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Alderman says entertainment complex planned for former Midtown Center Lowe's store
April 1, 2015 03:07 PM
The former Lowe's Home Improvement store at Midtown Center in Milwaukee could be redeveloped into a “multi-entertainment complex,” according to a news release issued today by Ald. Joe Davis Sr.

Midtown Center is a shopping center located between North 60th Street, West Capitol Drive and West Fond du Lac Avenue. The Lowe’s store there closed in 2009.

Now, a group of private investors plans to redevelop the vacant 116,000-square-foot building at 5800 W. Hope Ave. into a variety of entertainment venues including cinemas, a bowling center, a bounce house, an arcade, restaurants, a laser tag arena and spaces for private and public events, including concerts and comedy shows, according to Davis.

Davis said the project is a proposed public-private partnership between the city of Milwaukee and private investors, which he did not name.

“A major step in the development process will be the acquisition of the building still owned today by Lowe's – an eyesore to residents in the Midtown community that is adjacent to the neighboring vibrant and growing Midtown shopping center,” Davis said.

However, Davis’ announcement about the project appears to have caught the Department of City Development off guard. "We have been in ongoing discussions with people on all sides of this transaction and any announcement is premature," said DCD spokesman Jeff Fleming.

Public funds will be used to support the acquisition and construction of the new entertainment center in the former Midtown Lowe’s building, Davis said. Negotiations to acquire the property have been ongoing, he said.

“A formal purchase proposal was issued recently to Lowe's,” said Davis. “It’s the first step in an ongoing process that may take another 18 months to complete. We are not finished by any stretch of the imagination, as there are other major discussions to take place with several other parties to bring this type of project to the area.”

The development would be funded in part by the Midtown Center Tax Incremental District, Davis said.  

The development project is expected to generate at least 250 temporary and permanent jobs, ranging from architects, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, security, to wait staff, ushers, cashiers, cooks, janitors, and greeters, Davis said. The goal is to hire as many Midtown residents as possible to fill the positions that will become available and to offer these residents an opportunity to develop their skills in a professional environment, he said.

“This is an exciting project for Midtown and the city of Milwaukee,” said Davis. “It generates needed jobs and provides resources so our community does not have to travel so far for quality entertainment and dining.”

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Top 10 Businesses of the Year announced
April 1, 2015 10:26 AM
The Waukesha County Business Alliance and BizTimes Media have announced the 2015 Top 10 Businesses of the Year.

The annual awards program recognizes companies headquartered in southeastern Wisconsin that have demonstrated consistent financial growth and dedication to good business practices through employee relations, customer-focused commitment and community service involvement.

The Top 10 Businesses of the Year are:

Annex Wealth Management Financial Services
Location: Elm Grove
Industry: Wealth management
President and chief executive: David Spano

Aries Industries Inc.
Location: Waukesha
Industry: Manufacturer of closed-circuit TV inspection and rehabilitation equipment
President and CEO: Nick Kroll

EmbedTek LLC
Location: Hartland
Industry: Single-purpose computers and integrated displays
CEO: Dan Aicher

Generac Power Systems Inc.
Location: Waukesha
Industry: Manufacturer of  mobile generators and other equipment
President and CEO: Aaron Jagdfeld

HUSCO International
Location: Waukesha
Industry: Manufacturer of hydraulic and electrohydraulic controls
President and CEO: Austin Ramirez

ProHealth Care
Location: Waukesha
Industry: Health care
CEO: Susan Edwards

Ruekert & Mielke Inc.
Location: Waukesha
Industry: Municipal infrastructure management
President: Stan Sugden

Swick Technologies LLC
Location: New Berlin
Industry: IT managed services
President: Gary Swick

Tailored Label Products Inc.
Location: Menomonee Falls
Industry: Industrial and consumer product labels
CEO: Michael Erwin

W.I.S. Logistics Inc
Location: New Berlin
Industry: Transportation
CEO: Jonathan Teraoka

The Top 10 Businesses of the Year will be honored at a luncheon to be presented by the Waukesha Business Alliance and BizTimes Media on Thursday, June 11 at 11:30 a.m. at the Country Springs Hotel in Pewaukee. To register to attend, click here.

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BizTracker: MMAC members bullish about 2nd quarter
April 1, 2015 11:02 AM
Southeastern Wisconsin businesses are expressing strong confidence that business growth will continue in the year's second quarter, according to the latest Business Outlook Survey conducted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

Seventy-six percent of businesses surveyed expect sales increases in the second quarter, 71 percent expect profit gains and 59 percent predict employment growth over year-ago levels. The projections are at post-recession highs.

