UP FRONT – Regional Roundup

Posted on Jan 12, 2016 :: Up Front
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Interstate 41 Corridor

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

Secura moves toward constructing new headquarters

Secura Insurance’s plans to construct a new corporate headquarters received a boost of $2.5 million in tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

The Appleton-based insurer has yet to finalize a location for the proposed $90 million complex, though its current location and a 160-acre site in the Town of Menasha on County Highway CB are under consideration, as are other Fox Cities locations

Secura made a commitment to grow its operations within Wisconsin after considering various scenarios such as additional regional offices and remote workers outside of the state. The company writes insurance in 12 states and brings insurance premium revenue to Wisconsin to fund jobs and support the state economy. WEDC’s Economic Development Tax Credits supporting the project are partially dependent upon retaining 250 existing positions and creating 65 new full-time positions at the facility.

“In the past five years alone, we increased our annual revenue more than 50 percent and employee base 25 percent,” says Dave Gross, Secura’s president and CEO. “It was only a matter of time before we needed to add to our facility footprint. We are proud to stick to our Wisconsin roots.”

In addition to site selection, approval from the Secura board of directors is still pending. The company has selected C.D. Smith to assist in planning its future facility needs based on the best fit for the project. The company expects to build in 2017. The insurer has been leasing temporary space to house employees that can’t be housed in its current headquarters at 2401 S. Memorial Drive.

ThedaCare drops out of Network Health

ThedaCare will end its participation in Network Health Plan as of July 31, 2016.

The move will affect Network Health Plan members across the 14-county region ThedaCare serves who are currently enrolled in commercial and Medicare Advantage products providing access to ThedaCare physicians, hospitals, clinics, labs and other services.

ThedaCare is in discussions with Network Health Plan to extend its participation through Dec. 31, 2016, allowing time for employers and individual plan members to enroll in new plans. Additionally, continuity of care guidelines may apply, allowing Network Health Plan members to retain their ThedaCare primary care physician for up to a year, and to access specialist physicians and hospital care for an additional 90 days.

“This was a carefully considered decision. Changes in market dynamics and business relationships spurred this course of action,” says Bill Mann, senior vice president of Payer and Employer Strategies for ThedaCare. “While we understand this action will prompt change for some Network Health Plan members, we have high service expectations and fully believe our customers will be well served by the insurance companies with which we have partnered.”

New tower proposed for downtown Neenah

The local investors who built Neenah’s trio of office towers in the 1990s are looking to add a fourth building to the city’s downtown.

The group has proposed a $6 million, five-story office tower be constructed on the western edge of downtown, creating a prominent focal point for drivers coming into the area via Main Street. If approved, the new building would be located across Main Street from Affinity Medical Group and Plexus Corp.

The additional office space could bring several hundred jobs to downtown Neenah, which already has more than 3,000 employees working there daily. Office space has been tight in downtown Neenah with the rapid growth of companies such as Alta Resources and Bemis Co.

Neenah Downtown Redevelopment Associates Limited Partnership, an investment group led by businessman John Bergstrom, plans to have the project complete by July 2017. The investors and the city of Neenah — which will contribute $1.37 million — are currently negotiating a development agreement.

Fond du Lac anticipating good things in 2016

The business community in Fond du Lac is bullish on 2016.

In its first ever economic forecast, Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corp. asked a panel of county business leaders to assess the overall economic outlook for 2016 in employment, wages, revenue, capital investments and competitive pressures.

“The FCEDC is providing this as a tool for business owners as they plan for the upcoming year and will be done annually. The same panel will be used each year to provide continuity,” says Steve Jenkins, president of the FCEDC.

The forecast for 2016 shows that:

• 54 percent indicated the economy would be “better,” with 4 percent expressing the economy would be “much better.”

• 58 percent expected employment to remain “stable” in 2016, with 37.5 percent projecting employment to increase.

• 71 percent expected wages to increase and 25 percent expected wages to remain “stable.”

• 71 percent of the panel expected capital investment would moderately or significantly increase.

The Northwoods

Florence, Marinette, Menominee, Oconto Counties

Navy issues remaining funding for future USS Cooperstown

The U.S. Navy issued the balance of $279 million funding for Fincantieri Marinette Marine to complete the construction of the LCS 23, the littoral combat ship that will ultimately be known as the USS Cooperstown.

The funding provides the financing required to maintain the cost and production schedule for the ship.  Congress provided $79 million in advanced procurement funding for LCS 23 in March 2015.  The award comes just days after the Navy commissioned the USS Milwaukee in its namesake city. The USS Milwaukee was also built by Fincianteri Marinette Marine.

In addition to the USS Milwaukee, as well as several ships under construction at the shipyards in Marinette, Fincantieri Marinette Marine has already delivered the USS Freedom and USS Fort Worth, both of which are on active duty with the Navy.

West Central

Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara, Marquette, Green Lake Counties

Waupaca care facility gets federal boost for expansion

The expansion plans of Waupaca-based Bethany Home received a major boost with a loan of more than $25 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The grant, announced in late 2015, is part of the USDA’s Rural Development Community Facilities program, which seeks to improve infrastructure and access to health care in rural areas of the country. 

The $25 million loan will help Bethany Home, a retirement community and long-term care facility, expand and remodel its skilled nursing facility, as well as other campus expansions including the construction of: a 35,000-square-foot independent living and residential care apartment complex, a 5,000-square-foot wellness center, and a 30,000-square-foot short-term rehab addition.

Work on the new facilities is already underway.

The Lakeshore

Door, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Sheboygan Counties

Train service restored in Sheboygan County

A nearly forgotten sound once more echoes through parts of Sheboygan County: freight trains.

After more than 20 years of inactivity, the first locomotives began rolling along a connector line between Plymouth and Kohler, culminating nearly 10 years of lobbying efforts by local business and economic development advocates to restore
the line.

The line restores freight rail services to several of the county’s major manufacturers, providing options to lower shipping costs for both raw materials and finished products.

In 2009, the state purchased the stretch of rail and contracted with Wisconsin and Southern Railroad to operate the line. In 2012, the state Department of Transportation announced financing of $17.1 million for the $19 million project. The rest of the restoration cost is being covered by Wisconsin and Southern, Plymouth, Sheboygan Falls, Sheboygan County, Bemis Manufacturing, Kettle Lakes Co-Op and Morelle Transfer Inc.

In addition to having several plots of land available along the rail line for businesses to locate industrial or warehouse services, Sheboygan County Economic Development
Corp. Executive Director Dane Checolinski says there are plans to establish a new intermodal system to transfer cargo loads from semis
to freight lines.

“The active line will bring renewed economic opportunity to the area by allowing companies along the railway to cut transportation costs,” Checolinski says.

Acuity announces additional staff growth

Sheboygan-based Acuity announced plans to hire 120 employees over the next six months, adding staff to both its corporate headquarters and throughout the 24 states it does business.

Once the latest round of hiring is complete, Acuity will have added 700 employees during the past five years to support its growth. The insurance underwriter expected to set a revenue record in 2015. The company is currently completing a 240,000-square-foot addition to its corporate headquarters. 

“Growth continues to create opportunity at Acuity, not only for new hires who are looking for rewarding work but also for our current employees who seek to advance in their careers,” says Ben Salzmann, Acuity president and CEO.

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