The pieces have always been there.
Oshkosh is home to plenty of major companies that have put it on the map, from its sawdust days of producing wood products to today’s global players Bemis Co. and Oshkosh Corp. There is prime space available in the region’s industrial parks and visible commercial districts on both sides of the Fox River.
Organizations including the Chamber of Commerce and Chamco have long been active in extolling the virtues of starting or locating a business in Oshkosh, while education institutions have also contributed and work diligently to deliver a highly-skilled workforce.
Despite all those pieces, it sometimes seemed no one knew what the finished puzzle was supposed to look like. Instead of a polished picture, economic strategy at times remained a jumble.
“We have a lot of great organizations that do great things for economic development,” says Matthew Jameson, president and COO of Jay Manufacturing Oshkosh, Inc. “If we didn’t, there would be nothing to coordinate.”
That coordination will now be provided by the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation, a public-private agency launched in 2014 to create a strategic vision and single point of reference for development activities in Oshkosh and the surrounding areas of Winnebago County.
While still in an organizational mode, the newly-formed agency has set out ambitious goals such as fostering the creation of 1,000 jobs during the next three years. Both private industry and governmental agencies have stepped up to fund those efforts, which organizers say will ensure a unified vision so that resources and opportunities are not squandered.
“I like to explain it that we are here to be the umbrella,” says Bill Wyman, chairman of the board and interim CEO. “We see our job as setting the strategic plan. If everyone knows the overall picture, they can better execute their part. We all work in unison to accomplish the goals.”
That unified vision has not always been there in the past, which resulted in gaps, or worse, tensions among the various players. It could also be confusing to businesses looking to expand or locate, as they often had to contact multiple agencies to get answers to questions or find resources, an inconvenience that will now be eliminated.
“Now, with one call, we can bring the right resources to bear and provide them with the right contacts,” Jameson says.
“Business owners don’t have time to sit down with four to five different contacts. Instead, let’s figure out the community’s overall goals so everyone knows them and we can bring out all the great resources.”
The idea of GO-EDC emerged following a study the city of Oshkosh commissioned in 2012 to review the city’s economic development policies and strategies. An ad hoc group formed to review the findings grew into the Greater Economic Development Commission, and as discussions continued, the idea of creating a non profit entity to develop a more strategic approach resulted in the formation of GO-EDC.
There is no intention for GO-EDC to replace any of the existing agencies, Wyman stressed, though Chamco will wind down and transfer many of its functions to the new agency. Chamco’s board voted to direct its industrial development activities to GO-EDC, though it will still exist as a legal entity.
The activities of other development groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and UW-Oshkosh will continue.
“What we realized is we needed a centralized economic development ‘one-stop’ approach,” says Oshkosh City Manager Mark Rohloff. “Now we can better leverage the collective resources of all the partners.”
The EDC board of directors includes representatives from the Chamber, the university, Fox Valley Technical College and public schools, as well as the surrounding towns and private businesses.
Organized in May, bylaws were adopted in June and a strategic plan outlining the group’s immediate goals was announced by August. Since then, GO-EDC has been recruiting staff, seeking funding and seeking inclusion from all the economic players in order to get a quick start to 2015.
Included in the organization’s three-year goals:
» Complete, either directly or with partners, 150 company visits and calls annually
» Increase existing business capital investment by $75 million
» Help create 1,000 new jobs in the greater Oshkosh area
» Provide a one-stop solution to economic development
It’s an ambitious agenda, but one that acting COO Brenda Hicks-Sorensen says is important for showing progress with investors, partners and the public.
“We need to show them a way to measure results,” she says. “That’s an important part of the strategy.”
Hicks-Sorensen and Wyman recently accepted interim roles with the agency to provide time to find the right candidates to fill the critical CEO and COO positions.
To be certain, some of the goals may be a stretch for an organization in its infancy, but GO-EDC plans to track everything from vacancy rates to per capita household income and the change in the tax base in order to show the effectiveness of its efforts.
As a public-private partnership, GO-EDC will raise money from both private sources as well as the city and county. The agency plans to raise at least 60 percent of its funds from the private sector.
In December, GO-EDC had a string of successes on both sides, as private sources pledged more than $700,000 in commitments for the next three years, while the city of Oshkosh committed to $166,000 a year and provided the agency with oversight of a $2.4 million revolving loan fund created with one-time funds from the city’s closing of three tax incremental financing districts.
“With the fluctuations in the capital markets what they are, we are fortunate to have that resource,” Rohloff says. “It’s something we really needed to do.”
The loan fund can be tapped to finance projects up to $200,000 for either new projects or expansion projects. A portion of the variable interest rate will be paid to GO-EDC for administering the fund.
Rohloff says the recent support from the private sector helped convince the city council to invest in the new development agency.
Fundraising efforts, headed up by Jameson, raised more than $715,000 in seven weeks. Jameson expects those totals to grow by the time GO-EDC kicks off its branding campaign in February.
“The city and private support we have so far sends a pretty positive message about what we are trying to do,” he says. “I would expect that amount to be much higher by February.”
On the web: www.go-edc.com
The Oshkosh community saw a major win this past year when Bemis Co. decided to locate its new 160,000-square-foot health care packaging facility in Oshkosh.
When completed in late 2015, the $25 million facility is expected to add 160 employees, doubling the workforce of the previous facility.
The company received $2 million in assistance from the city of Oshkosh in the form of property tax reimbursements on the new facility. The state of Wisconsin provided $2 million in low or no interest loans, one of which does not have to be repaid provided the company creates the 160 jobs it expects.
The city also modernized the storm water drainage plan for the industrial park hosting the new facility, further enhancing the park, one of the city’s older industrial areas, for other expansions.
Keep on truckin’
Uncle Sam must think Oshkosh Defense was particularly good last year.
In mid-December, the U.S. Army ordered 256 trucks and trailers from Oshkosh Defense’s Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles line totaling $67 million. The Army will take delivery in 2015 and 2016.
Oshkosh began producing FMTVs for the U.S. Army in 2010. Since then, Oshkosh has delivered more than 22,000 trucks and 11,000 trailers. The FMTV program supports the U.S. Army and National Guard at home and abroad in tactical and combat operations, relief efforts and unit resupply missions. The vehicles feature crew-protecting armor and advanced technologies to provide the capability, versatility, mobility and protection to move troops and supplies, recover vehicles and weapon systems or haul equipment wherever the mission requires.