Business sought for Lear building
JANESVILLE A local businessman hopes to help fill the void created by the recent departure of Lear Corp. and the hundreds of people it once employed to supply the local General Motors plant.
Todd Kaiser bought Lear's 175,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on Enterprise Drive in September when it became clear that the company's days in Janesville were numbered.
Originally, Kaiser bought the property with the idea of moving his trucking business—Kaiser Transport—from its location on McCormick Drive.
"We need room for warehousing and to load our trucks," Kaiser said.
His company hauls machines and equipment on flatbed trailers to 48 states, Ontario and Quebec from terminals in Janesville and the coasts.
But the Lear building would require unique renovations that would likely diminish the building's value. Because Kaiser uses flatbed trailers, columns in the Lear building would need to be removed to allow loading room for forklifts and other swinging apparatus.
Kaiser instead will make the building available for other companies to buy or lease, preferably for manufacturing or warehousing.
"We're not about buying buildings just to turn them around for a quick sale or lease," Kaiser said. "The goal is to get another company in there.
"We want to help bring jobs back to the area and put good people back to work."
The building could accommodate one tenant or could easily to subdivided for several.
"Two unique things about that building are that it's air conditioned and it has redundant backup generation," said Doug Venable, Janesville's economic development director. "Companies looking at Janesville sometimes want those things, and they can always be added, but at a significant cost."
The building's location and expansion prospects are also appealing, said James Otterstein, Rock County's economic development manager.
The two economic development officials said it's always a benefit to have a local owner when marketing vacant buildings.
"It makes a tremendous impact when you're trying to package and negotiate a deal," Otterstein said. "Todd has a track record and a passion to help the community, and these guys have made themselves accessible to us from Day One."
Kaiser, who has extensive property holdings locally and across the country, said he learned long ago not to buy something unless he has a use for it.
If he can't lease or sell the Lear property, he'll move his trucking company to Enterprise Drive.
If he finds a buyer or lessee, he'll build a 100,000-square-foot building in the vicinity to house Kaiser Transport. The new building, he said, could be expanded to handle his warehousing needs.
"We've got a lot of good leads on the Lear building, but we have some holding power and can be patient," Kaiser said. "It really is a Ferrari of a building."
Kaiser Transport employs about 90 people. Unlike most trucking companies, Kaiser owns its entire fleet of 65 trucks.
The company's niche is using flatbed trailers for less-than-truckload shipping, which means that each truckload might include products for several different customers. Each needs to be carefully managed, he said.
While many freight haulers have been hit hard by the economic downturn, Kaiser has managed to work its position to its benefit.
Because Kaiser owns his fleet, his company needs to work extra hard to make sure its assets are always busy. His drivers are employees, not sub-contractors that can easily be dismissed when business slows.
"These days, it doesn't matter if you're in the trucking business or mowing lawns," he said. "Everything is extremely competitive, and there's absolutely no room for error.
"The silver lining in is that everyone is looking at how they run their business, and some are getting out."