INSIGHT ON: Economic Development – Fond du Lac firms in growth mode

Posted on Apr 2, 2013 :: Economic Development , Insight On
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The new LaClare Farms goat dairy farm will include a state-of-the-art dairy plant, retail store, café and milking parlor. This artist rendering depicts the public storefront entrance. Courtesy of LaClare Farms.

LaClare Farms, Alliance Laundry, McNeilus Steel, Mercury Marine among those expanding

Fond du Lac County already boasts the state’s largest cow dairy farm. It will soon be home to one of the state’s largest goat dairy farms as well.

By this summer, LaClare Farms will have its new 35,000-square-foot farmstead dairy plant up and running in the Town of Calumet on the shore of Lake Winnebago. The project includes a state-of-the-art dairy plant, retail store and café and milking parlor with housing for 600 milking goats. The goats’ milk is used in a variety of products, including the 2011 U.S. Championship Evalon goats’ milk cheese.

While the City of Fond du Lac provides a strong manufacturing base for the county, most of the county is deeply tied to agriculture.

LaClare Farms owner Larry Hedrich says the project was years in the making and is an expansion of his current operations near Chilton in neighboring Calumet County. Moving to the new site was a natural, he says.

“It all comes down to location, location, location. We are off of a main road (US 151) and people will be driving by it and that will serve as good advertising. Once we get them in there they’ll come back,” Hedrich says. “It’s also convenient to get to from Appleton, Fond du Lac and Oshkosh.”

To make the project financially possible, Hedrich worked with not only his lender, Calumet County Bank, but also Fond du Lac County, the Fond du Lac Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

When open, the facility will be able to process milk from cows, goats and sheep and will include a specialty dairy production and aging facility for custom processing.

Once Hedrich decided to expand his current operations, he traveled to Europe to see how large goat dairies operate. “There are not too many resources for goat dairies in the U.S. With cows, you can just contact the (University of Wisconsin) Extension and they will have a lot of information for you. It’s not like that with the goats,” he says.

In addition to crafting LaClare Farm products, the Hedrichs plan to rent out space to dairy processors to help launch new products and to

work with beginning dairy entrepreneurs to develop their new products. The facility will also offer viewing windows into the milking parlor, dairy plant and cheese aging room which will be available to the public.

“We have really appreciated the support we have gotten from everyone in the community about this project,” Hedrich says.


Manufacturers in expansion mode

Across Fond du Lac County, several manufacturers are shaking off the effects of the economic slowdown and expanding their operations, says Steve Jenkins, president of the Fond du Lac Economic Development Corp. Some of the projects include:

» Alliance Laundry in Ripon is spending $29 million to expand its operations and plans to hire about 260 new employees once the project is complete this fall. The company estimates the production of small chassis washers and dryers will increase by about 40 percent.

» McNeilus Steel, based in Dodge Center, Minn., is finishing up a $20 million warehouse addition to its full-line steel distribution and processing facility in Fond du Lac. Once complete, the project will add about 70 new jobs over the next three years, the company says. The State of Wisconsin gave a $600,000 Transportation Economic Assistance grant to construct a 2,360-foot track and a 1,570-foot rail spur to off-load materials at McNeilus’ facilities. (The grant covers about half of the project’s cost.)

» Mercury Marine is in the middle of a $20 million expansion of its Fond du Lac research and development and manufacturing facilities. Along with the physical expansions, the marine engine maker continues to hire. Since 2009, Mercury Marine has hired 1,100 employees.

» Wells Vehicle Electronics, a maker of electronic car parts like ignition coils, is building a $7.1 million expansion of its manufacturing facility in Fond du Lac. The project will be complete later this year.

» Advanced Tooling is doubling the size of its manufacturing space at its Mount Calvary facility and plans to add 15 workers once the project is complete. Advanced Tooling specializes in industrial and medical drilling devices.


Focus on the arts

A construction project in downtown Fond du Lac is seeking to turn the city into a regional arts destination.

The Windhover Center for the Arts recently began a multi-million-dollar expansion that will nearly double the square-footage to 37,200-square-feet while creating a state-of-the-art facility that can be used for corporate events or weddings. The project includes space for live outdoor entertainment, an arts gallery for both local and national exhibits and expanded classroom space.

Exterior construction on the Windhover will be done in July with interior work done by mid-August. A community-wide grand opening celebration is set for September, says Kevin Miller, executive director of the Windhover Center.

“When finished, we’ll have five different spaces available for weddings or high-end corporate events as well as outside space for concerts that will let us bring a couple of thousand people together,” he says.

“This project is a game changer for us and the community,” he says. “It will become a cornerstone for a downtown arts district in Fond du Lac.”

Miller says there has already been some redevelopment in the area around the Windhover and that a revitalized arts district will play a key role as Fond du Lac looks to become a

regional destination for the arts, bringing in art shows that people might otherwise need to go to Milwaukee or Appleton or Green Bay to see.

“We have a great quality of life here in Fond du Lac and a lot of major employers and we need to have facilities like this (the Windhover) to attract and retain the workers our companies need,” he says.


» Fond du Lac Economic Development Corp:

» Windhover Center for the Arts:

» LaClare Farm: