Editor’s note: Today begins a six-part series on the economy. First we sought the perspective of those guiding the organizations that promote Kenosha County and drive local development. Then we sat down with local business leaders for their views, both far-reaching and more specific to their own companies. Finally we asked for input from the community to see what local residents are experiencing.
If Kenosha County’s economic development in 2014 is as good as it was in 2013, does that mean another superb year lies ahead, with new companies and more jobs coming to the area?
Can Kenosha County build upon its previous year’s success?
You’re not likely to find too many salesmen taking anything but an optimistic view to that question. And in answering it, a look back is imperative.
“Just looking at pure numbers for 2013 — the activity, the type, the size, the volume, the velocity — it was a banner year,” Kenosha Area Business Alliance President Todd Battle said as he ticked off some impressive numbers.
“In an approximately 12-month period, projects that came into the community announced 3,000-plus new jobs. They probably total close to half a billion dollars of new capital investment that will be spent in the community on construction and development and preparing sites for companies. Our estimate is about 4 million square feet of either new development or absorption, absorption meaning the space was available and the company signed a long-term lease or bought the building and moved into it.
“So 4 million square feet, 3,000 jobs, and nearly half a billion dollars of investment for a community the size of Kenosha, that’s a bang-up year for us. It’s really good for the community to have that kind of economic activity, that kind of job creation.”
Unemployment figures from December 2013 compared with December 2012 underscore Battle’s optimism.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Kenosha County’s unemployment rate dipped to 6.7 percent from 7.8 percent. That same snapshot shows the unemployment rate for the city of Kenosha improving to 7.5 percent from 9.1 percent.
The stronger numbers buoy Battle and others at KABA, which acts somewhat like a research and tourist bureau inasmuch as it interacts with representatives of companies that seek information about Kenosha County.
One of KABA’s goals is to help prospective companies indentify property sites and other factors to meet manufacturing, workforce and training needs.
Kenall Manufacturing, for example, chose to move its corporate headquarters from Gurnee, Ill., to Kenosha County in part because the new site near the Kenosha Regional Airport can develop to its specifications. Additionally, the commercial lighting company will be able to form a workforce training curriculum arrangement with Gateway Technical College.
KABA also can help companies obtain low-interest financing.
Often, a company seeking to expand or relocate will hire site consultants and other representatives to help in finding a new location. KABA works with real estate developers, site consultants and others to ease the process.
“Our job is to be knowledgeable of the sites,” Battle noted.
This type of matchmaking, suggest some local executives, is what a good salesperson does.
With 2013 as a springboard, the forecast for 2014 looks promising.
“We think the activity that happened in 2013 did a couple of things. It created a lot of momentum, but it also brought a lot of attention to the Kenosha County area and to southeast Wisconsin,” Battle said, noting there are strong economic development advantages here. And when respected businesses seize on those advantages and decide to build or move here, others take notice.
“Our view is activity begets activity,” Battle said. “So when companies like Amazon and Meijer and Kenall and Hanna Cylinders and Ta Chen and Emco Chemical and other notable companies like that decide to make major investments here, that brings with it attention and news of those investments, and others take notice.
“The momentum that 2013 built for the community we hope is something we can continue to capitalize on in ’14 as people take notice of all the activity that’s going on in Kenosha and become more aware of some of the advantages we have here in terms of economic development and business location.”
Battle declined to name potential developments for 2014, but he said, “The pipeline of activity continues to be strong. We have a number of active prospects. I think the economy is continuing to improve and get healthier.”
Kenosha Area Business Alliance president
Battle has been KABA’s president since joining the organization in April 2004. In this role, he is responsible for managing the organization’s operations, including economic development and local education initiatives and a $29 million financing portfolio. Before coming here, the Michigan native spent six years in leadership positions with economic development organizations in Iron Mountain and Muskegon, Mich.
Battle is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Central Michigan University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree with a political science major and economics minor.
Battle and his wife, Katie, live in Kenosha. They have two daughters, Cameron, 6, and Darby, 5.
Coming Monday: Violet Ricker, executive director of Downtown Kenosha Inc., offers her vision to 2014.
Businesses building in, expanding in or relocating to Kenosha County, according to the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, include
Jobs -- 1,600
Investment-- $300+ million
Project-- Two fulfillment centers totaling 1.5 million square feet on 160 acres
Jobs -- 500
Investment -- $125 million
Project -- 833,677 square feet of distribution space (with existing facility and addition)
Jobs -- 621
Investment -- $30 million
Project -- 354,000 square feet for headquarters and advanced manufacturing facility
Jobs -- 145
Investment -- $10 million
Project -- 325,000 square feet for headquarters and industrial and distribution facilities
Jobs -- 105
Investment -- $3.2 million
Project -- 105,637 square feet for headquarters and production facility
Jobs -- 43
Investment -- $250,000
Project -- 60,256 square-foot industrial building
Jobs -- 61
Investment -- $36 million
Project -- 471,403 square-foot industrial building
Jobs -- 44
Investment -- $5 million
Project -- 100,000 square-foot manufacturing facility
Jobs -- 50
Investment -- $4+ million
Project -- 57,000 square feet for headquarters and food processing facility
Source -- Kenosha Area Business Alliance