For the first time in its 128-year history, Janesville commercial builder JP Cullen has named not one company president but two.
On Tuesday, JP Cullen announced that siblings George Cullen and Jeannie Cullen-Schultz, children of onetime JP Cullen President Mark Cullen, will take the helm of one of the city’s longest-running, family-owned companies.
In an interview Tuesday, Cullen and Cullen-Schultz said they had accepted co-president roles at JP Cullen late last year after a nearly two-year internal interview process.
Their promotion within the company was previously unannounced, and neither had planned to take over for another few years, pending JP Cullen President Ron Becher’s retirement in 2022, George Cullen said.
Becher had worked for JP Cullen two decades and had served as company president for the last seven years. He was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year and died in August from complications of the disease.
Cullen, 32, and Cullen-Schultz, 37, said they had been gearing up as successors under Becher’s guidance since last year. Cullen has worked for JP Cullen for the last five years, Cullen-Schultz for seven years, both serving as vice presidents of different divisions in the company.
Since last year, the plan has been for the siblings to share the top leadership spot. They had been asked about that earlier by JP Cullen’s search committee and a consultant involved in the search.
The siblings have since learned of two men—brothers—who ran a similarly sized construction company in New Jersey. The two men for 30 years split leadership duties down the middle based on strengths, experience and skills.
It’s the first time any Cullen has been named the leader since the late 1980s or 1990s, when three Cullen brothers traded the leadership roles—an arrangement that ran up to Becher being named president in 2013.
Since 1980, JP Cullen has grown from a 100-employee company worth about $50 million a year to a $350 million to $400 million entity with about 500 workers—a number that is split between corporate and field leadership and union labor ranks, Cullen said.
The two siblings rose as finalists out of a pool of five Cullen family members, all JP Cullen employees in the company’s fifth generation.
Based on national industry averages, most family-owned companies—97%—never make it to a third generation of family ownership, let alone a fifth generation.
The siblings say JP Cullen’s long, uninterrupted run as a family-owned company is not lost on them.
“Any vision that we have among our fifth-generation ownership group is to get us to a sixth generation, and that’s really important to us for JP Cullen to continue to be a family-owned business, and subset of that is a place where families want to work for us, too,” Cullen said.
“We’ve got a lot of ‘non-Cullen’ families working within the business that have multiple generations of family members working for the company, most of them long-term employees,” he added. “That’s pretty special. It just means good, organic growth here in Wisconsin, Janesville, Milwaukee, Madison, and in northern Illinois and eastern Iowa.”
Cullen-Schultz, a graduate of Dartmouth College and UW-Madison, said she came out of college 15 years ago with hopes to be a college basketball coach. She said she had a “change of heart” and decided to work in the construction industry after she learned that women had growing leadership opportunities in the commercial construction industry.
For the last five years, Cullen-Schultz has been vice president of JP Cullen’s health care construction division.
George Cullen, a graduate of Georgetown University and UW-Madison, has been a JP Cullen vice president in the manufacturing construction division and the lead of JP Cullen's work procurement for the last year. Both siblings had prior stints working for other companies, but Cullen said he always had aspirations to lead JP Cullen in some capacity.
He said the company’s new mission statement is to “identify, hire, train and retain” the best local employees.
Cullen and Cullen-Schultz said the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the playing field for many businesses, the construction industry included.
“On top of that, we lost a leader (Becher) who’d been with us for 20 years and led our company. So it’s not lost on George and me that we’re leading a company that is really a family,” Cullen-Schultz said.
Cullen views the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of family history. He cites a historical account he read in The Gazette earlier this year about how company founder J.P. Cullen addressed Janesville’s business community during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
“He said, ‘Listen to health professionals, cover your face …’ and I’m paraphrasing,” Cullen said, “but what he said was, ‘We will get through this.’”
The city council and plan commission could review plans to convert the vacant Monterey Hotel into an apartment complex as soon as next month, Janesville’s economic development director says.
Gale Price said the city is evaluating a prospective development plan from Cardinal Capital Management, a Milwaukee-based developer hired by the building’s owners to move the project forward.
Cardinal has submitted a tax increment finance agreement request, which is also under review, Price said.
