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Entries for April 2016


(Rock County, WI) Excerpts Courtesy of the Gazette

The tourism industries of Rock County continue to grow, as noted by the most recent Tourism Impact Data released by the WI Department of Tourism. 

In 2015, Rock County's total tourism revenue jumped almost 9 percent—the third-largest growth among Wisconsin counties—to $220 million because of new events and attractions, according to a Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau news release.

One example is the Rock County Historical Society, which now offers more dynamic and interactive tours.

Another example s the Heavy Bombers wartime airplane show coming to the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport this summer, which will boost Rock County's (tourism) economy, Rebout said.

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(Rock County, WI)

According to the quarterly release of the 2016 Rock Ready Index, Rock County’s economy continues to move along is growth-orientated trajectory. Highlights from the Q1 report include the following:

Unemployment Rates, as measured by annual averages, hovered around their lowest rates in a decade. Parity among the MSA, state and national rates between the low-to-mid five percent figure reflects the economy’s overall underlying stable climate. Meanwhile, regional job postings again exceeded the 20,000 mark for 12 out the last 17 quarters. Locally, Rock County’s job market is characterized as both active and aggressive – as documented by the diversity of employment postings that can be found by visiting
In response to a strong local economy, the residential market continues to exhibit upward movements. Average price points for Q1 2016 represented the highest rates recorded in nine years. Although sales and listing figures tracked lower than prior quarters, this downward shift is attributed to a depleted housing stock versus a weak economy. Consequently, home builders are responding to this demand – as noted by an uptick in the number of single family home permits that have been issued throughout the Janesville-Beloit MSA.
Local spending for goods and services, as measured by the County’s sales tax collections, remained strong as Q1 2016 set another record by exceeding $3 Million – an increase of nearly 11% from Q1 2015. Since 2014, collections have exceeded the $3 Million threshold six out of nine quarters.
Energy consumption, as measured by the number of meters and usage, continued to exhibit seasonal influences. Despite these weather related impacts, demand across various market segments remained strong.
Lastly, three speculative building projects – two in Janesville and one in Beloit – totaling 355,000 SF are highlighted in the dashboard’s Project Profile section. These announcements are key for two main reasons: (1) these projects will increase the available Class A building inventory within the County, which has been depleted due to strong demand; and (2) it sends a clear message into the marketplace, specifically as it concerns the economic health of the Janesville-Beloit MSA.

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 .

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(Janesville, WI) Courtesy of Blackhawk Technical College

 Dr. Tracy Pierner, a Wisconsin native with eight years of experience in the Wisconsin Technical College System, was named the fifth president of Blackhawk Technical College Thursday following a meeting of the school’s district board.

Pierner, currently the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Mich., will succeed Dr. Tom Eckert, who is retiring.

Pierner, who will officially assume his new duties on July 1, was given a two-year contract with a salary of $170,000 per year. The BTC District Board holds an option to renew the contract for one additional year after the June 30, 2018 expiration of the deal.

“I am truly humbled to be selected by the Board for this job,” said Dr. Pierner.  “This has been a goal of mine for many years and I’m excited to have the opportunity to return to the Wisconsin Technical College System.”

Barbara Barrington-Tillman, the BTC board chair and head of the presidential search committee, said Pierner brings a mix of teaching, administrative and private business experience that should suit Blackhawk’s needs not only with students, faculty and staff but with district residents who rely on BTC as an important economic engine in the area.

“From the outset, the Board was impressed with Dr. Pierner’s dynamic personality, his energy and enthusiasm,” said Barrington-Tillman. “His breadth of experience in technical education and his background as a dean, instructor and engineer will fit in well with BTC’s current needs and future development.”

“Throughout the selection process, the Board sought a president who would inspire our educational community and build on the foundation created more than 100 years ago. We are excited to bring Dr. Pierner here to lead BTC into the next chapter of its history.”

Pierner, who is originally from the Green Bay area, earned his undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1993; his MS in Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1997; and his doctorate in Technology Management-Manufacturing Systems from Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind., in 2006. He also completed a one-year leadership program for college administrators at The Chair Academy in Madison, Wis., in 2005.

Pierner has 19 years of experience in technical education in a variety of teaching and administrative positions.

 Prior to becoming vice president of academic affairs at Henry Ford in 2013, he was in charge of the school’s career and technical education programs. He joined Henry Ford after spending five years as the dean of technical education at Aiken Technical College in Aiken, S.C. While at Aiken, he also served as an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at South Carolina State University.

