Janesville25.5°

Officials promote cooperation to help Rock County real estate

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JAMES P. LEUTE
October 15, 2009
— Rock County real estate agents are well aware that home sales for the first eight months of the year are 9 percent below those of last year.

And while they’ve been somewhat buoyed by a 13 percent sales gain in June, July and August, members of the Rock-Green Realtors Association didn’t break into a collective chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”


Instead, the group heard a message Wednesday of economic opportunity from representatives of four Rock County cities.


“Economies are cyclical, and they divert us in different directions,” said Ramona Flanigan, Edgerton’s city administrator. “It’s how we’ve prepared for new opportunities and our flexibility that are critical.


“When you talk about growth in housing, retail and jobs, if you don’t have the jobs, the other things don’t matter as much.”


Flanigan, Janesville City Manager Eric Levitt, Milton City Administrator Todd Schmidt and Kathleen Braatz, executive director of the Downtown Beloit Association, briefed the group on efforts that will position the county for an economic development rebound.


While each detailed his or her community’s specific programs, they stressed the importance of a regional approach to recruiting new companies and helping existing businesses expand.


Levitt said Rock County businesses are part of national and global economies. As such, they’ve suffered in the recent downturn, the worst he’s ever seen.


The county isn’t alone, he noted, as Wisconsin job gains between 2001 and 2008 have been all but wiped out.


Levitt said he sees signs that the economy is starting to improve. In the last month alone, he’s met with five companies that are interested in moving to or expanding in Janesville.


On the national level, construction activity is turning around, and recent national statistics show gains in home sales and home starts, he said.


On a global level, Minneapolis and Chicago are two of the top 10 markets for real estate gains, and Rock County sits on the corridor between the two, he said.


“Companies are starting to look to take that risk for growth,” he said.


Janesville, Beloit, Edgerton and Milton have teamed up with Alliant Energy to form the Rock County Development Alliance, an economic development consortium that promotes the county as the place for new and growing businesses.


“We’ve partnered to market Rock County, and we’ve become much more aggressive in doing that because we’ve had to,” Levitt said. “Getting companies to look at us as a region is easier, and then we can help them look at specific opportunities.”


Braatz said the cities have abandoned their competitive past to work for the economic betterment of the county.


“We’re starting to involve each other in our strategic planning,” she said. “Our mission statement is a common document.


“… I think the economic fallout is really about how we rebuild ourselves.”


The four representatives said that while their communities have certainly struggled, there have been economic successes: significant business expansions in Janesville and Beloit and new investment in Edgerton and Milton.


Schmidt noted that Milton acquired a manufacturing business that was an entrepreneurial start-up spurred by the closing of Gilman Engineering in Janesville.


“We haven’t stopped planning and planning,” Schmidt said. “When the market comes back, we’ve got to be ready to ride the tide.”


An example, he said, is the city’s development plans for the upcoming Highway 26 bypass and rerouting of Highway 59.


“It’s important to know what our communities are doing,” said Paula Carrier, president of the Rock-Green Realtors Association. “There are positive things going on, and because of that there will be opportunities when things come around.”



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