by Dan Rafter
Want to attract new businesses and construction projects to your county? A strong economic development corporation helps. And few EDCs are as strong as the Rock County Development Agency in Janesville, Wis. Midwest Real Estate News recently spoke with James Otterstein, economic development manager for the Rock County Development Agency, about the ways in which his agency provides a boost to Rock County, Wis.
Midwest Real Estate News: What does your EDC do to attract business to your coverage area?
Otterstein: The Rock County Development Alliance, which is anchored by the county of Rock’s Economic Development Agency, is a network of economic development professionals that operate within a collective environment to share and maximize assets. These assets are used to compile statistics and conduct market analyses; execute value-added research; identify and cultivate relationships; perform marketing and public relations activities; and to implement the county’s economic repositioning and revitalization efforts.
We’ve been building our brand image, developing various value-added tools and investing a substantial amount of time and resources to increase our competitive position within the marketplace. These efforts include — but are not limited to — electronic, print and radio advertising; direct mail and email outreach; targeted industry communications and connections; and a host of relationship-building activities. You can find a sample of these items online in the Media Room section at RockCountyAlliance.com.
MWREN: What does your county offer that makes it such an attractive place for businesses?
Otterstein: There is a compelling business case for selecting the Janesville-Beloit MSA as a business development and investment location. The county’s geographic location, coupled with its advanced transportation network, creates cost-saving just-in-time and supply chain connections for companies serving domestic and international needs. The county is located within 500 miles of one-third of all manufacturing operations within the United States. It doesn’t have toll roads. It’s served by three railroads. It has a 24/7 year-round airport that has instrument-landing approach systems and three multi-directional runways with lengths that exceed 7,000 feet and landing capacities of more than 500,000 pounds. From a commercial airport standpoint, companies in Rock County have access to five different providers, all within one-and-a-half hours or less drive time, Milwaukee Mitchell, Madison Dane County Regional, O’Hare, Midway and Greater Chicagoland Rockford.
MWREN: You also have the benefit of turnkey real estate and development opportunities.
Otterstein: The vast majority of the industrial sites within the county are owned by the local units of government. This feature allows a developer-of-choice option, creating more flexibility and quicker responsiveness for the end user. From a price standpoint, these sites are priced at about $1 a square foot for a fully improved site. For existing buildings, space leases for about $3 to $4.25 a square foot NNN. Sales prices are a bit more challenging to average. Average manufacturing assessment rates for industrial property are about $25 a square foot. To make things easy, we’ve created a virtual building portfolio that can be customized to meet and end user’s needs.
Unlike other locations, there’s harmony among union and non-union contractors. It’s not uncommon to have them working side-by-side on any given project. Plus, our anchor cities of Beloit and Janesville generally process local site and early construction permits within 30 days or less. Rock County is the only location within Wisconsin and likely the tri-state area that has more than 500 acres of independently certified shovel-ready industrial property.
MWREN: What is the working relationship between you EDC and local government officials like?
Otterstein: Our team has strong working relationships at all government levels. Three members of our team are full-time city or county employees. These connections provide an opportunity to draw upon an extended bench of resources for any given project. With a combined tenure of more than 75 years, our team has a solid track record as it relates to facilitating development projects, minimizing costs, streamlining local and state regulations and packaging value-added assistance.
MWREN: What are some of the positive recent developments in the county?
Otterstein: Since January of 2010, Rock County unemployment rates are down, job posting activities are up, residential housing price points and transactions are up and bankruptcies and foreclosures are down. County sales and use-tax collections are up, industrial vacancy rates are down and construction activity for all real estate segments is up. This translates to 50 private-sector development projects, $729 million in new capital investment, 2,287 new jobs created, 1.5 million square feet constructed and 1.9 million square feet leased or sold.