Kenosha County municipal and economic development leaders may have hit the jackpot in Las Vegas in the form of new commercial projects, residential housing and overall goodwill from developers and representatives of the retail industry.
Over the past five years, the economic development effort in Kenosha County has been focused on rebuilding downtown Kenosha, aiding corporate expansions, attracting companies from other areas and creating more jobs.
The newest piece of the development puzzle is to “attract more restaurants, entertainment venues and specialty retail options,” explained Heather Wessling Grosz, vice president of economic development for the Kenosha Area Business Alliance.
In that endeavor, KABA formed a team of county communities as a unified marketing front to tout the benefits of locating a business in Kenosha County and to highlight choice geographic locations for development to developers and retail industry representatives at the International Conference of Shopping Centers, held last month in Las Vegas.
Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago-based consulting firm, helped the communities develop their strategies, create their presentation material and arrange sessions that were akin to a business matchmaking or networking event.
Shopping center expo
The 11-member Retail Strategy Team attended the annual three-day conference and are hoping their joint journey to the Vegas Convention Center wasn’t a gamble, but was a chance to play with house money for future development of restaurants, entertainment venues and multi- and single-family housing units.
With an audience of more than 35,000 developers and retail industry representatives, the team — comprised of officials from Bristol, Somers, Salem, Pleasant Prairie, the city of Kenosha, the county and Downtown Kenosha Inc. — conducted more than 20 sessions with developers and retailers to sell the benefits of locating here.
“We met with restaurant groups, top performing brokers from (real estate firm) CBRE, Wisconsin Commercial Real Estate, Cushman & Wakefield, and several other multi-family, mixed-use developers and potential retail tenants,” said Wessling Grosz. “The conference offered a great mix of opportunities, including hundreds of developers and brokers representing attractive brands for the Kenosha County market.”
“A few developers and retailers had made investments in the past in Kenosha County, but met with the team to consider making additional investments,” she said.
Developers already familiar with Kenosha County heard details of new, potentially attractive sites that weren’t immediately obvious to them.
Industrial growth here
The local group began its first presentation talking about the overall industrial investment that has occurred over the past five years. The local team members highlighted several companies and also noted that Haribo in Pleasant Prairie and Foxconn, which will locate in Racine County, were coming.
“Kenosha County is experiencing very rapid growth,” said Larry Kilduff, executive vice president for JLL’s Midwest Market League Retail. He noted that Kenosha County is the fastest growing county in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.
Kilduff, a former Bristol resident, said people who did not know much about the area were very impressed and those who knew of the growth liked how all of the communities had formed a partnership to attract new developments.
In some sessions they presented as a group, and in others, they met individually with people who might fit their individual government’s development need better. Wessling Grosz said each municipality team outlined targeted sites for development. They also presented demographic information.
“Kenosha County is experiencing an opportunity that doesn’t come often,” said Kilduff.
“We found it very rewarding and positive,” explained Somers Town Administrator Bill Morris, one of the team members who presented the benefits of his municipality. “We already are receiving some positive feedback from retailers from across the country.”
Morris said the team effort showed developers and brokers that Kenosha County communities had a unified front, with each playing an important part in the overall economic development of the region.
“It truly was a win-win,” explained Morris. “We could not have done this by ourselves. We wouldn’t have the resources. We wouldn’t know how or who to contact.”
“The Retail Strategy Team remains focused in the demands of the growing housing market. The goal of the team is to secure additional investments that add tangible value to a community and retains its residents,” Wessling Grosz said.
“We all felt very positive that we were able to accomplish our goals to make contact with retailers and developers,” said Andy Buehler, director of planning and development for Kenosha County’s Department of Public Works and Development Services. He added it was a pro-active approach to attracting what they would like to have more of in the county.
Their effort, they agreed, showcased their united focus and recognized building a community is a massive economic development project.