Entries for February 2016
posted on February 29, 2016
(Beloit, WI) Robert Crozier, Beloit Daily News
Debbie Fenhouse of Popular Grove came to a Beloit International Film Festival screening for the first time this year, and it’s not what she expected at all.
“It’s exciting,” Fenhouse said. “I didn’t expect to see famous people.”
BIFF wrapped up this weekend with the annual Silent Film Showcase after 10 days of screening independent films at several Beloit businesses.
The famous people Fenhouse was referring to were Melissa Gilbert and her husband, Tim Busfield. She said she feels like she grew up with Gilbert as a fan of “Little House on the Prairie.”
Gilbert and Busfield were in Beloit to accompany their co-creation, “One Smart Fellow.” While it won awards and moved audiences, Gilbert’s ambitions go beyond this one film.
She is a Democrat running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Michigan. She hopes film festivals and independent film companies, like the one she and her husband helped create, can change the film industry by spreading out opportunities for people to make money outside the film studio system.
“We’re trying to create a place for filmmakers like us to create and distribute their material without having to worry about a difficult and suppressive studio and distribution system,” Gilbert said. “I would go anywhere to support this film, and I would also like to support small film festivals all over the country.”
Among small film festivals Beloit has the best, according to Hollywood Film Festival owner Brad Parks.
“I think Beloit, Wisconsin, has the single best small-market film festival in the world,” he said. “This is what Sundance was 20 years ago.”
The two festivals in Hollywood and Beloit have had a special relationship ever since Parks — who hails from Dubuque, Iowa — bought the Hollywood festival and brought the man behind the Beloit festival — Rod Beaudoin — in to run it. The two men knew each other because of their shared involvement in the cultural life of Dubuque.
The relationship gives Beloit access to all the best films making the festival circuit. Parks said great films that didn’t get the attention they deserved elsewhere find an audience at BIFF, and he takes promising filmmakers out of Hollywood to Beloit to get a measure of their character.
“I get to meet filmmakers here in a way that I never could in Hollywood,” he said. “The filmmakers blossom because Vanity Magazine isn’t right there.”
Thanks in no small part to the Beloit Film Society, a local population of critical film watchers who “know about color correction, narrative flow and story arc” has been cultivated, according to Parks. But, unlike viewers in Hollywood, they’re not trying to get ahead in their own film careers, so they’re more honest, he said.
“People here are so good at watching films, and they’re so honest,” Parks said.
The filmmakers enjoyed Beloit as well. Gilbert and Busfield said they did some antiquing, and a filmmaker from Los Angeles who had never been in Wisconsin before said she enjoys seeing small towns.
Nick Spark, who entered “Right-Footed,” called the festival “wonderful” during his award acceptance speech.
“I would not have tried to make this film if I didn’t believe films could change people’s minds and attitudes,” he said. “It’s wonderful to find a festival that shares that attitude.”
“Among the Believers” creator Hemal Trivedi praised the warmth she observed at the Beloit International Film Festival.
“I don’t think I was ever pampered in this way, even by my own mother,” she said. “I think Beloit has been the best festival for me.”
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posted on February 27, 2016
(Beloit, WI) Hillary Gavan, Beloit Daily News
Beloit Memorial High School’s seniors formalized their intent to find a job or go to college after graduation by signing their names on the dotted line Friday.
The school held its first Decision Signing Day in hopes of getting seniors prepared for a bright future.
“Decision Signing Day is similar to what we do with our athletes. We promote post-secondary education and the workforce. Students pledge they are focused on their future once they leave this school. We’ve done everything we can to put them in the best position with the tools to make the community a better place,” said Jon Dupuis, BMHS special education teacher.
Students’ post-secondary plans were able to include: Universities and colleges, technical colleges, military service or the workforce. Many students were donning their college T-shirts, military gear or purple attire in honor of Decision Signing Day.
Rudy Lugo, Cade Johnson, Chris Jones and Bailey Shain were some of the many students excited to make the pledge.
Rudy said he plans on working at Scot Forge as he’s already had an internship there.
Bailey plans to attend Blackhawk Technical College (BTC) where she will take automotive classes in hopes of becoming a mechanic.
“When I got my car I had a lot of problems with it,” Bailey said. “It’s something I catch on to fast and I really like it. I can do an oil change and change tires.”
Although Bailey has a firm plan, she said many students are still unsure about the future. The event, she said, will help them realize how important it is to start thinking about their plans.
Cade said he will study actuarial science at UW-La Crosse. He said Friday’s event was a great way to help students make decisions by having them take the time to sit down and think about it.
