Rock County group delivers positive message to lawmakers
“We’re on our way back,” said David Bagley, chairman of Forward Janesville, one of several sponsoring chambers of commerce that hosted a contingent of about 70 people representing businesses, school districts and organizations in Janesville, Beloit, Milton, Edgerton and Evansville.
Two years ago, the county’s unemployment rate was 12.7 percent and the local economy was nearing the bottom of the fallout created by the Great Recession and the closure of nearly 30 area companies, including General Motors in Janesville.
The county’s unemployment rate is now 8.3 percent, and several in attendance Wednesday said that’s still too high. But, they said, the economic landscape is improving.
“We had a remarkable year on the economic development front,” said Larry Arft, Beloit’s city manager.
Specifically, Arft said expansion projects at Kettle Foods, Kerry Ingredients and Woodman’s have created jobs. Others, he said, are on the horizon with plans by NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes to build a facility, a private developer’s purchase of a vacant plant and another that’s considering a project at a certified shovel-ready site in Beloit.
Janesville City Manager Eric Levitt said excitement also is brewing in Janesville, which has seen several business expansions, including the one nearing completion at United Alloy, a manufacturer of diesel fuel tanks, generator frames and other heavy metal fabrications.
Levitt said local jobs will stay local when ANGI Energy Systems, an alternative energy equipment company, moves its operation from Milton to a vacant facility in Janesville.
The prospect of SHINE Medical Technologies opening a medical isotope plant in Janesville in 2015 also is good news, he said.
Wednesday’s event included a briefing with local lawmakers, several of whom popped in and out because of responsibilities in their respective chambers.
The contingent then broke into small groups for individual visits with lawmakers. They were armed with a “Roadmap to Rock County’s Future,” a list of legislative priorities centered on infrastructure, economic development and state competitiveness.
Specifically, the roadmap focuses on:
-- Continued funding for the state Department of Transportation’s Major Projects Fund, which is paying for the design work on the expansion of Interstate 90/39 between the Illinois state line and the Beltline in Madison.
-- Generating support for funding programs that would preserve and enhance key freight railroad corridors, particularly those that serve Rock County and southern Wisconsin.
-- Enactment of legislation to accelerate and improve broadband telecommunications across the state.
-- Support for legislation that would allow the transfer of state income tax credits for businesses in Rock and Racine counties that have no income and therefore no use for the economic development incentives.
-- Reform of tax increment finance law to reduce the base value of individual districts that have property within them demolished.
-- Support for payroll tax refunds for on-the-job training initiatives that result in new employees.
Two years ago, the county’s roadmap included the Interstate 90/39 expansion project as well as the designation of Janesville as a Development Opportunity Zone, which would provide up to $5 million in tax credits to businesses that create jobs or make capital investments.
“The DOZ, we got that done,” Bagley said. “The Interstate project, we can check that off, but we have to make sure it stays funded.
“We have been effective in getting these things pushed through.”
Dan Cunningham, a Forward Janesville vice president, said this year’s contingent delivered the “Roadmap to Rock County’s Future” to many more lawmakers than previous years.
“I think we found that we’re delivering a much more positive message,” he said. “Instead of, ‘Hey, we really need your help,’ this year’s message seemed to be, ‘You’ve been very helpful, thank you, now let’s keep it going.’
“It’s not that we don’t need continued help, because we do. But we really have accomplished a lot.”