenever the idea was brought forward in Marathon County over the years. However, his attitude changed after working closely with a mining company on an economic development project last spring. “I realized that you can have a mining operation and still be sensitive to the environment,” said Luce. “When people think of the State of Minnesota, they certainly don’t think of negative environmental issues. The truth is, Minnesota has more active mines than anywhere in the country. The key is holding the companies accountable for their actions.”
To sum up his views on the environment, and how it relates to economic development, Luce pointed to a mantra he has hanging in his office that reads, in part, “…it’s a circle; people can’t achieve economic strength without a healthy environment, and people don’t care about the environment if they don’t have jobs and dollars.”
“It’s about finding that balance,” said Luce.