Janesville78.4°

VP choice brings positive exposure Janesville couldn’t buy

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Jim Leute
August 12, 2012

— As Janesville tries to rebuild its economy, the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate will generate positive exposure that money can’t buy, local economic development officials said Saturday.

“No way, even if we were incredibly, fabulously funded,” said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville and a member of the Rock County 5.0 economic development team. “Without a doubt, this is incredibly important for our brand, for our community and a huge opportunity to aggressively tell the story.

“Just getting into the conversation at the national and international levels is huge. From that perspective, no politician has done more for their community than what Paul did for us today.”

Janesville has not been immune to global exposure, but most of it in the last three-plus years has been negative, the result of a General Motors plant closure in 2008 and economic recession.

“We’ve certainly been in the spotlight in the past, and some could argue far too frequently,” said James Otterstein, Rock County’s economic development director.

“This will serve as a counterbalance. In the world of economic development, the relationship between perception and reality really does matter.”

In the past, reporters swooped into town looking to tell the story of a decimated community, and a documentary soon will be released that chronicles local rebuilding efforts.

Otterstein noted that Janesville and Rock County didn’t die on the vine, as many predicted after the closure of the GM plant.

The lights are still on, he said, and they’ve been burning brighter in the last 18 to 24 months with a succession of positive economic development announcements.

Janesville’s past struggles and recent successes will be scrutinized, he said.

“I think that between now and the election, both sides will revisit the topics of the past, and in our case there’s no way around it,” Otterstein said. “It’s part of our history.”

Ryan’s addition to the GOP ticket will elevate opportunities to tell the positive story of Janesville and Rock County, Otterstein and Beckord said.

On Saturday alone, Ryan’s birthplace was referred to several times as “Hometown America.”

“It’s already elevated Janesville,” said Mary Willmer, co-chairwoman of Rock County 5.0, a five-year public-private economic development initiative designed to reposition and revitalize the county’s economy.

“You turn on the TV, and every five or 10 minutes Janesville, Wisconsin, is mentioned.”

Between now and the election in November, news crews will make their way to the city for background on Ryan.

In fact, they started arriving Friday night as speculation around Romney’s pick heightened. They were all over town Saturday, including several of the television networks’ top talent.

“This brings a new level of exposure to Janesville,” City Manager Eric Levitt said. “The national media will come to find out more about Paul Ryan, and that puts us in a very unique position.

“There are very few communities that have someone running for president or vice president. It makes us much more visible, and I think there’s a pride in the community in that.”

Beckord said others are ready with talking points on the local economy and efforts to both diversify and protect it from another GM calamity.

“You don’t get gifts like this very often,” he said.

In Ryan, the nation will see the product of an exceptional school system, Willmer said.

“That’s just one of the attributes that we have that people will learn about,” she said.

Interest in Ryan and his hometown is not new.

“Whenever we talk with prospects and clients, Paul’s name routinely comes up and is a point of great admiration and credibility,” Otterstein said. “As his prominence has risen—and continues to rise—so has his stature with the folks we meet.”

Beckord said the seven-term congressman has been a key contributor to local economic development efforts, routinely making personal contacts to prospects considering Janesville and Rock County.

“A very sizable number of decision makers and investors are going to vote for him because they admire him for his acumen and skill in all things financial,” Beckord said.

Beckord said he’s always counted on Ryan as a friend of local business and economic development interests.

While the prospect of losing an ally in the 1st Congressional District troubles Beckord, he said he’d worry about how to connect with the vice president if that happens.

“At this point, that’s something I haven’t even pondered yet,” he said.



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