For more, read today's BizTimes BizTracker of economic data.

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Meeting may have moved needle for arena plan
April 1, 2015 11:58 AM
The effort to develop a new arena in downtown Milwaukee gained momentum Tuesday when officials from the state, the county, the city and the Milwaukee Bucks met for the first time in an attempt to hash out their differences.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sent a representative to the meeting. Walker said that he is working with state lawmakers on a new plan to fund a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks and promised reporters "a viable alternative" will be announced within the next week or so..

"We've been meeting the past few weeks on alternatives," said Walker, who added he's working with the city and county, according to WisPolitics.com, a media partner of BizTimes. "In the not-too-distant future, we'll be meeting with all of you in the press."

Walker originally proposed borrowing $220 million to help fund the arena with increases in so-called jock tax revenues used to pay off the bonds. However, lawmakers balked at the price tag, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said recently Walker's plan was "pretty much dead."
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a memo last week that the proposal could cost the state as much as $488.4 million to pay off. The report also showed the state could expect an estimated $514.9 million in additional jock taxes coming in through 2046-47.

"We believe the initial proposal we put on the table would not cost the taxpayer one cent," Walker said. "Our goal is to have any plan be the one that doesn't take anything away from the base that's already in the budget and not to add any new taxes."

Fitzgerald has said he's working on an alternative to Walker's plan that would lower or even eliminate state bonding, and speculation has ramped up recently that Fitzgerald is looking at an option that would involve the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. More than a decade ago, the agency agreed to buy bonds for the renovation of Lambeau Field with the idea that doing so would make it cheaper for the state than selling them on the open market.

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) previously said he would be more comfortable with bonding in the $120 million to $150 million range and today urged the city and county to put more into the project.

"The speaker has been clear in his position," spokeswoman Kit Beyer said. "In order to keep the Bucks here, the locals need to step up more. He looks forward to learning what they can offer when they meet this week."

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said in a statement he is actively working on a solution.

"We have an opportunity to see nearly a billion dollars worth of ancillary development that can create thousands of jobs, generate millions in future property tax revenues, increase property values in surrounding areas, and transform the largest missing piece of the downtown development puzzle in a way no one would have imagined even a year ago," Abele said. "Everybody involved wants to see this get done and I believe that we will find a way to do so that respects local taxpayers."

Also today, The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin announced its support for the construction of the new downtown arena in Milwaukee and has joined “Play it Forward Wisconsin,” the coalition of business and community groups supporting the arena project.

“Milwaukee is at a crossroads,” said Jorge Franco, HCCW chairman, president and CEO. “The downtown arena project has the promise of thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions in economic development in downtown Milwaukee. That is not just critical to the growth and development of our Hispanic businesses and overall high growth Latino community, it must be a priority for the entire community as well as the Wisconsin and local economy to remain competitive.”

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Journal merger complete
April 1, 2015 10:22 AM
Milwaukee-based Journal Communications Inc. and The E.W. Scripps Co. today completed their merger and spin-off transactions.

The newspaper and publishing operations have been spun off and combined in the new Milwaukee-based company Journal Media Group, which has about 3,000 employees nationwide. The group includes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its digital products, and daily newspapers and related digital offerings in 13 U.S. markets, which include the Naples Daily News, the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

The newly formed newspaper company is starting fresh financially, which company leaders hope can help it keep a healthy balance sheet in a struggling industry.

“In addition to our company’s many strategic assets, we are launching with a solid balance sheet and no debt,” said Jason Graham, senior vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer of Journal Media Group. “We’re excited to have the financial flexibility to make strategic decisions that will help our enterprise navigate the ongoing transformation of the local media landscape.”

Trading in Journal Communications stock has been discontinued, and shareholders of record for both companies as of the close of business on March 25 will receive shares of Journal Media Group. Journal Media Group stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange with the ticker symbol "JMG." E.W. Scripss Co. also is traded on the NYSE with the ticker symbol "SSP."

“As dawn broke across our markets this morning, Journal Media Group continued a vital and proud tradition of providing communities with compelling public service journalism. That tradition started with the commitment of media pioneers Edward W. Scripps and Lucius W. Nieman and has continued for more than 130 years under the stewardship of The E.W. Scripps Company and Journal Communications,” said Tim Stautberg, president and chief executive officer of Journal Media Group. “The opportunity to be more engaged and more meaningful in the lives of our customers has never been bigger, and we look forward to transforming our relationships with both consumers and the advertisers who wish to reach them.”

