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Entries for October 2015

28

(Rock County, WI) The County's economy, as reported by today's release of the Q3 2015 Rock Ready Index, continues to gain positive momentum. Highlights from the Q3 report include the following:

Unemployment Rates, as measured by annual averages, are at their lowest rates in 10 years. Meanwhile, job postings – which have exceeded 20,000 for 10 out the last 15 quarters – continued to signal an active and a very competitive employment market.

Average sale prices and the number of residential sales throughout Rock County continue to rise, as Q3 2015’s price points and transactions reached their highest levels in nine years.

Sales tax collections for the County continued to climb, as Q3 2015 set another new record at $3.2 Million. Compared to Q2 and Q3 collections for this year, the current quarterly figure is 8% and over 19% higher, respectively.

Energy consumption, as measured by the number of meters and usage, remained strong. Even when factoring seasonality into the equation, economic activities linked to various industry sectors are continually driving these figures.

The Rock Ready Index (RRI) is a quarterly economic development dashboard compiled and distributed by the Rock County Development Alliance. The RRI covers four topical areas: Workforce (Job Postings and Unemployment Rates), Real Estate (Residential, Commercial or Industrial) Trends, Sales (Tax Collection) Activities and Energy Consumption (Meters & Usage). Each Index also includes a Project Profile section, which highlights project specific news during a given quarter.

For additional information, visit www.RockCountyAlliance.com .

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20

(Janesville, WI) 

Construction activities are rapidly progressing in Janesville's East Side Business Park on A.M. Castle & Co.'s 208,000 SF, build-to-suit facility. As a global distributor of specialty metal and plastic products, value-added services, and supply chain solutions, Castle is consolidating and relocating two operations, one from MN and another from IL, into this (new) Janesville bar processing facility. Hiring and training activities are already in-progress and when fully operational, Castle expects to have up to 90 full-time employees.

Gilbank Construction, Inc., is providing the construction services for this project, while Angus Young Associates provided the architectural, design, and engineering services. Tenant representation was provided by Fischer & Co. and landlord representation was provided by Bill Mears of Coldwell Banker Commercial McGuire Mears & Associates. A group of local investors will own and lease the building back to A.M. Castle.

To facilitate this project, financial support was provided by Johnson Bank, the City of Janesville, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Alliant Energy/WP&L.

Established in 1890 and with a customer base that represents a diverse blend of industry sectors, A.M. Castle & Co. and its affiliates operate from locations throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. A.M. Castle is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: CAS) and its corporate headquarters is located in suburban Chicago, IL.

According to James Otterstein, Rock County Economic Development, “This announcement provides another example of the competitive manufacturing and distribution value proposition offered by the Janesville-Beloit MSA. Our team approach, coupled with proven development practices, continues to generate positive returns.”

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18

(Janesville, WI) Catherine Idzerda, Gazette

To the layperson, one cow udder looks the same as any other udder.

To them, terms such as “defined halving,” “suspensory ligaments” and “bloom and capacity in the mammary system” sound like either:

-- Something they don't want to know about.

-- Something they shouldn't be talking about.

But the Craig High School FFA dairy judging team understands the importance of those cow qualities. The team's knowledge earned it a second place finish in the World Dairy Expo dairy judging contest and the chance to compete in Luxembourg and Scotland this summer.

The Craig team, which is made up of Alexander Krueger, Hayden Funk and Jenna Broege, competed against 132 teams from around Midwest.

Broege and Funk have solid dairy backgrounds. Funk's parents, David and Julie Funk, have hosted the dairy breakfast and are active in dairy promotion events. The family's dairy farm is on County J just outside of Janesville.

Funk has excelled in dairy judging and showing.

Broege is the daughter of Phyllis and the late Steven Broege. Although Jenna and her family no longer live on the farm, they are part of a dairy dynasty.

When Broege was 11, she received an award from the Wisconsin Holstein Association for her junior Holstein projects. She was judging even then.

And Krueger? His dairy knowledge is based on “interest.”

“I like hanging out with them at the fair,” he said, gesturing towards his fellow teammates.

This was his first competition, and he only joined the team to fill in for another member, Annie Runde. At World Dairy Expo, teams are made up of three people, and the fourth does showmanship. Runde participated in showmanship, and Krueger filled in on the judging side.