Owners of the long-defunct Monterey Hotel are working with a Milwaukee-based developer to turn the old hotel into an apartment complex.
Plans could reach the city council and plan commission next month, but the timeline depends on how quickly city staff can work through the review processes and draft a final TIF agreement, Price said.
Tax increment financing is a tool for governments to attract private investment. It allows municipalities to acquire property, eliminate dilapidated buildings and make improvements such as sewer, water and streets and charge the cost to a TIF district.
The municipality then offers sites in the district to businesses for free or at great discounts to draw development. As the district’s property value rises because of the new investment, the increases in property taxes are used to repay only the municipality’s costs. When the costs are paid or the district’s limited life expires, the new property taxes are distributed among all taxing jurisdictions, such as school districts and the county.
The plan commission would need to approve a conditional-use permit for the planned apartment units on the building’s first floor, he said.
In 2019, the council approved an ordinance change allowing first-floor apartments in the city’s central business district as a conditional use. The former hotel is part of the central business district.
The city council would have to approve the TIF agreement.
Price said from what he has seen, the TIF request seems “reasonable.”
Among other things, the developer is asking for help to pay for asbestos abatement and lead removal, which are costs that would be difficult to recoup through rent, Price said.
City staff typically presents TIF agreements and conditional-use permit proposals for a given project to the council and plan commission around the same time. That could change if the city and developer chose to move one forward before the other is ready, Price said.
Price said he has not yet seen plans for parking, which has been a sore subject between building’s owner—the Grafft family—and the city. Family members have long said that parking issues stood in the way of redeveloping the building.
Owner Jim Grafft and the city remain at odds over the future of the Monterey Hotel. And there's no indication they'll agree on a plan to redevelop the building.
The 90-year-old art deco Monterey Hotel is owned by Certified Parts Corp., which is owned and operated by Riley Grafft, Jim Grafft and Britten Langfoss. Jim Grafft is Riley and Britten’s father.
Cardinal Capital likely would oversee construction and manage the units with the family maintaining majority ownership, Riley Grafft told The Gazette in January.
Price said the project could be “really cool” and something city officials long have anticipated.
A history of the hotel compiled by The Gazette shows the Grafft family has considered turning the hotel into apartments since at least 2009.
Plans in 2009 included building 22 apartments, but the Graffts said parking was an obstacle.
City officials, including Price, have advocated for more downtown residential units to bring more foot traffic to the area and meet the expectations of a younger generation that wants to live in urban, walkable areas.
In 2018, the hotel was at risk of demolition after city officials issued a raze-or-repair order because of building code violations.
The order has since been lifted, and the hotel is in compliance with an agreement made with the city that year.
Milton School District voters might think they’ve seen the district’s proposed operational referendum before.
They have. It’s the same amount—$2.5 million per year—and same time frame—five years—as the previous operational referendum that expires in June 2021.
The new referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot states it is “for nonrecurring purposes consisting of ongoing educational programming, staffing and maintenance expenses.”
“It isn’t additional revenue compared to what we have in place right now because it is replacing an operating referendum that would expire before this one would kick in,” said Superintendent Rich Dahman.
The current $2.5 million operational referendum was approved by 52.4% of voters in 2016. The money it provides covers the district through the 2020-21 school year.
“We felt that the five-year time frame allows us some stability and the ability to make some plans moving forward without tying the taxpayers into something that is permanent,” Dahman said.
The school board and finance committee debated the referendum amount and length of time, he said.
“Where we landed: maintaining what’s in place right now once it expires so that it doesn’t have a positive or negative impact on what taxpayers are used to right now,” Dahman said.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dahman said, “We are hearing indicators from the state that it’s unlikely there will be increases in funding from the state over the next couple of years for sure.
“So it (the new referendum) is in part a hedge to address that, but it also is to allow us to continue to keep our effective class sizes and programs that we have in place right now.”
The referendum money will be used to “supplement our available operating expenses,” including staffing and maintenance, Dahman said.
School board President Joe Martin said even if the staff stays the same size, costs for things such as health care and salaries increase.
“We certainly don’t pay people the exact same wage that we paid them five years ago,” he said.
When asked what he would say to voters who object to an ongoing operational referendum, Martin said, “Putting finite time frames out there gives us time to re-evaluate that time, and we’ll know more what happens to our funding limits from the state, etc.”
