This past month we kicked off a consulting project with 10 students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All of these students are members of the Ethical and Responsible Business Network (ERBN).

The purpose of the ERBN is to engage and educate students and local businesses in ways that sustainability and profitability go hand in hand, to provide hands-on experience in real-life business planning and instill the knowledge, skills, and commitment needed to be an ethical and responsible business leader. In this blog post, I will share details about our ERBN consulting team. I will also share a little bit about the hard facts, assumptions, and goals we are tackling on this project with them. I am very honored and excited that they chose Bear Lake Coffee Co. for their fall term project.

Our ERBN Consulting Team
Our consulting team is a diverse group pursuing degrees in environmental science, finance and accounting, operations technology management, supply chain management, marketing, human resources, and entrepreneurship. Special thanks go to Ellie Barker, Nipuna Ranasinghe, Sammy Finn, Ryan Owens, Charlie Wheeler, Ally Isselmann, Aaditya Devkota, Evan Za, Mantas Kudzin, and Benjamin Lukszys. They will make recommendations to help drive our triple bottom line (TBL) in the years ahead. The TBL represents the idea that instead of one bottom line, there should be three: profit, people, and the planet. When you talk to these students, you can see their passion and desire not just to collect a paycheck; they want to make an impact. In our initial meetings, we talked over some hard facts about electric car adoption and how rural Wisconsin populations are in decline.

The facts about the state of electric vehicles (EVs) and rural Wisconsin growth

Fact #1: Electric cars still haven't caught on in Wisconsin.

The challenges of EVs in Wisconsin are threefold: range, price, and infrastructure. “Range anxiety” is the fear that an EV will run out of power before reaching its destination. This is a legitimate concern for Wisconsinites, who typically travel long distances on rural roads with few charging stations. Also, EV prices remain high, even with federal and state incentives. Lastly, a comprehensive charging station infrastructure is lacking. Currently, under Wisconsin law, auto manufacturers like Telsa are not allowed to sell directly to the public. In late 2017 a legislative bill named the Electric Vehicle Freedom Act was introduced to allow only EV manufacturers to sell directly. The bill is opposed by the Wisconsin Automobile Dealers & Truck Association.

Fact #2: Rural populations in Wisconsin had been declining between 2010 and 2020, although the pandemic from 2020 to 2022 reversed the trend in many rural communities.  

On a macro scale, rural populations in the state of Wisconsin were in decline between 2010 and 2020, driven by young people moving to larger cities to pursue education, find better job opportunities, and start families. As of 2020, Wisconsin’s population was 5.8 million, with approximately 1.5 million (25%) living in rural areas. However, the pandemic and the work-from-home movement sparked an economic resurgence in some rural communities as workers fled the big cities. I know as I was one of those folks; I moved from Atlanta, GA, and essentially was a resident of Wisconsin in 2020 😊 – I loved every minute of it!

Assumptions and goals for our project

We further discussed some assumptions and goals for the project centering on developing recommendations for our third-place culture and EV charging strategy. 

1. Third-place culture: I asked them to develop a strategy for launching and marketing our third-place culture. We worked with the following assumptions:
      • Our first coffeehouse and roastery will open in 2023 in Barronett, WI (a rural location).
      • Our coffee roastery will produce ~100K lb of roasted coffee a year.
      • Revenue will be a mixture of coffee, goods, and experiences for customers and businesses.
      • We can service retail/wholesale and our additional coffeehouses within a 125-mile radius.
    The final deliverables will be:
      • Make recommendations and suggestions for the interior of the coffeehouse, to include suggested technology, furniture, and interior/exterior features.  
      • Recommend grant programs for investing in and building coffeehouses in rural communities.
      • Make recommendations on how to develop local partnerships to engage the community.
      • Make an action plan with clear priorities to engage the community, to include activities, events, partnerships, and programs.
      • Recommend additional sites on which to open additional coffeehouses in 2024 and beyond based on service radius (see Figure 1 above – there can be a combination of rural and/or urban locations).

    2. EV charging: I asked them to develop an EV strategy for our first coffeehouse location and beyond, to harness the momentum of EV adoption and additional federal/state funding programs rolling out in the coming years. This included:

     The final deliverables will be:
      • Make a recommendation for an EV strategy for our first location.
      • Recommend a strategy for choosing future locations based on the Alternative Fuel Corridors being built in the coming years – building directly or adjacent to this new infrastructure.

      Closing Thoughts

      I am excited to work with our next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders on shaping our business strategy. Reflecting on our initial conversations, I can’t help but think of a quote from Warren Buffet:

       “Life is like a snowball. The important thing is finding wet snow and a really long hill.”

      I am excited to see the nice long hills that ERBN Consulting @ UW-Madison is identifying for us! I appreciate their passion, partnership, energy, and creativity in working with us!

      Wishing you all a very safe Thanksgiving and a joyous start to the holiday season!

      Thanks for reading!

      Sources:

      https://www.wisc.edu/

      https://win.wisc.edu/organization/ERBN

      https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/triple-bottom-line.asp

      https://highways.dot.gov/newsroom/usdot-announces-all-50-states-dc-and-puerto-rico-now-have-alternative-fuel-corridor

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_US_dealership_disputes#States_with_total_direct_sales_bans

      Rural health for Wisconsin Overview – Rural Health Information Hub

      Report: Population Decline in Wisconsin's Rural Counties Is Getting Worse | Wisconsin Public Radio (wpr.org)

      Written by Gabe Damiani

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