Chris said he plans to attend BTC for criminal justice in hopes of becoming a police officer.
Dupuis said BMHS offers technical education courses and an extensive array of Advanced Placement courses to give students a head start on their future.
Decision signing day is hoped to become an annual event.
“Making the transition to adulthood is a big step for them. We have a lot of great things we are doing, and this is another way to promote our students,” Dupuis said.
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posted on February 25, 2016
(Janesville, WI) Neil Johnson, Gazette
After four years of development, regulatory screening and a complex approval process for a proposed radioactive medical isotope production facility in Janesville, SHINE Medical Technologies has received the clearance it's been waiting for.
Thursday morning, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted to approve SHINE's request for a construction permit to build a 57,000-square-foot radioisotope facility at 4021 S. Highway 51 across from the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport on Janesville's south side.
The federal panel has spent the last two years vetting the proposed project for safety and environmental impacts.
The review essentially gives SHINE the go-ahead to construct the facility, which will use nuclear particle accelerators to produce the radioactive medical isotope molybdenum 99 from low-enriched uranium.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission still must complete a separate, lesser phase of regulatory review for SHINE's operating permit, but under the panel's decision Thursday, SHINE has the clear to move into construction and commercialization phases of the project.
SHINE is on track to break ground on the project in 2017, and the company will begin ramping up operations in 2018. That puts SHINE on pace to begin shipping moly-99 in early 2019, SHINE Vice President Katrina Pitas said Thursday.
“We're shooting for that goal and working as hard as we can to get there,” Pitas said.
The facility in Janesville is slated as one of three or four radioisotope production facilities that could operate in the U.S. within a couple of years, Pitas said.
Molybdenum-99 is a radioisotope used to illuminate heart, bone and other body tissue in 40 million medical imaging procedures a year. It is mainly used in heart disease screening, stress tests and for bone scans used to locate and diagnose cancer.
SHINE would operate the first U.S. moly-99 production facility in the nation since the 1960s.
Another medical radioisotope company, NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, is operating in Beloit, but NorthStar does not yet produce moly-99 on site.
SHINE would produce moly-99 on site, then ship the isotope to suppliers, which would distribute to Midwest specialty pharmacies. The company also would supply markets abroad, Pitas has said.
SHINE has major supply agreements with GE Healthcare and Lantheus Medical Imaging.
It would be the first entirely private outlet through which Moly-99 would be produced, distributed and shipped to hospitals and medical testing laboratories, SHINE officials say.
Pitas on Thursday said a mix of SHINE employees and a handful of initial investors—about 40 people--watched a remote, live stream of the nuclear panel's meeting Thursday on TVs throughout the company's Monona headquarters.
She said as the news came, SHINE's headquarters broke into cheers. Engineers, company executives and investors embraced.
As Pitas took photographs of the moment, she said her eyes brimmed with tears. And she wasn't the only SHINE employee who cried in joy.
“It was exhilarating. It's what we've been waiting for. We've dedicated years of our lives to this,” Pitas said.
The company has developed a special set of particle accelerators that it has spent nearly half a decade testing in partnership with federal nuclear programs.
Pitas has said that in recent months, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had “raced” through latter stages of a review process, following a weeks of page-by-page review of tens of thousands of pages of SHINE's plan documents and related report. Review included months of public comment, research by the panel's staff and an independent review by a team of federal cross-checkers.
Because the facility will rely on nuclear particle acceleration, the federal panel had required SHINE to conduct intensive calculations and hypothetical modeling to prove that its plans met federal thresholds for safety and environmental impact.
Among the research, SHINE was required to calculate the potential risk and impact to SHINE's Janesville facility if tsunami-like waves ever formed on Lake Michigan or Lake Superior—and then rushed over the Wisconsin landmass, covering Janesville with water.
Belying the intensity of regulatory review, federal authorities and the U.S. Department of Energy have been supportive of the idea of SHINE's project and a few other medical radioisotope production facility plans, mainly because of the specter of a world shortage of moly-99.
The U.S. is responsible for about half the world's demand for moly-99, yet none of the radioisotope is produced here. All of the material is imported from government-owned nuclear reactors in Canada, Europe and Africa.
Most of those foreign reactors are aging and are slated to be shut down within a few years. That would lead to a shortage of moly-99 not just in the U.S., but worldwide.
SHINE continues to raise money to construct and commercialize the Janesville facility.
As of this week, Pitas said, the company has raised approximately $50 million, including $22 million in private funding, through two waves of fundraising and a $15 million U.S. Department of Energy cost-share agreement.