At both Aiken and Henry Ford, he was considered a strong proponent of online educational services and flexible delivery options for students.

Pierner, 46, began his career in technical education at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, where he was a lead instructor and curriculum developer in four programs – Electromechanical Technology, Automation Engineering Technology, Electronics Technology and Electrical Engineering Technology. He also served as a student adviser and facilities planner at the WTCS institution.

Following graduation from the University of Wisconsin, Pierner spent five years as an engineer for Rockwell Automation in Appleton and Cleveland, Ohio, and six years as an engineering consultant for Kimberly-Clark Corp. in Neenah.

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(Janesville, WI) Nick Crow, Gazette

The Janesville School District has received a matching technology grant of $25,000 from the Wisconsin Technology Initiative.

The initiative is funded by John and Tashia Morgridge through the Tosa Foundation, according to a news release from the district.

Over the past five years, the district has received more than $700,000 in grant funding through the Wisconsin Technology Initiative, which provides students and teachers with increased access to interactive whiteboard technology, according to the news release.

"With this grant, we will expand and extend the technology that is available to staff and students in several schools," Robert Smiley, chief information officer for the district, said in the news release. "It takes everyone's effort to create and sustain a strong educational technology program, and working with foundations is one way our district is funding innovative technology for our classrooms."

The school district will use money already budgeted for information technology to match the grant. The money will be used to purchase SMART Panels for 13 classrooms, according to the news release.

Classrooms at the following schools will be receiving SMART panels:

Craig High School

Parker High School

Edison Middle School

Franklin Middle School

Marshall Middle School

Harrison Elementary School

Lincoln Elementary School

Madison Elementary School

Roosevelt Elementary Schoo

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(Janesville, WI) Nick Crow, Gazette

Blackhawk Technical College and UW-Rock County have reached an agreement allowing students to transfer credits from BTC toward obtaining a bachelor's degree at UW-Rock.

The agreement assures the acceptance of any applied associate degree graduate from BTC into the UW Colleges bachelor of applied arts and sciences degree program.

"This agreement continues the longstanding commitment BTC has in partnering with the University of Wisconsin Colleges to increase options for students from all different walks of life and career paths," said Ed Robinson, vice president of student services at BTC. "Transfer students typically have a high graduation rate, so well-crafted articulation agreements often contribute to a student's success at the university."

The transfer agreement is open to students who have earned an applied associate degree from BTC with a grade point average of 2.0 or better on a 4.0 scale.

Robinson said the agreement will help ensure students understand which courses will transfer and help them make better course choices to can save time and money.

"For some students, it is necessary for them to start their academic career at a technical college," Robinson said. "However, this agreement encourages students to consider additional degree attainment at a UW College. Consequently, the articulation agreement provides a guide for students who are considering a four-year degree."

UW Colleges/UW-Rock County will accept 60 credits in transfer for BTC courses fulfilling the requirements of the applied associate degree. Students who are accepted with 60 transfer credits will be classified as juniors in the bachelor of applied arts and sciences degree program.

Students would then complete 60 additional credits to meet the 120 credits required for the UW Colleges bachelor of applied arts and sciences degree.

"I think it's a win-win for UW-Rock and BTC students," said Kristin Fillhouer, associate dean for student affairs at UW-Rock. "It allows us to offer some additional education for those students who maybe want to move up in a career, move up in the company they are with now or explore their options."

Fillhouer said the transfer credits wasn't possible before. The UW System has discussed agreements with the Wisconsin Technical College System in the past, but this agreement is new, she said.

"We had talked last year, but this has been a work in progress," Fillhouer said. "We do currently have students in the program."

A formal signing ceremony will be at 1 p.m. Monday, April 25, at UW-Rock County.

"I think it's a really great way for folks to stay in Rock County," Fillhouer said. "This is really a nice fit for those who gravitate to hands-on learning."

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(Beloit, WI) Hillary Gavan, Beloit Daily News

The new Stateline Family YMCA Beloit branch site at the Ironworks Complex was bursting with activity Saturday.

As part of its groundbreaking ceremony and family festival there were children leaping through bounce houses, families running along the river and guests touring the facilities.

At 10 a.m. the crowd congregated for the ceremonial turn of the dirt by local officials. Hendricks Commercial Properties President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Gerbitz thanked ABC Supply Co. founder Diane Hendricks for instilling her vision, drive and passion for development in downtown Beloit.

