Vicki Markussen is executive director of the 7 Rivers Alliance, a regional leadership group that began in 2003. It boosts economic growth by fostering collaboration among companies, individuals, universities and other organizations in western Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa. Markussen says the 7 Rivers Alliance can help the composites industry and vice versa, and she explained why in her recent interview with Composites Manufacturing.

Vicki Markussen-Executive Director of 7 Rivers Alliance

Vicki Markussen-Executive Director of 7 Rivers Alliance

At a time when competition, not cooperation, seems to dominate business owners, how have you attracted a diverse group of members?

Our main mission is to keep, attract and grow jobs in this region. To do that, we need to foster the healthiest possible environment for businesses. We need to remove roadblocks that threaten to impede the success of companies here, and we need to constantly find ways to promote innovation and collaboration, so business leaders can help each other. Through our alliance, they can create a support base, capitalize on continuing education opportunities, network at events and share ideas to grow their businesses.

Why has the Alliance taken such a keen interest in the composites industry?

Fortunately for the alliance and our region in general, there are 14 composites firms in a concentrated area here, especially in Winona (Minn.). They have always been on our radar, and one reason is that they had a consortium already in place, which began about 20 years ago. As our alliance began developing, we embraced an economic development model called “clustering,” which essentially identifies natural clusters and core strengths and builds strategies and programs from them. It was obvious that composites companies were interested in getting together and sharing ideas, so we knew it was going to be an important focus for us.

What actions have you or your members taken to work with composites companies?

One of our most significant relationships is with Winona State University (in Winona, Minn.), which is one of our six higher education members. The university was recently in discussions with composites firms in the Winona area, and together they recognized the need for a new undergraduate degree in the field of composites. They made that happen, and it was a prime example of organizations in our group that respond to the needs of local businesses and help them meet their workforce needs. In addition to that, the alliance is communicating with composites firms to try to increase innovation and help them reach emerging markets, including bio-composites.