Earlier estimates of the project's cost totaled $85 million, but Pitas has more recently declined to discuss specifics about the project's full costs.
SHINE's timeline for breaking ground and ramping up production at its Janesville facility has shifted a few times from an initial estimate that it would be producing and shipping moly-99 commercially in Janesville by 2017.
The delay came as SHINE's project plans remained under regulatory review.
Pitas said that between financing that SHINE has in hand, its supplier partnerships, and the federal government nod to the project on Thursday, SHINE is “well-positioned to finance the upcoming commercialization phase,” Pitas said.
On Thursday, Pitas said there's “nothing tentative” about SHINE's plan to have a facility built and producing on a commercial level by early 2019.
SHINE plans a private “celebration event” Thursday, March 10, in Janesville.
The city of Janesville has a stake in the SHINE plan. Years prior to the project getting full regulatory approval, the city council approved a tax increment financing incentive package worth $9 million, including utilities, land and cash and an agreement to back a private loan to SHINE.
The only city TIF agreement larger than SHINE's was an incentive package of $11.5 million, which the city awarded last year to Dollar General, which plans to build a 1 million-square-foot distribution center on Janesville's south side.
The city's incentive package for SHINE is tied to the company meeting criteria of property tax payments and job creation in Janesville.
SHINE has said it eventually would employ 150 at the Janesville facility, including technicians and mechanics. Many of the positions would pay annual salaries at or near $60,000, Pitas has indicated.
Pitas indicated SHINE plans to working on partnerships with at least one area technical college to launch training programs for radioactive material handling.
Pitas said that during the facility's expected life, SHINE will produce enough moly-99 for tests for 1 billion patients.
“Today is a day when everybody in the community and the whole state of Wisconsin should be proud of what we've achieved … coming to market and producing the isotopes they need to stay healthy,” Pitas said.
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posted on February 24, 2016
(Rock County, WI) Jake Magee, Gazette
For one weekend in July, the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport will be home to wartime aviation history as more than a dozen World War II and Vietnam War planes arrive for residents to see, touch and even ride.
During Heavy Bombers Weekend, an estimated 15,000 locals will come to tour these functioning combat planes used in famous global conflicts.
“These are flying museums, so it's a really unique opportunity to see these aircraft still in operation,” event coordinator Pete Buffington said. “There's an emotional response that's felt when you see these aircraft start and blow out smoke. …It's something that you can't put into words.”
Residents can meet local veterans who flew these mechanical marvels. Many of them haven't stepped inside a war plane in decades. Several come out with tears running down their faces, Buffington said.
“It's a healing event for them,” he said. “It's a pretty amazing sight.”
Heavy Bombers Weekend occurs right before Oshkosh's Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture, the largest plane show of its kind in the world. The weekend might feature surprise appearances by planes heading to that event, Buffington said.
While the event doesn't feature an air show, those willing to shell out big bucks can take 30-minute rides in some of the planes. A single-engine plane ride starts at $95, but getting a lift in some of the top-of-the-line planes can cost more than $2,000, he said.
“It's kinda like a bucket list item,” Buffington said.
The event has been held in Madison since its inception almost four years ago. This is the first year it's coming to Janesville. It likely will alternate between the two cities in the future, Buffington said.
“It's quite the event coming to Janesville,” he said, noting the new market and potential attendees. “We're really excited to bring it Janesville.”
The Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport is a great location, partly because it has less air traffic than Madison, Buffington said. The show won't affect the airport's normal operations at all, Buffington said he was told. In fact, it will give the airport the attention an airport of its size deserves.
“It'll be cool to see the flurry of activity back there,” he said.
One thing organizers like is that the airport has a control tower for greater safety. It also will have an extra ground controller working that weekend, Buffington said.
This year's Rockford AirFest and Milwaukee Air & Water Show have been postponed until 2017, which means turnout for Heavy Bombers Weekend might be better than originally projected, Buffington said.
“I think we're going to see quite a few more numbers than what we were anticipating, which is a good thing,” he said.
The Gazette was unable to reach an airport representative before deadline.
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posted on February 15, 2016
(Rock County, WI) Earlier this month, Rock County 5.0 in conjunction with the Blackhawk Human Resource Association (BHRA), released the results of their Salary & Benefits Survey. The report provides a comprehensive listing of hourly wages, covering over 80 specific occupational titles, as well as calculations for addressing "aged data". In addition to providing detailed salary information, employer benefits packages are profiled within the report too.
