Kenosha County’s population ranks only fourth among the southeastern Wisconsin counties, but because of its proximity to the Chicago area, it is one of the most active development areas in the region and has become one of the most important areas in the state for economic development.
Kenosha County has attracted businesses from the Chicago area for years, but activity seems to have increased recently as several firms have announced plans this year to move from Illinois to Kenosha County.
“There are a significant amount of companies (looking for space in Kenosha County),” said Josh Wheeler, vice president of City of Industry, Calif.-based Majestic Realty Co. “The velocity seems to have increased since the start of summer. We’ve been getting more calls from people the last four to five months.”
Majestic is one of several real estate development firms working on major projects in Kenosha County, including some that are clearly intended to attract more companies from Illinois.
The number of major relocations to Kenosha County and development projects there is impressive, especially considering the county’s population of about 168,000. You might need a scorecard to try to keep up with the activity.
Illinois firms with plans to move, or that have recently completed moves, to Kenosha County include:
- Kenall Manufacturing Co., a commercial lighting manufacturer, recently announced plans to move its corporate headquarters and manufacturing operations from Gurnee, Ill. to a new, $32 million, 354,000-square-foot building that it will construct southwest of Highway 158 and 104th Avenue, just south of the Kenosha Regional Airport. With the move the company will bring 400 employees to Kenosha and plans to hire another 200 in the next 4-5 years.
Kenall currently has two facilities in Gurnee with a total of 140,000 square feet of space, and needed to expand.
“We did a very thorough search,” said Jim Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of Kenall. “The decision we made was based on real facts. This certainly was our best option.”
- Hanna Cylinders, a manufacturer of industrial grade tie-rod and custom engineered cylinders, plans to move all of its operations from Libertyville, Ill. to Pleasant Prairie, the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA) announced recently. The firm has 100 employees that it will move to Pleasant Prairie, where it has signed a lease to occupy a 105,637-square-foot facility at 8901 102nd St. The move is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
- Earlier this year, EMCO Chemical Distributors Inc. completed the relocation of its corporate headquarters from North Chicago, Ill. to a 260,000-square-foot facility at 8601 95th St. in Pleasant Prairie. The move brought about 125 employees to Kenosha County.
- Also earlier this year, Finland-based Konecranes moved its operations from Gurnee, Ill. to a 45,479-square-foot space at 9505 72nd Ave. in Pleasant Prairie.
- CenterPoint Wispark Land Company LLC is building a 471,403-square-foot industrial building north of 109th Street between 80th and 88th Avenues in Pleasant Prairie for Ta Chen International Inc. The facility will be the new Midwest distribution center for Ta Chen, which will move its operations there from Gurnee, Ill.
- L&M Corrugated Container Corp. plans to move its operations from Zion, Ill. to a 99,838-sqaure-foot building at 10680 88th Ave., Pleasant Prairie.
- Earlier this year Good Foods Group LLC moved its corporate headquarters and production operations from Chicago to a 57,000-square-foot building at 10100 88th Ave., Pleasant Prairie.
More firms could be on their way to Kenosha County. Pleasant Prairie officials are working on potential deals with additional firms scouting the village said community development director Jean Werbie-Harris.
“We’ve got other projects that we’re working on,” said Todd Battle, president of the Kenosha Area Business Alliance. “We think there’s a lot of opportunity.”
One of the biggest opportunities could be New York-based KTR Capital Partners’ plans to build a 1-million-square-foot distribution center southeast of I-94 and County Highway S in Kenosha. The name of the tenant has not been disclosed, but commercial real estate sources say it will be Seattle-based Amazon.com.
Most of the companies coming to Kenosha County are seeking industrial space. Kenosha County absorbed 697,171 square feet of industrial space during the first half of the year, the second highest amount of southeastern Wisconsin counties exceed only by the 812,277 square feet of space absorbed in Waukesha county, according to Xceligent. Developers are responding to the companies that are making plans to move into Kenosha County by making plans for new buildings and business parks. The industrial space vacancy rate in Kenosha County is at 6.0 percent according to Xceligent Inc. second quarter data, and that likely includes older buildings that are considered obsolete by most tenants.
Kenosha County has a lack of available, quality industrial space, Wheeler said.
“The issue is that there is not enough product (in Kenosha County) for these companies to move into,” he said.
Wheeler’s firm, Majestic Realty Company plans to build a 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center on an 88-acre site east of 88th Avenue and south of Bain Station Road in Pleasant Prairie. The firm is trying to decide if it will be a spec building, or if it will be built for a specific tenant or tenants, Wheeler said.
“We’re doing some minor site work right now to be prepared to start construction in early spring,” he said.
Majestic also plans to develop a 309-acre business park northeast of 88th Avenue and County Highway S in the Town of Somers. The firm is still in the due diligence phase of the project and is talking with state and local officials about how to extend infrastructure to the site, Wheeler said.
Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Venture One Real Estate LLC plans to develop a 254-acre corporate business park, to be known as Riverview Corporate Park, east of I-94 between 110th and 122nd streets in Pleasant Prairie.
