ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Growth Potential – Calumet County manufacturers move forward

Posted on Dec 5, 2011 :: Economic Development
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Wayne Volkman, community developer for the City of Brillion, realizes his municipality is in a good place right now.

The city’s quartet of manufacturers – Ariens Co., Professional Plating, Endries Co. and Brillion Iron Works – are adding to their workforces and the city continues to see commercial growth along U.S. 10, including a new Shopko Hometown store. “We’re in a good spot right now,” Volkman says. “The addition of Shopko is huge since it brings apparel and shoes into the community, which is something we didn’t have before.”

The 36,000-square-foot store opened in mid-November and has about 70 percent of merchandise found in a typical Shopko store. It also has an optical department, a pharmacy and a Payless Shoes department. “It’s a real nice addition to the community,” Volkman says.

Another addition to the community is the new $3.8 million building expansion at the Ariens Co., a manufacturer of snowblowers and lawn mowers.

The expansion includes new product development and testing labs, a new employee learning center, increased workstation capacity for engineering and a new food services area. The project was part of a $20 million investment in Ariens’ facilities over the past five years.

Ariens’ sales have grown 28 percent in the past year and this fall the manufacturer kept both its snowblower and lawn mower lines going – they traditionally make only one product at a time depending on the season – to keep up with demand. To keep both lines going, Ariens added 100 more workers on a temporary basis with CEO Dan Ariens hoping to add

them on full-time if businesss continues to go well.

Ariens employs more than 1,300 workers in Brillion, making it the city’s largest employer.

Volkman says Endries, Professional Plating and Brillion Iron Works are also adding to their payrolls. “Brillion Iron Works is doing some great work with Oshkosh Truck and is now back up to more than 500 employees,” he says. “It’s great to see our manufacturers doing so well in some economic trying times.”

In addition to the Shopko Hometown store, Brillion filled a new commercial building within the past year with McDonalds, a Verizon store and a new American Family Insurance office.

But Volkman says the city’s downtown is still struggling a bit to find new retail tenants.

“That’s similar to a lot of places although we do have Farm Equipment taking over the vacant Best Advantage Credit Union offices. That’s a real positive,” he says. “We’re just excited a community of our size can bring in new businesses.”

Across the county, businesses are doing well, says Kelly Nieforth, economic development director for Calumet County. The county had a 5.5 percent unemployment rate, making it the lowest in the New North and among the seven lowest in the state. “We are very fortunate to have stable businesses in Calumet County. A lot of businesses have out the ‘now hiring’ signs,” she says.

Along with the manufacturing growth, the county’s ag businesses remain strong, too, Nieforth says. The area around Hilbert recently received an Agricultural Enterprise Zone designation, which means it can now receive technical and marketing assistance from the state.

“We have a strong ag base in the county,” Nieforth says. “We have a strong ag history here and it’s just as important to the county as manufacturing.”

That history and tradition of agriculture is also a boon to the county’s tourism industry, Nieforth says. The fall months draw the most visitors with guests checking out the county’s pumpkin patches, orchards, petting zoos and more.

“We have a lot of fall attractions, not to mention the wonderful colors people can view from High Cliff State Park,” she says. “Agri-tourism is definitely a developing and flourishing niche for the county.”