Can bright spots add twinkle to a dim economy?
Despite a persistent gloomy economic outlook, we’re always on the lookout for bright spots as we put together the paper each week.
Even though Republicans and Democrats in Washington are pitching differing versions of job creation plans, local companies figuring out how to expand their markets and grow their businesses ultimately will do the heavy lifting.
Here are a few highlights close to home that we’ve reported on in the past few weeks:
Unlike our neighboring counties, Walworth County doesn’t have a base of large employers to dramatically affect the job market, but despite that, the unemployment rate dropped in the figures released last week by the state Department of Workforce Development.
In August, the unemployment rate fell to 7.4 percent, down from 7.7 percent a month earlier. How the busy tourist season plays into that number is unclear, and the August and September numbers will give a better indication of the long-term employment outlook in Walworth County.
Of course, the interesting measure of economic health in Walworth County is the high-end lakefront home market. Realtors in the market are writing on their blogs that activity has begun to slow heading into the fall, which may push prices down a bit further.
The bargain hunters are expected to turn up around November, although there are plenty of deals already out there if you’re looking for an entry level home in the million-dollar range.
The trickle down of these sales, however, is that buyers also have cash to spend on fixing up their new purchases, and it’s typically not a do-it-yourself crowd who buys these homes.
That’s good news for local contractors who have gravitated to remodeling work as the new home construction market has dried up.
Over in Rock County, the Beloit City Council on Monday agreed to purchase land that it will turn around and sell to NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes for $1. The company produces a necessary isotope used in medical imaging.
In return, NorthStar will invest $194 million in the Beloit facility and create more than 150 jobs by 2016.
Also in Beloit, Kerry Ingredients and Flavours announced plans to expand the company’s headquarters, as well as other Wisconsin facilities during the next year, thanks to a $1.5 million loan from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
The agency is the public-private initiative created from the former state Department of Commerce.
The expansion is expected to create up to 67 new jobs, along with retaining about 800 jobs already in the state for the global food ingredient company.
And a short drive up Interstate 90, St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital is in the process of hiring more than 300 people by the time the hospital is ready to open its doors in early January.
Human resources staff had sifted through more than 6,000 job applications by early September, and had hired about 125 people, with another 200 to go.
We suspect some of those new hires will be coming from the Mercy Health System, setting up a domino effect that could add fuel to the competitive health care market just beginning to heat up.
That’s in addition to Mercy’s major expansion of the Mercy Walworth Medical Center outside of Williams Bay.
Although these bright spots remain few and far between, this is the kind of activity that will be the engine to drive us out of the economic doldrums.
Editor’s note: Dan Plutchak is an associate editor for CSI Media, publisher of the Janesville Messenger, Walworth County Sunday and the Stateline News. Contact him at email@example.com, on Facebook.com/DanPlutchak or on Twitter @danplutchak