Our views: Rock County 5.0 lays groundwork for development
No one would argue Rock County's economy is where we want it to be.
Much work remains before the county recovers from the one-two punch of the General Motors plant closing in 2008 and the national economy falling into the Great Recession.
If it wasn't for Rock County 5.0, however, things would be worse.
Rock County 5.0 formed in October 2009 to help lead the county through the tough times and into better days when the economy finally turned around. As Jim Leute reported in Sunday's Gazette, the initiative was designed to foster collaboration, communication and economic development.
No, we haven't seen any large companies with dozens or hundreds of jobs move into the county, and that's a sore spot. Four shovel-ready sites sit waiting for the right businesses, and that puts Rock County in a great position. We can't, however, do it alone.
Companies from coast to coast have sat tight and waited for the right signs before they invest and expand. The national economy has shown indications of improvement, but the movement hasn't been enough for the decision-makers and job creators to take chances to grow their businesses. Until they do, Rock County will be among the many areas ready and waiting for the resurgence.
Additionally, Wisconsin continues to fight a reputation as an unsettled place based on the political upheaval of the past few years. That has hurt development efforts, and only time and stability will remove that issue from the discussion as companies look for places to locate. On the plus side, Wisconsin's business climate has improved under Gov. Scott Walker, and decisions such as a recent one by Amazon to locate a $250 million warehouse and 1,100 jobs in Kenosha suggest the state is trending up.
Rock County has done well in securing existing businesses and helping them grow. The near-zero vacancy rate for industrial space in Janesville is a testament to that success, and statements from people such as Jeff Helgesen give some of the credit to Rock County 5.0.
“The organization and leadership have been fantastic,” said Helgesen, a local developer who has built and filled several properties. “The first objective was to facilitate a re-absorption of vacant buildings, and they've had success beyond our wildest dreams.”
Helgesen wasn't alone in singing the praises of Rock County 5.0, which has been led by Mary Wilmer and Diane Hendricks. Paul Jadin is president of MadREP, a regional economic development group that includes Rock County. He previously led the state Department of Commerce and its successor, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., and he headed Green Bay's Chamber of Commerce.
“As part of the economic development community, Rock County is certainly in the top tier in the state, particularly because of their focus and strategic plan,” Jadin said. “They've got a very capable team, and Mary and Diane have done an outstanding job.”
Rock County 5.0 was established as a five-year initiative with its full funding of $1.4 million coming from private sources. Neither Wilmer nor Hendricks will say whether they think the organization should stay active after the initial run ends in a year.
Yes, the groundwork is in place, and Rock County 5.0's role should diminish as the local economy improves. Continued support and guidance from the organization and its leaders, however, might ensure that success comes sooner and in greater dimensions in the years ahead.