Building Business

Posted on Jan 1, 2011 :: Development
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Chamco

When a group of Oshkosh businessmen pooled their resources in 1960 to construct a spec building to lure a new company to town, they probably didn’t realize what they had started.The organization they formed – Chamco – is still going strong today and has helped dozens of Oshkosh businesses expand their space, find new locations and add to their workforce.

“We’ve done more than 500 projects in the past 50 years,” says Chamco Executive Director Elizabeth Hartman. “We have helped countless businesses grow their businesses.”

Hartman says it’s amazing to look back through the years to see how the organization got started and the role it played in helping so many local businesses, including Bemis Co., Oshkosh Corp., Fox Valley Technical College, 4imprint, Miles Kimball and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. The organization also worked with the city to develop and market its four industrial parks.

“I’m sure when the founders were building a spec facility for Standard Kollsman, they had no idea of what Chamco was to become,” Hartman says.

Standard Kollsman is no more and the building on Oregon Street is now home to Advanced Military packaging. Times change and so do the ways businesses seek out new locations and expand.

While a new building (which was built and owned by Chamco and leased to Standard Kollsman until they were able to purchase it) was enough to lure the business to town, today a spec building like that would be combined with other economic incentives, such as TIFs and state and local grants.
“While the tools we used have changed, our commitment is still to develop, recruit and retain businesses in our community,” says Hartman, adding that as a private-public partnership, Chamco works with businesses and organizations across the board.

“It’s important to emphasize that none of Chamco’s accomplishments would be possible without our many partners in economic development and supporters in the community,” says Chamco Chair Dave Omachinksi. They include the city, Winnebago County, UW-Oshkosh, FVTC, the Oshkosh Community Foundation and the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce.

With UW-Oshkosh, Chamco played an essential role helping the university find a new home for its mechanical and physical facility to make way for a new academic building. Chamco approached the university about moving into a vacated Cub grocery store. The organization purchased the store and then leased it back to the university, allowing it to move forward on the project, says Tom Sonnleitner, UW-Oshkosh vice chancellor of administrative services.

The store was then remodeled and expanded a bit to allow the move to take place. Once the Campus Services Center opened in 2009, work began on the new academic building. “Without Chamco, the new building might not have been possible,” Sonnleitner says.

Building up business
Chamco’s spec building program – which has built 19 facilities over the past 50 years – is just one tool in the organization’s economic development toolbox. The program was one of the first in the state to construct spec buildings and even today not many organizations take on the challenge, in which Chamco builds and owns a facility, then leases it back at a very attractive rate to a business, which promises to buy it during a certain period such as eight years. If real estate values hold steady and financing is plentiful, the program is a boon for the business and the local community, which benefits from the business expansion.

When economic times are tough – like they are now – a spec building poses a greater financial risk. Chamco currently doesn’t have any spec buildings in the works, but Hartman says the organization would jump in again if the timing and situation were right. Most cities don’t offer spec building programs so having one available is an asset, she adds. (The Fond du Lac Economic Development Corporation recently broke ground on its first-ever spec building. Other than that, few communities in the New North offer the program.)

“We’ll definitely do another spec building. If you look through our 50 years, you’ll see other times when we went for a couple of years without a spec building project. A lot depends on what’s going on in the community,” Hartman says.

And what’s going on is that companies that are looking to expand may not have the necessary resources to do it. Chamco can help by working with the company to have the city create a tax increment financing district or help the business receive state or federal grants. Being able to help businesses grow and expand is what Hartman and the rest of Chamco thrives on.

“We have helped so many businesses in the community over the past 50 years. Manufacturers are the backbone of our community and whatever we can do to help them keeps us going,” she says. “A lot of people talk about attracting new businesses, but the real key is helping local businesses grow right here and keeping businesses here. We want to capture the growth of our local companies. Studies have shown that 80 percent of business growth in a community can be tied back to local companies and their expansions,” Hartman says. “We want to make sure we are capturing that.”