Three years after one of its largest employers closed its doors for good, Calumet County is weathering the economic storm, thanks to its strong manufacturing and agricultural industries.
In 2007, engine maker Tecumseh Co. closed its New Holstein factory for good, shutting a business that just seven years earlier was the county’s largest employer. While Tecumseh contracted, other local manufacturers, including Ariens Co., M-B Companies, Professional Plating and Endries, grew, creating a solid base for the county.
“Our county is tied with having the third lowest unemployment in the state. We’ve really held our own the past two years,” says Kelly Nieforth, Calumet County economic development specialist. “Our strong manufacturing along with our ag industries helped us weather the storm.”
Even companies like Brillion Iron Works, which did lay off some employees because of the recession, is now calling people back to work and hiring again, says Wayne Volkman, community development director for the City of Brillion. “We keep humming along,” he says.
Throughout the county, communities are taking a look at their central business districts and updating them while planning for a more prosperous future, Nieforth says.
In Brillion, the city is working with the chamber of commerce to improve streetscaping in the downtown, including new banners and hanging planters. After that, Volkman hopes to work with the Brillion Redevelopment Authority to get some funding for façade improvements.
“Our goal by making these changes is to make the downtown more attractive and fill some of our vacant spots,” including the hole left when EconoFoods opened its new downtown store two years ago. “Our hope for that location is to get a furniture and appliance retailer. That is definitely something we’re lacking right now.”
Chilton is using revolving loan funds to help businesses in both their uptown and downtown areas, says Community Development Director Shawn Reilly. In Chilton, “uptown” refers to businesses along the Madison and West Main streets corridor, while the “downtown” refers to businesses along East Main and Douglas streets.
Businesses in both areas are part of tax increment financing districts and can apply for grants to make improvements and enhancements to either their exteriors or interiors. In recent years, eight grants have been awarded to do such projects.
“We are seeking to bring the buildings back to life, especially in the high traffic areas,” Reilly says.
In Sherwood, officials are excited about the village buying six downtown parcels that are part of a plan to revitalize the area, says Administrator Randy Friday. Through a program with the University of Wisconsin, the village is receiving the services of a student to help with preliminary planning regarding architecture and streetscaping.
“We have a unique opportunity here in Sherwood to wipe the slate clean. Sherwood is a growing community and we feel once we create attractive commercial properties that developers will come to us and businesses will take a hard look at our community,” Friday says.
Top on the list of “must have” businesses for the downtown is a grocery store. Right now, village residents and visitors at nearby High Cliff State Park must go to Appleton or Kaukauna to shop. Other businesses Sherwood is interested in attracting include a pharmacy, health care provider and hardware store. “We really believe businesses will start popping into these locations as they become available,” Friday says.
As for New Holstein, the former home of Tecumseh, the city is seeking grants through the Wisconsin Plant Recovery Initiative to clean up the former plant and prepare it for other uses. If New Holstein receives the necessary grants, the program will help the city get a handle on the 10-acre site’s regulatory, environmental and financial issues. The plan is to clean up and then find other uses for the Tecumseh plant.
Sitting on busy Highway 10, the City of Brillion continues to see growth in both residential and commercial projects. McDonald’s is opening a restaurant in the city before the end of the year while construction is starting on a new 16-unit apartment complex.
Volkman says the success of a privately-owned business park on the city’s west side is prompting the city’s mayor and city council to consider a feasibility study for a city-owned industrial park. “There might be some grants out there to help us acquire the land and put in the infrastructure,” he says. “We just need to determine if this is something that will be viable and successful for us.”
The community’s quartet of major manufacturers – Brillion Iron Works, Ariens Co., Endries Co. and Professional Plating – are holding steady, riding out the economic downturn, Volkman says.
“We are lucky to have these strong manufacturers here. Brillion Iron Works has been able to call back many of its workers who were laid off and I know Professional Plating has put up a ‘now hiring’ sign. Those are all positive developments,” he says.
In Chilton, one local employer has some big plans for 2011. M-B Companies Inc., a manufacturer of large brooms that can be used to remove snow from runways, has applied for $6 million in industrial bonds for a project that would expand the building by 22,000 square feet and create up to 50 new jobs. Besides the plant in Chilton, M-B Companies has another manufacturing facility six miles away in New Holstein.
“This is a project we’re excited about and if they get the bonds, they hope to start building next spring,” Reilly says.