The summer and fall of 2020 were slated to be Sheboygan County’s time to shine, with the region expected to get a windfall of hotel stays with the Democratic National Convention that was to be hosted in Milwaukee and then the Ryder Cup coming to Whistling Straits in September.
As the pandemic crisis deepened in the state, it became clear that neither event would happen. Of course, there’s no getting back the revenue lost from the DNC, but the Ryder Cup will move to Sept. 21-26, 2021.
“We had really looked on the tourism side of it being a gangbusters year with the Ryder Cup and the Democratic National Convention,” says Chad Pelishek, director of planning and development for the City of Sheboygan.
Despite the setback, in a year when organizations and municipalities have lost untold sums of money due to canceled events, Sheboygan has not fared badly, Pelishek says. Tourism dollars and hotel stays haven’t reached anticipated levels, but they weren’t “bad off,” with people increasingly seeking outdoor activities, which abound in Sheboygan County, he says.
Joe Sheehan, who retired in October from his role as executive director of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp., says the Ryder Cup delay isn’t all bad. “This gives us a year to develop some bigger-picture pieces” around having the high-profile event come to the county, he says.
When an influx of visitors does come to Sheboygan, they will find a new Visit Sheboygan center open on South Eighth Street. It had a soft opening in October and plans a grand opening in spring.
Pelishek says the concern has shifted to restaurants. This summer, the city closed down some streets and many eateries received permits that allowed them to serve customers in public right of ways.
“As we move into winter, I’m not sure what kind of impact that’s going to have with social distancing in some of our downtown restaurants,” he says.
The city will continue to look at providing aid to restaurants to keep as many as possible open. It’s looking at Community Development Block Grant-CLOSE funds as one option to provide some assistance.
On the business and manufacturing side, many companies are performing well, Pelishek says. Demand for two of Rockline Industries’ main products, disinfecting wipes and coffee filters, continues to boom. In August, the company announced plans to install a $20 million state-of-the-art disinfecting wipe production line called XC-105 Galaxy that will double its production capacity. It’s expected to be operational in mid-2021.
Business is also going strong at another of the county’s largest employers, automotive castings manufacturer Nemak, which is operating at full staffing. Acuity continues to grow as well and plans to hire another 120 employees in 2021.
One major employer, Wigwam Mills, did suffer setbacks. In June, the sock maker laid off 121 of its 142 employees due to adverse impacts from COVID-19 on operations and sales. When layoffs were announced, Chris Chesebro, general manager of operations, said Wigwam would streamline but continue to produce American-made products.
In September, Johnsonville purchased the Wigwam headquarters to expand its cooking innovations and produce more of its fully cooked sausage products. That segment of the business has seen strong growth over the last few years, exceeding Johnsonville’s manufacturing capacity on its main campus in Sheboygan Falls.
Johnsonville will lease back the building to Wigwam through the end of 2020, as Wigwam relocates its headquarters, manufacturing and outlet store to a leased space in the former Franzen Graphics facility along Highway 42 on Sheboygan’s north side.
Sun Graphics Media, which owns Franzen Graphics, began construction of a new $5.5 million, 53,000-square-foot facility in Sheboygan Falls. Slated for completion in 2021, the headquarters will include a ground-floor manufacturing area housing the commercial printing operations as well as a two-story office area for the company’s full-service marketing agency and other administrative personnel.
“We’ll be bringing in roughly 46 employees and look to increase our staff on both the printing and the marketing side by another 20 people or so by end of 2021,” says Sun Graphics owner and President Justin Webb.
The largest commercial construction project in Sheboygan County’s history, the new Aurora Sheboygan Medical Center, has progressed past the halfway point. The approximately 345,000-square-foot facility is slated for completion in 2022.
Drawing new projects to the SouthPointe Enterprise Campus industrial park in Sheboygan has hit some roadblocks due to the pandemic, Pelishek says. However, he says the city has seen some interest in land purchases for smaller warehousing operations and service-type businesses.
Brian Doudna, newly named executive director of SCEDC, says the county also needs to prepare itself as a hub for people who live there but work in other parts of the country. “The next phase will be, with COVID-19 and people working remotely, how do we position Sheboygan County to be successful in remote talent that may be employed elsewhere in the country? We are a destination for that talent,” he says.
Sheboygan County continues to make progress on the residential development front. New projects include Badger State Lofts, the conversion of a former tannery into 118 apartments in Sheboygan. It’s slated to start leasing this fall.
Green Street Development recently broke ground on The Oscar, a mixed-use development being constructed on the 17.5-acre site of the former Van Der Vaart Concrete Co. in Sheboygan. It’s the city’s largest-ever housing development project and includes 240 apartments and a new Kwik Trip. The Oscar, as well as Badger State Lofts, will offer options for workforce housing at rates lower than market-rate units.
Werner Homes, which is building a subdivision in Elkhart Lake, is looking at building a subdivision in Sheboygan as well that would add 173 units of single-family homes, condos and duplexes. It would be the first new subdivision in the city since 2009. South Pier Riverfront Condos also brought 21 luxury condominiums to the city.
Doudna says access to affordable housing remains an issue in the county. “In order for us, statewide, to deal with the workforce housing shortage and affordability, the State of Wisconsin has to take action by enhancing tools such as TIF and other resources to make sure that it’s cost-effective for individuals as well as developers to put in the infrastructure needed.”