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Some Janesville area companies enjoyed success in ’09

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JAMES P. LEUTE
December 29, 2009
— Job losses, furloughs and declining retail sales.

Increasing foreclosures and declining home values.


All were offshoots of a poor national economy in 2009, and all were exacerbated in Rock County by the decimation of the auto manufacturing sector and troubles in other industries.


But in case you missed it, the year that’s nearly finished did produce several economic success stories that local economic development officials say bode well for the area’s recovery.


“I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by the level of positive activity in 2009, particularly given the strong financial constraints in the market and the challenging economic forecasts,” said James Otterstein, Rock County’s economic development manager.


Stretching across Rock County, examples are abundant, and they range from groundbreaking for a $150 million hospital and medical campus in Janesville to a winery in Milton that created a handful of new jobs.


Here’s a sampling:


Janesville

When it opens in 2011, the St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital and Dean Clinic medical complex in Janesville will add hundreds of jobs and solidify the community as a regional medical destination.


Mercy Health System is wrapping up its Mercy Campus Clinic, a massive parking structure topped off with medical offices for oncology, urology, trauma and neurosciences.


On a smaller scale, others are investing in Janesville, too.


Woodman’s Food Market built a $3.5 million, 30,000-square-foot corporate headquarters, and Data Dimensions is building a $3 million state-of-the-art data center that initially will employ 50 new workers and could add more than 200 in the next few years.


Sara Investment Real Estate spent $4.5 million to renovate the former Helgesen Building downtown, just steps away from the $4 million parking structure the city is building. The city also awarded a $30 million contract for expansion of its wastewater treatment plant.


Helgeson Holdings spent millions to renovate a massive building on the city’s south side vacated by LSI, a former supplier to the General Motors assembly plant in Janesville.


Helicopter Specialties, a small company that customizes medical helicopters, is spending $1.6 million to more than double its operation at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport. Marling Lumber spent two years and $2 million transforming the former Wolohan Lumber operation on Humes Road into the elaborate Marling HomeWorks showroom.


Buffalo Wild Wings anchored a new strip center on Milton Avenue, adjacent to a previously unoccupied building where Slumberland found a retail use for more than 30,000 square feet.


“We’ve done well with some homegrown projects, and we hope in 2010 for a combination of local investment and the occasional outside investment,” said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville.


“On the other hand, there are still some fragile balance sheets in the community. I’d be disappointed, but not surprised, if we have some more bad news.”


Beloit

Frito-Lay announced a $28.5 million expansion in Beloit that will help the company retain 500 jobs and add another 25.


“This project speaks volumes about the strategic supply chain connections that are linked to the Janesville-Beloit area,” Otterstein said. “The ability to utilize Wisconsin-based raw materials, coupled with a congestion-free transportation network, enables Frito-Lay to service a seven-state territory.”


Announcement of the investment sent a positive signal about the county’s overall economic climate, he said.


Also in 2009, Kerry Americas officially opened its $44 million Innovation and Technical Center, which consolidates the international food company’s North American divisions onto a multi-building campus for improved collaboration and research and development.


And in two phases, the Idaho-based Hydroblend made a $13.4 million investment in 100,000 square feet. The company, which makes specialty foods, created about 70 jobs.


Milton

Near the recently redesigned and reopened Highway 59, R&M Manufacturing and Consulting completed a 20,000-square-foot expansion that involved an investment of about $900,000.


R&M formed in 2004 when ThyssenKrupp decided to get out of the machining business and laid off many of its employees in Janesville. Many former employees of ThyssenKrupp, also known as Gilman Engineering, made the move to R&M in Milton.


“R&M is a perfect example of what happens when a large, global manufacturer closes its doors,” Otterstein said. “A lot of talent is left behind, and these guys found a vacant building and went to work in a niche business.”


Elsewhere in Milton, a $500,000 investment resulted in the birth of Northleaf Winery. The community also saw the opening of Patty’s Plants, The Red Zone, Anytime Fitness and The Lunchbox.


Small Wonders Child Care also made a significant investment in a new building.


Evansville

The ongoing expansion of Larson Acres made headlines in 2009.


In July, the Larson family submitted an application to build a $12.8 million expansion at its home farm at 18218 W. Highway 59, Evansville. The project, which is in the permitting process, will double the farm’s herd to 5,275 Holsteins. Currently the farm raises 2,668 animals between the home farm and a heifer facility at 17162 W. County B, Brodhead.


The Heights at Evansville Manor, a 25-unit assisted living complex, opened early in the year to complement an existing nursing home.


And federal stimulus money helped launch a $7 million upgrade to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.


Edgerton

Continuing the county’s strong emphasis on health care, Edgerton Hospital and Health Services announced plans to go ahead with a $26 million, 25-bed hospital on Highway 59 and Sherman Road.


An independent company will build a 10,000-square-foot medical office building adjacent to the hospital. SSM Health Care, owner of the Dean Edgerton Clinic, will be the primary renter.


In June, residents approved a referendum to spend up to $1.2 million on a new City Hall, and efforts continue to fill residential and retail space at the Fulton Square development.


“2009 was certainly a challenging year,” Otterstein said of countywide economic development. “A lot of what we saw was already planned and committed to, but people still had to pull the trigger on the projects.”


Forward Janesville’s Beckord agreed.


While communities always hope for more economic development, the realities of the global, national, state and local economies were challenging, he said.


“There just isn’t a lot of deal flow out there,” Beckord said. “Given the severity of the recession, I think what’s happened locally is very impressive.


“Is it enough to overcome all of the downsides in the economy? Of course not.”



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