Janesville greenhouse components maker Green-Tek is relocating to the former Regal Beloit Corp.’s Durst manufacturing campus in Shopiere, a move officials said will help Green-Tek and its sister company expand their operations.
Linda Bracha, an owner of Green-Tek, said Wednesday the company bought the former Regal Beloit facility earlier this month and has moved part of its manufacturing into the 17-acre industrial campus at 5560 E. Buss Road.
Since 2009, Green-Tek has shared space at the former Lear Corp. plant with Coextruded Plastic Technologies, a producer of specialized food packaging. CPT will remain at the former Lear plant, while Green-Tek gradually will transfer all operations to the Shopiere plant.
Regal Beloit vacated the Shopiere plant as part of a corporate restructuring announced late last year.
Bracha said the move comes at a crucial time when Green-Tek and CPT are seeing major growth in demand for their products, a trend driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We needed to make the move because we were completely wall-to-wall, out of working space. This presented the perfect opportunity. The timing was right,” Bracha said.
The move frees up space for CPT to expand in the 170,000-square-foot former Lear Corp. facility on Janesville’s east side. Meanwhile, Green-Tek will have room to grow in the Shopiere facility, a multibuilding campus with a main plant that offers 140,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
The companies’ owners—Paul Jacobson Sr., Eli and Linda Bracha, and Alan Jordan—also own the former Lear facility.
Both Green-Tek and CPT were deemed “essential” businesses during the pandemic because they produce products related to agriculture and the food production chain, the companies said.
Bracha said Green-Tek and CPT have grown from about 40 employees in 2009 to about 130.
It’s not clear how many Green-Tek workers have made the move to the Shopiere facility, but Bracha said Green-Tek already has set up operations and is producing greenhouse coverings and other in-demand products.
Green-Tek had been negotiating to buy the Durst facility since last year, after the company learned the plant was closing.
Bracha said demand is burgeoning for greenhouse equipment designed for home gardening use.
“We’ve seen a huge growth in the home-use market,” she said. “Hobbyists are at home during the pandemic, and what’s the first thing you want to do? Cultivate your garden. So we just continued throughout the pandemic, getting the (Shopiere) sale completed and closed. We are full speed ahead.”
The company also has seen continued growth in commercial greenhouse equipment, partly because of consumer demand for flowers and other landscaping plants, she said.
“Greenhouses need to supply plants and flowers to the garden centers so people can cultivate their gardens. So it just has been (growth) from every direction.”
Bracha said CPT has enjoyed steady business in food packaging as the pandemic has spurred demand for prepackaged foods.
Regal Beloit announced in December that it planned to close its Durst operations in Shopiere, with layoffs of 59 employees expected to roll out in waves early this year and full closure slated by late May or early June.
The plant, which made gear drives and transmissions for large vehicles, grew out of a longstanding manufacturing operation known as Durst Power Transmission Division. That company was founded in Shopiere in the 1930s by Walter Durst, a then-unemployed poultry farmer and entrepreneur.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped in Rock County, but health officials say the community should not let its guard down.
The number of patients hospitalized in Rock County hovered between 15 and 27—the local peak—from May 5 to June 2, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.
From June 2 to 11, hospitalizations varied between 13 and 14, according to the data.
Since June 11, the number of hospitalized patients has decreased steadily. The lowest recorded number—four—was reported June 18 and 19.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the most recent data showed five people were hospitalized with the disease.
The numbers reflect all hospitalized COVID-19 patients at the county’s four hospital systems—Mercyhealth, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, Edgerton Hospital and Health Services, and Beloit Health System.
Local health officials were quick to warn that the novel coronavirus is still circulating through the community.
The state Department of Health Services launched an online dashboard Wednesday characterizing the COVID-19 activity level by county.
Rock County has a high activity level of COVID-19 based on its case rate and trajectory of cases over the last two weeks.
Rock County’s case rate is 57 per 100,000 people. The county has seen a 14% case change in the last two weeks, which the state considers “growing.”
Officials agree the drop in hospitalizations can’t be attributed to one cause.
Mark Goelzer, medical director at Mercyhealth, said a recent aggressive effort to test all residents and workers at every nursing home is likely a factor.
More testing allows for better isolation of those who are sick, which prevents spread, Goelzer said.
People who live in nursing homes or other residential care facilities are often at higher risk for becoming seriously ill and ending up in the hospital, Goelzer said.
The Rock County Public Health Department has focused on protecting the most vulnerable residents in its phased reopening plans, said Kelsey Cordova, a health department spokeswoman.
Phase two of the county’s reopening plan recommends that long-term care facilities prohibit visitors, private gatherings be fewer than 25 people, public gatherings be fewer than 50 people and senior centers remain closed.
“We hope by focusing on our most vulnerable and doing so in reopening guidelines, we are able to keep the most vulnerable and at-risk out of the hospital,” Cordova said.
Health officials across the country are seeing more young people who are sick, likely because of lifestyle choices such as going to bars and gathering in large groups, Goelzer said.
While young people face less risk for serious illness, it is not impossible for a young person to be hospitalized, Goelzer said.
Rock County is moving in a better direction, but that will continue only if people keep social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and taking other safety precautions recommended by health experts, said Brenda Klahn, infection specialist for St. Mary’s.
She said local hospitals now have more personal protective equipment and better treatment plans for people with the virus.
Decreasing hospitalizations was the health department’s main goal because it prevents local health care systems from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, Cordova said.
“When numbers go down, that does mean improvement but does not mean that it (the virus) is gone,” Klahn said.
