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Entries for August 2015

28

(Beloit, WI) Sophie Harris, Beloit Daily News

Beloit’s Fat Wallet plans to hire well over 100 people for this year’s holiday season, and many of these positions are expected to become permanent.

According to Fat Wallet President Ryan Washatka, the company typically hires quite a few people for the holiday season. However, the company continues to grow and the need for more employees grows with the company.

“We’re committed to growth, and we’re committed to Beloit,” Washatka said. “We want to know that we have room to grow.”

Because he’s seen a need for growth, Washatka said there’s a possibility Fat Wallet could move to the Ironworks complex. Fat Wallet, originally from the Rockton area, is currently located at 100 E. Grand Ave. in downtown Beloit.

Washatka said this season’s hiring will consist of customer service employees, content curators, online bargain hunters and more.

“We increase by 25 percent each year because of the growth of all our brands,” Washatka said. “We need to increase staffing accordingly.”

He said many of the seasonal workers stay and work permanently at the company.

“Our employee mix is pretty unique,” Washatka said. “We have a customer care component, and we’ve got a core team of engineers.”

With employees working in sales, engineering, social media, customer service, content curation and more, Washatka said he thinks the company is very well rounded. Although Fat Wallet’s sister company is located in San Francisco, Washatka said there are perks to being in the Midwest, like affordability.

Fat Wallet’s hiring process is already underway, and the company is hiring employees for positions in a number of fields. The positions are both full-time and part-time, and Washatka said although pay varies per position, all wages are competitive.

Applicants should have basic computer skills, since much of Fat Wallet’s business is conducted online. Washatka said he is looking for employees who like to shop and save money, because that’s what Fat Wallet helps their customers do.

“We are a company that’s very customer focused,” Washatka said. “We like to help people save money and find deals, and we have fun here. It’s a great culture to work in.”

In his opinion, having fun at work is a priority.

“We bring our employees lunch every day,” Washatka said. “It supports surrounding businesses to have it catered, and it creates camaraderie to eat lunch together.”

Employees have access to a full kitchen and snacks during their shift, and they can take short breaks with the foosball, darts, and games provided in the office.

“It’s all about respect. People enjoy having those things around,” Washatka said. “It can help solve a mental block to take a 10-15 minute break. I’ve never really had an issue with people abusing that.”

Washatka said he wants most of the hiring to be done in late September and early October, and he hopes to have the new staff trained by late October. To apply for all positions online, go to http://www.jobs.net/jobs/ebates/join.


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25

(Janesville, WI) By Frank Schultz, Gazette

Janesville's newest grocery store is holding interviews for jobs this week at the Holiday Inn Express, 3100 Wellington Place.

Festival Foods seeks to fill openings at the new Janesville store, which it plans to open Oct. 30 on the site of the former Kmart at the intersection of Highways 14 and Milton Avenue.

“Part-time and full-time opportunities, as well as leadership positions, are available,” according to a news release, which did not say what the jobs pay.

Open interviews are scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, Aug. 25-28, and from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 29.

The store will be Festival Foods' 21st location in Wisconsin.

The store will be open 24 hours a day and employ about 250 people, according to the news release.

It will feature a community conference room and a Tot Spot, a supervised in-store child-care service.

“Store Director Kevin Schnell is looking forward to helping build and lead the store's team of associates,” the release states.

“Festival Foods is a culture-driven company committed to servant leadership, community involvement and building relationships with guests and associates,” the release states, inviting prospective employees to visit festfoods.com.

To apply online or view more information about the company's hiring process and benefits, visit festfoods.com/careers.

Festival Foods plans to open its 22nd store in Madison later this year.


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19

(Milton, WI) Excerpts Courtesy of the Milton Courier and the Gazette

Following the recommendations of the Plan Commission, the Milton City Council approved Charter NEX Film’s conditional use permit for its 91,300 SF addition. This plant expansion, which is valued at $5 Million, involves increasing the existing footprint by 25,000-square-foot on the west side and a 66,000-square-foot on the east side . Once this expansion is completed, the company expects to add another 50+ full-time individuals to its payroll.

