Our Views: Contract with GE a big step forward for SHINE's plans in Janesville

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

“This could really change the face of Janesville and redefine the area for the next century. We have to redefine what Janesville and Rock County are going to be.”

—former Janesville City Councilman Russ Steeber, in 2012

Greg Piefer says a long-term contract that SHINE Medical Technologies has signed to supply GE Healthcare with medical isotopes validates his company's plans.

It also validates Janesville's support. It confirms the confidence that astute, forward-thinking Janesville City Council members showed in 2012 when they approved millions in incentives to help Monona-based SHINE build a factory here. Their decision wasn't without risk. After all, SHINE had yet to produce anything.

Piefer, SHINE's founder and chief executive officer, rightly calls the deal with the division of General Electric a big milestone. GE Healthcare is an industry leader in diagnostic imaging procedures that depend on molybdenum-99, the isotope used in more than 40 million medical tests each year.

The council two years ago agreed to offer $5 million in incentives and another $4 million in loan guarantees so SHINE could build on Highway 51 across from the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport. That spot gives it ready access to air transport to speed the isotopes—which disintegrate quickly—to customers that will use them to diagnose cancer and heart disease.

Kathy Voskuil and Sam Liebert are the only holdovers from the council that backed the 2012 plan, and Voskuil is stepping down after not seeking re-election April 1. That shift symbolizes our community's change. Likewise, if SHINE emerges from the federal regulatory maze and its factory opens in 2017, as the company hopes, it could symbolize Janesville's evolution in this post-General Motors era.

The city in 2011 secured 84 acres for SHINE. Last year, the city helped the company meet federal buffering requirements by buying eight more acres. With the feds also committing $25 million to SHINE, some residents liken this help to corporate welfare.

Yet company officials figure they will have invested $180 million in construction, equipment and regulatory costs when the plant opens. SHINE projects it will generate $200 million in revenues its first year. The city's aid isn't being doled out until SHINE hits benchmarks. One of those is bringing at least 125 jobs paying an average of $60,000 annually. The economic impact of having most of that money spent locally is more than $10 million per year. Within 10 years, the city would recoup all its money through property taxes the factory would generate. Even if the plan somehow falls apart, the city would keep the land and market it to other developers.

Piefer is confident that won't happen. The worldwide medical industry needs a safe, reliable supply of isotopes as factories in Canada and the Netherlands shut down in coming years. SHINE would do that through an innovative process involving low-level enriched uranium.

With Rock County just down the road from Madison and its stable of university researchers, having SHINE here could help lure other high-tech medical industries in this evolving era of high-tech advanced manufacturing. Piefer, to his credit, was talking up Janesville as a welcoming city back when Stevens Point and Chippewa Falls were competing for SHINE. This factory could be the linchpin for redefining Janesville. Getting GE Healthcare to sign on brings it one huge step closer to reality.

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