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County’s economy shows promise

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Mike Heine
October 25, 2007
— A privately funded economic study of Walworth County confirmed what community and business leaders had surmised.

“What the study did was solidify and quantify our perceptions,” said Ron Jandura, Burlington Area School District superintendent. “The perception is that we have to prepare for a global economy with a rapidly changing workforce. Walworth County is probably a sleeping giant in many ways. We have some tremendous resources that can be marshaled to create economic development.”


Without a central plan, person, group of municipality to lead the way, Walworth County’s economic growth has been left to happenstance development, according to the study.


“There is no true county comprehensive plan that pulls everything together,” said Ronald ‘Bud’ Gayhart, director of the UW-Whitewater Small Business Development Center.


“When I go into the private sector and see a business going through strategic planning, each of the departments looks how their strategic plan can support corporate goals. What we don’t see in county government is a comprehensive plan for the county and how each of the municipalities can blend their support of that.


“Everyone seems to be on their own track or own agenda,” Gayhart said. “They don’t often collaborate to see how we can build synergies.”


The 63-page study by David Ward, a consultant who runs NorthStar Economics in Madison, recommends the county develop a detailed plan to guide and promote economic development.


The county has an underperforming economy, according to the study.


Steve Beers, president of Keefe Real Estate, one of the companies that helped pay for the study, said a plan should have a regional approach.


“We need to pool together to make this county good and to have positive things happen,” Beers said. “You can’t just say, ‘It’s in my backyard,’ anymore. You need a whole-county approach to what’s happening.”


Bliss Communications, parent company of The Janesville Gazette, also helped pay for the study.


Walworth County is positioned for growth and needs to take advantage of its benefits, including proximity to major metropolitan areas, transportation infrastructure, an available workforce, natural resources and educational facilities, Ward suggested.


Manufacturing, while declining, will continue to play an important role in the area economy for the foreseeable future, and more focus should be put on the service economy, Ward said.


“A service economy is not McDonald’s. Repeat after me: ‘A service economy is not McDonald’s,’” Ward told a room full of community and business leaders Wednesday. “It’s architects. It’s engineers. It’s accountants. It’s (information technologies) people. It’s customer service people.”


Having a plan will develop more opportunities, which always will be market driven.


“You should be focusing on growing global markets, high value and high tech opportunities,” Ward said.


Walworth County budget

A look at the 2008 budget for Walworth County:


Highlights: Soaring health care costs are forcing the hand of Walworth County’s management team as they prepare the 2008 budget.


To keep pace with escalating costs, the county will have to budget about $3.7 million more than it spent last year on employee health care, according to Administrator David Bretl’s budget outlook.


The cost of county’s special education program will increase again, despite shifting about 23 full-time positions onto the payrolls of local school districts. The special education budget will need about $1 million more in property tax dollars next year. Much of that increase is going toward paying for a new school for children with disabilities.


Among the reduced spending proposals passed at a finance committee meeting earlier included reducing spending for the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance and the Walworth County Visitor’s Bureau by $40,000 each.


If passed as proposed, residents owning a $250,000 home will pay about $50 less in county taxes than last year.


An increase in equalized value around the county led to a 4.92 percent reduction of the tax rate.


What’s next: Public budget hearing at 6 p.m. today at the Walworth County Government Center, 100 W. Walworth St., Elkhorn.


The county board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the same location to debate and act upon the budget.


Total budget


Next year $159.84 million


This year $146.76 million


Increase 8.9%


Tax levy


Next year $54.70 million


This year $52.24 million


Increase 4.7%


Tax rate


(Per $1,000 of assessed valuation)


Next year $3.90


This year $4.10


Decrease 4.9%


Note: Percent changes calculated on whole numbers.


Click here to read the full report in pdf format

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