Fond du Lac County’s economic growth keeps zooming ahead, much the way the Mercury Marine engines built here power their way through the water.
Mercury Marine’s $10 million expansion project and ACH Foam Technologies’ continued capital investments in its facilities are just two examples of the county’s economic growth, says Cecilia Harry, CEO of Envision Greater Fond du Lac. That organization formed in 2017 through the merger of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce and Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corp. to better guide business growth.
“We’re seeing a lot of positive momentum in the community in terms of companies reaching out with growth opportunities,” she says.
Mercury Marine continues to grow, including its current expansion project adding 20,000 square feet to its two-story Noise, Vibration and Harshness engine-testing facility.
“It will give us another opportunity to take the lead and the commitment to make the best engines in the market,” says Lee Gordon, Mercury’s director of global public relations.
It’s quite a different picture from 2009 when Mercury considered moving operations to Oklahoma. At that time, the state of Wisconsin, Fond du Lac County and the city created an incentive package to keep the engine maker. Since then, Mercury has more than doubled its employee base with another 100 current job openings and has invested more than $830 million back into the community.
“There was a point in time back in 2009 where we were down to 1,600 employees, and we’re over 3,200 just in Fond du Lac now, so we are hiring at a rapid pace,” Gordon says.
ACH Foam Technologies, an expanded polystyrene manufacturer, grew its two locations in Fond du Lac County and added 40 new workers. In the past year alone, ACH invested $3 million in capital expenditures.
“The climate around the community and within the county is just very pro-business and pro-growth, which has really made it a friendly place to be,” says Todd Huempfner, senior vice president of operations at ACH.
ACH and Mercury are not alone in their growth patterns. Other investments include these four projects totaling $39 million in capital expenditures:
• BCI Burke and Mid-States Aluminum Corp. are expanding and updating equipment
• CD Smith is building a new headquarters
• Eden Meat Market opened the Eden Grill and Ledgeview Express in Taycheedah and the Eden Corner Express, Eden Cafe and Eden Catering in Eden
Harry predicts more growth is coming, adding the county is expecting to make other announcements soon about existing businesses choosing to stay and grow in the area.
“We’re also hopeful for some redevelopment projects to come to fruition in the near future, which just breathes life into the parts of the community that would greatly benefit from it,” she says.
Envision Greater Fond du Lac is also working more closely than ever with Destination Lake Winnebago Region, the area’s visitors’ bureau, where President Craig Molitor says tourism has increased 65 percent since 2010.
“I believe that a community has to be an awesome place to live in order for it to be a practical place to visit,” Molitor says. “The reverse is true as well.”
Continued Tri-County job growth
Bill Wheeler, executive director of the Tri-County Regional Economic Development Corp., says Green Lake, Marquette and Waushara counties remain economically healthy, with some businesses expanding. During a 10-year span from 2005 to 2015, Wheeler says 2,000 jobs were created in manufacturing and health care in the area.
More job growth is expected, Wheeler says, with Mayville Engineering Co. in Waushara County looking to add another 200 positions and Brakebush Brothers, a value-added chicken processor in Marquette County, planning to add 200 employees to its current 1,000-worker roster. The company recently completed a multimillion-dollar expansion.
Business is not the only growth happening in the area. Wheeler says tourism also is increasing thanks, in part, to the many campgrounds expanding their number of campsites to hold more visitors.
With the unemployment rate in the Tri-County Region and Fond du Lac County at an all-time low, companies like Mercury and Brakebush are struggling to find skilled workers, Wheeler says.
“The first thing that comes out of anybody’s mouth out there is, ‘If I could only find employees, I could expand,’” he says.
Wheeler says the lack of housing opportunities over the past decade contributes to the workforce shortage.
“When you hire people living 40 to 50 miles away who can’t find housing in the area, they then might not take the job,” he says.
Marquette County is taking the lead on addressing this issue by sending out requests for proposal for developers to start building multifamily homes. Green Lake and Waushara counties are expected to follow suit in the future, Wheeler says.
“Our three rural counties have been, historically, a tough environment to try to grow in,” he says. “But whatever we can do to help that along, that’s our job.”
To help address Fond du Lac County’s worker shortage, Harry says Envision is partnering with IGNITE! Business Success to provide a comprehensive, five-year, talent-led economic development blueprint to ensure pressing business needs are being met.
“In terms of strategy, we’re really looking forward to tackling the economic development initiative moving forward from that talent-led perspective,” Harry says. “We’re going to do what we can with our resources to make a difference for our employers.”