More than 50 businesses / organizations participated in the Survey, covering over 6,100 employees. For quality control and confidentiality purposes, a third-party human resources consulting firm administered the survey through a web-based platform. A sampling of the results is provided below:
- Thirty-four percent of the respondents represented firms that are organized as C-Corporations, while slightly over 41% were classified as a pass-through entities (i.e. S-Corp or LLC).
- In terms of industry sector, over 62% of the respondents represented Manufacturing. Other sectors with representation included Education & Health Services, Professional & Business Services, Financial Activities, Public Administration, etc.
- The average general salary budget increase, attributed to merit, COLI, and promotions was 2.5%. Meanwhile, the average pay range adjustment, attributed to increases to formal base pay ranges, was 2.2%.
- The median turnover rates reported for 2015 and 2014 were in the 10% range, respectively.
- Benefits packages are influenced by a number of interconnected economic, operational and workforce factors Examples includes, but are not limited to: healthcare coverages and their related premiums; paid time-off; flexible work schedules; employee attendance, referral and tuition reimbursement programs; as well as retirement and profit sharing programs.
A truncated version of the report will be available online. To order a full, non-truncated copy of the report, please contact Rock County 5.0 or BHRA.
Rock County 5.0 is a five-year public / private economic development initiative designed to reposition and revitalize Rock County’s economy. The initiative’s efforts are focused on the following five economic development strategies: Business Retention & Expansion, Business & Investment Attraction, Small Business & Entrepreneurship, Real Estate Positioning and Workforce Profiling. For additional Rock County 5.0 information, visit www.rockcounty5.com .
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posted on February 08, 2016
(Rock County, WI)
According to the quarterly release of the 2015 Rock Ready Index, Rock County’s economy ended the year strong. Highlights from the Q4 report include the following:
Unemployment Rates, as measured by annual averages, remained at their lowest levels in 10 years. From their peak annual average rate of 12.5% in 2009, 2015’s rates represent nearly a 7.5% reduction. Job postings, which have exceeded 20,000 for 11 out the last 16 quarters, continued to exhibit typical Q4 characteristics. In addition to an active job market, wage rates have continued to rise – as evidenced by a Top 5 national recognition for the Janesville-Beloit MSA by Milken Institute’s Best Performing (Small) Cities Rankings.
These gains are helping to fuel the area’s residential market, where average sale prices and the number of residential sales throughout Rock County continued to rise in 2015. For example, Q4 2015’s price points and transactions reached their highest Q4 levels in nine years at $135,263 and 458, respectively. Home building activities, as measured by the number of new single family permits issued, are beginning to move upward too. In YR 2015, there were 160 permits issued – which is the highest recording of (new) single family permits during the last six years.
Another measure of the local economy is the County’s sales tax collections. Q4 2015’s collections of $3.2 Million helped the year-end figures exceed $12 Million for the first time in the County’s history. If there’s any doubt regarding the impact of these collections, simply take a drive along any number of the County’s most active commercial and/or retail corridors. In short, 2015’s sales tax collections were 4% higher than 2014 and an 18% jump from 2008.
Energy consumption, as measured by the number of meters and usage, continued to exhibit economic and weather related pressures. The good news is that demand remains steady, across a range of use classifications.
Lastly, there were a number of large-scale economic development projects announced during Q4 2015. These projects represented the following sectors: aviation, healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, real estate and technology. Aggregate impacts for the entire year included: over $300 Million in new capital investment; nearly 2.5 MM SF in new or repurposed commercial / industrial space; and a commitment to create 1,200 new full-time jobs.
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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posted on February 06, 2016
(Beloit, WI) Beloit Daily News
The Beloit International Film Festival will feature 10 days of Block Party events, starting Feb. 18 with no tickets necessary.
The party kicks off on Feb. 18 with 52 Special Featuring Glenn Davis and Matt Goodwin at the Grand Avenue Pub from 7:30 -10 p.m. The event also offers the first opportunity to meet some of the filmmakers who will be arriving in Beloit.
The Saturday, Feb. 20 post-viewing party will feature Kevin Patrick performing solo at Suds O’Hanahan’s Irish Pub from 9 p.m. - midnight. Patrick has opened for some of the biggest recording artists, from Ricky Scaggs to the Beach Boys.
On each Saturday morning during BIFF, the Badger Chordhawks barbershop singers will join with dancers at Beloit College’s Hendricks Center for the Arts Lobby at 11 a.m.
Joining the celebrated barbershop group on Feb. 20 will be the award-winning Trinity Irish Dancers from Milwaukee, and on Feb. 27 it will be the Polish Dance Ensemble.
On Sunday, Feb. 21, the Wisconsin Artisan Cheese Tasting will be featured at Bushel and Peck’s Local Market starting at 10:30 a.m.
