ANTIGO - When you spend most days in a Madison office building wearing a shirt and tie, it feels kind of good to trade the tie for a hard hat and see the economy hard at work.
That's the experience the state Department of Financial Institutions staff is getting this week.
"We were incredibly impressed," secretary Jay Risch said.
Risch's seven-stop timber tour across northern Wisconsin brought him to Kretz Lumber in Antigo on Tuesday to get a sense of the huge Northwoods industry. The visit marked Risch's first stop at a lumber yard in his life.
"We wanted to get out there and see what those bankers are dealing with for their customers," Risch said.
DFI oversees 161 state-chartered banks and 128 state-chartered credit unions, along with handling trademarks and trade names, mortgage banking professionals, and securities professionals. Part of Risch's focus is to make sure those banks lend to businesses like Krtez in a responsible way. Strong loans can have a ripple effect statewide.
"The inter-connectedness of all of the Wisconsin products that go into making it a strong economy, which is what we have right now," Risch said.
Kretz President Troy Brown, who has worked for the company for 32 years, wanted to emphasize to Risch how important his nearly 90-year-old company is to the area.
"It actually is a pretty big wheel in a pretty big engine," Brown said.
More than 600 people in Langlade County rely on timber-related jobs; 83 of them work for Kretz. Brown says there's a comfort to knowing he can provide new equipment and buy products for those workers through loans from his local, state-backed lender, Peoples State Bank.
"We really enjoy the relationships and that's what they value and that's what we value," Brown said.
Risch plans to report back to the governor on a healthy industry driving the Northwoods economy when he goes back to Madison later this week.
"It's a lot of fun when things are going well," Risch said of his work.
But Brown hopes this was a visit that shows leaders in Madison how financial decisions impact a lot of people north of Highway 29.
"Probably one of the most rewarding things is people walking away saying, we never knew that something like this existed," Brown said. "We enjoy giving tours. We're pretty proud of what we do."
Risch and the DFI's tour wrapped up at Enterprise Wood Products in Rhinelander. It continues Wednesday with stops at the U.S. Forestry Distribution in Rhinelander and Marth Wood in Marathon.