This was his first competition.

“I was really nervous,” Krueger said.

Here's the best part of the story: In individual scoring, Mr. Nervous placed sixth out of 391 participants. Funk came in 24th.

In dairy judging, competitors look at three or four cows of the same breed and decide which is best.

Competitors consider an animal's frame, her “dairy character,” her feet and legs and, most importantly, her udder.

Some characteristics matter more than others.

Udder quality accounts for about 40 percent of a cow's score. Dairy character, which refers to qualities such as a deep and wide chest and barrel body with good depth, is worth 25 percent. Rear feet and legs make up make up 20 percent, and frame accounts for 15 percent.

Now things get really complicated.

Within each of those categories, some qualities matter more than others.

Udder depth matters more than “defined halving,” the crease going down the back of the udder.

The rear udder is worth 9 points, while the fore udder is worth 5.

All of this decision-making is timed, so you can't spend all day debating between the relative merits of a weak topline versus a nice tail head setting.

But with Broege and Funk's experience and Krueger's diligent study, the team prevailed.

The team's finish in the top three made it eligible to participate in the 2016 international dairy judging tour sponsored by the Scottish Association of Young Farmers. The team, which would include Runde, would get to judge in a special competition at the Royal Highland Show and to participate in the 2016 international dairy judging tour sponsored by the Scottish Association of Young Farmers. The team, which would include Runde, would get to judge in special competitions at the Royal Highland Show and the Luxembourg National Show.

Students would get to stay with farm families and meet young people from around the country and the world. The two-week trip also includes sight-seeing opportunities.

Diane Runde, Craig High School teacher and FFA advisor, said team members were still considering their options, and calculating how much fundraising they would need to do. The two-week trip would cost about $2,700, and that includes plane tickets, housing and some meals.

Other high scoring individuals and teams include Milton FFA, 10th place in dairy product judging; Ashlyn Sarbacker, Edgerton, 3rd place in junior showmanship; and Lindsey Sarbacker, Edgerton, 7th place in intermediate showmanship.

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16

(Rock County, WI) 

Career Cruising, which is the licensed software that drives the Inspire Rock County career readiness and preparation platform, has been selected as Wisconsin's academic and career planning (ACP) services vendor.  This is an important development because the deployment of the Inspire initiative, which began two years ago, created an opportunity for Rock County's school districts to become early adopters of these ACP elements - which anchor the WI Department of Public Instruction's 2017-2018 ACP mandate. As such, a number of districts throughout Rock County have already begun incorporating these foundational career planning and readiness components into their programming and policies.

To begin exploring, engaging and/or connecting with area employers – as well as diverse collection of exceptional virtual career coaches – visit Inspire Rock County or connect with a K-16 education provider.  

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15

(Janesville, WI) By Neil Johnson, Gazette

A Janesville couple plan to bring life back to a set of dilapidated South River Street storefronts the city not long ago had considered buying and tearing down to build a parking lot.

There's plenty of dust from demolition, but it's all inside two side-by-side, brick and wood-frame buildings at 22-24 S. River St. at the corner of River and Dodge streets just west of the Rock River.

Owners Travis and Jennifer O'Connell said that when work's done, the five adjoined buildings on the mini-block will remain standing. For years they housed the former Town and Country restaurant.

In the months to come, the Janesville couple plan to repair the facades of all the storefronts and renovate the two farthest south buildings to create Industry Gastropub, a tavern, microbrewery and restaurant serving fresh, locally-sourced food.

A consultant is working on project designs. It would be "self-funded," the owners said, but the buildings are in a historic district and the renovations would be subject to approval by the city plan commission and city council.

The O'Connell's, both Janesville natives, own and have renovated several downtown properties through their construction/redevelopment firm, Legendary Construction.

The couple plan to renovate apartment spaces in the properties' upstairs. The goal, the couple said, would be to bring commerce and people back to an area that the city considers an entryway for a future river walk, park and pedestrian mall downtown.

“We wanted to create a place where people will want be, not just a location--a bar and a restaurant--but a place that's part of a downtown atmosphere where people will want to go and walk around with their families,” Travis O'Connell said.

The properties are across South River Street from the vacant lot where the former Plaza Furniture store once stood.

