Summit's focus is forward
Focus on developing a four-year university in Janesville rather than 4-year-old kindergarten.
Subsidize new business start-ups.
End all government subsidies.
Start a “who wants to be an entrepreneur” contest.
Those were just a few of the hundreds of ideas generated Thursday at a communitywide brainstorming on the future of the local economy.
Organized by Forward Janesville and the city, the session was designed to gather input that will help chart an economic development course for the city as its fits into a regional economy.
“We’re challenging you to think beyond the obvious and focus on what can be, rather than what is,” said Rich Gruber, chairman of Forward Janesville’s board of directors and vice president of advocacy at Mercy Health System.
About 175 people attended Thursday’s session at the Holiday Inn Express & Janesville Conference Center.
Todd Berry, president of Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, kicked off the afternoon with a presentation on the state and local economy, while City Manager Steve Sheiffer outlined the city’s ongoing economic development efforts.
Sheiffer said the city’s top priorities are helping existing companies expand and attracting new businesses to the city. More than 70 percent of a community’s new jobs typically come from existing businesses, and the key to that is having a quality education system, which Janesville has, he said.
“Everyone can offer a TIF, and many communities can say they’re on the Interstate,” he said. “What we’re really selling to companies is Janesville and its overall quality of life.”
Gruber noted that the community hadn’t staged such a summit in more than 20 years. The last one, he said, produced economic and social diversification in the community, the use of Tax Increment Finance districts and the formation of Forward Janesville as a local engine for economic development.
When Sheiffer came up with the idea for Thursday’s summit, General Motors had announced that it would cut second-shift production at its Janesville plant and lay off more than 700 well-paid workers.
In the interim, GM announced its plans to cease production at the Janesville plant by the end of 2010 at the latest.
While Thursday’s session was not billed as a summit on the GM, several of the breakout discussions drifted into possible reuses for what soon could be an empty 4 million-square-foot plant.
Gruber said the summit committee will gather all of Thursday’s suggestions and compile them into a list of themes that will dictate the community’s next steps.
Amy Loasching, city council president, said the results will be made public in the next two or three weeks.