Pride of Place

Posted on Aug 1, 2011 :: Development
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Sheboygan Economic Development Corporation

The first year on the job has been a busy one for Patrick Drinan.

Drinan, who became the first executive director of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) about 18 months ago, has set out to create a one-stop resource for businesses seeking help to expand.

Last November, the SCEDC released a video highlighting what the county has to offer not only businesses, but also potential residents. The response has been amazing, Drinan says.
“People who view the video tell us it really puts the county in a whole new light and creates awareness about the county’s amenities and attributes that they didn’t know were there or hadn’t thought about recently,” he says. “It really rekindled community pride.”

The SCEDC also relaunched its website – http://sheboygancountyedc.com – to better align with the “look” of the video and to make it easier for people to find the information they’re looking for.

“The SCEDC had been around in name only for years, but the addition of a staff and a permanent office has really re-energized the focus of economic development in the county,” Drinan says.

The SCEDC works not only with the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce, it also works with economic development officials throughout the county as well as Lakeshore Technical College and others. “We all have the same goal: making Sheboygan County a better place to live and to do business,” Drinan says.

Chad Pelishek, manager of planning and development for the City of Sheboygan, agrees. The city is working on a number of endeavors designed to increase economic development to the city, which is nearly half-way between Green Bay and Milwaukee on Interstate 43.

“We have a lot going on,” says Pelishek, adding that the biggest iron in the fire right now is trying to lure one business or several businesses to consider locating their headquarters on the former Pentair property, which is near the city’s South Pier region and along Lake Michigan. After Pentair closed its Sheboygan plant and moved operations to Pennsylvania, the company tore down its nearly 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, which opened up 17 acres of prime development land.

“We have a lot of marketing pieces out right now to draw up interest among corporations to move their headquarters to this site. We’re not only tapping into locally-based employers, but also looking throughout the New North at companies who are growing, as well as into the Milwaukee area to see if there’s interest to locate in such a prime spot,” Pelishek says.
The development of that property will only benefit the nearby South Pier area, which was designed initially as a mixed-use area with small shops and businesses. “Bringing more employees to the area will definitely create more traffic, which is how these businesses will survive,” Pelishek says.

Another piece of the puzzle is the $5 million renovation project planned at the Blue Harbor Resort and Conference Center. Claremont New Frontier Resort LLC purchased the 182-room property, which includes a hotel, convention center and water park, earlier this year from Madison-based Great Wolf Resorts Inc. Unlike Great Wolf, which marketed Blue Harbor as a family destination, the new owners are focusing on the business community.

“The goal is to have the convention center booked every week. That will bring in a steady supply of people to the area,” Pelishek says.

At the opposite end of Indiana Avenue at Interstate 43, the City of Sheboygan is working on another project it hopes will spur development – a “green” industrial park. The 180-acre park, which is set among wetlands as well as a trout stream, will have about 80 acres available for development, Pelishek says. “Our goal is to develop the park around its natural assets,” he says, adding the city is working with the Department of Natural Resources to make sure development doesn’t harm the ecosystem.

The next steps

Business retention is a key goal for the SCEDC, Drinan says. Last fall in a 45-day blitz, 88 local companies were visited by either a staff member or a volunteer. This past spring, 200 small- and medium-sized businesses were also visited.

The goal is to let them know more about the SCEDC and to hear about their particular needs. “We can then figure out ways to address some of those issues,” Drinan says.
While financial issues came up when meeting with businesses, Drinan says another issue surprised him.

“A lot of businesses can’t find enough workers with the right skills. They may be looking for a particular set of skills and the workforce available doesn’t have those. We’re trying to work with the companies and LTC on worker retraining
issues,” he says.