If voters approve it Nov. 3, the operational referendum would take effect in July 2021.
If it fails, it can be brought back to voters in April.
“We would need to start planning over the winter where we would make those $2.5 million in reductions for the upcoming year,” Dahman said. “It’s important for us to have a balanced budget, so if our revenue is decreased by $2.5 million, we would need to reduce our budgeted expenditures by that same amount.”
He said a committee of district stakeholders, including residents, would be formed to look at options to cut costs.
The $2.5 million is about 5% to 6% of the district’s overall budget.
Staffing costs consume a little more than 80% of the budget, so Dahman said a significant percentage of reductions would have to come in staffing, which would lead to larger class sizes, fewer course offerings at the high school and fewer opportunities for students.
Elizabeth A. Anderson
Daryl Lee Elmer
Dale Richard Gray
Edwin Levi Kjendlie
Julia Mae (Snyder) Erdman Meredith
Gov. Tony Evers’ administration issued a new order Tuesday limiting the size of public indoor gatherings as COVID-19 spreads unchecked across the state, a move certain to alienate Republicans and tavern and restaurant owners.
Wisconsin has become one of the worst hot spots for the disease over the past month, with experts attributing the spike in cases to colleges and schools reopening and general fatigue about wearing masks and social distancing. The state ranked third nationwide this week in the number of new cases per capita, with 548 cases per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.
State health officials reported 2,020 new cases Tuesday and 18 additional deaths. The state has now seen 136,379 cases and 1,399 deaths since the pandemic began.
The order from state Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm, a member of Evers’ cabinet, limits public indoor gatherings to 25% of the room or building’s capacity. Gatherings in indoor spaces without an occupancy limit will be limited to 10 people. The order does not apply to colleges, schools, churches, polling locations, political rallies and outdoor venues.
The limits take effect Friday and run through Nov. 6. Violators could face forfeitures of up to $500.
“We’re in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives,” Evers said in a statement.
The order could spark new legal challenges for the Democratic governor, who has faced continued resistance and litigation from Republicans since the pandemic began. After he issued a statewide stay-at-home order in March, the GOP convinced the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court to strike down that order in May.
Conservatives also are challenging Evers’ mask mandate in court; a ruling could come any day.
The new capacity order will have a significant impact on taverns and restaurants, especially those that lack outdoor patios. Both sectors pushed back hard against Evers’ stay-at-home order this spring.
Wisconsin Restaurant Association President Kristine Hillmer called the order “disheartening.” Most restaurants won’t be able to pay their bills if they’re restricted to 25% capacity and could have to close permanently, she said.
“Restaurants have faced this crisis for the past seven months and cannot handle this economically,” she said. “Restaurant closures and layoffs are going to be unavoidable with this new order.”
Scott Stenger, a lobbyist for the state’s powerful tavern league, said he hadn’t seen the order yet but wants to understand how it can mesh with the May ruling from the state Supreme Court.
Kurt Bauer, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, said in a statement that businesses have taken “countless steps” to protect employees, customers and the public from COVID-19. They aren’t responsible for the recent spike in cases and shouldn’t face capacity restrictions, he said.
“Our state’s employers have been true leaders when it comes to health and safety, and this order will just serve to economically punish them when they can least afford it,” he said.
Aides for the Legislature’s top Republicans, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Evers’ attorney, Ryan Nilsestuen, told reporters during a video conference that the capacity restrictions should survive a legal challenge. He noted that the Supreme Court’s ruling in May did not touch on DHS’ statutory authority to limit gatherings.
He also noted that the court’s conservative majority has shrunk from 5-2 to 4-3 since May, and conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn voted with his liberal colleagues to uphold the stay-at-home order, signaling he might support the gatherings order.
“At the end of the day, doing orders and having them challenged in court maybe makes for great theater,” Evers told reporters during a video conference moments after Palm issued the order. “But it frankly does nothing in making sure people are safer in the state of Wisconsin.”
Separately, Evers’ administration sought to highlight another announcement Tuesday that it was making available another $100 million in federal coronavirus aid to small businesses. About half of that money will go to businesses most affected by the pandemic, including bars, restaurants and beauty salons, the administration said.