Rock County is in good shape compared to other communities. That could change if people stop taking precautions, Goelzer said.
“It means what we’re doing is working, and we have to keep at that,” Cordova said.
Wisconsin’s governor activated the National Guard on Wednesday to protect state properties after a night of violence that included the toppling of two statues outside the state Capitol, one of which commemorated an abolitionist Civil War hero.
Protesters also attacked a state senator, threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building and attempted to break into the Capitol on Tuesday night, only to be repelled by pepper spray from police stationed inside. The violence broke out as a group of 200 to 300 people protested the arrest of a Black man who shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.
Gov. Tony Evers, who toured the damage and said the violence was in “stark contrast” to earlier peaceful protests, said he was activating the National Guard “to make sure people can exercise their First Amendment rights while ensuring the safety of members of the public and state buildings and infrastructure.”
“If your goal was to advance social justice and policing reforms in the state of Wisconsin and making sure systemic racism is a thing of the past, you failed,” Evers said of the protesters on WTMJ-AM.
Republican state lawmakers and others faulted Evers and Madison’s Democratic mayor for not moving more quickly Tuesday to quell the violence.
“The mob has become very bold,” said Madison Alderman Paul Skidmore. “They see they can get away with a little, and they inch forward more and more. (Downtown Madison) is a battle zone right now, and I fear for my city.”
The violence unfolded in a city long known as a liberal bastion with a long history of protest, dating back to student demonstrations on the University of Wisconsin campus in the 1960s. About 100,000 people protested in 2011 over then-Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union proposals.
It also exposed simmering anger over the 2015 shooting by police of a 19-year-old Black man by an officer who remains on the force. That shooting has been referenced by protesters in recent weeks.
The violence started Tuesday after Madison police arrested a protester who came to a restaurant across the street from the Capitol with a bat on his shoulder. Video released by Madison police shows the man, Devenore Johnson, talking through a megaphone while walking around the restaurant’s outdoor patio and inside, saying he’s “disturbing” the restaurant and talking about God and the police before walking out.
On another video released by police, as many as five officers can be seen taking Johnson to the sidewalk and carrying him to a police squad car after he resisted arrest.
Police said Tuesday night a group of 200 to 300 people broke windows in multiple buildings, threw a Molotov cocktail into the city-county building, brought down the statues on the Capitol grounds, broke glass at a state office building, and smashed windows and lights at the Capitol.
Democratic state Sen. Tim Carpenter was assaulted after taking a cellphone video of protesters.
“Punched/kicked in the head, neck, ribs,” Carpenter tweeted around 4 a.m. “Innocent people are going to get killed.”
One of the statues toppled, decapitated and dragged into a lake about a half-mile away was of Civil War Col. Hans Christian Heg. He was an anti-slavery activist and leader of an anti-slave-catcher militia in Wisconsin who fought for the Union and died in the war.
The base of the Heg statue was defaced with graffiti Wednesday morning that read “Fire Matt Kenny,” a reference to a white Madison police officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson, a Black man, in 2015. Kenny said Robinson had attacked him. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who is Black, cleared Kenny of any criminal wrongdoing. Kenny is still on the force.
The other statue taken down represents Wisconsin’s motto “Forward.” The statue was first installed 125 years ago but replaced with a bronze replica in 1998. It sat prominently outside the Capitol, facing the UW-Madison campus and State Street. That corridor has been the target of much of the vandalism since the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer used his knee to pin the handcuffed Black man’s neck.
The destruction followed similar unrest nationwide after Floyd’s death, but in other cities, statues of Confederate soldiers and other symbols of slavery were destroyed.
Protester Micah Le said the two statues paint a picture of Wisconsin as a racially progressive state even though slavery has continued in the form of a corrections system built around incarcerating Black people.
“The fall of the statues is a huge gain for the movement, though I think that liberal and conservative media outlets will try to represent last night as senseless violence rather than the strategic political move it really was,” Le wrote.
Republicans called on Evers and Madison’s Democratic mayor to do more to protect the Capitol. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos branded the protesters as “thugs.” Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, who until last month had served in the state Legislature, called on Evers to resign. Evers called that a “ridiculous statement.”
“Why doesn’t he resign?” Evers said on WTMJ.
State Sen. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, said in a statement that Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway “need to allow te police and National Guard to prevent the violence, make mass arrests of these criminals and restore the rule of law on Madison streets.”
Rhodes-Conway said in a conference call for media later Wednesday that city leaders and law enforcement were working “on a number of fronts” to keep any additional protests calm.
“I am not in that room, I do not micromanage our law enforcement response,” she said. “There has been broad agreement among law enforcement that de-escalation and protecting people is the top concern.”
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the first Black person to hold that office, condemned the violence in a tweet but said “far right provocateurs” had “fanned the flames of hate.”
Robert Bowhan owns August, a clothing store that was looted during the first night of protests after Floyd’s death. Bowhan, who is white, has boarded up his windows like many other merchants. He said he didn’t know what to expect in the coming days.
“Everyone is probably a little frustrated. (Business owners) feel they don’t have support from cops,” Bowhan said. “They feel threatened and feel like their livelihoods are in jeopardy and they don’t trust the government. This just scratches the surface of what our Black friends and colleagues go through on a daily basis.”
Robert “Bob” Bleser
Ellen M. Cagney
E. Darrell Hart
Maurita Cindy Laube
Mark C. Lewis
Todd M. McNett
Raymond I. Schultz
Mildred Faye Steel