Bringing Home the Gold

0214ChemPlant

Industrial development activity across northeast Wisconsin tops the medal stand in generating local economic vitality

By Lee Reinsch

If manufacturing and industrial growth were the Winter Olympics, Wisconsin would be on its way to the games in Sochi.

With manufacturing comprising 19.1 percent of the gross state product, Wisconsin ranks No. 4 in the nation among states, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

Beat out by Indiana with 28.2 percent, Oregon with 27.8 percent, and Louisiana with 22.6, our humble state chugs along slow and steady but ready to take on the world.

Here’s a look at how industry is developing at various locales around northeast Wisconsin.

FOND DU LAC: The Luge

If manufacturing and industry growth were the Winter Olympics, Fond du Lac would be the luge – only in reverse. Instead of speeding downhill, Fond du Lac (Fond du Luge?) is zooming to the top. In the last year, all three of Fond du Lac’s industrial parks have welcomed newcomers and growth.

“Last year at this time, I would have mentioned that Mercury (Marine) added three additions, and they added two more in 2013, for a total of five,” said Wayne Rollin, community development director for the City of Fond du Lac. Between the five additions, Mercury has grown its already sprawling campus by an additional 137,000 square feet in the last two years.

“That’s pretty significant,” Rollin said. “They’re obviously a major employer – they’re up over 3,000 employees in the Fond du Lac area, and certainly that’s where it all starts.”

Wells Manufacturing, maker of after-market electronic automotive components, moved its operations into its Rolling Meadows Industrial Park facility and added 62,000 square feet to the building last year.

“That was a big project,” Rollin said. “They’re real happy in their new home and they’re growing their employment as well.”

McNeilus Steel finished its new 90,000-sq. ft. facility in the Southwest Industrial Park. A Transportation Economic Assistance grant from the state helped tame the costs of putting in a rail line. McNeilus fabricates steel and supplies manufacturers throughout Wisconsin.

Con-Way Freight bought a sizeable parcel in Fox Ridge Business Park for a 96-bay trucking terminal. It plans to add 100 jobs over the next few years. Prior to this, Con-Way had a small terminal in Fond du Lac.

Marchant Schmidt Industries purchased a neighboring building in the Southwest Industrial Park and is adding 11,000 square feet plus employees, Rollin said. They make stainless-steel equipment for the food processing industry, such as commercial cheese-shredding machines.

Evaporator Dryer Technologies plans a small plant in the city’s West Industrial Park.

NEENAH: Speed skating

Neenah broke its own building record in 2013 when Plexus finished construction on the largest single building ever built in the city. The $50 million building, in Southpark Industrial Center, exceeds 400,000 square feet, said Chris Haese, Neenah’s community development director. “They’ll have 1,000 employees in that facility, and in addition to the investment and the retention of those jobs, the hope for additional job creation.”

Another quieter project: a $5 million, 13,500-sq. ft. expansion at Galloway Company, which provides dairy products like evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and dairy base for uses in ice cream, candy and beverages.

A few other recent highlights from Neenah:

  • Futek Forms, Tags & Labels, 540 Discovery Dr., built a new

$1.2 million building to replace its previous facility lost to

fire in April 2012.

  • Menasha Corp. added an $800,000 addition to its site at

2255 Brooks Dr.

  • Kundinger Fluid Power, 2437 Progress Ct., built a 10,000-
  1. ft. addition to its technology center for around

$500,000.

  • WS Packaging added a $250,000 addition at 950

Breezewood Lane.

  • Bemis/Curwood took out a permit in November for a $13

million “major remodel” to the interior of its facilities off of

Marathon Avenue.

OSHKOSH: Biathlon

Excelling at two sports, let alone one, is pretty amazing. No two ways about it – Oshkosh has a lot going on. Only instead of skiing and shooting, Oshkosh is growing its three established industrial parks and planning a fourth, and within that, it’s got its sights set on a business accelerator.

That fourth industrial park really has Oshkosh aloft with excitement. The planned Oshkosh Aviation Business Park will be developed later this year on 80 acres adjacent to Wittman Regional Airport, and will include several lots offering accessibility to the airport’s taxiway.

The project is a collaboration between the city, Winnebago County, East Central Regional Planning Commission, airport tenants, industrial development organization Chamco and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

“Winnebago County owns the airport and was looking at expanding the economic impact of the airport,” said Allen Davis, director of community development for the City of Oshkosh. “They were looking at acquiring some land for potential aviation-related businesses.”

Over the years, the community has received inquiries from aviation-related companies interested in being on or adjacent to the airport, but lacked land.

“It (an aviation business park) just makes sense, given the unique assets we have in the area, including the world headquarters of EAA and AirVenture here every year, and we have a really great airport,” said Elizabeth Hartman, CEO of Chamco.