Earlier this year, the city had bought and demolished the former Plaza Furniture and a small building attached to it, clearing the lot and staking it as a future city park and ground zero for ARISE, the city's plan to revitalize parts of downtown along the Rock River.

The O'Connells bought the properties in 2014, a purchase that came as the city had tried to set up a cash buy of the property through negotiations that City Manager Mark Freitag pushed into open public session at city council meetings.

The First Community Bank of Milton was trying to sell off the properties, which it bought out of foreclosure in a sheriff's sale for $320,000 and were appraised at $330,000.

At the time, the property had QT's Bar and Banquet running out of 24 S. River St., and the building hadn't been renovated in years.

Freitag at the time said he hoped the city's bid would lead to demolition of the properties to build more parking near downtown, or that it would entice a caliber of buyers who'd be more motivated than past owners to fix up the dilapidated storefronts.

The strategy drew criticism from some council members and served to pump up the sale price from early bids of $150,000 to more than $270,000.

O'Connell said he'd been in talks with the bank over the property even before the city had touched off a bidding war, and he hung in to close on the building at $279,000, according to property tax records.

It sold for far below the $475,000 sale price when the property changed hands in 2006.

The couple transferred the ownership of the liquor license earlier this year, after QT's closed, and their plans for renovation began to unfold as the city began galvanizing early stages of the ARISE plan near the property.

The couple said the bar would have an industrial-modern look, relaxed and casual atmosphere, and it would separate dining areas for families and a restaurant and lunch diner side that would prepare local, fresh food ingredients out of an open-air kitchen.

The property would house a small-batch microbrewery in the back and would serve house-brewed beers along with local and domestic beers on tap.

The building would show off its original brick and woodworked walls that have for years been covered by plaster. Its décor is planned to reflect and celebrate the city's industrial history, Jennifer O'Connell said.

She pointed to the plaster dust on the floor beneath Cream City brick walls in the gutted space where a new bar and large-group seating is planned.

“I come and here and see more and more of what is underneath. And I keep saying, 'It's perfect. It's beautiful.' To me, it will be,” she said.

Just east is the aging downtown parking plaza over the Rock River. City planning officials had slated removal of the crumbling, 144-stall plaza in summer 2016, and had touted the project as the first volley of the city taking the lead in launching ARISE.

A consultant's estimate released by the city last month suggests that tearing out of the plaza and shoring up the seawalls beneath could cost $3.1 million. 

Some city officials warned of a shortfall in grant funding that could help pay for the plaza tear out, and suggested the work could get delayed until 2017.

The O'Connells said they're not sure if investors or property owners would worry about the city backpedaling from immediate work on the parking plaza.

Travis O'Connell, who has fixed up properties downtown for two decades, said private re-investment is getting a foothold along the riverfront. He pointed across the river to the former Rock County Appliance, which a private owner is redeveloping as a banquet hall.

“People are starting to see what the future here could look like. It takes time,” he said.

He said private reinvestment and city plans might not always mesh, but he believes change can come to downtown while keeping its fiber intact.

O'Connell gestured above the to the storefront that will house Industry Gastropub, to a bay window he plans to rebuild. 

“You can build a parking deck a lot of places. But you've got to have a place to go after you park,” he said. “If buildings like these are gone, you can't really replace them.”


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14

(Janesville, WI) Neil Johnson, Gazette

St. Mary's Janesville Hospital is breaking ground on an addition that will expand its local cancer services, providing patients radiation oncology treatment closer to home.

The hospital announced construction Tuesday of a $10 million radiation oncology facility it will build out of the current infusion area at the hospital where cancer patients now receive chemotherapy and surgical oncology.

The expansion, a single-story, 8,750-square-foot area at the hospital's Dean Clinic area on the campus's southwest side, would house new computer imaging equipment and a linear accelerator designed to administer radiation therapy to cancer patients with “pinpoint” accuracy, hospital officials said.

The hospital plans to have the expansion built, staffed and operating by August 2016.

Eric Thornton, vice president of operations at the hospital, is overseeing the expansion. He said the project will mark the first time St. Mary's Janesville Hospital has offered radiation therapy for cancer, although the offering has been planned since the hospital opened in early 2012.

He said the expansion will share an entrance and waiting areas with other cancer treatment areas and is part of SSM Health and St. Mary's goal of offering “complete, comprehensive” cancer care in Janesville.

