We gotta wear shades

Economic outlook serves up bright forecast for future

Posted on Feb 1, 2017 :: Connections
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The outlook is bright for the Northeast Wisconsin economy, say economic development professionals as they prepare to share their forecasts with the region.

The Fox Cities Chamber will unveil the results of its annual local economic outlook survey at its breakfast scheduled for Feb. 8. The Fox Cities Regional Partnership conducted the survey, which covers employment, availability of qualified workers, sales growth and volume net profits, and salaries from the previous year.

Beth Pritzl, FCRP’s director of research and technology, says the survey revealed that businesses in general, and especially the financial, insurance and real estate group industries, are expecting sales and profits to increase in 2017 as compared to 2016.

“The companies surveyed overall said the best thing about doing business in the Fox Cities is the worker productivity,” Pritzl says.

Most expressed optimism about the Fox Cities economy doing well and growing in the coming year, slightly higher than those predicting national growth, Pritzl says.

A majority of firms surveyed planned to increase or remain consistent with their number of employees, but many noted they would hire if people were available, Pritzl says. The biggest challenge, she says, is the availability of necessary talent.

The Fox Cities Chamber economic outlook breakfast, which is expected to draw more than 500 attendees, will feature a keynote address from William Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird.

At its economic outlook breakfast on Feb. 7, the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce will feature economist Brian Beaulieu. He’ll discuss what’s in store for the economy in 2017 and provide advice to business owners.

Beaulieu is a perennial favorite at the breakfast who brings both a strong regional and national perspective, says Rob Kleman, senior vice president of economic development for the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce. People also enjoy his light-hearted, humorous approach.

“He’s always spot-on in his predictions and analysis,” Kleman says. “He tells it like it is.”

Kleman says the Oshkosh and regional economies are in a healthy place, and his city is continuing to diversify, especially in the information technology sector.

The gift that Oshkosh will begin to reap in 2017 came in 2015 when Oshkosh Corp. landed its $6.7 billion contract to replace Humvees for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Production on the order will ramp up in 2017 and 2018, creating new engineering and manufacturing jobs, Kleman says.

With an unemployment rate hovering around 3.5 percent, Oshkosh is still working on building a talent pipeline, Kleman says.

Oshkosh is also doing well in housing development projects, with its Marion Road, Washington Place Historic Flats and Beach Building projects now completed. “We’ve got more people living downtown, which creates that 24-7 atmosphere,” Kleman says.

Both Kleman and Manny Vasquez, vice president of economic development for Fox Cities Regional Partnership, see collaboration as the way ahead for the region. The Fox Cities, Fond du Lac, Green Bay and Oshkosh banded together to form the I-41 corridor marketing collaboration, which leverages the assets the region holds.

Oshkosh has seen robust development along the I-41 corridor, Kleman says, including the addition of national chain outlets like Ulta Beauty and Five Guys. “We’re going to bear the fruits of that (designation) for years to come.”

The four collaborating communities held their first event last fall, a visit from four site selectors. The three selectors who participated in a report-out session following the tour roundly praised the collaboration.

“What we’ve heard from site selection consultants is that boundaries don’t really matter when a business is looking at locating or expanding,” Vasquez says, who in February will leave his position at the partnership for the role of vice president of business development for Pfefferle Co.

InDevelopment spotlights commercial real estate

Commercial real estate plays a key role in economic development and will take center stage at Insight’s InDevelopment event in March.

The event features keynote speaker Michael Brennan, executive director of the Graaskamp Center for Real Estate and Urban Land Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Brennan says the economy is strong on many fronts, which means many opportunities.

Mike Pfefferle, president of Pfefferle Co., agrees. “Overall, the commercial real estate landscape is quite stable,” he says. “The rebound from the 2008 market crash is now over, and new construction in office, retail, multifamily and industrial is occurring.” 

Pfefferle also says rents and values have risen and are poised to continue to do so in the foreseeable future, and large companies are making commitments to construct new facilities.

Downtowns are vital as well, Pfefferle says, with corporations pursuing large office spaces and housing options increasing. “We expect downtowns to continue to grow and remain strong for the next several years.”

Set from 2-7 p.m. at the Oshkosh Convention Center, InDevelopment brings together commercial and economic development professionals and others interested in commercial real estate and related industries.