The conditional use permit was triggered by two factors: the number of required landscaping points and the overall size of the expansion.

Charter NEX Film’s Milton plant, which primarily makes plastic seals for food packaging applications – as well as other industrial and medical applications too, opened in 1998. This current expansion represents the second time the Milton plant has been expanded in less than two years.

“This project will be a tremendous expansion and investment in the Crossroads Industrial Park, which will result in additional tax base generation and employment levels for the city of Milton,” Hulick wrote in a memo to the plan commission.

Because of the company’s 2014 plant expansion, Charter NEX Films will have at least nine operational lines by July 2016. The week’s City Council action paves the way for another four lines and warehouse space, Plant manager Aaron LaPointe said.

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18

(Beloit, WI) By Nick Crow, Gazette

Beloit College is welcoming its largest freshman class since 1974, thanks in part to better recruiting, a spokesman said.

Some 437 students arrived on campus Monday. That's a jump of more than 32 percent over first-year students enrolled last year. The college prefers using the adjective "first-year" because it's more gender inclusive.

"To me, the success this year shows that Beloit's popularity is growing and with good reason," said Robert Mirabile, vice president of enrollment at the college.

"We are a great college and are in demand in the marketplace. When a college is in demand, it is able to attract students and have a diverse composition of students and an exciting learning environment."

Mirabile, who was hired in March 2014, said the college's goal is to enroll between 350 and 400 first-year students. The total enrollment is 1,300 students.

Over the past five years, the entering class at Beloit has ranged from 299 students in 2014-15 to 333 students in 2010-11.

A healthy enrollment is critical for Beloit College because, like most colleges, the lion's share of Beloit's operating budget comes from net tuition revenue, Mirabile said.

The college has been operating for 169 years.

"It's absolutely critical that the revenue that we are generating from tuition covers operating costs of the college," he said.

Mirabile attributes the growth to a sharper focus on connecting prospective students and their parents with current students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The college also offered more individual and small-group campus visits, large open houses and off-site events such as student receptions held across the country.

Coaches, students, staff and faculty members were on hand for many of these events, which occurred in such cities as San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and Portland, Oregon, Mirabile said. Alumni or current parents hosted them.

"This speaks to this idea that when we connect the marketplace with Beloit, they want to be a part of Beloit," Mirabile said.

Quality was not sacrificed with an increase in enrollment. This year's entering class had high school GPA and ACT scores that were nearly identical to those in recent years, he said.

Mirabile said 94 percent of Beloit College graduates are employed, in graduate school or in volunteer service within six months of graduating.

Other information about this freshman class:

—Students come from 37 states.

—Illinois contributed the most students at 103. Fifty-four students come from Wisconsin and 29 from California.

—The class is the largest international class ever at the college with 39 students from 15 countries.

"We are very proactive in reaching out to students from all walks of life and all areas of the country," Mirabile said. "Being proactive helps Beloit get on the radar screen. It's one thing to get on the radar screen, but what happens when they see you? When they see us, we are a diverse and welcoming community that values differences in people."

"In a nutshell, we want students who are well-rounded people and academically talented who are going to contribute to the college but also want to be here."


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17

(Edgerton, WI) By Jake Magee, Gazette

In 15 years, Edgerton has never seen a response like this.

Work on downtown buildings is exploding this summer and will continue through the fall thanks to an incentive program that pays for more than half of the work.

It's called Paint Edgerton, and downtown property owners are lined up to take advantage of it.

The 15-year-old façade grant program normally pays 40 percent up to $5,000 of any work property owners want to do to the exterior of their historic buildings in downtown Edgerton. For the first time, the city decided to up that ante to 60 percent.

The number of grant applicants multiplied tenfold. In the past, the city received two or three grant applicants per year. This year, more than 20 properties are set for or have completed work.

