Capital expansion continues among northeast Wisconsin manufacturers, as predicted by last year’s regional survey
Story by Rick Berg
The manufacturing sector in northeast Wisconsin has continued to grow and expand, exactly as predicted in the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance’s 2017 Manufacturing Vitality Index.
The survey of 149 manufacturers in northeast Wisconsin – conducted during the fourth quarter a year ago – found that 68 percent planned to modernize their plants in 2017 and 30 percent expected to expand. That was an uptick from already healthy projections in previous surveys and reflected manufacturers’ optimism about financial growth, with two-thirds expecting increased sales in 2017.
De Pere-based Tweet/Garot Mechanical Inc. is typical of the growth pattern. After moving its headquarters from Green Bay to De Pere earlier this year, the firm announced it would build a 90,000-sq. ft. manufacturing facility on 42 acres in Wrightstown. Construction is expected to begin this month and be completed in late 2018, according to Christopher Howald, CEO at Tweet/Garot. Howald said the moves were driven by the firm’s continued growth.
“Our volume has increased as a company and we simply need more shop space,” Howald said. “The industry is moving towards more pre-assembly and modularization, which requires more multi-trade or flexible shop space, which is in contrast to our current stand-alone, trade-specific shops.
“We recognize the gravity of the upcoming construction market labor shortage and will attempt to mitigate that risk by bringing more standardized work into a controlled environment.”
On the ground, the Manufacturing Vitality Index projections have been borne out in a widespread series of capital expansions and new construction throughout the region in the past year. Here’s a sampling.
Fond du Lac County
Jim Cleveland, vice president of business and community competitiveness at Envision Greater Fond du Lac, said industrial growth has been impressive during the past year, with multiple projects already completed, currently underway or planned. According to Cleveland:
• Mid-States Aluminum Corporation is planning a $20 million expansion that will include a building addition and new equipment. The expansion will result in 36 new jobs over a 4-year period. Mid-States Aluminum has a large $20 million expansion planned for next year
• Accurate Controls will be moving into what was the vacated Ripon Cookie plant west, allowing for expansion going forward.
• C.D. Smith Construction is planning to commence construction on a new state-of-the-art corporate office building in Fond du Lac. This new facility will showcase the company’s building techniques and highlight several sustainable features that will allow them to attract and retain talent.
• BCI Burke completed the warehouse expansion project that allowed for more space to be freed up for manufacturing inside the existing facility. It’s now adding another 27,000 square feet to its playground equipment manufacturing facility.
• Mercury Marine added 45,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 8,000 square feet of office space at the beginning of this year. In addition, Mercury invested in state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment to better streamline its processes and meet the growing demands in the marketplace. This was Mercury’s second major expansion within a 12-month period.
• Quartz Right completed construction of a new plant in Fond du Lac’s Southwest Industrial Park. Raw slabs of quartz come in to the plant and are converted to finished counter tops for commercial and residential use.
• ACH Foam Technologies expanded its Fox Ridge Industrial Park assembly and distribution building this past summer and expects to add up to 12 new positions over the next 24 months.
• Alliance Laundry Systems added 225,000 square feet of new buildings on its campus in Ripon, including the construction of a new North America sales and marketing headquarters and the conversion of an existing warehouse into a manufacturing facility. The company expects to add 200 new jobs through the expansion. A new distribution center was constructed in the Ripon Industrial Park.
Cleveland said the growth is a result of a concerted and strategic effort throughout Fond du Lac County to continually improve the environment for manufacturers.
“Communities in Fond du Lac County always are looking for ways to expand infrastructure in ways that make sense for their individual areas,” Cleveland said. “Industrial parks are always being evaluated for available space and features such as proximity to major highways or rail. More and more, request for proposals are coming to our office looking for property that offers ease of access to transportation sources.”
Oshkosh has always been known for its industrial base and there’s no reason to expect that to change, according to Jason White, chief executive officer for Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp.
“There’s still a lot of land available in the Southwest Industrial Park and the Northwest Industrial Park,” White said, who added that the expansion of the Wisconsin Southern rail system in the region – primarily to serve Oshkosh Corp. – is also spurring interest by other companies.
“The totality of assets we have in terms of available land, infrastructure investment and the availability of rail is going to continue to drive the expansion of our industrial capability,” White said.
Oshkosh industrial expansions of note include:
• A.P. Nonweiler invested $2 million for various additions to its paint manufacturing facility.
