Come West, and grow.
It might be a condensed paraphrase of Horace Greeley’s famous saying about western expansion in the United States during the latter half of the 19th century. But, for Northeast Wisconsin, it’s accurate.
Don’t let some of the bucolic settings and the relaxed lifestyle fool you — there’s a whole lot of growth going on in Shawano County these days.
That success looks to keep rolling in 2017, as work on Belmark Inc.’s new production facility continues in earnest. Belmark is building an approximately 120,000-square-foot, $12 million facility in the county and will install approximately $24 million in related equipment.
The De Pere-based company could have located its new plant anywhere in the country — and is reported to have considered more than 100 sites — but in the end, chose the Shawano location because of its knowledge of the workforce and its proximity to existing facilities in De Pere.
Wisconsin’s manufacturing tax credit — which has drawn some political fire in recent weeks — also helped keep the jobs in the state and within the New North. Indeed, a team of economic developers from around the New North region played a role in securing the deal.
Karl Schmidt, CEO of Belmark, says the Wisconsin Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit, which gives manufacturing and agricultural companies a break of 7.5 percent on their income tax rate, was an essential element of making sure a plant built in Wisconsin could be globally competitive.
Once production starts in the new facility, Belmark expects to bring more than 100 new jobs to the Shawano community over the course of the following five-plus years.
“We are really happy to continue our expansion in the state of Wisconsin, a home where we have grown through the continued development of Belmark’s highly motivated and educated workforce, the best employees in the industry, ” Schmidt, says. “We look forward to working with the city of Shawano to grow their manufacturing base and enhance the community as a whole.”
Belmark’s new facility will occupy 15 acres in an undeveloped area north of County Road B, east of Waukechon Street and west of Industrial Drive. The development agreement approved by the Common Council calls on the city to extend Engel Drive to the new facility. The new plant is part of a 100-acre tax incremental finance district created by the city of Shawano.
Further to the west, one of the county’s venerable, third-generation businesses, also announced major expansion plans.
Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats began a $34 million, 110,000-square-foot expansion and renovation of its facility in Wittenberg, nearly doubling the size of the 83-year-old family business’s facility. The company’s current plant had reached capacity, and the expansion will allow for increased production and a workforce expansion of 66 positions. The company employs 154.
The project is a major shot in the arm for Wittenberg, as well as Shawano County as a whole.
“It means so much to us to continue to flourish over the past 83 years in the Central Wisconsin area, where a strong work ethic thrives and our team is completely dedicated to our products, each other and the community,” says Glenn Gazzolo, president of Nueske’s. “We have had an outstanding response from Wisconsin-based contractors and we are proud to report that a significant amount of the project dollars remain within this wonderful state.”
The additional space will allow the company to more than double its maximum production capacity from 9 million pounds of meat products per year to 23 million pounds.
Nueske’s previously expanded in 2005, and the latest project can be attributed to the company’s steady growth over the last decade, Megan Dorsch, Nueske’s marketing manager, wrote in an application for a state economic development award. There is one product in particular fueling the need for more space — Applewood-smoked bacon.
“Bacon has always been our best-seller,” Dorsch wrote.
The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority awarded Nueske’s $11.5 million in New Markets Tax Credits and $2 million in a participation loan with PNC Bank to help facilitate the project, which also won a statewide business retention and expansion award.
The westward march of economic expansion found its way to Waupaca County as well when Kolbe Windows and Doors announced a 75,000-square-foot expansion of production, office space and enclosed shipping bays to its existing 84,000-square-foot facility in Manawa.
The projects began in November and are expected to wrap up in July.
The recent spate of company growth and expansions have helped drive unemployment rates in Shawano and Waupaca counties to 3.8 and 3.7 percent, respectively, falling from nearly 6 percent as recently as 2014.
Indeed, if there is any red flag that could slow the surge, it could be a lack of skilled workers, a problem companies throughout the New North region are dealing with.
“That certainly tends to be more of a challenge in these areas,” says Dave Thiel, executive director at the Waupaca County Economic Development Corp. “I think you may see some automation to bridge the gaps, though we have not heard anything about a labor crisis just yet. It’s really a challenge for those high-skilled positions.”