Sheboygan area planning and development leaders are looking for ways to keep up with the growth that has employers wondering where they’re going to house new recruits and incoming residents wondering where they’re going to shop.
The county has seen about $60 million in new apartment construction in just the past couple of years, $40 million of that in downtown Sheboygan alone. Now, county and city leaders are turning to the retail and entertainment sector to provide the kinds of amenities new residents seek.
“Within the county we have lagged behind in apartment construction for a number of years,” says Dane Checolinski, director of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation. “I think we are playing catch-up. In addition, the job growth in Sheboygan County has been some of the most consistent and strongest in the state of Wisconsin.”
Bureau of Economic Analysis data showed Sheboygan County’s growth at three times the rate of the state of Wisconsin in 2015, or 1.2 percent GDP versus 0.4 percent, Checolinski says. The county’s economy has topped $6.5 billion with growth primarily in:
• Wholesale and retail (.56%)
• Finance, insurance and real estate
• Construction (.24%)
• Nondurable goods manufacturing
(food processing) (.15%)
• Education and health care (.11%)
• Arts, entertainment, recreation and
food service (.09%)
The county has about 3,300 open jobs, says Chad Pelishek, director of planning and development for the City of Sheboygan.
Travis Knier, the 2016 president of the Sheboygan Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, says The Job Center of Wisconsin shows 1,000 new positions posted in the county in the last 30 days alone.
“So many organizations are growing, which is awesome, but many of them are experiencing the same challenges — not having enough quantity nor enough quality of qualified applicants,” Knier says.
And Bureau of Labor statistics figures show unemployment rates in the county are the lowest since October 2006, equating to about 2,100 people unemployed, “a clear indication that we just don’t have the sheer numbers of people right now to support that growth,” Knier says.
“The majority of our employers have told us that their employees find it difficult to find any type of quality housing in the market,” Pelishek says. New recruits have expressed interest in living downtown close to the lake and the river and near entertainment venues.
“Prior to this, the city of Sheboygan hadn’t built a new apartment complex in over 15 years.” Elsewhere in the county, the last new apartment construction was about 2009-10.
The downtown will have 260 new units by the end of the year, Pelishek says.
“We’re focused on building a community that the average American would want to live in,” Checolinski says. While Sheboygan showcases strengths including arts amenities and an attractive waterfront, newcomers also would like to see more retail options.
County residents purchase $3 billion worth of cars, gas, groceries, hotel stays, computers, TVs and other goods annually. Yet the county is only selling $2 billion worth of goods. “So we have a billion dollars leakage in retail,” Checolinski says.
Additionally, 8,500 people a day commute into Sheboygan County for work.
“A lot of them are living in downtown Milwaukee and Grafton because what they’re looking for in product and residential is there,” Checolinski says.
Among current and upcoming projects:
• An 81-unit market-rate apartment complex with 4,054 square feet of retail on the ground floor on the site of the former Boston Store at Eighth and Main streets in Sheboygan. The city purchased the property in 2014 and created a TIF district to facilitate its development, Pelishek says.
• Another Eighth Street property that will have 91 units including penthouses overlooking the lake is in the works.
• About a half-dozen new arts-related businesses have opened in the downtown in a new arts-and-culture district, the result of a targeted effort to enhance the creative economy, Pelishek says.
• Renovation of the historic Bray Building on Eighth Street, which will house the corporate offices of Quasius Construction, a coffee shop and other businesses.
• Parker John’s Barbeque & Pizza restaurant is coming to the riverfront in spring 2017.
• Red Wing Shoes is opening a store on Business Drive in Sheboygan.
• The county has been actively promoting the Highway 42 corridor for retail development, and there has been interest. “I can definitely say that we are extremely optimistic at this point,” Checolinski says.
Additionally, the city is working with the Kohler Arts Center to develop a $20 million world-class art preserve on a 180-acre parcel that originally had been intended for a green technology park, Pelishek says. The center would house and display collections of “artist’s environments,” which is essentially outdoor art constructed out of concrete and various materials.
“It’s about trying to drive people to get off the interstate to come and see what we’re all about,” Pelishek says. “(The arts center) envisions this will be the place where people will travel from all over the world to look at these collections.”
As of mid-October, Sheboygan also was one of three communities in the running to house a Milwaukee Bucks D-League team, along with Oshkosh and Racine, Checolinski says. Sheboygan was one of the first communities to host an NBA team in the 1940s. Now, former NBA player and area resident Joe Wolf is leading the Lakefront Jewel Group, an effort to restore the historic Armory and bring the team to Sheboygan.
“It’s in a location that’s absolutely gorgeous,” Checolinski says. “You’re a block from the mouth of the river, one block east is the marina.”
The county also hopes to receive federal designation as a National Marine Sanctuary, which protects both water quality and marine life as well as special features such as the historic shipwrecks on the bottom of Lake Michigan. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Mich. has transformed its once-blighted community with the addition of this educational attraction, Pelishek says.
“They’re a hundred miles from the nearest interstate, and they see 100,000 to 150,000 visitors a year that come just for this,” he says.
Knier of SHRM says Sheboygan County held its second annual workforce summit Sept. 29, bringing together educators, business leaders and others to talk about progress, opportunities and what can be done as a community to draw talent. Additionally, area companies are being proactive about training and development and in supporting local initiatives to draw in talent.
“Which really speaks volumes to the overall collaborative environment that exists within Sheboygan County,” Knier says. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many communities that would see a challenge, see a problem and jump into action so quickly.”
One of the greatest assets that the region has is its companies, Checolinski says, because many have been in the community a long time and truly consider themselves part of it.
“Anytime you talk to anyone in the business community here, it’s ‘We’re doing this and what should we be doing next?’” Checolinski says. “And those conversations are constantly happening.”