• StrataGraph, a division of Great Northern Corp., built a $2.3 million, 30,000-sq. ft. addition this summer.
• Monroe Equipment built an 11,500-sq. ft. sales office and warehouse in the Northwest Industrial Park.
• Continental Girbau added 22,000 square feet to its existing warehouse where it distributes commercial laundry equipment.
• Generac Power Systems plans to expanding its facilities in Oshkosh, as well is in other locations as part of a larger $73 million statewide initiative.
• Powergrid Solutions, which was recently acquired by Texas-based AZZ Inc., is expected to expand its Oshkosh operations.
While much of Oshkosh’s industrial base has shifted away from the downtown area to the perimeters of the city – and much of the recent development attention has focused on transitioning the Sawdust District to retail and commercial space – White said Oshkosh is still an industrial community at heart.
“One of every four employees here are either in a manufacturing or manufacturing-related occupation,” White said. “I would like to say that, proportionally speaking, we are among the world’s strongest economies when it comes to manufacturing concentration.”
Appleton has also seen encouraging growth in its industrial sector, according to Karen Harkness, director of community and economic development for the city.
“Encapsys is building a new headquarters in our Southpoint Commerce Park,” Harkness said. “Additionally, in this same park, Security Lubke Roofing and Custom Offsets are currently under construction.”
“We made significant investment in 2017 in both infrastructure and roads,” Harkness added. “Growth has been robust. We have seen an increase in activity in the last three years.”
In addition to Encapsys and Security Lubke, Neenah Paper completed a $3.4 million, 45,000-sq. ft. addition to its mill down in the “flats” on the Fox River late last year. Earlier in 2017, C3 Corp. added 15,000 square feet to its current facility and Allied Valve added 7,400 square feet to its northside distribution facility. The Custom Offsets project mentioned by Harkness is for a $1.6 million, 20,000-sq. ft. shop and offices.
Little Chute has been especially active developing its industrial parks during the past few years, according to Village Administrator James Fenlon.
“Recently, Heartland Business Systems executed a $3.2 million expansion, which totaled approximately 30,000 square feet in the Little Chute Industrial Park,” Fenlon said. “Cherryland’s Best recently executed an agreement with the village to build a new 15,000-square-foot facility in the village, which will allow them increased growth opportunities from their current location. The Nestle Pizza Facility is also in the process of a microlab addition, which has a permit value of $3.2 million. There are other at least two other projects in various stages of planning, with other projects on the horizon.”
Separate, from Nestle’s pizza manufacturing facility, the company recently completed a $21 million project to construct a 313,000-sq. ft. refrigerated warehouse on the north side of Little Chute. That facility opened in July.
Other recent projects include a 14,000-sq. ft. small engine sales and service shop for Evergreen Power and a 10,000-sq. ft. machine shop for All-Star Cutting & Coring.
Fenlon said the village is well positioned for future growth.
“Currently the village has over 120 acres of industrial property available in several locations that would suit industrial development,” said Fenlon. “Most of these sites are ‘shovel ready’ and located to meet the needs of potential developers.”
Lots range in size from just a few acres to large 75-acre contiguous tracts. Most have easy access to Interstate 41.
Current and future growth are simply an extension of Little Chute’s strategic planning, according to Fenlon.
“The industrial growth has been steady to good over the past number of years,” Fenlon said. “Little Chute is fortunate to have a balanced valuation of property values, meaning that industrial makes up 10 percent of our total property values, while commercial is around 30 percent and residential around 60 percent. As we see continued growth, keeping a balanced approach is important to maintaining a resilient economy.
“Obviously, larger industrial developments drive higher employment numbers and increased economic impacts, which we have been fortunate to benefit from of over the past number of years. At the end of the day, Little Chute is in the ‘Heart of the Fox Valley,’ which provides an easy commute from Oshkosh or Fond du Lac and up to the north side of the Green Bay metro region.”
In Kaukauna, Orv’s Pizza, a division of Bernatello’s Foods, completed a $5.1 million, 46,000-sq. ft. expansion earlier this year. Currently underway, Poly Flex recently launched a $1.4 million, 36,000-sq. ft. expansion of its 2-year-old manufacturing facility.
In addition, Northstar Coop just completed a new state-of-the-art testing laboratory for the dairy industry, according to Robert Jakel, director of planning and community development for Kaukauna. But Jakel is less bullish on industrial growth than some others in the region. He said the city isn’t currently planning any expansion of its industrial parks or infrastructure to accommodate industrial growth.
