INSIGHT ON: Economic Development – Forward charge

Posted on Apr 1, 2014 :: Economic Development , Insight On
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
The main entrance at the new Ripon Medical Center is taking shape as work continues on schedule. Patients and visitors will be able to access all hospital and clinic services through one central entrance point; however, a separate exit will provide a discrete departure for surgical patients. Photo courtesy of Agnesian Healthcare

The main entrance at the new Ripon Medical Center is taking shape as work continues on schedule. Patients and visitors will be able to access all hospital and clinic services through one central entrance point; however, a separate exit will provide a discrete departure for surgical patients. Photo courtesy of Agnesian Healthcare

Innovation drives business success and nowhere is that truer than Fond du Lac County, where two major employers are growing, thanks in part to new product development.

Mercury Marine and Alliance Laundry Systems recently completed expansion projects and are already making plans for additional growth.

Mercury Marine – the county’s largest employer – remains a strong economic engine for the region. Since 2009, it has hired 1,500 employees and recently completed a $20 million expansion that includes more space for research and development. The company also spent millions on capital investments and $300 million in research and development to support the design and manufacture of new products.

Last summer, the company announced plans for another expansion, this one worth $30 million. The Fond du Lac County Board, however, voted against giving the company a $10 million loan to help with the project last fall. Company officials said at the time the expansion will still happen.

“Mercury Marine is very important to our community and they continue to make a huge impact here,” says Steve Jenkins, president of the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation. “With the expansion they’ve completed, they have brought more R&D work here and I think we will continue to see more innovative products come from them. Innovation is what makes our businesses successful. They say the latest expansion will happen even without the county loan. It just will be a longer timeframe than first discussed.”

Mercury Marine is also marking 75 years of business in 2014 and has multiple events lined up to celebrate, says President Mark Schwabero. The company will celebrate in ways that “reflect our strong heritage of innovation and leadership in the marine industry,” he said in a statement, adding the company launched a micro website – – as part of the celebration.

Another large county employer, Alliance Laundry Systems in Ripon, is also in expansion mode. Last November, just a few months after finishing an expansion project, the maker of commercial laundry equipment announced plans for a $46 million expansion, the largest in the company’s history.

The project will add 106,000 square feet of manufacturing and assembly space and will be completed during the second half of 2015. Alliance, which already employs 1,600 people in Ripon, plans to add another 150 manufacturing and support staff, says Mike Schoeb, Alliance Laundry’s president and CEO.

“Alliance makes the most reliable and durable laundry equipment available, and demand for our products keeps growing, both in the U.S. and overseas,” he said in a statement when the latest expansion was announced in November. “Our core philosophy is to delight our customers with each and every interaction, provide the best products in the industry and excel in our service levels. The dedication of our people is what puts this philosophy into action. The proof the formula works shows in our steadily growing revenues.”

Jenkins says Alliance’s well-built products make them sought-after. “Their products are very innovative. The first expansion was supposed to handle growth through 2018, but they’ve already filled that out and that’s why the demand is there for this second project. They just keep growing,” he says.

Alliance and Mercury Marine were recognized at the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Awards in Milwaukee in February. Mercury Marine won the Grand Award in the Mega Category and Alliance won a Special Award for Investing Locally, Growing Globally.

New hospital to open in December

In addition to the growth at Alliance, the City of Ripon has another major construction project in the works: a new hospital. The new Ripon Medical Center is slated to open in December and replace the current hospital, which has some sections that date to the 1930s.

The new, two-floor, 120,000-square-foot facility is located in a business park, will be convenient to area residents and will include ample parking, says Katherine Vergos, Ripon Medical Center’s chief operating officer.

“Ripon has been waiting for a new hospital for a long time and we worked with area residents on the location options as well as ways to improve its offerings,” she says.

The hospital was made possible financially after Ripon Medical Center joined Agnesian HealthCare of Fond du Lac in 2011. “We spent a lot of time in the design process and looked at operational efficiencies and designed it so we can change as health care changes,” Vergos says.

Construction is on schedule to welcome the first patients in December, says Tom Long, director of plants and systems for Agnesian. He adds that a lot of interior work is being done now and that the long, cold winter didn’t hamper construction.

The new hospital will have 18 private patient rooms, 14 medical/surgical rooms, three intensive care units and two labor/delivery/recovery and postpartum rooms. All rooms will be outfitted with the latest technology, including a computer in every room so staff members can complete their medical charts right in the room.

The hospital will also have three surgical suites for outpatient procedures, imaging and lab services, rehab and clinic services, and access to physician offices. There will be a single entrance.

Vergos says the hospital is investing in technology that may make tele-medicine a possibility so patients can receive more care close to home.

“Our goal is to provide as much care locally for our patients as possible,” she says. “We have a lot of elderly patients and it’s hard for them to travel longer distances to get the care they need.”

Celebrating 25 years

The Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014. Since it began, the organization has provided assistance to 4,362 businesses and entrepreneurs. The FCEDC is the only accredited economic development organization in Wisconsin. The organization has launched its New Prosperity Initiative, a five-year strategy to build a stronger and more enduring economy for Fond du Lac County and its communities and residents. For more on the FCEDC, visit

On the go

Con-way Freight, a less-than-truckload (LTL) trucking company and subsidiary of Con-way Inc., hopes to open a state-of-the-art, 96-door, 47,000-square-foot freight service center in Fond du Lac this summer.

The new $8 million facility is in Fond du Lac’s Fox Ridge Business Park and will serve as a hub to provide daily local freight pickup and delivery services connecting the greater Fond du Lac area with one-, two- and three-day service points in Con-way Freight’s nationwide network, as well as Mexico and Canada.

The new facility replaces an existing 25-door service center in Fond du Lac. Once completed, the expanded facility is expected to provide additional capacity and will consolidate smaller service centers in Sheboygan and Neenah.

The expanded operation in Fond du Lac is expected to employ 100 workers in jobs such as driver sales representatives, operations support, sales, customer service and administration. Con-way Freight currently employs 45 at its existing Fond du Lac location.