“It's crazy,” City Administrator Ramona Flanigan said. “We were astounded and really happy.”

“We were both ecstatic,” added Jim Kapellen, Edgerton Redevelopment Authority chairman. “People are taking advantage of it.”

Many owners aren't afraid to spend $15,000 or more on building projects, knowing the city will only cover up to $5,000.

Applications were due May 20. Any applications that came in after that were still eligible for the grant program, but only at the regular 40 percent city funding rate.

The city originally encouraged work to be finished by July 4, but that quickly proved difficult. Very few property owners could get busy contractors hired and working by mid-summer, Flanigan said.

Now, work has a soft deadline of Oct. 31, meaning by November, downtown Edgerton will be a sight to see.

GROWTH

The Paint Edgerton program came together shortly after the redevelopment authority formed. The authority is in charge of development in the downtown tax increment financing district, said Jim Kapellen, authority chairman.

The authority set to work right away.

“We were trying to talk about what we saw was wrong, what needed to be done downtown, and one of the things that came up was the buildings look a little shabby,” Kapellen said.

The authority helped create the façade grant program, which is modeled after similar programs hundreds of other municipalities use, Flanigan said.

The program originally started with a budget of about $10,000. In the program's first year, the city spent about $4,000, Kapellen said.

This year, the city will pay more than $69,000 for downtown property projects.

“Our balance sheet as far as cash flow is looking good,” Kapellen said of the TIF district.

Typically, a façade refers to the side of the building facing a street. When the program began, the authority encouraged property owners to spruce up windows, doorsteps and entrances—things facing the street.

Now, the city defines a façade as any exterior of a building or, sometimes, the interior as well. Typical work includes painting, tuckpointing, roofing, the installation of air conditioning and heating units and electrical work. The broad definition encourages more property owners to get their buildings into shape.

“We've really expanded it to just about what they wanna do on their building, as long as it stays there,” Kapellen said.

RESTRICTIONS

Keeping the buildings standing is a priority for the city but so is maintaining their historical integrity, Kapellen said.

For instance, property owners who want to touch up the paint on their buildings must adhere to a historical paint chart provided by the Edgerton Historical Preservation Commission, said Mark Wellnitz, commission chairman.

Despite the name Paint Edgerton, the city encourages property owners to do work that isn't easy to see, such as masonry touch-ups. Without such maintenance, buildings deteriorate.

“Our goal is to get people to fix things that will make the buildings stand for a long time,” Flanigan said.

The commission must approve major architectural changes before work can be done, Wellnitz said, but such meetings haven't been necessary recently.

Owners are prohibited from making improvements that take away a building's historic character. When new windows are installed, they must look similar to the original ones in size and shape.

The city won't help fund work that won't last. For instance, the program won't pay for a property owner to add a new kitchen to their restaurant because the next property owner might change the building into something other than a restaurant, Kapellen said.

“We fund projects that bring the building up to code or repair things that need to be done or make them more energy efficient because those things will be there whether the present owner is there or not,” he said.

MAJOR WORK

One business taking full advantage of the program is C&M Printing. The owners, Mike and Jeanette Londerville, poured nearly $20,000 into two of their three buildings at 102 and 104 W. Fulton St. The city will cover about $9,000 of that.

Contractors painted the buildings' trim, replaced several windows, installed two new signs and did some tuckpointing. Last year, the Londervilles had a roof fixed up for $35,000 without going through Paint Edgerton, as they were unaware the program would help pay for it.

“That was probably our mistake because we didn't check into it,” Jeanette said.

Early this year, the Londervilles received a letter from the city explaining the jump in the Paint Edgerton program and applied for grants right away.

“I was like, 'Wow, look at these people that applied,'” Jeanette said of the list of applicants. “It did jumpstart a lot of people, I think. An extra 20 percent makes a big difference.”