In 2013, the city and county bought an 80-acre farm adjacent to the airport and divided it into 15 parcels ranging from one to 10 acres.

“The (parcels) that abut the airport would have a taxiway directly out onto the airport,” Davis said.

Fox Valley Technical College and UW-Oshkosh already have some aviation-related programming, and a few aviation-related businesses reside near the airport.

“But to attract businesses like that, typically folks want to be on an airport, with access to the facilities,” Hartman said.

But they’re not going to take just anybody.

“If we truly want to build this (aviation industry) cluster, we have to be disciplined and make sure the businesses that relocate in this park truly are aviation-related businesses,” Hartman said. “We don’t necessarily want to jump on the first people that knock on the door.”

One of the first facilities on the docket: a business accelerator. It’s the next logical step, Hartman said, and would involve aviation-related classes and classes integrating some of the local industries – advanced materials, advanced manufacturing, IT – to help spur more businesses.

AeroInnovate, UW-Oshkosh’s initiative to help entrepreneurs in aviation, has a weeklong program at AirVenture capped off by pitch-and-mingle sessions that bring together innovators in aviation with investors, Hartman said.

The project will be aided by an $837,315 economic adjustment grant from the U.S. Department of Defense awarded to help spur economic activity after the demise of its defense contract and subsequent layoffs at Oshkosh Corp.

Groundbreaking for the business accelerator is slated for the week of EAA’s AirVenture.

A $2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration will help pay for sewer, water and road infrastructure on the site.

“All that means is that we’re going to get the project done quicker and at less cost to the city,” Hartman said.

APPLETON: Figure skating

If industrial growth were the Winter Olympics, Appleton would be figure skating (only without the ridiculous costumes). With its aesthetically pleasing downtown and muscular industrial sector, Appleton is lacing up to meet the challenges while looking good doing so.

Flair Flexible Packaging was Southpoint Commerce Park’s token expansion in 2013, adding 10,000 square feet that doubled the warehouse space. With another 10,000 square feet of office space, the Appleton facility employs 26 people fulltime, four times the number it employed six years ago when it opened.

Flair, an $80 million company headquartered in Canada, makes high-end packaging for products like the bags for Victor Allen’s and Steep & Brew coffees, as well as packaging for medical supplies.

“We’ve added over 20 jobs locally and we continue to add more,” said director of corporate operations Cheryl Miller.

Appleton Stainless, Inc. in the Northeast Industrial Park put up a 5,000-sq. ft. storage building.

Although stainless piping can be stored outside, it requires enough upkeep that it made sense to build separate quarters, said Gary Fahey, president of Appleton Stainless, which makes piping for the bio-pharmaceutical, dairy and food industries. “It was costing us a lot of man hours to retouch it before sending it out to customers,” Fahey said. The project cost around $160,000.

In Appleton, manufacturing is not limited to industrial parks, said Karen Harkness, the City of Appleton’s director of community development.

“Appleton sits on the river, so a lot of our industry has grown up on our river or in our urban core,” Harkness said.

One of those urban-core companies, Appvion – formerly known to many as Appleton Papers – is planning a state-of-the-art research center at its Wisconsin Avenue headquarters. But nothing’s concrete, yet. None of the existing buildings have been demolished to begin construction because plans haven’t quite been finalized, said Bill Van Den Brandt, Appvion’s senior manager of corporate communications, Bill Van Den Brandt.

He said Appvion envisions “a product-design and innovation center designed to promote a lot of collaboration and new product development.” The facility would house 80 researchers currently in three laboratories.

“In terms of, ‘Have we got all the details figured out?’ No. We’re working with the city and with a developer and are looking at the feasibility of building this thing.”

But it’s fair to say it’s on the horizon for 2014, Van Den Brandt said.

ASHWAUBENON: Free-style skiing

Skiing freestyle encompasses variety to keep it lively: There’s aerials, moguls, ski cross, slope-style and the half-pipe.

Similarly, 2013 wasn’t dull for Ashwaubenon. Outdoor retailer Cabela’s charged in to town with lots of fanfare, and renovations in the area around Lambeau Field captured much of the limelight. But while such commercial ventures add taxable property value, they really don’t contribute to the number of manufacturing jobs in the area.

On the down side, Ashwaubenon lost a few members of its team to other communities: Foth and Metal Storm moved to De Pere and C.H. Robinson to downtown Green Bay. That’s been tough on Village of Ashwaubenon President Mike Aubinger.

“If the communities partake in switching things around (moving one company out of a Brown County municipality into another), you don’t make any progress. What does make progress is when you bring things from out of town into town,” Aubinger said.

Enter 5 Point Fabrication. Open for less than a year, the little company has already quadrupled its staff. Mark Nelis, president of business development, said the company started with five people – hence, the name 5 Point – and now has 20.

