Calumet County has historically been one of the fastest-growing counties in Wisconsin based on population alone. The blended focus on manufacturing, tourism and agriculture drives the county’s economy, but not without challenges.
Wisconsin unemployment numbers have dipped to record lows, but like many states, it faces significant challenges when it comes to workforce development and recruitment. According to a recent Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development report, many businesses say the lack of qualified workers has hindered expansion and, in some cases, even curtailed their ability to meet current product orders.
Calumet County is no different, and in fact, also faces the challenge of having one of the state’s highest negative commuter workforce rates.
“More residents of Calumet County leave for work every day than almost any other county in Wisconsin,” says Mary Kohrell, community economic development director for Calumet County. “Our challenge is helping our local employers, through programs and workforce development opportunities, find employees within our county that can fulfill the needs of their businesses, and also to find and entice the employees that commute here for work every day to put down roots and live here as well.”
The county’s goals align well with the efforts already taking place between local communities and employers throughout Calumet County, Kohrell says.
“In many areas, our employers are driving these efforts. They want the county to be a place where people can work as well as live,” she adds.
That’s definitely the case in Brillion where Bob Endries, founder of Endries International Inc., and Dan Ariens, president and CEO of Ariens Co., have been instrumental in the city’s downtown revitalization and development projects, Kohrell says.
In June, contractors broke ground on a 6,300 square-foot facility known as the Brillion City Center. The project, which is part of the city’s Main Street Square Initiative, is the first of several downtown redevelopment projects that will provide space for a new city hall, greenspace and enhancements to the Brillion Community Center.
“The city has been in need of a new city hall for a long time,” says TJ Lamers, program manager for Integrated Public Resources/McMAHON Group, which will own the property. “We have studies going back at least a decade, but we really needed the public/private partnership to make this happen.”
Endries and Ariens worked closely with the Brillion Redevelopment Authority to purchase the property so it could be redeveloped, Lamers says.
Called the Mainstreet Square Initiative, the redevelopment project has two phases underway: the construction of the Brillion City Center, which will serve as the city hall and is scheduled for completion by December; and the demolition of the former grocery store on the property to make way for a new, 40-unit workforce housing complex to be completed next year by Northpointe Development.
The city received a $250,000 Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. grant to support the project, a huge step in transforming that area into a vibrant city center, says Beth Wenzel, chair of the Brillion Redevelopment Authority.
“This project is key for economic development in the community,” she says. “We’re trying to make Brillion a place where people want to stay and work, and ultimately pay taxes.”
Once completed, the apartment project is expected to add more than $7 million to the city’s tax base and generate about $154,000 in annual property taxes.
Ariens Co. also worked closely with the Brillion Redevelopment Authority to purchase the former Brillion Iron Works property located at 200 Park Ave. Wenzel says the stakeholders have been working closely with the proper state departments and are close to completing that deal as well.
While no definitive plans have been made for the property, Ariens was concerned with the facility becoming a potential blight on the community. Ariens is leasing part of the building from current owners, and there’s a tentative plan from Green Bay-based Performa to do some mixed-use residential, light industrial and commercial developments, Wenzel says.
Similar efforts are underway in the Village of Hilbert, Kohrell says. Sargento Foods, which has undergone four expansions in the last decade, is one driving force behind economic development there.
The village purchased 50 acres of land near Sargento’s recent expansion project that eventually will be turned into residential property, Kohrell says.
In Sherwood, the downtown redevelopment also has been strategic and methodical.
“Over the last five years, the village has made concerted efforts to acquire property with the intent of revitalizing its downtown area,” Kohrell says.
Changes at High Cliff Banquet & Event Center and High Cliff Golf Course and partnerships with local businesses to produce a new wedding venue and catering business have sparked development in the community, Kohrell adds.