The building at 102 W. Fulton St. originally was a tobacco exchange bank. The Londervilles purchased it in the late 1970s. The 104 W. Fulton St. building was an antique shop when the couple purchased it in 2005, but it started as a clothing store.

Looking at them now, they maintain that same historical character.

“It (the work) really improves the overall look. It's a lot more inviting when you walk down the street,” Jeanette said.

Whether Edgerton offers the incentive next year is yet to be determined.

“It's nice when you get a response like this and go, 'Wow we finally hit the right trigger,'” Kapellen said.


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14

(Janesville, WI) By Neil Johnson, Gazette

A Janesville microbrewery has landed a home downtown for brewing, tapping and selling beer that three local craft brewers say will fly under the name Rock County Brewing.

“We wanted it to be simple. No big gimmicks, no crazy, extreme names or product labels. The beer, and the location will do the talking. We'll teach people that like big-name, light beer that beer made with hops that has a little flavor and color isn't a bad thing,” said Janesville resident Andy Walker, one of the brewery's partners and brewers. 

Walker along with Janesville resident John Rocco, who owns Janesville home-brewing retailer Farmhouse Brewing Supply, and Rockton, Illinois, resident Ed Sundstedt, an employee at Rocco's store, signed a lease this week at the former Carriage Works building at the northeast corner of Milwaukee Street and Parker Drive in downtown Janesville.

The partners will have a three-barrel microbrewery and tasting room in the Carriage Works' northeast end along the east side of North Parker Drive.

The space is a blank slate of off-white brick walls, high wood-and-steel beam ceilings and concrete floors. It needs full-scale electrical and water service as part of a lease and renovation deal. The three brewing partners, who are self-funding all the brewing equipment necessary, said they wouldn't discuss full details of the lease.

Janesville brothers Shawn and Shannon Kennedy bought the three-story Carriage Works building earlier this year. The building, parts of which were built in the 1880s, now houses law offices and a yoga studio.

The Kennedy brothers plan within months to renovate the building's spacious third floor to relocate their dozens of employees and corporate headquarters of SASid, a Janesville-based tech company they own.

The Rock County Brewing partners say they'll submit plans within weeks for city review to wall off the back portion for fermenting and brewing operations and rework the storefront area as a relaxed, tavern-like tasting room where customers can try fresh-brewed beer on tap and buy it for carryout in large, gallon-sized glass growlers.

Rocco said this week it'll be a four- to six-month process to get federal and state approval to run the microbrewery, and the brewery also needs approval of site and operating plans from the city's plan commission and the city council.

If all goes well, Rocco said this week, Rock County Brewing could be producing and selling beer for walk-in customers and under distribution deals with a small number of downtown taverns by January or February.

The council in May approved key zoning changes to allow microbreweries and brewpubs to operate in the city's downtown business district, setting limits for gallons of beer produced based on state law.

Rock County Brewing for months has been trying to find a place to house a brewery, which would start on a small, local scale with 260 to 300 barrels of annual production.

The microbrewery wouldn't run as a restaurant or brewpub but instead would have a tasting room set up with tables and a tap that would pull fresh-brewed beer straight from the tanks and through a cooler.

Rock County Brewing plans to have anywhere from six to 10 varieties of beer on tap, with varieties ranging from light-colored ales to a spicy Saison, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale.

The brewers, who each have between 10 and 15 years experience brewing craft beer, said they want to brew a slew of varieties each month. Rocco said he and his partners don't have a flagship variety they'd try to market under Rock County Brewing.

“We all like a lot of styles and varieties. We've all got a lot of different ideas and tastes and have to see what people will like,” he said.

Sundstedt plans to man Rock County Brewing full-time, but he said hours of the brewery's tasting room will be more limited to start, probably from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

Brewing partner Andy Walker also is a major partner in Foremost Media, another Janesville tech company that plans to relocate its offices to a former tobacco warehouse just west of downtown under a lease deal.

