Alvarez gives keynote for Forward Janesville

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Friday, April 13, 2012
— Barry Alvarez can relate to Rock County's recent turmoil.

He faced similar turbulence in 1990 when he agreed to be the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers football team.

"The athletic department at Wisconsin was bankrupt, and the football program was flat on its back," he said, noting that the Badgers had won nine games in the previous four seasons.

But Wisconsin, he suspected, was a sleeping giant. He committed to changing the culture on campus, devised a solid plan that he knew would work and then sold it hard to anyone who would listen.

Despite a 1-10 inaugural season, Alvarez's plan panned out, and he became the most successful football coach in Wisconsin history. He is now the university's athletic director.

"I think there are a lot of parallels between the situation I inherited in 1990 and what happened in Janesville about four years ago," Alvarez said Thursday night as the keynote speaker at Forward Janesville's annual banquet.

"I've just been listening to all the positive things you're doing and selling about Janesville, rather than the negatives or the things you don't have."

Based on what he heard Thursday, Alvarez said Rock County has a solid plan to turn things around economically.

That plan is working, said Mary Willmer, co-chair of Rock County 5.0, a five-year public-private economic development initiative designed to reposition and revitalize the county's economy.

Since its formation more than two years ago, Rock County 5.0 has worked hard to promote the area's infrastructure, its diversity of companies and industries, its educational systems and its available workforce and real estate, she said.

"We've accomplished much more than we expected," she said, noting that in the last two years, new or existing companies have created 1,400 new jobs, made nearly $600 million in capital investments and occupied 1.4 million square feet of previously unoccupied space.

The county's health care sector is booming, with growth at hospitals and clinics and commitments from NorthStar and SHINE, two medical isotope makers that plan to open facilities in the county, Willmer said.

So, too, she said, are the county's advanced manufacturing, energy solutions and food processing sectors. ANGI Energy Systems and MPC are moving into the Janesville market, and Kerry Ingredients has expanded in Beloit, she said.

"The true measure of our local economy is how well our small businesses are doing," she said. "In that area, we're seeing that they are rebounding and seeing growth."

Rock County 5.0, she said, will continue to work on matching the skill sets of available workers with the demands of local employers.

"I'm not sure anyone could envision three years ago that we would be where we are today," Willmer said. "We are a much more diverse region, one that has a plan."

Last updated: 8:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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