Economic development tastes sweet 3/28/2017

03/28/2017, In Business Blog – The Village of Pleasant Prairie just chalked up yet another win. The announcement that German candy maker Haribo is opening its first North American candy factory in Pleasant Prairie is another hugely impressive accomplishment for this village with a population of a little over 20,000 people. Of course, this smallish village is not an island. It is located in Kenosha County perfectly situated between Chicago and Milwaukee, immediately adjacent to a recently rebuilt and expanded stretch of Interstate 94.

The village officials, Kenosha County officials, and economic development professionals in the region need to be commended. They have clearly identified their strengths and accentuated them beautifully.

One of the economic development professionals who has been a key player in this region is Jerry Franke with Wispark. This group has been key in developing LakeView Corporate Park, as well as numerous others in the region.

Mr. Franke explains perfectly both why they have been successful, as well as the vast potential of the region that has not yet been realized. “Southeast Wisconsin is located at the northern end of one of only a few megalopolises in the United States. The southern metro area of Milwaukee from Oak Creek to Pleasant Prairie represents outstanding location for one of the fastest growing sectors of our national economy — the distribution and logistics sector. Companies such as Amazon, Uline, Meijer, Ariens, Gordon Foods, and the like have recognized that locating such facilities between the two large Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas along or near the Interstate system is the most efficient way to get the goods and services that consumers need and want to the greatest number of people as quickly as possible.”

Now, add to that list Haribo and the 400 jobs that will go along with that when the factory opens in 2020. Success stories like this are never the result of just one thing. As I mentioned before there are a lot of players in the area that deserve a tremendous amount of credit.

It cannot be discounted as coincidence, however, that the vast majority of these successes began to accumulate after the Interstate system in Kenosha was rebuilt and expanded. The return on this investment we have made is clear. These successes illustrate why an online site selector group — — continually finds “access to highways” as the number one or number two most important reasons for choosing where to locate a facility in their annual survey.

All of this makes it confounding that the state is considering walking away from finishing the stretch of I-94 immediately north of Pleasant Prairie in Racine County, not to mention the 3.5-mile stretch in front of Miller Park and the North Leg of the Zoo Interchange. Each of those has outlived the 50-year life they were designed to last.

The budget introduced by the governor, about to be debated by the legislature, reduces funding for the Southeast Freeway system, setting back the completion of these critical corridors for possibly decades.

If you’re confused by this retreat, you’re not alone.

Mr. Franke points out the downside to this part of the equation: “Additionally many of the communities along the Interstate are investing in infrastructure to create the business settings needed to create more jobs. The benefit of this local investment is being curtailed by not completing the overall Interstate reconstruction.”

Republican Senator Van Wanggaard isn’t impressed with the proposed delays either. In one of his recent newsletters entitled I-94 Project – Finish the Job he writes, “This is simply unacceptable. I-94 is critical to the economic success of Racine and Kenosha Counties, and we cannot afford to put this project on the back burner. In fact, just this week the Chicago Tribune pointed out how the expansion of I-94 in Kenosha County played a crucial role in how the 21st Senate District and Pleasant Prairie are winning the economic battle with Illinois. If we want to continue to grow jobs in our area, we need the infrastructure to do it, and now is not the time to hit pause on one of the state’s most traveled freeways.”

As Wisconsinites we all benefit from the string of successes that have been realized along I-94 in Kenosha County. As Pleasant Prairie Village Administrator Michael Pollocoff stated in a recent article, “It’s Candyland,” as he noted that food processors are drawn by the area’s proximity to Chicago, transportation infrastructure, and access to Lake Michigan water.

Let’s expand upon the successes in Pleasant Prairie. This is not a zero-sum game. There is tremendous potential for growth in this region. Wispark has worked with the town of Caledonia just several miles north of Pleasant Prairie to develop a massive business park that is poised to bring smiles to many faces.

Forget the expanding pie theory; let’s establish a clear plan to spread the candy. I certainly hope our elected officials don’t decide to put the remainder of the Interstate system in Southeast Wisconsin on hold and tell other communities, like Senator Wanggaard’s, “Let them eat cake.”