He said the Carriage Works building size, its heavy concrete floor and how it's situated in the larger building works well for a microbrewery. While they were negotiating lease deals, he said, it emerged among several properties downtown as the best, most readily available fit.

The Kennedys have said they'd like to bring a restaurant into the Carriage Works next to the microbrewery that could market Rock County Brewing beer and share an open space out back that could become a courtyard.

Barry Badertscher, a local real estate broker, runs his office out of the Carriage Works. Badertscher helped Kennedys reach a deal on the Carriage Works this year, and then brokered a lease deal with Rock County Brewing.

He calls the microbrewery a “progressive” step as the downtown enters a riverfront revitalization that would in part revamp the area as a hub for adult entertainment.

“This is how I think re-development will happen here. It'll be engineered one step at a time. You can build a distinctive flavor and a destination for people,” Badertscher said.

A trickier philosophical hurdle, Badertscher said, is to erase a local notion he believes is pervasive, yet false: that only a small number of Janesville residents are open to trying something new, such as a downtown microbrewery.

Badertscher pointed out several sushi shops and Japanese-style Hibachi restaurants that have opened and taken root along Milton Avenue. He said they're not supported mainly by trend seekers and foodies but rather by customers whose tastes are casual.

“I don't believe there's a lack of open-minded people in Janesville who'll embrace something new and different,” Badertscher said. “I think there's just a shortage of people who want to be open-minded that we've got open-mindedness here.”


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08

(Beloit, WI) Sophie Harris, Beloit Daily News

Plans for the Stateline Family YMCA’s move to the Ironworks complex are officially underway.

YMCA Executive Director Doug Britt said the architect heading the project is Zimmerman Studios, and the contractor is Corporate Contractors Inc. of Beloit.

Britt said the goal is to open the new facility no later than Feb. 15, 2017.

“Zimmerman Studios have done a lot of YMCAs,” Britt said. “They’ve done a lot of work reclaiming space.”

Britt said the move has been planned for quite some time, but more specific planning will begin in the next two weeks.

Stateline Family YMCA officials looked at renovating the current site at 1865 S. Riverside Drive, but decided it would be too costly.

The Ironworks location is about 80,000 square feet. Britt said the complex isn’t too much bigger, but it has more usable space.

“It’s going to be more efficient,” Britt said. “The current space has a lot of hallways and staircases, and this will be more open and inviting.”

Britt said there’s no multipurpose space in the current facility, which is a limiting factor.

“At the new building, there are at least five rooms that are multipurpose,” Britt said. “We are going to have a new youth space where we can do programming that is interactive.”

Britt said the new facility also will feature an aerobics studio, a yoga studio, a basketball court, and a large life center. Childcare amenities will improve, too.

“The daycare space will increase because the rooms will be bigger. We can have more age groups here,” Britt said.

Britt said he thinks the the YMCA is ready to move on to “Phase 2” of fundraising efforts. According to Britt, initial funds were raised through campaigns with key donors in the community.

“The second phase will kick off around September,” Britt said. “We have a two million dollar goal. This is the right spot for us to move forward with this project.”


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08

(Milton, WI) Nick Crow, Gazette

Beloit resident Kelvin Haley Jr. almost didn't participate in the welding boot camp at Blackhawk Technical College's Advanced Manufacturing Center in Milton.

He was the last one admitted into the seven-week class that ended Friday.

Now he thinks it might make a big difference in his life.

“I don't know what the future holds, but I feel like I have my foot in the door,” Haley said.

BTC offered the welding boot camp with help from the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board and employers in Rock and Green counties. The camp was designed to teach unskilled workers a trade they could use to get good jobs.

Haley, 32, has had his share of troubles, legal and otherwise. But he said programs such BTC's camp help lead people to places they never thought they'd go.

“This is a very beneficial program for someone who's been through things and doesn't know what they want to do,” Haley said. “You learn a lot. I'm truly amazed. I didn't know anything about welding. I knew how to use a tape measure and a ruler, but now I truly understand the basics of welding.”

