INSIGHT ON: Economic Development – Planning ahead

Posted on May 1, 2013 :: Economic Development , Insight On
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The Kewaunee Power Station’s closure will leave at least 550 people out of work, but the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. is seeking ways to help displaced workers find other employment within the county. Photo courtesy Dominion

Devastating. That’s how Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp., describes the decision by Dominion Resources Inc. to close down the Kewaunee Power Station this year.

An economic impact study completed earlier this year reported the plant generates $640 million annually in economic activity. Dominion is not only Kewaunee County’s largest employer, it also provided jobs to residents from nearby Manitowoc and Brown counties. While Dominion employs 650 people at the plant, an estimated 50 to 100 workers will stay on long-term after this year to help with the plant’s decommissioning.

Now that news is sinking in that up to 600 people will be out of work within the next few months, Brown and other area economic development leaders are taking action.

“We want to be proactive, not reactive to the situation,” says Brown, who is leading a group that’s looking at the situation and mapping out economic development strategies.

The KCEDC received $50,000 in assistance from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to help with that planning. “The closure of the power plant is a significant hit to the local economy, but I’m confident the strong regional leadership will identify new opportunities for community and business redevelopment,” says WEDC Secretary Reed Hall.

First up is taking a look at the employees who are losing their jobs and finding a way to keep them in the community, such as locating other jobs within their area of expertise, Brown says.

“These are high-paying jobs. We don’t want to lose (these employees) from our community,” she says.

Then there’s the site itself, which includes a state-of-the-art training center that sits outside of the plant’s restricted area. “There will be some parts of the site that can’t be used for more than 60 years, but the training center is definitely an asset. We need to look at that and find a way to market it,” Brown says.

Brown says officials from Dominion as well as the New North, Inc. are involved in the planning process for what to do once the nuclear plant goes offline. “There’s a lot of scenarios and action planning we need to do. There’s no doubt this is a crisis for our community,” she says. “We don’t want to limit ourselves. We want to have a plan in place that can help us move forward.”

The KCEDC hopes to develop a plan by this fall and is looking to what the area around the Zion, Ill., nuclear plant did after that plant closed down, Brown says.

“We need to keep moving forward,” she says.

A CLOSER LOOK

Agriculture powers Kewaunee’s economy

While Kewaunee County is reeling from the loss of its largest employer, the area’s largest industry – agriculture – remains strong.

The county is home to several large dairies and after Dominion Resources Inc. closes the Kewaunee Power Station, at least three will be among the county’s top 10 employers.

“Agriculture – especially dairy – is a huge economic driver in the country,” says Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation.

Agriculture generates $487 million in economic activity annually in the county with about 25 percent of the county’s workforce tied to agriculture, she adds. Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy in Kewaunee employs more than 100 and is one of four dairies in the county to have a biodigester, which takes cow waste and converts it to energy.

“Our dairies are progressive and adding to our economy and doing it in an environmentally-friendly way,” she says.

The county’s strong dairy connection, along with an increased demand in certain cheeses, led Agropur to announce last November it plans to invest $100 million to update and expand its facilities in Luxemburg. The plant produces mozzarella and provolone cheeses and will add between five and 10 employees once the expansion and addition is complete, says Agropur President Doug Simon.

The project includes building a 120,000-square-foot facility along with updating equipment.

ON THE WEB

Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation:

» http://kcedc.org/