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(Rock County, WI) - By Brian Wasag, RE Journals

For businesses considering relocation, Rock County, Wis., certainly offers its fair share of advantages, according to the Rock County Development Alliance.

James Otterstein, economic development manager for the Rock County Development Alliance, pointed to the county’s central location and connectivity as one major advantage.

“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 – as well as international – needs,” he said.

The county is located within 500 miles of one-third of all manufacturing operations within the U.S.; it does not have toll roads; it is served by three railroads; and it has the 24/7, year-around Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.

Mark Membrino, vice president of asset management at Hendricks Commercial Properties, said the county’s proximity to major roadways is a big draw for many businesses.

“Being close to the I-90 and I-39 corridors and what that means as far as access to the rest of the country is a huge benefit,” he said.

Otterstein also said complying with the Federal CSA 2010 mileage regulations is not an issue for companies that are sourcing materials or finished products from Rock County. From a commercial airport standpoint, companies in Rock County have access to five different providers – all within 1.5 hours or less drive time.

In addition, Otterstein named the county’s turnkey real estate and development opportunities as another advantage.

“The vast majority of the industrial sites (i.e. raw ground) within the county are owned by the local units of government.  This feature allows a developer of choice option; thereby, creating more flexibility and quicker responsiveness for the end user,” he said.

From a price standpoint, these sites are priced at about $1/SF for a fully improved site. For existing buildings, space leases for about $3-$4.25/SF/NNN; sale prices are a bit more challenging to average, according to Otterstein.

“We are a lower cost alternative to the Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago markets and when times are tough, people look to cut costs and this is a great place to do that,” Membrino said.

Average manufacturing assessment rates for industrial property in Rock County are approximately $25/SF, which varies depending on the type and location of structure.

“To make things easy, we’ve created a virtual building portfolio that can be customized to meet an end user’s needs,” Otterstein said.

Rock County also offers dual gate construction and expedited permitting, according to Otterstein.

“Unlike other locations, there’s harmony among union and non-union contractors and it’s not uncommon to have them working side-by-side on any given project,” he said. “Plus, our anchor cities of Beloit and Janesville generally process local site and early construction permits within 30 days or less. As a matter of fact, Rock County is the only location within Wisconsin and likely the tri-state area that can document that it has over 500 acres of independently certified shovel-ready industrial property.”

The county also features an abundant and skilled labor supply, Otterstein said. He added that the county’s state-line location enables employers to access cross-border commuters that travel from Madison, Milwaukee, Rockford and the Chicago area.

“We have a great workforce with the Midwestern farm work ethic, which a lot of companies really like,” Membrino said.

The county also is served by nearly a dozen institutions of higher learning, including local offerings that provide two- and four-year degrees, including a local engineering program, Otterstein said. This creates a solid staffing pipeline to service existing and prospective companies alike, he said.

“Strong applicant to opening ratios, generally exceeding 50-to-1, are common for Rock County employers,” he said.

Membrino added that modern manufacturing is going to require more skilled workers.

“I think you’re going to see a continued move toward manufacturing, but it’s going to be more advanced manufacturing,” he said. “It’s not going to be your old-school, manual labor. There are going to be a lot more high-tech jobs. I see that being a positive trend.”

Another benefit for business is that the Rock County Development Alliance has the experience, as well as connections, to keep projects moving forward on time and on budget, Otterstein said.

“We have an extensive bench of resources, both technical and financial, that we draw upon for any given project,” he said. “In addition to the aforementioned virtual building portfolio, we’ve created a real-time cost calculator that generates estimated state and local taxes, as well as staffing costs, based on actual inputs from an end user.”

Some of the businesses locating to Rock County include advanced and green manufacturing companies, food processing and technology firms, health care and medical technologies, logistics companies and value-added agriculture, according to Otterstein.

“There’s been a resurgence of manufacturing,” Membrino said. “Most of it is smaller. You’re seeing people looking for 40,000, 50,000 or 100,000 square feet of good manufacturing space. It’s filling up quite rapidly, but that’s a lot of the business we’re seeing.”

In fact, since Jan. 1, the county has witnessed 45 private sector development projects, $652 million in new capital investment, 2,029 new jobs, 1.3 million square feet of construction and 1.7 million square feet of space leased or sold, according to Otterstein.

“The economy has not only stabilized, post Great Recession, but also diversified and grown,” Otterstein said.

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