UP FRONT: Regional roundup – January 2013

Posted on Jan 1, 2013 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Mark Herzog, president of Holy Family Memorial Hospital, Manitowoc (second from right), discusses results of the First Business Bank Economic Survey at the New North Summit. Also on the panel, from left, are St. Norbert College President Tom Kunkel; Lisa Johnson, vice president of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.; Alta Resources CEO Jim Beré; and Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (not pictured).

Survey: Northeast Wisconsin businesses show growth

A strong manufacturing sector is driving business growth throughout the region, according to the 2012 First Business Economic Survey of Northeast Wisconsin.

The report, which is sponsored by First Business Bank and conducted by the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business and Insight Publications, was released at the New North Summit on Dec. 7 in Appleton.

Many businesses across Northeast Wisconsin have returned to where they were in 2008 in terms of sales revenue, profitability and number of employees, says Mickey Noone, president of the Northeast Region of First Business Bank.

Manufacturers continue to drive growth, he adds, with 57 percent of manufacturers reporting an increase in profitability compared with 41 percent in 2011. Wages also rose at 79 percent of manufacturers in 2012 compared with 62 percent in 2011.

“The manufacturing sector is showing steady growth in the New North. Businesses in other areas are following the manufacturing lead, a good sign for the region,” Noone says in the report.

A slightly higher percentage of businesses reported higher sales revenues in 2012 – 58.85 percent to 55.96 percent in 2011.

Things were better for B2B companies too, with 17.31 percent reporting no change in sales revenue, up from 8.77 percent in 2011.

Looking ahead, 83 percent of companies expect 2013 to be better than 2012. “There is definitely optimism in the air,” says Noone.

This is the fourth year in a row that First Business Bank has conducted the economic survey in Northeast Wisconsin.


For complete survey results, please visit www.firstbusiness.com/data/FBB_2012_NE_Report_Final.pdf



Brown, Calumet, Outagamie, Winnebago, Fond du Lac Counties

Mercury Marine continues adding to workforce

Mercury Marine is hiring 170 additional workers at its Fond du Lac operations.

A news release from the company says workers are needed as the company increases its manufacturing capacity to meet customers’ demands for outboard engines. Many of the new workers will be assigned to weekend-only shifts.

They will work 36 hours, but be paid for working 40. Since September 2009, Mercury has added 1,100 employees. Some of those jobs were created as the company shifted manufacturing from a site in Stillwater, Okla., to Fond du Lac.


St. Norbert College releases economic impact study

St. Norbert College recently completed a study looking at the economic impact that the De Pere institution has on Brown County.

The report examined four areas of spending during the 2011-12 academic year and how the spending was tied to jobs, labor income and economic output.

The college’s operating budget created 615 jobs in Brown County, $32.6 million in labor income and $51 million in output.


Marian receives grant to aid high school students

The U.S. Department of Education has given a five-year, $1.25 million Upward Bound Math-Science grant to Marian University in Fond du Lac. The grant will be used to better prepare high school students for a college education in the fields of mathematics and science.

The UBMS program is designed to generate skills and motivation necessary for success in education beyond high school. It offers services such as academic tutoring and preparation for college entrance exams, as well as information on federal student financial aid programs. Students participate in hands-on activities and intensive instruction in mathematics and science.

The UBMS program will select 60 students from Fond du Lac High School and Horace Mann High School in North Fond du Lac to participate annually.


Appleton housing market earns national honor

The National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index ranks Appleton as one of the nation’s 125 improving markets and the only one in Wisconsin.

The index identifies metropolitan areas that have shown improvement in housing permits, employment and home prices for at least six consecutive months following the respective lows in those areas.

“The addition of Appleton to the Improving Market Index may be a sign that our local economy, especially the housing industry, has turned a corner due to rising demand from consumers who are increasingly confident about home values,” says Valley Home Builders Association President Tom Rooney of Mark Winter Custom Homes. “Appleton’s continued place on this upbeat list isn’t guaranteed, particularly with ongoing tight lending conditions and difficulties in securing true market appraisals, but we’re pleased to see such important local progress.”


Former Kaukauna mill redevelopment in the works

The historic Eagle Mill in Kaukauna may soon find itself the home of Kaukauna Public Library and other businesses.

