Our View: Skyward success came from community effort
Written by Stevens Point Journal Media
This was not a certain outcome. In fact, it’s an outcome that Stevens Point and communities across central Wisconsin spent most of this year fighting hard to reach, because for most of this year, many of us feared the worst.
The loss of Skyward Inc. from this community, after the educational software firm lost out on a statewide contract, would have been devastating. Skyward employs hundreds of people with good pay and benefits. A 2011 study by the Portage County Business Council put its estimate of the cost of losing the company at $209 million just for Portage County, when economic ripple effects were considered. And Skyward leaders explicitly said that without a contract to do business with Wisconsin schools, it would very likely leave the community.
Instead, on Wednesday Stevens Point gathered to hear the announcement of Skyward’s plans to build a new, $30 million headquarters here and create 700 new jobs in the next 10 years. The firm is not just staying, it is growing here.
What got us here was a community effort. We saw political leaders from both parties come together to work hard to persuade the state to change course. We saw a grassroots effort from residents who called and wrote their elected leaders, who posted yard signs and attended rallies. And we saw a political system that responded to constituents and made a difference.
The new state budget changed policy to create a system that will allow Wisconsin school districts to use different vendors for educational support. This allows Skyward to stay in business here, even as it competes for business with other firms that provide similar services.
And that is, after all, the way it is supposed to work.
Under the new law, districts will be free to contract with the vendors they believe provide the best service for them. Right now, in more than half of the districts in Wisconsin, that is Skyward.
A big part of what drove the outcry around the state’s decision to award its business solely to a Minnesota-based firm was the fact that doing so would have meant an upheaval in districts across the state, including substantial costs around switching over.
The elected leaders who worked hard on this deserve real credit. State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, and Scott Krug, R-Rome, do not agree on much. But they agreed on this, and worked together effectively. The same goes for state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, and Reps. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, and Amy Sue Vruwink, D-Milladore.
And it worked. We are excited to see Skyward’s new facilities take shape, and excited to have the company as a growing part of our community for years to come.