LAIC, Prairie Village face different challenges

FEW CAMPERS are found at Prairie Village midweek during July. However, during the annual Steam Threshing Jamboree in August, every site will be filled, as will an overflow lot where power is not available. Last week, manager Faron Wahl asked the Lake County Commission for funding to help repair the underground electrical system which is not functioning properly.

Tourism and economic development are considered together as part of the Lake County budget, placing requests from Prairie Village and the Lake Area Improvement Corporation (LAIC) side by side. However, the two organizations face substantially different challenges.

At the annual meeting earlier this year, LAIC reported net gains over the past two years while Prairie Village struggles to keep the lights on for campers who use its sites. With over $11 million in net assets, LAIC reported gains of $376,741.

In making a request of $25,000 from the county last week, Executive Director Eric Fosheim indicated LAIC will be launching the Forward Madison 4 (FM4) campaign this fall. His letter stated the funds would be used toward projects related to the initiative.

"We're drumming up some excitement about the campaign," he told commissioners, reporting that previous campaigns have resulted in the creation of 500 jobs in the Industrial Park.

In the past, the focus has been on eliciting investment from businesses. With this campaign, LAIC will seek to get the general public involved, according to Fosheim.

He stated that with FM4, LAIC will focus on housing and daycare, two ongoing needs within the Madison community. He reported that despite increasing building costs, four of five spec houses constructed in the Cyber Estates have been sold.

"Before they had the footings in the ground, they had that sold," Fosheim said about another spec house which is under construction.

On the flip side, two planned apartment buildings have been placed on the back burner. Fosheim attributed this to a 32% increase in the cost of building supplies over the past seven months.

In speaking about the need for daycare, he said a committee is looking at opportunities.

"We know we have a number of daycare providers who would retire if they knew they weren't leaving their parents high and dry," Fosheim said.

He provided commissioners with updates on business relocations to the Industrial Park and on the proposed tru Shrimp project, which he indicated has been scaled back. Fosheim reported the company is seeking capital investment and needs a strategic partner.

Prairie Village was hit hard by the pandemic, according to manager Faron Wahl. In a written budget request for $7,000, he noted, "We were able to weather the overall storm thanks to factors such as grant opportunities, kind partners and very tight fiscal management."

During 2020, the living history museum was open to visitors and campers but did not offer any events. For the first time in the organization's history, Prairie Village did not host the steam threshing jamboree in August.

This year, operations are back to normal, but the nonprofit faces challenges with the underground electrical service that provides power to campers.

"The power was put in over the years. They put in power as they had a need and the resources," Wahl explained. Now they are experiencing outages in three different areas, which has a significant impact on revenue generated from camping.

"Two of the three we have no choice but to do something about," Wahl told commissioners. With the third, he has been told, isolating one site will enable the rest of that line to be used.

He explained that while camping "doesn't float the boat," it is a piece of the puzzle which contributes to the organization's financial sustainability. It also brings in new visitors to the area.

"Camping brings to us a whole series of families who find us online. Our camping is a significant piece of what we do," he said.

Wahl said that funding provided by the county would be used to fund necessary repairs to Prairie Village's electrical system.