New business parks and speculative buildings are either being planned, or are under construction to meet Wisconsin’s continued strong demand. That demand has come from not only companies choosing the Southeast Wisconsin area to relocate to, but to build new projects as well.
Most notably, are companies like Amazon who are currently constructing a massive customer fulfillment center complex in Kenosha County. The project includes two buildings, totaling 1.5 million square feet, and represents a total capital investment of more than $200 million.
InSinkErator, the world’s largest manufacturer of food waste disposers for home and commercial use, will invest approximately $20 million to establish a second production facility in the Business Park of Kenosha. The Kenosha site involves the renovation of an existing 160,000 square foot industrial building. InSinkErator expects the project to be completed by the second quarter of 2015.
Also, Niagara Bottling, LLC, the largest private label water bottling company in the United States, has selected Pleasant Prairie as the location for its newest facility. The Ontario, California-based firm plans to invest approximately $75 million to build a 377,000 square foot facility in LakeView Corporate Park.
Reed Hall, chief executive officer and secretary of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, said he’s very pleased to see that development.
“First and foremost the developers and the site selectors like the direction Wisconsin is heading,” he said. “A recent survey showed 96 percent of the executives in the state think that Wisconsin is heading in the right firection. I think company’s developers are comfortable with our budget process, which is a budget surplus as opposed to a deficit. Also, our pension obligations are fully funded, so there’s no unforeseen assessment’s out into the future.”
“We work very hard in all the agencies to maintain a productive business climate,” he continued. “Our organization will work with a company, and facilitate meetings with other agencies—whether it’s the Department of National Resources, Department of Transportation, or whomever, to make sure that we can streamline the process for being successful in Wisconsin.”
Reed also attributes Wisconsin’s highly skilled and dedicated workforce. “I can’t say we have necessarily have a better workforce than Illinois, but I think we have a lot of advantages here with how we work, and how employers work with the technical college system, and the University of Wisconsin system, specifically to help train staff for job openings. It gives us an advantage over some other states.”
The WEDC works very hard to make sure the state has a positive regulatory climate, and right now Reed believes the state has a positive political climate that’s helping as well.
“In 2010 and 2011 we had some demonstrations in our capital, and some people from other states questioning whether they wanted to move here,” Reed said. “That’s behind us now and I think if we have a sound political system, then the controversies of the past are history. In my judgment, we’re looking forward.”
The state of Wisconsin is certainly moving forward with the number of companies moving primarily from Northern Illinois. Like Hanna Cylinders, who relocated its manufacturing operation from Libertyville, Illinois to a 105,000 square foot industrial facility in LakeView Corporate Park in Pleasant Prairie. The project involves a $3.2 million capital investment and brings approximately 110 manufacturing jobs into Southeast Wisconsin.
Good Foods Group, LLC, a Chicago-based manufacturer of all natural foods including hummus, salsa, dips and guacamole, purchased a 56,000 square foot industrial facility in LakeView Corporate Park. Good Foods relocated its corporate headquarters there and established productions operations. The project brings 50 jobs to Pleasant Prairie initially, with the possibility of up to 150 within two years. The company completed renovations and began operating in the spring of 2013.
Also, EMCO Chemical Distributors relocated its Corporate Headquarters from North Chicago, to a 260,000 square foot facility in Pleasant Prairie, in the summer of 2013. The move brings about 145 employees to Kenosha County. In addition to the HQs location, EMCO also recently purchased a 65,000 square foot industrial building in the Kenosha Industrial Park which will become the permanent site for its waste service division.
“Companies have advantages if they move,” Reed said. “The workforce can keep their homes in Northern Illinois and commute to the new plant, so you don’t have this mass selling of real estate. I think if you compare our real estate prices for business locations to some other locations to the immediate south, you’ll see that you get more value.” “The property isn’t cheap,” he said. “But I think they are reasonable. So when a company makes a move they look at all the accounting issues there. We are proud of our excellent highway system. I think our transportation department tries very hard to maintain those freeways, so the truck traffic for commerce can go south into Illinois, on up through Wisconsin into Minnesota, or Michigan, if necessary.”
Reed says the state also has a good rail system, which is critical for a lot of manufacturers today.
“General Mitchell airport in Milwaukee and O’Hare are about an equal distance for northern Illinois companies, probably closer. Parking is easier at Mitchell, so some companies find that advantageous. We also have a good port in Milwaukee, which is open most of the year.”
Generally, manufacturing and agriculture are the economic drivers in Wisconsin. Reed said roughly 450,000 of the state’s three million people who are employed, work in manufacturing.
“Kennel Corporation and ULine are good examples of Illinois companies that moved up here in manufacturing. We don’t want to forget Amazon either. They looked at twelve different states when they selected Wisconsin. They liked the incentives of not only the state, but the local Kenosha and Pleasant Prairie areas, as well as what they city and county offered them.”
Reed said that when manufacturing growth comes, that automatically adds ripples to the economy. “Retail also advances because that’s more opportunity in the community—people buy more groceries, gasoline, houses and clothing. So there’s better job numbers, and good salaries being paid in those areas.”
Overall, not only is southeast Wisconsin thriving, but the state itself is. Due to that, Reed says he really enjoys every presentation that he gives saying the state is moving forward.
“Certainly we concentrate on the entire state,” he said. “It just seems that Southeast Wisconsin is the location of choice for a lot of companies from the Northern tier of Illinois for a number reasons shared prior. Some day in the future I expect the whole quarter from Milwaukee, down to Chicago being more populated.”
“The Midwest is a great place to be. There’s fresh water, the Great Lakes, and good transportation. So right now we’re seeing substantial growth in the Kenosha area, but Racine is not too far behind. Going up to Oak Creek and the surrounding areas in the southern part of Milwaukee, we’re seeing interest in all of those areas.”