The companies also merged their broadcast operations under a separate company, which will retain The E.W. Scripps Co. name, and will continue to be based in Cincinnati. The Scripps family shareholders will continue to have voting control. The company has about 4,000 employees and an annual revenue of more than $800 million.

The deal means WTMJ-Channel 4 and radio stations AM-620-WTMJ and FM-94.5-WLWK have become part of Scripps.

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Regional companies named among best Wisconsin workplaces for Millennials
April 1, 2015 11:01 AM
Newaukee on Tuesday revealed the best places in Wisconsin for young professionals to work, after a panel of young professional leaders from across the state vetted nominations submitted by employees.

Winners will receive “Bubbler Awards” and will be honored at a ceremony held during YPWeek Wisconsin’s kickoff on Saturday, April 11, in Wausau.

Among this year’s Bubbler Award winners are a handful of companies located in southeastern Wisconsin: Kohl’s Corporation of Menomonee Falls, Harley-Davidson Motor Company of Milwaukee, Robert W. Baird & Co. of Milwaukee, United Hospital System of Kenosha and z2 Marketing of Waukesha.

Additional award winners include Associated Bank of Green Bay; Greenheck of Wausau; Shoutlet, Inc. of Madison; Weidert Group, Inc. of Appleton; and Zendesk of Madison.

The awards program emphasizes “what Millennials are looking for in today’s workplace,” according to Newaukee, and factors in competitive salary and benefits, opportunities for development and advancement, and both employee and community engagement.

“The Bubbler Awards shine a light on the companies who have made great strides to accommodate the interests of a shifting workforce,” Angela Damiani, president of Newaukee, said in a press release. “A lot of attention is paid to the picture of Millennials as discontent or disinterested in traditional forms of employment. We are eager to showcase the realty of how many Wisconsin-based companies are allowing young professionals to call this state home.”

Newaukee is partnering with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and other young professionals groups on fleshing out the first-ever YPWeek Wisconsin. The week will roll out with more than 90 events in eight cities Saturday, April 11, through Saturday, April 18. For more information on the lineup of events and their locations, visit www.ypweek.com.

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Milwaukee 7 selected for foreign direct investment program
April 1, 2015 11:27 AM
The Milwaukee 7 Regional Economic Development Partnership has been selected to participate in a program to create a foreign direct investment plan for the Milwaukee region.

Participation in the Global Cities Initiative, led by the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase, will allow the Milwaukee 7 to build off its existing Milwaukee Region Export Plan to fortify its relationships with international investors.

Through the GCI, the Milwaukee region will have guidance on generating relevant data, developing policy and creating a network of peers in its pursuit of economic growth through exports and foreign direct investment.

According to the Brookings Institution, Milwaukee was selected for the program because of its efforts to include foreign direct investment in local transactions, like greenfield expansions, mergers and acquisitions, EB-5, private equity, joint ventures and sovereign wealth funds.

The Milwaukee region will be represented by Jim Paetsch, vice president of the M7; Katy Sinnot, vice president of international business development at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.; Jenny Trick, executive director of the Racine County Economic Development Corp.; and John Bernaden, director of Rockwell Automation. The group will create a foreign direct investment market assessment and plan, an implementation plan and a policy memo with the goal of supplementing existing regional export efforts to increase Milwaukee’s international relationships and economic competitiveness.

“This FDI program, combined with the region’s export plan, will create a well-rounded, integrated set of strategies and implementation plans that will be part of an overall global trade and investment program that strengthens the region's global engagement and competitiveness,” said Pat O’Brien, executive director of the Milwaukee 7. “Developing relationships, sharing practices and establishing ongoing engagement in global markets between the two initiatives will lead to longer-term, sustainable global trade and investment success.”

Other cities selected for the GCI are: Atlanta; Des Moines, Iowa; Update S.C. representing the Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson CSA; Los Angeles; and Syracuse, N.Y.

“For this next phase, we selected metro areas that are committed to attracting and leveraging foreign direct investment as part of a comprehensive global trade and investment strategy,” said Brad McDearman, Brookings fellow and director of global special projects. “The six metro areas selected for this round will be strong role models for other regions and represent a growing group of leaders who understand the need to embrace the global market to remain competitive in the 21st century economy.”

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Discovery World adds Monday hours
April 1, 2015 11:43 AM
A recent Northwestern Mutual Foundation grant gifted to Discovery World will allow the museum to add Monday hours to its hours of operations this spring and summer.

The museum, which contains hands-on exhibits related to science and technology, has traditionally been closed on Mondays. Thanks to support from Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual, the museum will open its doors each Monday from April 6 through Aug. 31.

