There’s visible evidence near the busy intersection of Interstate 43 and Highway 28 on the re-emergence of Sheboygan’s manufacturing economic engine.
Earlier this year, American Orthodontics, the largest privately owned orthodontic manufacturer in the world, moved into the vacant Thomas Industries building, a 280,000-square-foot facility that sat empty since 2010. The company extensively remodeled the space, most notably adding plenty of windows, taking the building from a typical industrial building to a modern world-class corporate headquarters, says Chad Pelishek, director of planning and development for the City of Sheboygan.
“They gave new life to that building and it’s a very visible location for us in Sheboygan,” he says. “This project is huge for our community and really adds a lot.”
As part of the $12 million project, American Orthodontics consolidated operations from four smaller Sheboygan facilities into the new location. More than 200 employees work three shifts a day at the new facility, which improves productivity for the company.
“The new facility is very exciting and fills our needs,” says American Orthodontics Director of Operations John Repenshek, adding the move allows the company to stay competitive in a global market. “Keeping the jobs in the community was important and I think people are amazed to find out what we do here.”
American Orthodontics is just one Sheboygan manufacturer in a growth pattern. Vollrath Co., which makes commercial-grade food service equipment, finished its $4.5 million project at its headquarters earlier this summer, while Rockline Industries announced plans to invest $9 million in new equipment and add employees to help fulfill a new wet wipes contract. Rockline is the largest maker of coffee filters and private label baby wipes in North America.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the past six to eight months by manufacturers looking to add new equipment or expand,” Pelishek says. “Companies may not always be interested in adding space, but they are looking to upgrade their equipment.”
Outside the city limits, manufacturers are also growing. In the Town of Mosel, the Kohler Company is adding 80,000 square feet to a facility that manufactures generators and engines. Company leaders also predict hiring up to 300 workers during the next three years at that facility and at plants in Kohler and Saukville.
In Plymouth, Glacier Transit and Storage is also expanding by adding on to its refrigerated warehouse, which provides storage for cheese manufacturers as well as other businesses looking for food storage needs. The Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program gave the company a $500,000 loan to help with the project.
Two projects along the City of Sheboygan’s waterfront are paying dividends, resulting in more visitors coming to the area and an increased interest in developing areas along the Sheboygan River and Lake Michigan, Pelishek says.
Last year, Blue Harbor Resort’s new owners invested in a $3 million remodeling project and focused its marketing plans on the Chicago area. The result is more travelers than ever are coming to the resort along Lake Michigan. In 2012, resort revenues were up more than 27 percent over the previous year.
In 2012, the county realized $192.2 million in visitor spending, a 6.5 percent increase over 2011. From 2010, spending was up more than $25 million. Amy Wilson, tourism director for the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce, says the increase can be tied directly to a concentrated marketing program. Prior to 2010 when the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce took over tourism marketing, it didn’t receive much attention.
“The new owners of the Blue Harbor also have done a tremendous job with their marketing to the leisure market, which just raises Sheboygan’s visibility,” she says. “We have a new campaign and slogan and it is paying off.”
An $80 million dredging project in the Sheboygan harbor and along the Sheboygan River was completed earlier this year, allowing larger vessels to stop and stay in
the city. In the river, PCB-laden sediment was removed and a 16-foot-deep navigational channel was dug in the harbor.
“We’re definitely seeing more interest in land along the waterfront,” says Pelishek, adding that a new coffeehouse and restaurant opened recently in the South Pier area. “The dredging project really opened us from the east side (of the lake). We can now host megayachts as well as cruise ships. There are lots of new opportunities available to us.”
Wilson says tourism opportunities are increasing now that the harbor is deeper and boaters can cruise up the Sheboygan River. “While shopping remains a top expenditure when it comes to travel, outdoor activities are quickly gaining steam. We have so much to offer here, from our great golf courses, sailing facilities, bike trails and more,” Wilson says.
Away from the harbor, retail development continues, with Kwik Trip taking the last outlot spot in front of Festival Foods, which opened last year on the site of a former Wal-Mart. Goodwill Industries also opened a new 20,000-square-foot store, while the eateries Qdoba and Dunkin Donuts entered the market.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in our market from new retailers,” Pelishek says.
ON THE WEB
On the surface, Sheboygan may not appear to have a lot in common with the Silicon Valley, but appearances can be deceiving. Sheboygan was named among the top 20 cities in the nation for ingenuity, according to a report by The Brookings Institution. Sheboygan County was ranked No. 16 with an average of 1,045 patents per million residents, with an average of 120 patents filed annually by Sheboygan County businesses. The community’s strong manufacturing history is credited for its ongoing patent prowess.
ON THE WEB
Sheboygan County Tourism: www.visitsheboygancounty.com
Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation: www.sheboygancountyedc.com