Elkhorn treats business right

Like many cities in Walworth county, Elkhorn occupies a mid-point location between Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. One of the bonuses of building next to I-43 is that Elkhorn’s industrial park may generate interest from passing motorists from one of the metropolitan areas.
One such motorist, John Reese, a plant manager for Greenfield-based Everbrite Indoor Signs, was driving past Elkhorn’s industrial park when he noticed a Snap-On Tools’ building. Reese was in the midst of looking for a site for a new Everbrite plant when the Elkhorn industrial park caught his eye and sparked his curiosity.
Reese contacted George Martin, Elkhorn’s economic development consultant, to find out the availability of a site for Everbrite. After taking a tour of the park and talking with Martin, Reese was convinced that Elkhorn was the place for Everbrite’s new plant.
Operations in the 66,000-square-foot facility began in January 1997. The company has room to add another 40,000 square feet and the right of first refusal on the lot next to its plant which could bring the square footage up to 200,000, if needed.
In addition to a location convenient to Everbrite’s four other southeastern Wisconsin facilities, Reese liked the fact that Gateway Technical College is within walking distance of the plant. Everbrite sends its employees there for management and technical training on a regular basis, according to Reese.
Elkhorn is a transportation hub with its proximity to I-43, and Highways 67, 12 and 11.
The labor situation is a plus, too, despite record low unemployment rates throughout Wisconsin. “There was very low unemployment when we came here,” Reese says. “But there was a tremendous amount of underemployment in this area.”
Elkhorn has a history of economic development that dates back to the end of World War II, according to Martin. That’s when the Elkhorn Development Co. was formed to attract businesses to bring jobs to town for returning servicemen.
Steady development followed until the early 1980s when the city decided to develop a 120-acre business park. The land was fully developed with sewer, water, paved streets, street lighting and utilities already in place.
The fully developed site-strategy worked as the EDC found the park at near capacity by 1988. It then purchased an adjacent 183-square-foot farm to begin Phase II.
When so many other cities in Walworth County are just as centrally located, why do businesses choose to locate in Elkhorn, a city of approximately 6,000?
“I can’t say enough about the people in the Elkhorn Development Co.,” says Carl A. Mancini, CEO of Arrow Products, Inc., a manufacturer of sewing machine cabinets and provider of electronic billing services.
Four years ago, Arrow had outgrown its facility in Lake Geneva when Mancini started to look for sites in both Lake Geneva and nearby Elkhorn. What sold Mancini on Elkhorn was the efforts made by the EDC and Martin.
“They really bent over backwards to help us out,” Mancini says. “It costs money when certain paperwork gets stuck on someone’s desk (in Madison). The Elkhorn people, from the mayor to George Martin, knew whom to call to get things done.”
Mancini also thought there were several disadvantages in remaining in Lake Geneva. He felt Lake Geneva’s primary economic focus was on its tourist industry. And because the city draws so many summer tourists, traffic congestion was also a problem at that time of year.
“It seemed like the Lake Geneva [economic development] people were self-serving,” Mancini says. “Elkhorn doesn’t have as much [as Lake Geneva] to attract people so they really treat business owners well.”
Mancini liked the Elkhorn park so much that Arrow now has three facilities operating there. The plant in Lake Geneva is being shut down.
For his part, Martin fields inquiries from an average of five businesses a week.
“We don’t recruit from neighboring communities,” Martin says. “We aren’t raiding. It’s sort of an understanding. Of course, we’re not going to kick someone out if they want to move here.”
— Susan Nord
July 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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