“Regional industrial growth of existing companies remains strong. Attracting companies from outside the region continues to be problematic,” Jakel said. “Industrial recruitment is highly competitive within the state and region, particularly for companies with a strong historical background and moderate to high wage and benefits. Accordingly, the return on investment of an incentive package to lure these companies may actually hurt the host industrial park.”
Wrightstown Village Administrator Travis Coenen is bullish on industrial growth, who noted the community has worked hard over the past decade to ensure it’s prepared for the ongoing manufacturing expansion. This involved improvements in its industrial park infrastructure, including expanded sewer, water and storm sewer.
“The village currently has to two active (tax incremental finance) districts open within the industrial park bordering the I-41 corridor, in which the village has seen increased interest and construction that will be sustainable into the foreseeable future,” Coenen said.
He cited several current and expected industrial projects in the village:
• Spirit Fab Inc. is currently adding 80,000 square feet to its existing facility, and plans to eventually move 90 positions from its Ashwaubenon site to Wrightstown.
• Affinity Chemical is adding processing and storage space to double production.
• Tweet/Garot Mechanical plans to break ground on its new 90,000-sq. ft. manufacturing facility in November.
• Print Pro Inc. is building a new 60,000-sq. ft. manufacturing facility.
• Country Visions Coop will build a new 40,000-sq. ft. agronomy center.
• CP Feeds is building a new 40,000-sq. ft. feed and grain center.
Wrightstown’s industrial growth is no accident, according to Coenen.
“The recent growth in our planned development districts has been great and better than planned for,” Coenen said. “Industry is booming – growing by almost three times the current value, with a lot of potential. I believe it has to do with the large greenfield opportunities and access to rail.”
Kimberly Flom, economic development director for De Pere, said the city has an active industrial base that continues to expand.
“Industrial is a strong growing sector here in De Pere and we take pride in working with developers, builders and business owners to help in the success of their projects,” Flom said. “Our industrial center is growing. Most of our West Side Industrial Park businesses saw themselves growing and expanding in the next five to 10 years. We have been receiving strong interest in the vacant municipal-owned industrial land.”
Among the industrial projects cited by Flom:
• Belmark’s three-story, 41,000-sq. ft. addition completed earlier this year.
• Sierra Coatings wrapped up a 33,615-sq. ft. addition this summer.
• Amerilux International added space earlier this year for manufacturing and warehousing.
• Another addition at Fox River Fiber, the second in two years.
• Green Bay Packaging just wrapped up a 30,000-sq. ft. addition to its manufacturing facility in the De Pere West Industrial Park.
• De Pere Cabinet is finishing up a $2.1 million, 35,050-sq. ft. addition to its existing industrial facility.
As available industrial space is filling up, City of De Pere officials are planning for the next 10 years, Flom said, noting the vacant industrial land cited above.
“The city has acquired property and completed a number of infrastructure projects, including road extensions and regional storm-water facilities in the past two years to accommodate industrial growth,” Flom said. “We are prepped to continue the investment in other areas as projects are proposed. Many industrial zoned properties are also located within tax increment financing districts.”
Aaron Schuette, community development director for Ashwaubenon, said most of the village’s growth has been in the residential sector. But industrial growth has not been entirely lacking. Optima Machinery Corp. built an $800,000 addition earlier this year, and Fosber America just recently completed a 12,000-sq. ft. addition.
Further north in the village, SuperValu built a $1.6 million addition to its distribution facility this past spring. The village is hoping to expand its industrial base.
“We are looking to expand well landscaped and designed business/industrial development in the far southwest part of the village,” Schuette said. “The village also has approximately 18 acres of land on the west side of South Packerland Drive between Glory Road and Partnership Drive for a high-value corporate office or similar use.”
The industrial sector in Grand Chute remains stable, with several major manufacturers having a significant presence, including Pierce Manufacturing, Pacon, McCain Foods and Presto Products, according to Bob Buckingham, community development director for the town of Grand Chute.
“Werner Electric Supply Company is a prime example of a company that chose Grand Chute to build its state-of-the-art corporate headquarters and regional distribution center,” Buckingham said. “That project prompted the town to expand infrastructure to accommodate future growth in the nearby area. Our community has several prime sites in private business parks located along County BB and CB, and along State Highway 15. These locations offer fully serviced, shovel-ready sites for business expansion.”
Rick Berg is a freelance writer and editor based in Green Bay.