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(Janesville, WI) By Jim Leute, Gazette

Commercial construction—both new buildings and additions—continues to be the driver of the local building industry.

That's the takeaway from a review of 2013 permit data from the city of Janesville, which also shows Janesville and Rock County lagged the state and nation in growth in housing starts.

Contractors pulled 27 commercial permits for new Janesville projects in 2013, a 59 percent increase over the previous year. They also took out 147 for either additions or remodels, which also was an increase over 2012.

While both were six-year highs, what's more significant is the amount of investment those projects bring to the local economy.

The permits for new Janesville buildings indicated a construction value of $34 million, more than eight times the value of projects in 2012.

Additions and remodeling projects at existing businesses added another $21 million, nearly doubling the amount of permit value reported in 2012.

Notable commercial projects in Janesville include the new GOEX plant on Highway 14 and an addition that will double the size of United Alloy less than a mile away. Others includes several outlot projects along Milton Avenue.

"Things are really good," said Barry Badertscher of Badertscher Commercial Real Estate in Janesville. "We're working on several nice projects, and I've been getting more phone calls than I ever have since I've been in business."

Those callls, he said, are much more positive. In recent years, many callers have asked about Janesville being a "dying city."

"Now, people see Janesville as a town with opportunities," he said. "And you can sense it in meetings around town."

"Five years ago, pessimism would overtake the room. Now, it's completely opposite, and we don't talk about problems, we talk about solutions."

James Otterstein, Rock County's economic development manager, said the county's commercial sector continues to be strong, and that's evidenced by continued investment in new building projects and expansions. "The Milton Avenue corridor in Janesville and the Milwaukee Road corridor in Beloit have seen a steady uptick in outlot projects, and we've seen a number of redevelopments of existing footprints and new projects," he said.

Otterstein agrees that existing businesses and outside developers see opportunity in Rock County. That's attributable to an improving local economy and the cost advantages that can be found locally when compared to other metro areas, he said. "All of this activity demonstrates buying power in the marketplace, the ability for investors to received their identified rates of returns and the fact that Rock County continues to be a regional draw," he said.

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