The extra hours of operation will equip Discovery World with the capacity to host more school groups and tourists as visits pick up throughout spring and summer months. The museum’s pique season runs March through June, and since the beginning of 2015, school field trips to Discovery World have jumped more than 25 percent over the same time frame last year.

“This generous support enables us to meet that increased demand from schools and provides more opportunities for the public to visit several brand new experiences we will unveil this summer,” Joel Brennan, president and chief executive officer of Discovery World, said in a press release.

The museum will tout the additional hours next week as Milwaukee Public Schools and other schools in the region go on spring break. During the week, the museum plans to facilitate special robotics events.

Northwestern Mutual Foundation’s recent grant adds to its passion for sustaining the city’s cultural amenities.

“Our hometown of Milwaukee is filled with a diverse array of arts, entertainment and cultural activities, which we’re honored to support as a company,” said John Kordsmeier, president of the foundation. “This grant allows one of these treasured destinations, Discovery World, to be open seven days a week, giving even more residents and tourists the opportunity to enjoy and learn at the museum.”

Discovery World’s standard admission rates will apply for Monday visitors. For more information on rates as well as the museum’s exhibits, visit www.discoveryworld.org.

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Morning Headlines: Lambeau Field sales tax to end in 6 months
April 1, 2015 11:34 AM
The Lambeau Field sales tax awaits only confirmation by the state Department of Revenue to become history.

Read more in today’s Wisconsin Morning Headlines.

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Real Estate Weekly: Abele buys condo in The Moderne for $2.1 million
April 1, 2015 11:36 AM
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele purchased a condominium on the 29th floor of The Moderne in downtown Milwaukee for $2.1 million, according to state records.

Read more in today’s Real Estate Weekly.

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Manufacturers picked up the pace in March
March 31, 2015 10:41 AM
Manufacturing activity in southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois saw an uptick in growth in March, according to a new report.

The Marquette-ISM Report on Manufacturing showed the seasonally adjusted Purchasing Managers Index was at 53.25 in March, up from 50.32 in February.  

Any number more than 50 indicates growth, while less than 50 signals contraction. The PMI has measured more than 50 for 17 of the past 19 months.

In the March survey, respondents said:
  • The industry has been starting to experience an increase in sales.
  • New orders are now starting to come in. It will take several weeks before they hit production.
  • Companies are attempting to utilize a Kanban method in order to achieve Just In Time production.
  • Prices have increased for some products, but the majority has stayed relatively the same. The price increases have been a result of it being a new year. A key note is that U.S. scrap metal prices have been falling.
New orders, production, inventories, backlog of orders and imports grew in March. Employment, supplier deliveries, customers’ inventories, prices and exports all either declined or slowed their growth.

Regarding these indices, respondents said:
  • There have been late vendor shipments even with sufficient lead times. Along with that, there have been vendor part quality problems. This is a concern for the long term as companies are still trying to find good quality suppliers.
  • The biggest issue being faced is a lack of quality service vendors. The problems with vendors tends to be either they do not have enough personnel or have the wrong personnel in place. This causes orders to be lost or delayed, billing to be incorrect, and communication to be non-existent.
  • The rise and fall of natural gas and oil prices has not significantly impacted products that use them as cost drivers (i.e. transportation and airline prices are not going down in spite of slumping oil prices).
  • The West Coast ports have opened.
Seasonally adjusted blue collar employment increased from 46.5 in February to 51.9 in March, while seasonally adjusted white collar employment declined from 58.1 in February to 46.1 in March.

In the six-month outlook on business conditions, respondents indicated an upward shift in positive expectations compared with February. About 53.3 percent of respondents expect positive conditions over the next six months, 40 percent expect conditions to remain the same and 6.7 percent expect conditions to worsen within the next six months.

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Rolling Stones to perform Milwaukee concert on June 23
March 31, 2015 06:31 AM
The Summerfest website now confirms that The Rolling Stones will perform in Milwaukee at the Marcus Amphitheater on June 23.

That is the night before Summerfest officially opens, so the Rolling Stones will provide "the ultimate kick-off to Summerfest," the festival's website says.

Rolling Stones ticket holders will be invited to join in the official pre-party, presented by Fiduciary Management Inc., inside of the Summerfest grounds South Gate, featuring two stages of live entertainment with food and beverage available for purchase, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. before the Rolling Stones concert.

Read more at the website of WISN TV Channel 12 or at OnMilwaukee.com. Both are media partners of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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Zilber to build three spec industrial buildings in region
March 31, 2015 11:03 AM
Milwaukee-based Zilber Property Group announced today that it will break ground on three spec industrial buildings this spring in southeastern Wisconsin.