For St. Mary's patients, the expansion would broaden the types of cancer treatment available to patients without having to leave Rock County.

“A cancer diagnosis is tough enough. The last thing you want to have to do is go to multiple facilities for treatment,” Thornton said.

According to the hospital's plans, the expansion will include new computerized tomography imaging equipment, or CT simulation, that's designed to take advanced images of cross sections of tissue as part of cancer treatment planning.

The radiation oncology facility would require 10 or 11 additional staff. The hospital is still in the process of naming a director to lead the radiation oncology department.

Thornton said the bulk of the space needed is for a TrueBeam linear accelerator. The radiation machine is designed to use 3-D images to focus and administer doses of radiation, according to manufacturer Varian Medical Systems.

Thornton said St. Mary's research showed TrueBeam is “the most cutting edge technology available.”

The machine, which weighs about 26,000 pounds, is similar to a TrueBeam system at Saint Mary's Hospital in Baraboo, Thornton said. It would be housed in a concrete room that patients would enter for treatment.

The building addition would include a patient resource area where cancer patients can research their diagnosis, relax and meet with support groups, Thornton and hospital spokeswoman Kathryn Scott said.

Thornton said long-term plans are to add a special shop that would offer hairpieces, clothing and accessories for people undergoing cancer treatments.

The hospital's cancer treatment area is adjacent to a picturesque outdoor healing garden on the south side of the hospital campus.

During construction, Thornton and Scott said, the hospital's other cancer services will remain open and won't be impacted. The hospital is in now breaking ground to replace parking that will be lost through expansion.

The expansion includes extra space to add a second linear accelerator should cancer treatment demands increase locally, Thornton and Scott said.

The city plan commission recommended approval of the hospital's expansion plan last month, and the council approved the plans early this month.

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01

(Janesville, WI) Gazette Editorial

Stroll into the inviting lobby of Blackhawk Technical College’s new Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, and you’ll see a sandwich and snack cove where students pay not with cash or debit cards but a fingerprint scanner that charges their accounts.

The technology symbolizes things deeper inside. Computers instead of books even fill the adjacent library.

The attractive but modest entrance at 15 N. Plumb St., Milton, belies the 100,000-square-foot interconnected complex of what once were seven buildings that housed Burdick Corp. and later ANGI Energy Systems.

Half the center opened last fall with the welding, computer numeric control and industrial maintenance programs. Joining them this autumn are students studying computer service; manufacturing information; electromechanicals; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

No longer do programs share space. Nor must they move one workstation aside to make room for another. Each program has twice as much room or more. Enclosed lecture rooms sit adjacent to labs housing computers, big machines and projects. This proximity from instruction to hands-on application keeps students engaged.

The programs offer real-world experience using modern equipment that matches or exceeds that in local factories where students might work. Even learning stations apply the latest technology. In one classroom, the instructor can push buttons to pull up or retract computer monitors at desks. In the welding lab, instead of trying to huddle around an instructor to absorb techniques while wearing masks, students can observe on large monitors. One large room will help students hone the soft skills of communication and teamwork as they collaborate on projects.

The bright, clean environment mirrors modern manufacturing—no longer dark, dirty and dingy. Young women study alongside men. The college even has a female welding instructor with impressive credentials.

The center has 226 students, about half of what it could instruct. Many hold jobs while learning new skills, but most are full-time students. Most of the classes are at or near capacity or enjoying enrollment surges. The center could teach more students more hours of the day if demand merits. Already, employers are clamoring for graduates. A representative with an Oregon, Illinois, company recently visited in hopes of recruiting workers.

The complex was expensive. The college approved $11 million in borrowing that taxpayers in Rock and Green counties must help repay. Officials still need to raise half of the $2.1 million earmarked from donations.

The outreach to business partners, prospective students and curious residents kicks into high gear this month, starting Friday, the fourth annual National Manufacturing Day. Bus tours of the center will leave the college’s Monroe campus at 8 a.m. and the Beloit campus at noon.

“Having a world-class facility that trains students to be adaptable, talented and multi-skilled is a great benefit to our area employers,” said Elizabeth Horvath, the college’s director of advancement and community relations.

Regardless of freeway expansion delays, employers should find Rock County attractive because the college can offer their employees a high-quality education. The center should be a major asset for recruiting new industry to our region for decades.

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