Monday, Feb. 22, tops off with Comedy Night at The BOP, from 9:30 - 11 p.m. It is a lineup of regional favorites including Rebekah Gibson of Janesville, Stevie Crutcher from Madison, Andrea Guzzetta of Rockton and Vickie Lynn and Shawna Lutzow, both from Beloit.
Wednesday, Feb. 24, from 4 - 8 p.m. BIFF board members and staff will be at Beloit Culver’s for the Scholarship Fundraiser Night. Help BIFF give back to our community and get a taste of Wisconsin at Culver’s while you’re at it. Proceeds from the evenings go toward the BIFF Scholarship Fund which will help finance one of BIFF’s college interns for their next semester.
Friday, Feb. 26, is the night to see the true talents of visiting filmmakers, cast and crew, or take a try yourself at Karaoke Night at Suds O’Hannahan’s from 9 p.m. - midnight.
And to wrap up the party, on Saturday, Feb. 27, the Orphans, featuring Kevin Patrick and Greg Gerard will be rockin’ at The Rock from 9:30 p.m. - midnight.
This 10 days of the BIFF Block Parties is sponsored by R.H. Batterman, Monahan and Johnson S.C., Everett’s Liquors, Grand Avenue Pub, WBEL and WGEZ.
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posted on February 04, 2016
(Janesville, WI) Catherine Idzerda, Gazette
Dinner theater is returning to Janesville's Armory.
Bower City Theatre Company and Best Events on Thursday announced plans for a season of musicals and other events at the downtown venue.
The move comes a month after Bower City and Best Events sponsored sold-out Christmas shows—and about five years after the recession and other factors drove professional theater out of the Armory.
Bower City President Brett Frazier said the decision was made after extended discussions with Rod Oksuita, director of Best Events.
They wanted to find a way to bring theater back to the venue.
“I worked at the Armory, and it was a wonderful space,” Frazier said. “The renovation that Mick (Gilbertson) did was amazing.”
Frazier performed in 14 productions and nearly 900 shows at the theater.
The Armory was home to professional dinner theater from 2005 to 2011, but the recession hit the theater hard, Frazier said.
The Armory continued as a restaurant and special events space until April 2015, when Best Events took over operations.
Bower City started its theater company at the Janesville Performing Arts Center. In 2013, it ceased doing performances, citing financial problems.
In 2015, however, it returned with the musical “Legally Blonde” and followed that up with the Christmas show at the Armory.
All of the theater equipment is still at the Armory, but the challenge was how to provide an outstanding meal and a show at an affordable price. After the successful Christmas show, Frazier and Oksuita began to think a little bigger.
“We knew we had to find a way to keep costs as low as possible,” Frazier said.
The performers will be a mix of nonequity professionals and seasoned community performers, Frazier said.
Tickets for the shows will range from $19 to $59. The shows won't be long running, as the Armory shows were, and that will help hold down costs as well.
The first full season is designed to be a test run, and it will offer plenty of family favorites and a sharply funny show for grown-ups.
Tickets for the first season aren't available yet, but auditions have already begun.
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posted on February 02, 2016
(Beloit, WI) Excerpts Courtesy of the Beloit Daily News
The Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce was showing off its new home at Irontek, 601 Third St., on Monday.
Executive Director Tim Dutter said the Chamber’s new home will be a one-stop shop for businesses in Beloit. It will help foster entrepreneurship and support business development. The Chamber will be the “anchor” tenant of the new site, with several start-up companies to follow.
Hendrick Management President and CEO Rob Gerbitz explained how Irontek’s office space will be available for rent to companies as well as freelance workers. Irontek was the brainchild of Gerbitz as well as his colleague Isaac Bamgbose, an asset manager at Hendricks Commercial Properties.
“It’s a combination co-working space, an incubator and an accelerator,” Bamgbose said in an interview before the event.
Bamgbose explained there are three offices available for small start-up companies which can be rented on a monthly basis, as well as conference room space. In the middle of Irontek are about 40 individual spaces that freelance workers can rent.
The set-up, for example, could help those in insurance, information technology, marketing, graphic design, legal occupations and more. The space is designed so business people will be able to network and bounce ideas off of each other.
Gerbitz said the idea was born when other companies complained they couldn’t get enough engineers and computer programmers. The new space is hoped to attract such professionals.
Bamgbose added that area students, working with either startups located at Irontek or with companies such as Comply 365, AccuLynx or Fat Wallet, will have a dedicated space as well. Irontek, he said, will give students a great place to gain valuable work experience and network.
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