Janesville eyeing $1.5 million lot to start business park
Greg Piefer, founder and chief executive officer of SHINE Medical Technologies, said Tuesday that his company has not committed to a site in Janesville, Stevens Point or Chippewa Falls for the $80 million start-up operation.
"But we've been working awfully hard with the city of Janesville to put together something that might put us there," Piefer said.
At the moment, that "something" involves the city considering the purchase of 84 acres of farmland on the city's south side. The city has an option to buy the land, but that option expires Dec. 31.
The city's plan commission on Monday recommended that the city council buy the property, which is expected to cost about $1.5 million. The majority landowner is Art Donaldson, and Randy Hughes owns a small portion.
The council is expected to take up the issue as early as Monday.
Vic Grassman, the city's economic development director, said SHINE and other companies have expressed an interest in the parcel, which sits just across Highway 51 from the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
Buying the property is consistent with the city's comprehensive plan and the council's industrial development policy because it would help retain existing businesses or attract new ones, Grassman said.
The 84-acre parcel abuts the southwest corner of Tax Increment Financing District 35, a 224-acre property known as the Highway 11 Business Park. If acquired, the 84-acre parcel would be folded into TIF 35.
Local economic development officials have promoted the vacant business park as one of only two certified shovel-ready sites in the state. The other is in Beloit.
With 224 acres of city-owned vacant land in the business park, the city council must decide if adding 84 acres at a cost of $18,000 per acre fits the city's economic development goals.
Presumably, the city would buy the property and then sell it to SHINE or some other business at a favorable cost if the company agrees to meet employment or capital investment targets.
Under typical TIF agreements, the city would regain its development costs through future property taxes paid by the company.
One factor in the decision, Grassman said, would be the ability of a future business to get a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan guarantee for a building project in the 84-acre parcel. That option, he said, is more limited on the 224-acre site because the USDA loan program is tied to census dates that have expired.
Piefer said that while the USDA loan guarantee isn't essential to his company's selection of Janesville, it would be an added incentive.
"What the city is thinking about doing with this land would be a gesture of good faith that would go a long ways with us," Piefer said.
Piefer said soil and water samples have been taken at the site, a necessary precursor to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing the site.
Preliminary steps in the regulatory process have taken longer than SHINE anticipated, he said. So, too, have the city's efforts to secure, annex and fold the land into a tax increment financing district.
"The city is doing very extensive diligence on our company, and in fairness, that's in the taxpayers' best interest," Piefer said. "We had hoped we could get something done before Christmas, but I'm not confident that will happen."
The addition of SHINE and its high-paying jobs—$50,000 to $60,000 annually—would be a boon for Rock County, which learned in June that NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes—a SHINE competitor—would build a $194 million plant in Beloit and create more than 150 jobs by 2016.
With financial backing from Diane Hendricks of ABC Supply and Hendricks Holdings, NorthStar plans to break ground next year for an 82,000-square-foot building on the city's northeast side. Production would start the next year with the company using linear accelerators to make radioisotopes for medical imaging.
Both NorthStar and SHINE plan to produce molybdenum-99, an isotope needed for detecting heart disease and staging cancer. Mo-99, as it is called, decays to produce technetium-99m, which is used in approximately 50,000 nuclear medicine procedures each day in the United States, which depends on other countries for its supply of Mo-99.
NorthStar will produce Mo-99 without using uranium as the source material. NorthStar officials have said any production method using enriched uranium creates waste that's difficult and costly to handle, and it can exist for thousands of years.
SHINE officials have said their method of Mo-99 production does not use highly enriched uranium, does not require a nuclear reactor, uses a "greener" method for production and fits well with the nation's existing supply chain.
"There are several factors that are out of our control, and they're primarily regulatory," Piefer said, adding that his hope is that SHINE will be operational by 2015. "But this is a national priority, and the federal government seems to be fairly coordinated in its regulatory efforts."