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Our Views: Developments keep boosting local economy

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August 29, 2013

Good economic news keeps surfacing in and around Janesville and Rock County.

It's good, that is, if you consider the lack of available industrial buildings—other than that empty albatross formerly known as the General Motors plant—in the Janesville market.

Few would have bet back in 2008, when GM closed and cynics suggested the last one to leave the city should turn out the lights, that Janesville would face a space shortage so soon. As Jim Leute reported Aug. 18, Janesville's industrial building vacancy rate has fallen sharply since 2010. Available space is almost nonexistent.

For example, Jeff Helgesen invested millions to make over his building at 2929 Venture Drive—former home of GM suppliers. Miniature Precision Components and John Deere Central Consolidated fill it today. Across Beloit Avenue, Cummins Emissions Solutions employs about 60 while leasing space in another Helgesen building and wants more room. Helgesen plans to expand 2929 Venture Drive, but Cummins will shift work to still another Helgesen building that could expand to meet its needs.

James Otterstein, the county's economic development manager, says potential projects are in the pipeline and might encourage developers to construct buildings on speculation.

That story was one of many detailing positive developments in recent weeks.

--GOEX started work on a $13 million, 190,000-square-foot building off Highway 14 at Newville Road. The manufacturer's sister corporation, Prent, will take over the GOEX plant on Foster Avenue. GOEX employs 130, expects to open the new plant next July with 10 more workers and hopes to add 10 percent to its workforce annually.

--Milton's city council agreed to buy 23 acres for $600,000 and annex 158 more acres to expand the city's business park along the Highway 26/59 corridor.

--Restaurant supplier Golden State Foods opened a 45,810-square-foot expansion in Whitewater, just northeast of Rock County.

--The Blackhawk Technical College Board approved $2.09 million to renovate the former ANGI Energy Systems building in Milton as part of the college's plans to open an Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.

--Melster Candies, which moved from Cambridge to Whitney Street in Janesville in 2011, needs more space and will lease a building on Kettering Street. In turn, Kenco Logistic Services will move from the Kettering building to a larger one on Barberry Drive.

--Stoughton-based Universal Acoustic & Emission Technologies will lease 106,000 square feet of Beloit's Ironworks campus with an option for 67,000 more. The company hopes to add 50 jobs within 2 years, but that could double. Its expansion will serve as the catalyst for a $40 million renovation of the Ironworks.

Nothing will happen to the 4.1-million-square-foot former GM facility on Janesville's south side as long as the automaker keeps it on standby status and tied to a union contract that doesn't expire until 2015.

Smaller companies, however, are investing locally, filling space and creating jobs. Granted, businesses involved in distribution and logistics don't create as many jobs as those that build products. Yet these projects demonstrate that this area remains attractive, strategically located and offers a solid transportation network. The projects are far better than having buildings collect cobwebs.

These developments show progress and will diversify the local economy in a way that might insulate it from the gyrations it experienced under the rise and fall of the auto industry.



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