“We hope to have 50 in the next three years,” Nelis said. That would certainly please village leaders.

“Anytime you add jobs to a community, you add value,” Aubinger said. “You add human value, you add value toward the moral character of your community and also to the financial structure, whether or not (employees) live here or don’t live here.”

5 Point Fabrication does custom metal work for the dairy and bottling industries and for original equipment manufacturers. 5 Point moved into a building formerly inhabited by Wesco Electrical.

One company didn’t move in from outside, and isn’t adding jobs, but it’s increasing the tax rolls: Green Bay Packaging’s coated products division.

The company is constructing a nearly 300,000-sq. ft. facility in Ashwaubenon, which doubles the size of its current site on South Ridge Road. The move is characterized as a job protector rather than a job creator, said Marty Olson, senior vice president of coated products for Green Bay Packaging.

The coated products division makes the kind of pressure-sensitive label paper that ends up on deli containers and supermarket donut boxes.

“With the new facility up and running, it will give us the opportunity in our current facility to look at some new product lines and launch those into the future,” Olson said. “We’ll look at growing in our current product lines and will continue to look at new product lines.”

Olson said he expects the $95 million project to be finished by mid-2015.

DE PERE: Speed skating

It takes a powerhouse of thigh muscle and balance to zip around (and around) that vertiginous rink. Two major companies, Foth and Green Bay Packaging’s folding carton division, each built 100,000-sq. ft. quarters in De Pere’s business parks, thus revealing themselves as powerful quadriceps behind the city’s growth. The GB Packaging project was an addition to its existing facility.

Several other companies made significant strides in the past year:

  • Metal Storm metal fabricators built a new 40,000-sq. ft., $1.6 million building.
  • Infinity Machine & Engineering doubled its size with a 40,000-sq. ft., $1 million addition.
  • Wash World opened a 60,000-sq. ft. building.
  • Cummins N Power on Lawrence Drive added 30,000 square feet for storage.
  • Belmark Label Solutions did a 25,000-sq. ft. expansion in 2013 and is planning a second one, adding 50,000 square feet total.
  • Construction on a 20,000-sq. ft. shared-manufacturing space on Scheuring Road is set to begin in February, to be leased to tenants.
  • Straubel Company in the city’s East Industrial Park is  building a $1.5 million, 40,000-sq. ft. addition.
  • Fox River Fiber added a 3,000-sq. ft. addition as well as a $1 million pretreatment process to reduce the biochemical oxygen demand of its discharge, according to Ken Pabich,the City of De Pere’s community development director.

“It’s green innovation, and it’s kind of neat,” he said.

GREEN BAY: Bobsleigh

Four people on one bobsled might seem crowded, and likewise, so is space in the City of Green Bay’s I-43 business park.

“It’s like 95 percent built out,” said Greg Flisram, Green Bay’s director of economic development. “The only land that’s left is land that is encumbered with wetland issues or it’s vacant and owned by Aurora as part of their future expansion.”

But that means a smoother ride for other parts of the city that need some new life:

  • The new $60 million corporate headquarters for Schreiber Foods downtown is slated to open this summer.
  • C.H. Robinson moved 60 people into the Watermark Building downtown.
  • Handling & Conveying Systems, or H&CS for short, is building a 30,000-sq. ft. facility in University Heights Commerce Center.

Brown County has earmarked some of the 238 acres south of UW-Green Bay on the former county mental health center site it owns for a potential research and business park. The campus would ideally bring higher education, local industry and the private sector together to advance a knowledge-based economy, according to county officials.

“There seems to be a lot of positive support in the development of this, in that meeting the future needs as far as a knowledge-based economy is crucial in northeast Wisconsin,” said Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach.

Other cities with similar research and business areas include Milwaukee with its water-treatment specialty and Madison with biomedical, Streckenbach said.

Green Bay’s could involve any of a number of industries – manufacturing, dairy, utilities, medical or health industries, among others, he said.

“The main constant behind it is creating this direct pipeline of conversation and research between the needs of businesses in the area and the university,” said Chuck Lamine, planning director for Brown County. “And leveraging the two to encourage that future collaboration (and encouraging) the aspiring entrepreneur to say, ‘I want to move to Brown County because they have this research and business park in the area I would like to do my studies in.’”

The opening ceremonies

The medals have been minted and the Ralph Lauren uniforms – made in the USA this time – await opening ceremonies. The torch is lit. All of the participants’ efforts have led up to this moment.

If Wisconsin’s manufacturing champs can knock out Indiana and Louisiana, stay away from Oregon (home state of notorius retired Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, after all) and avoid poppy seed bulochkis and steroid-infused borscht, they’ll do OK.

Lee Reinsch writes and edits from Green Bay.