With the new YMCA project, Gerbitz said her vision will continue to move forward. He thanked supporters of the YMCA, its leadership and board as well as Corporate Contractors Inc. for its quality workmanship.

“The YMCA offers so many programs beneficial to the community,” Gerbitz added.

Diane Hendricks said Beloit gave her, and her late husband Ken, opportunity. She then thanked everyone for making the beautiful community project possible.

Corporate Contractors Inc. President Brad Austin thanked Hendricks and Gerbitz for making Beloit better every day, and Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said Beloit is grateful to Hendricks and her team.

After the groundbreaking, runners, walkers and joggers joined in the Hard Hat Hustle, a 5K fun run/walk which took participants through downtown and along the river.

Jennifer and Andy Yeadon and their daughters Emma, 12, and Sadie, 12, came out for the run to show their support. Jennifer Yeadon said her two daughters have been in the growing gymnastics program at Stateline Family YMCA for years.

“The updates will be awesome for the community and those who go there,” Jennifer Yeadon said.

Miss Beloit Katie Zibert and Miss Outstanding Teen Montana Fallin were volunteering with kids’ activities and patiently waiting their turn to get into the “wrecking ball” bounce house. Fallin said the new location is more local, and Zibert said it will allow Beloit to hold more events downtown.

Saturday’s event kicked off the capital campaign to raise the $1 million left for the new facility. In addition to all the activities in the parking lot there were tours of the site, with renderings to help the community learn about all the new facility will offer.

The new YMCA is on schedule to open in February of 2017. The 80,000-square-foot site will feature an 8,300-square-foot wellness center, a Hangout Kids area for youth 7 to 14, designated exercise studios, an indoor aquatics center with lap and whirlpools and a slide, child care facilities and more.

The move was made official last year after Diane Hendricks donated the space and offered to take over the old site.

So far, the YMCA has raised $8.8 million through corporate sponsors, including Regal Beloit, which donated funds for the fitness center, and Kerry Ingredients, which donated funds for a kitchen and classroom space.

Donations to the YMCA Capital Campaign can be made in person or by calling 608-365-2261.

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(Janesville, WI) Neil Johnson, Gazette

Janesville's chamber of commerce hopes a locally produced video showing life throughout the seasons in Janesville can become a tool to help local companies land employees.

Just one day after Janesville video production firm Drywater Productions released the video, “Janesville: Community of Choice,” the three-minute montage of snippets of Janesville culture, including winter snowshoeing and sledding, mud volleyball, show skiing and splash park fun already is getting viewed by thousands on social media.

As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 30,000 people had shared it on Facebook.

Forward Janesville President John Beckord said the film is part of a new approach to labor recruitment and workforce development.

The three-minute video was assembled and produced from dozens of hours of footage shot during different seasons and took 18 months for Drywater to produce.

“We're going to frame the community in as favorable a way as we can, obviously,” Beckord said. “You're trying to get your foot in the door with people to get them to consider Janesville and Rock County as an option.”

The film is targeted to reach professionals and skilled workers who would have the choice of dozens of similarly sized cities throughout the Midwest.    

“The idea was basically to put together a video that can be used by (local) corporate human resources managers and small staffing groups. It would be used for viewing by prospective talent, people who're being recruited by companies to come here, work here and live here," Beckord said.

The film is set to music and has no narration.

One 30-second sequence includes a seamless flow of scenes of smiling, mud-spattered residents enjoying ears of sweet corn at the annual corn roast and mud volleyball at Traxler Park, evening footage that was shot from above the carnival concourse at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds, open-air concerts at the amphitheater in Lower Courthouse Park and families exploring the Rotary Botanical Gardens in summer and during the gardens' winter light show.

The video includes pop-up and drop-down graphics that provide facts about Janesville.

Drywater producers pitched the concept as a friendly and straightforward way to sell some of the city's most attractive and pleasant aspects to people who aren't familiar with the community.

The film funded by local corporate sponsorships was unveiled Tuesday night at Forward Janesville's annual dinner at the Holiday Inn Express.

It's part of an emerging plan by Forward Janesville designed to help companies sell to prospective employees not just their workplace but the city as a whole.

“We're thinking of ways to get across that a big asset for them can be the community. They're selling that in recruitment as much as anything,” Beckord said.

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