Business leaders in Kenosha County might not all be singing the same tune, but when it comes to the economy they appear to be sharing a hymnal.
“We are in the most robust geographic area of the region for business growth,” said Chet Keizer, president of IRIS USA Inc. “I feel this will be a very exciting time for companies in the Kenosha area.”
Bill Renick, president of XTen Industries LLC, expressed similar sentiments.
“KABA (Kenosha Area Business Alliance) seems to be on fire with attracting new business,” he said. “Southeast Wisconsin is to be reckoned with.”
It’s no surprise these men feel as they do. Infrastructure is in place and some of the county’s more established and progressive companies are poised for continued success in part because their leaders have taken the necessary steps to upgrade, expand, introduce new products and streamline operations.
In some cases, company leaders are striving to build on last year’s improvements and successes. In others, they are gearing up to keep the momentum moving in the right direction.
“The local economy is posturing for significant growth,” said Tim Peoples, plant director at Ocean Spray. “I’m very bullish.”
One key to success is location and the willingness of those driving economic development in Kenosha County to remain focused on their goal of attracting new businesses, because a climate that is good for new companies is equally good for existing ones.
Jim Kettinger, CEO of Engendren Corp., believes the local amenities and partnership arrangements in Kenosha County — and in Wisconsin — create an environment conducive for success.
“It’s good to be here,” Kettinger said, underscoring the strong net pieced together by the Kenosha Area Chamber of Commerce, the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, other non-profit organizations and local schools, including the high schools, university and colleges.
“I think we’ll see some great growth here in Wisconsin,” he said.
While local business leaders are expressing optimism, they say Kenosha County’s success in attracting new businesses and growing existing ones can generate some workforce challenges.
“These additions and expansions will have an overall positive impact on the local economy, but they may present some challenges in terms of hiring and training for many companies,” Keizer said. “We have been blessed with a great workforce in this area. The demand for additional staffing may challenge many of us to make sure we remain competitive and provide a positive working environment for our associates.”
In an attempt to address the skilled labor pool challenge, Ocean Spray has implemented an indentured apprenticeship program designed to train existing employees as maintenance technicians. Their former positions become openings for new employees, said Peoples, who noted, “We recognize there is a gap in finding skilled labor.”
As for Renick, he said XTen will be pushed hard to compete for good employees. “We are preparing for that now as we look for innovative ways to ensure XTen is a great place to work,” he said.
For many local business leaders, optimism for 2014 is built on years of planning. As the right conditions converge, they’re ready to capitalize.
“We had our best year ever in 2013,” Keizer said. “In the operations area, we were able to implement new programs to help us minimize costs and improve our quality. We invested in new computer hardware and upgraded systems to support future growth. Our sales and marketing teams executed their strategies very well, resulting in record purchases from nearly all of our top customers.”
Last year started slowly as raw material costs rose and competition was tough, but the outlook gradually got better, he added. Strong consumer demand helped. IRIS USA is entering a new market category — cookware and small kitchen appliances, has created a new pet specialty products division and will boost the production of that line of products, Keizer explained.
“I’m optimistic that this will be another exciting year for growth provided we stay focused and willing to make necessary adjustments to strategies in an ever-challenging business environment,” Keizer said. “I think we will continue to learn and grow as we expand our staff and product offerings. I expect that our revenues will continue to improve to new levels.”
At XTen Industries, Renick sees a bright future, too.
“We have been blessed with good, growing customers. They have come to us to handle many new projects,” he said. “If we are able to realize only half of them, we would increase our revenue by over 15 percent.
“There is a saying that your best new customers are your current ones. That is true for us.”
-- IEA LLC, a heavy industrial radiator manufacturer
-- ArcRon LLC, a fabricator of steel and aluminum products and components
-- Silver Linings Systems LLC. which designs and builds highly differentiated, thermally managed environments for technical data centers
-- Chrysalis LLC, which manages activities in international markets where there is growing demand for the products of the other companies
Each of the LLCs is wholly owned by parent company Engendren Corporation, 9625 55th St. in Kenosha.
IRIS USA, 11111 80th Ave., Pleasant Prairie, manufactures storage products. In addition to an extensive line of organizational products for home and office uses, the company manufactures pet products and offers a line of ready-to-assemble furniture.
Ocean Spray is an agricultural cooperative owned by more than 700 cranberry and grapefruit growers in the United States, Canada, and Chile. Formed in 1930, Ocean Spray is the world’s leading producer of cranberry juices, juice drinks and dried cranberries. The Kenosha facility at 7800 60th Ave. in Kenosha bottles juice and makes cranberry sauce. Kenosha is one of only two plants that make sauce (the Thanksgiving classic), the other being Markham, Wash.
XTen, 9600 55th St., Kenosha, is a producer of injection molded components, fully fabricated products and logistic systems that take them to market.