Greenwich, Ct.-based Starwood Capital Group plans to develop a 10-acre office development between 88th and 91st Avenues and 76th Street and Prairie Ridge Boulevard in Pleasant Prairie. The site could be developed with up to four office buildings, ranging in size from 11,500 to 20,000 square feet, village officials said.
Milwaukee-based Zilber Property Group plans to build a 100,000 to 175,000-square-foot speculative industrial building at 95th Street and Green Bay Road in Pleasant Prairie.
Seeking a large Kenosha County space for a distribution center, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer Inc. bought a 580,000-square-foot distribution center last year from Supervalu Inc. Located on the west side of state Highway 31 between state Highways 50 and 165, Meijer plans to add 253,677 square feet of space to the facility, bringing its total size to 833,677 square feet. Meijer also plans to build a 192,940-square-foot grocery store at 7701 Green Bay Road in Kenosha.
Other development planned in Kenosha County includes Bear Development’s plans to build a 93-room Hampton Inn hotel at the northwest corner of Highway 50 and 125th Avenue in Kenosha. The Bob Rohrman Auto Group is building a Nissan dealership in the Town of Bristol, on 120th Avenue, just north of the CarMax dealership along the west side of I-94. Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care is building a $31 million, 61,082-square-foot complex for cancer treatment and a pain management and ophthalmology center at 118th Avenue and 68th Street in Kenosha.
Several small retail developments are cropping up in Kenosha County. U.S. Cellular, Heartland Dental Care and Batteries Plus Bulbs will occupy a 9,000-square-foot retail building that Milwaukee-based Evo Development plans to build at 10288 77th St. in Pleasant Prairie. Wilmette, Ill.-based Terraco Inc. plans to build a 10,498-square-foot multi-tenant retail building in the Kenosha Pointe development northeast of Green Bay Road and Washington Road in Kenosha. The building will be occupied by a 4,000-square-foot Forward Dental clinic and a 1,500-square-foot Subway restaurant. Family Dollar recently leased 9,000 square feet of retail space in the Center 50 shopping complex at 4623 75th St. in Pleasant Prairie.
Businesses moving from Illinois to Wisconsin are able to take advantage of lower costs for real estate and energy. Some companies that need more space to expand have difficulty finding available sites or facilities in parts of the Chicago area.
In addition, business owners that are moving their companies to Kenosha County, real estate professionals and local officials say the pro-business approach and cooperative efforts of the state of Wisconsin and local governments and the work of the Kenosha Area Business Alliance has played a major role in attracting businesses and development to Kenosha County.
“The efforts of KABA are second to none,” said S.R. Mills, president of Bear Development.
Hawkins said Gov. Scott Walker was directly involved in attracting his firm to the state, which he said was “a big deal.” Walker provided the company with his cell phone number to be available to answer any questions, Hawkins said.
“We are working together very strongly to bring these companies up here,” Werbie-Harris said.
State and local incentives have also played a key role in attracting businesses to move to Kenosha County. The package for Kenall will include a $1 million loan from the Kenosha County high impact fund. Hawkins declined to provide details of the entire incentive package saying it has not been finalized. But, he said, “we could not have moved here without the incentives. The incentives were very attractive. The state was very aggressive. (But) if we don’t meet goals for growth, we don’t get the incentives.”
State government has taken numerous actions to make Wisconsin more attractive to business, including a tax credit that will be phased in over the next four years that will reduce the corporate income tax rate for manufacturers from 7.9 to 0.4 percent, Battle said. Although their corporate income tax rate has been virtually phased out, manufacturers still pay property, payroll and sales taxes in the state, he pointed out.
In contrast, many business owners in Illinois have become alarmed about that state government’s worst-in-the-nation, $100 billion unfunded pension debt.
“Let’s just say it’s a concern,” Hawkins said.
While Illinois residents wonder how to solve their state’s pension problems, a recent political debate in Wisconsin has focused on an economic wild card for Kenosha County: the casino proposed by the Menominee Indian Tribe at the former Dairyland Greyhound Park at 5522 104th Ave. in Kenosha. The tribe has received federal government approval to build the casino, but the final decision is up to Walker, and the tribe is trying to convince him to support it. If built the $808 million facility would have a 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, 50,000 square feet of retail space, several restaurants, a 400-room hotel and a 5,000-seat multipurpose entertainment facility. The tribe says the facility would create 3,300 jobs and the construction of the facility would create 1,400 construction jobs.
“If the Kenosha casino is ultimately approved, the tribe will buy Dairyland Greyhound Park – which is currently closed, shuttered and gathering dust – from an Alabama-based owners group. That site will then become locally owned and a vibrant economic development project that will create thousands of new jobs for Wisconsin residents and generate millions of dollars in new revenue for state and local governments,” said Evan Zeppos, a spokesman for the Menominee tribe.
No matter what happens, life in Kenosha County is going to be very interesting for years to come.