By Owen Reissmann for Wausau Pilot and Review

At this Tuesday’s Marathon County Extension, Education, and Economic Development meeting, members learned that the area’s manufacturing industry has seen a recent increase in jobs, which is promising for the county.

The committee vowed to encourage and support those increases, seeking to reduce vacancies and increase, or at least maintain, the number of jobs available.

One concern is the lack of a bus route to the industrial park. Thus, some who could work but do not have a vehicle remain unable to. Other states have retained transit authority, where only in areas where buses go would such taxes be levied. Wisconsin currently is not allowed to do this, but there is speculation that under the newly-elected governor, Tony Evers, perhaps this might be an option.

Committee chair Sara Guild encouraged everyone present to attend the first public launch on Wednesday of the McDEVCO revolving loan fund to which the county contributed one million dollars. The county is looking to slowly reduce over time other moneys given to McDEVCO to encourage the organization to move toward self-sufficiency.

A representative for the Entrepreneurial and Education Center shared that they are planning to increase the number of business competitions they offer and looking to make them more public. He attributed the center’s ability to offer quality business classes to funding provided by the county.

Some discussion occurred regarding a local broadband effort. It was put to the committee to decide what full coverage means to them: whether they should base goals on geography or population, what minimum speed they would seek, and whether they should try to tie in cell phone coverage.

A focus group was held last month, noting that in some rural areas people cannot get cell access unless they walk to a nearby road. There are also people currently paying $150-200/month for speeds less than the basic 25/5 speed.

The committee decided to have an analysis done to see what would be needed to gain 85-90 percent broadband coverage for Marathon County.