EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — For centuries, the point where the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers meet has been a gathering place: first for Native Americans and later for immigrants from places like Germany, Norway and France.
The name Eau Claire comes from the French phrase “clear water”. The land around those waters is now home to a vibrant arts scene, a nationally recognized university, and a diverse group of businesses. Members of the City Council believe the investment in infrastructure, public safety and outdoor amenities are major assets to draw in new companies and workers.
“We’re as aggressive as we can when we compete with area communities for industry and businesses that want to come here,” said Eau Claire City Council President Terry Weld. “I think in the end, we’re a well-run respectful, compassionate community and that goes a long way.”
Weld credits the community for supporting a $1.4 million referendum in the November election that is expected to enhance public safety. The funds will be used to hire six addition police officers plus six firefighters and two civilian community service officers. Weld says city staffing has remained at similar levels to 20 year ago, despite the growth throughout Eau Claire. The extra funding for the new positions will allow first responders the needed time off to rest and recover. Weld calls this a win-win for the community and city staff.
“Most of them are getting called in on their days off and their holiday and vacation,” Weld said. “To have those additional officers there to provide that day or two of rest is going to make a huge difference to them, to our community.”
The city council has focused on building more modern infrastructure, from streets and bridges to parks and bike trails. Weld is confident those projects, combined with other amenities, enhances quality of life and helps improve the pitch to prospective developer. Quality of life also requires quality housing, and Weld acknowledges the need for options. He says empty nesters and baby-boomers are looking for smaller homes or even side-by-side homes, while remote workers are looking for big-city amenities in a small town atmosphere.
The council understands the importance of setting itself apart as an attractive halfway point between several Midwestern cities.
“The proximity to Minneapolis has really made a huge difference. And being in that corridor from Minneapolis to Chicago or Minneapolis to Madison creates a lot of opportunities for businesses to be able to be in the middle or nearby,” said Weld.
An attraction unique to Eau Claire: the sculpture tour which launched in 2011. As of 2022, the outdoor public art exhibit includes nearly 80 sculptures from local and international artists. People plan day trips around the tour, including members of his own family, according to Weld.
“It’s been a great draw for us. It’s also added a lot of culture and art to our community,” Weld said. “I think it’s fun to see the sculptures, and it puts a smile on people’s face.”
The tour is believed to be the second-largest outdoor sculpture tour in the country.