In Kenosha, Zilber will build a 173,165-square-foot spec industrial building between 58th Place and 60th Street in the Business Park of Kenosha. The site is less than a mile from I-94 via state Highway 158. It will be the seventh spec industrial project by Zilber in Kenosha in the last seven years.

In Pewaukee, Zilber will build a 113,665-square-foot spec industrial building on Watertown Road in the Ridgeview Corporate Park.

In Menomonee Falls, Zilber will build a 146,423-square-foot spec industrial building on Manhardt Drive in the Lilly Creek Business Park.

“The Zilber organization is pleased to bring these properties to market in three well-proven southeast Wisconsin markets,” said John Kersey, executive vice president of Zilber Ltd.

The Zilber projects are the latest in a growing number of speculative industrial projects that are planned or under construction in southeastern Wisconsin as developers respond to strong demand and declining supply. In 2014, the region’s industrial space vacancy rate fell from 6 percent to 5.13 percent and the region’s industrial real estate market absorbed 5.3 million square feet of space, including 1.8 million during the fourth quarter, according to Xceligent data. Kenosha County absorbed 1.5 million square feet of industrial space in 2014 and ended the year with a vacancy rate of 3.45 percent. Waukesha County absorbed 350,484 square feet of industrial space in 2014 and ended the year with a 3.62 percent vacancy rate.

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Blackthorne Partners acquires Milwaukee fireplace door manufacturer
March 31, 2015 12:15 PM
Milwaukee-based fireplace door manufacturer Design Specialties Inc. has been acquired by Brookfield private equity firm Blackthorne Partners Ltd. and Michael Draves.

Design Specialties, which declined to disclose its employee count, makes doors, screens and other hearth accessories sold at specialty hearth retailers across the U.S. and Canada. It was founded in 1983 and will remain at its 40,000-square-foot factory at 11100 W. Heather Ave. on Milwaukee’s northwest side.

Pat Gengler, current company owner and president, is retiring. He has owned the company since 1997, and sought a buyer who would commit to long-term growth for the business.

“Employment will probably increase. The new owners have aggressive growth plans and it’s going to take employees to make that happen,” Gengler said.

Michael Draves will serve as president of Design Specialties. He has extensive experience in consumer products sectors, including in leadership positions at Brillion-based Ariens Co., Kohler-based Kohler Co., Sears Holdings Corp. and Pacific Cycle.

“I was very selective in choosing the new ownership,” Gengler said. “I wanted an ownership group who was entrepreneurial, had the owner/operator mentality, had capital to invest and was customer-focused. I wanted someone who understood our culture and our tradition of excellence. I found everything I was looking for with Mike Draves and Blackthorne Partners.”

Draves said he was attracted to Design Specialties’ established market position, as well as the financial strength and management expertise contributed by Blackthorne.

“Design Specialties is known throughout the country for its high quality fireplace doors and accessories,” Draves said. “Along with strong name recognition among consumers, the company has a strong and loyal dealer network which we will continue to support. I’m looking forward to working with the company’s talented staff to enhance our operations so we remain the market leader known for quality and innovation.”

The deal closed on Monday. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“Pat Gengler has done a tremendous job growing this company and positioning it as a market leader,” said Steve Balistreri, a Blackthorne Partners managing director. “Our goal is to build upon that success so Design Specialties remains the premier fireplace door company in North America for the long term.”

Blackthorne’s portfolio now includes skid steer attachment manufacturer Berlon Industries, food processing machinery manufacturer Hughes Equipment Co., SAP information technology consultants group:basis, pallet manufacturer Pallet USA and Integrated Medical partners, which owns a portfolio of health care information technology service businesses. It is actively seeking to acquire other Midwestern firms with $4 million to $15 million in revenues and EBITDA of $1 million.

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Johnson Controls competitor targets Wandell to be chairman
March 31, 2015 11:46 AM
Keith Wandell, who will retire as president and chief executive officer of Harley-Davidson Inc., plans to return to the battery business by accepting the appointment of chairman of the board of Exide Technologies.

Before taking the helm of Harley, Wandell was president and chief operating officer of Glendale-based Johnson Controls Inc., a competitor of Exide.

Exide, which is based in the Atlanta suburb of Milton, Ga., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011 after losing a bid for an exclusive contract to provide transportation batteries for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to rival Johnson Controls.

Wandell will retire from Harley on May 1.

John Olin, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Harley, also plans to join the Exide board.

The appointments of Wandell and Olin to the Exide board were proposed in the company’s reorganization filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

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