JANESVILLE—Employees, friends and family members wandered through Dollar General's new 1-million-square-foot warehouse Saturday while awaiting the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The grand opening is a few months overdue, as the warehouse already has been operating since last fall. 

The loudspeakers echoed off the high ceilings as the ceremony began. Among the speakers were Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos and Rock County Administrator Josh Smith.

“This is fantastic. This is the work of our plan here in Rock County and the Janesville-Beloit area to bring jobs—good, family-sustaining jobs—right here,” Ryan said.

Ryan also asked members of the crowd to raise their hands if they were Packer or Badger fans.

“Your job is to convert those other people who did not raise their hands,” he said jokingly.

Vasos then addressed the crowd and thanked those in attendance.

“This day is really for all of you,” he said, noting Dollar General now employs more than 1,300 Wisconsin residents.

One thing that is yet to be seen: Can Dollar General fill the void left when General Motors stopped production in Janesville in 2008?

Mike Sturdivant of Milton, a Dollar General employee attending the event, said the new warehouse benefits all of Rock County, not just Janesville and Beloit. And while completely filling the void left by GM might be difficult, having a large employer creating jobs definitely helps.

Sturdivant didn't work for GM, but he worked for one of the companies with which it contracted.

"I felt the effects" of the Janesville plant's closure, he said.

Distribution center director Matt Lucas said it would be tough for Dollar General to make up for the loss of GM, but the company isn't looking to be just another employer. It wants to be a community member in supporting the local work force, he said.

“This isn't just another job for you. This is, hopefully, a career place for you," he told those gathered.

The warehouse isn't currently offering any part-time work, only full time, Lucas said.

“We have 400 to 500 people here now, and we've had over 7,000 applicants for those jobs,” he said, adding that the company hopes to increase its local workforce to 600 or 700 in coming years.

“As we grow, as far as a store base, that's when we'll add additional people,” Lucas said.

The warehouse's reach has already grown considerably, Lucas said.

“In a five-month time period, we've grown from 230 stores to just over 800 stores,” he said.  

Job opportunities at the Janesville warehouse have drawn interest from workers outside the area, including places such as Rockford, Illinois.

Some have traveled even farther. Kent Hatter was in town Saturday to support his daughter, who moved from Pennsylvania to take a managerial position at the Janesville warehouse.

Hatter said many Pennsylvania communities that once relied on industries such as coal mining are struggling. However, distribution centers such as Dollar General's have popped up and, in many cases, helped the job market.

Gale Price, Janesville's director of economic development, said Dollar General's  distribution center is a $100 million investment in the community. It is the largest single economic development effort in the history of the city, he said.  

Part of the company's investment included a $10,000 donation to Hedberg Public Library, Lucas said.

"This day has been a long time in the making, and we're excited to be here,” he said.

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