The mill was once used by papermaker Thilmany, most recently for offices. Those offices are now moving to the main facility. Since the mill site is changing from an industrial site to a commercial location, developer Randy Stadtmueller is seeking a new name for the location.

Early descriptions of Kaukauna included a nearby 50-foot drop in the Fox River that was called KaKalin Falls, says Stadtmueller, who helped redevelop areas in Appleton and Neenah.

“We propose that Grand KaKalin (pronounced Kah-Kay-lin) be the name for this newly revitalized neighborhood since it helps tell the story of Kaukauna’s birth,” Stadtmueller says.

This month, Stadtmueller plans an open house to discuss the next steps for the $7.6 million development, which includes moving the Kaukauna Public Library to the 88,000-square-foot building and finding other tenants to fill out the remainder of the building.



Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara, Marquette, Green Lake Counties

Waupaca receives grant to promote tourism

Waupaca County’s tourism is getting a financial boost. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism recently presented the county with a $20,000 grant for a new marketing campaign.

During the past two years, the county has received $54,000 in grants from the state to fund tourism initiatives. Eight communities in the county also contributed $40,000 for tourism efforts, mostly through the collection of room taxes. The Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation, Waupaca County and the University of Wisconsin-Extension have also provided $13,000 in in-kind services, bringing the total funds raised to $107,000.

WCEDC Executive Director Dave Thiel says the funds will be used to promote tourism through a variety of mediums, including social media, online ads, a new website and cable TV ad campaign. Commercials will begin airing next spring, primarily in the Milwaukee market.



Florence, Marinette, Menominee, Oconto Counties

State surveys northern businesses about need for rail

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is surveying businesses in Marinette and Florence counties to gauge their need for rail service.

Last year, the two counties joined with seven other counties in northern Wisconsin to form the Northwoods Rail Transit Commission, which believes rail service is crucial to maintaining and supporting the region’s economic growth.

The DOT’s current Rail Market Study is gathering current and potential rail use from the region as well as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The study’s data will then be shared with rail operators in a bid to get more reliable, cost effective rail service for area businesses, says Wendy Gehlhoff, director of the Florence County Economic Development Corporation.


Milwaukee firm acquires ChemDesign in Marinette

ChemDesign Inc., a custom toll chemical manufacturer in Marinette, has a new owner.

Lubar & Co. of Milwaukee purchased the company from Resilience Capital Partners of Cleveland. No sale price was disclosed.

The private investment firm was attracted to ChemDesign based on its strong reputation for partnering with its blue-chip customers, using its technical personnel, flexible manufacturing facilities and process to produce highly complex chemicals, says David Lubar, president & CEO of Lubar & Co.

ChemDesign is “well-positioned to grow and create long-term partnerships with current and new customers who are well-suited to their capabilities,” he says.

Lubar says ChemDesign will continue to make substantial investments in the areas of product development, equipment capabilities and personnel, which have drawn customers to partner with the company to develop new products.

Founded in 1983, ChemDesign manufactures custom chemicals for nearly every major chemical manufacturer in the United States. The company employs about 100 people on its 50-acre site.



Door, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Sheboygan Counties

Agropur plans $100 million update for cheese plant

Dairy cooperative Agropur recently started construction on a $100 million expansion at its cheese making plant in the Kewaunee County town of Montpelier.

The expansion will allow the plant to double current cheese production and includes the building of a 120,000-square-foot facility along with updated equipment and improved whey processing and wastewater treatment.

The plant makes mozzarella and provolone cheeses and employs 105 workers. When complete, the expansion has the potential to add 10 workers, company officials say. Miron Construction of the Town of Menasha is handling construction for the plant, which should be fully operational next year.


Economic group searches for new director

Randy Hopper, who was named to lead the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation just last summer, resigned from the office after being arrested for drunk driving.

Hopper previously was a state senator from Fond du Lac who lost a recall vote in June. He replaced Patrick Drinan, who left to take a job with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Board President Gary Dulmes says the group is beginning its search for a permanent replacement. The organization works to recruit new businesses to Sheboygan County and retain existing ones.


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