WAUKESHA — When
the Waukesha County Economic Development Corporation dissolved in
late 2014, a task force set out to create a replacement.
members were looking to create an entity that would be a single
point of contact, that could meet with companies, and one that would
understand the labor force issues facing the county and region.
On May 24, 2016,
that model came together with the creation of the Waukesha County
Center for Growth.
two years, and the organization that started out as an idea appears
to be hitting its stride.
In the first
quarter of this year, the Center worked with multiple companies in
the county that are expected to make capital expenditures in excess
of $40 million and create over 400 jobs.
“We are well
along for our annual goals for this year,” Tim Casey, the center’s
economic development director said this week. “We’re at four times
the numbers that we had for all of 2017.”
Much of the
growth the Center has seen in the first few months of 2018 can be
attributed to the massive Milwaukee Tool expansion. The
Brookfield-based company announced in January that it is working
with the city of Brookfield, the Milwaukee 7 and the Center for
Growth to construct a 114,500 square-foot building across the street
from its current facilities on Lisbon Road. The three-story building
will be home to its research and development operations.
which has grown from 300 to 1,300 employees in the last eight years,
plans to add 350 new jobs, with an average annual salary of $75,000,
in the next five years.
While the news
of the expansion likely came as a surprise to those outside economic
development circles, Casey points out that a lot of recent
announcements can be attributed to months of legwork put in by those
companies, the Center for Growth and other economic development
officials. “Some projects take three months, some projects take six
or nine months to come together. And we are starting to see the
benefit of that,” he said.
In 2017, Center
staff worked with nine companies expected to make $10 million in
capital expenditures and add 90 jobs.
responsible for that expected growth include Metal-Era of Waukesha,
which began work on a $4.9 million, 25,000 square-foot expansion in
July. The company has said it plans to add 32 jobs as part of the
expansion. Sussex Tool was another bright spot. The longtime Sussex-
based company purchased a 35,000-square-foot facility and plans to
add 22 jobs.
staff also worked to attract companies to the area last year, —
including Kentucky-based Span Tech and Blowfish Racing, which moved
from Maryland to Waukesha — most successes have come from working
with existing Waukesha County companies.
“One of the
things that is really critical for us is staff getting out and
visiting with companies,” Casey said. “I met with 106 companies last
year, our small business staff met with 146. It is by meeting with
all of those companies that we identify those that have expansion
companies also helps Center staff learn about labor force issues
local companies have. Those discussions have helped staff work with
the employers and educational institutions — from high schools to
tech college and universities — to create programs that should help
provide companies with the workers they need.
“What we are
hearing from companies is that the number one issue is labor force.
Everybody wants to know what you can do to help them attract, retain
and develop their labor force,” Casey said. “Robyn Ludtke (the
Center’s talent and education manager) has taken the lead on that,
and we have worked with a lot of partners to (create) a labor force
Center’s successes growing, so has its staff. When it first opened
its doors in 2016, it had one employee: Casey. Today a staff of four
is helping to serve the organization’s mission. In addition to
Ludtke, the organization has added two business consultants, Karen
Taylor and Scott Alderton. The Center also gets staffing support
from its partners at the Waukesha County Business Alliance.
currently counts 11 villages and cities and one town among its
municipal partners and hopes to recruit more this year.
“We have a very
strong, active board of directors and as we discuss these kind of
benchmarks and annual reports with them, I think everybody is like
‘OK, let’s up the goal and keep going.’ The more companies we can
help grow and make capital expenditures, that leads to tax base and
leads to jobs,” Casey said.
“That’s good for
the economy. It’s good for the county. It’s good for the region.”