Kenosha County on quite a winning streak

The hits keep on coming in Kenosha County, and I’m not just talking about the bats at historic Simmons Field.

The Kenosha Kingfish, a new baseball team in the Northwoods League (a summer league for college players that also includes the Lakeshore Chinooks in Mequon), recently began play at the newly renovated and expanded Simmons Field, built in 1920 at 7817 Sheridan Road. The ballpark now has a capacity for 3,218 fans, and it was sold out on opening night.

But there is a lot more to cheer about in Kenosha County these days than just baseball. Numerous business expansions, relocations and developments have occurred in the county in recent years and several major projects have been announced already this year.

Kenosha County officials and area real estate brokers say more big deals are in the pipeline.

Uline’s existing headquarters

“We’re not done yet,” said Pleasant Prairie Village Administrator Michael Pollocoff. “There is still a lot of good interest in the area.”

The latest business hit for Kenosha County is the recent announcement by Pleasant Prairie-based Uline that it plans to double the size of its corporate headquarters campus, located southwest of I-94 and Highway 165/Q. In 2010, the company moved from Waukegan, Ill. to a new 200,000-square-foot office building and a new 1 million-square-foot distribution center at the Pleasant Prairie site. Now the firm plans to build another 200,000-square-foot office building and another 1 million-square-foot distribution center at the campus. The company plans to add 500 jobs in the expansion. It currently has about 1,100 employees in Pleasant Prairie.

Amazon.com warehouse under construction in Kenosha.

Kenosha County has attracted several firms from the Chicago area where costs are higher and available land for development, particularly industrial development, is at a premium.

“(The appeal of Kenosha County is because of) available land for us,” said Phil Hunt, Uline executive vice president. “Every time we want to try to find land to expand, we’ve always had to come to Wisconsin.”

When prominent firms like Uline announce expansion plans in Kenosha County, it gets the attention of other businesses that consider the area, Pollocoff said.

“I don’t think I have another Uline coming, but we are talking with several other (businesses considering Kenosha County),” he said.

Industrial real estate broker Jeff Hoffman, vice president of Judson & Associates, says a few additional large tenants are looking at the Kenosha area real estate market.

“There are a handful of additional tenants in that marketplace (seeking 150,000 square feet of space and up),” he said. “I see a couple-year run there (of significant deals).”

At least one tenant looking at the Kenosha area is seeking 300,000 square feet of space, said Adam Matson of NAI MLG Commercial. The Kenosha area should remain attractive to industrial tenants for years to come, he said.

“I think it’s going to keep going on until Illinois can match what Kenosha offers,” Matson said. “We have a business friendly climate, taxes are fine, employee costs are low, we’re on the distribution line.”

Also a big hit for Kenosha was the recent announcement that Racine-based InSinkErator plans to establish operations in a 160,000-square-foot building at 5612 95th Ave in the Business Park of Kenosha on the city’s west side. The building, previously occupied by an envelope manufacturing plant, has been vacant for about a year and a half.

InSinkErator, a manufacturer of food waste disposers, said it plans to create 165 new jobs at the Kenosha facility and its existing facility in Racine.

The absorption of 160,000 square feet of space in the InSinkErator deal adds to the hot industrial real estate market in Kenosha County. The county had an industrial space vacancy rate of only 4.2 percent in the first quarter and absorbed 77,597 square feet of industrial space in the quarter, according to Xceligent. Kenosha County absorbed 1.66 million square feet of industrial space in 2013.

InSinkErator’s Kenosha facility will be located near a 34-acre site at 104th Avenue and 55th Street where Kenall Manufacturing Co. will build a new 354,000-square-foot corporate headquarters and manufacturing operation. The company will move there from Gurnee, Ill. With the move, the company will bring 400 employees to Kenosha and plans to hire another 200 in the next 4 to 5 years. A groundbreaking ceremony for the Kenall project was held in May.

Also announced this spring, Ontario, Calif.-based Niagara Bottling LLC plans to build a $56 million, 377,000-square-foot facility in the LakeView Corporate Park at 11031 88th Ave. in Pleasant Prairie. The facility will package and distribute private label water for customers as well as the Niagara label. It is expected to open in early 2015. The $56 million project is expected to create about 40 jobs in the first phase. The plant initially will include one production line with the option of installing additional lines in the future.

Niagara Bottling will be a major utility user in the Pleasant Prairie, which will help drive down sewer and water rates for others in the village, Pollocoff said. That will help Pleasant Prairie attract other food and beverage manufacturers, he said.

“It will make the village much more competitive for food manufacturers and food processors,” he said.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the biggest economic development project in Kenosha County. New York-based private equity firm KTR Capital Partners is building a 1.1 million-square-foot distribution center and a 500,000-square-foot distribution center on a site northeast of I-94 and 38th Street in Kenosha for Seattle-based Amazon.com. Total Amazon employment in Kenosha could reach 1,575 at the two facilities. Amazon hopes to have both buildings completed by the end of this year.

At the announcement of the Uline expansion, Gov. Scott Walker joked that he has been to Kenosha County so often for business expansion or relocation announcements that some have suggested he get an apartment there.

“Kenosha County is a hot spot,” Walker said. “Keep (Kenosha Area Business Alliance President) Todd Battle and KABA as busy as possible.”

But Walker still has not made a decision on another potential development in Kenosha County: the Menominee tribe’s proposed $810 million Hard Rock Casino & Hotel development at the site of the former Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha. The tribe says the facility would create 3,300 jobs. The casino would have 2,700 slot machines, 100 table games and 24 poker games in a 400,000-square-foot building. An entertainment venue and retail area also would be included in the space. The second phase of the project would feature a hotel, spa and pool.

It appears Walker will make his decision on the Kenosha casino after the November election, when he hopes to be re-elected.

With all of the new jobs being created in Kenosha County, the housing market there could be on the verge of an uptick. In Kenosha County, home sales for the first four months of the year were down 5 percent to 568, likely slowed by the bitter cold weather at the start of the year, but the average prices of homes sold in the county were up 10 percent to $110,000, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Up to 100 homes could be built this year in Pleasant Prairie, Pollocoff said, a far cry from 200 per year during the pre-Great Recession boom years but a big improvement from 2009, when only 10 homes were built in the village as the market bottomed out. Despite the increase in home building, it will probably be at least two years before another subdivision is proposed in Pleasant Prairie.

“Some developers left a lot of lots on the table (during the Great Recession),” Pollocoff said. “We still have a pretty good surplus of lots.”

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