Haley said the program has given him and his classmates a new skill, safety certification and leads on potential jobs.

“Basically, this class is 'no one left behind,'” Haley said. “It's about getting us a job and getting us a trade. One thing about this program, we had employers come in and talk to us, and next week we are going out and putting in applications with companies and going from there.”

“It's a blessing,” he said. “I never thought about welding but realized it's important to have a trade behind you.”

Haley's experience shows how organizations such as the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board can help provide valuable training to people who need it, said welding instructor Jack Reinhart.

“These groups came together with BTC to provide the boot camp,” Reinhart said. “We are taking students with various backgrounds, unskilled, and training them on the essentials.”

Gail Graham, business services coordinator for the workforce development board, said the boot camp was paid for with federal money that trickled down through various state programs. The $47,000 agreement between the group and BTC not only trains people and puts them to work, but also creates a pipeline for people who haven't considered continuing their education.

"What they've learned is that they can," Graham said. "One of them has already signed up for school in the fall. That would not have happened had he not attended this boot camp."

Graham said the boot camp helps shrink the skills gap.

“What's interesting about this program is that several potential employers in Rock and Green counties are involved with the development of the class and what they need from welders from this program,” Reinhart said.

In addition to welding skills, Reinhart also taught soft skills such as working with others, coming to work on time and understanding the structure of a company.

“I treat this boot camp as though I'm the employer and these students are the employees,” Reinhart said. “Ten students started, and 10 students are finishing. They are learning a trade and getting a personal identity.”

Also Friday, SSI Technologies employee Carlos Garcia finished up a five-day computerized numerical control (CNC) boot camp, where he practiced programming on a machine with classmates and co-workers.

Unlike the welding boot camp at the same site, the CNC boot camp helped people who were already employed learn additional skills that could be useful in their jobs.

“They want us to learn the fundamentals of these machines,” Garcia said. “It'll help us in the processes at the CNC shop."

Garcia, who has worked at SSI for almost a year, and his co-workers were paid to attend the training. It is good for employees to learn additional skills and use the newest equipment, Garcia said.

Tom Pleuger, CNC instructor, said he sees a chronic shortage of skilled machinists, and boot camps like this are part of the solution.

Employees participating in the weeklong boot camp can get credit through BTC. However, the camps can't replace real class time, Pleuger said. He hopes those who finish the boot camp come back and take additional classes.

“It's a tool to help them,” Pleuger said. “Carlos started at SSI semi-skilled but not a machinist. He's knowledgeable, but this course is designed to take semi-skilled workers and fast track them. Conceivably, when Carlos gets back to work, he can get right on a machine and apply what he's learned.”

The boot camp is designed to fill specific needs requested by employers, Pleuger said. Garcia, for one, plans to attend additional classes, he said.

“There is such a lack of skilled candidates for many of these jobs,” Pleuger said. “It's great whenever we can get them up and running and can help fill that gap.”

“I think they really enjoyed it and found value in it,” he said.


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05

(Rock County, WI) 

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the percent change in real personal income growth in the Janesville-Beloit MSA from 2012-2013  - at 4.6% - was the second highest in the U.S. The only location in the U.S. recording a higher figure was the Sioux City metro area (4.8%).

In terms of its Wisconsin counterparts, the Madison MSA posted gains of 2.4%. Meanwhile, the next closest metro area was Duluth MN-WI at 1.6%. The percent change for the Milwaukee MSA was 0.1%.

From a regional MSA comparison, the Rockford and Chicago metro area figures were nearly identical: 0.4% and 0.3%, respectively. The Dubuque IA metro area experienced a -0.7 percent decline, while the Des Moines and Iowa City metro areas recorded figures of 0.8 and 1.0, respectively. 

Coupled with the locally produced and released dashboard reports, these BEA income statistics provide further validation regarding the continual growth and strength of the Rock County economy.  


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