Milwaukee Biz Blog: The biggest local business stories of 2017

Much more than just Foxconn

Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons. Credit: Jon Elliott of MKE Drones LLC
Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons. Credit: Jon Elliott of MKE Drones LLC

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 02:46 pm

Although one huge Foxconn story dominated headlines this year, there was no shortage of other local business news in 2017.

And so as 2017 comes to a close, I have compiled my annual picks for the biggest southeastern Wisconsin business news stories of the year. For some perspective, you can check out my list of the biggest local business stories of 2016 and 2015.

Here’s my list, in descending order, of the biggest area business stories of 2017:

20. Milwaukee gets more flights
Traffic at Mitchell International Airport has been on the rise and several airlines added new service there this year. Delta Air Lines announced it will launch new daily nonstop service between Milwaukee and Salt Lake City and Seattle and increased its Boston service to twice daily. Southwest Airlines added service from Milwaukee to Houston, Nashville and Cleveland. Frontier Airlines added service from Mitchell to Miami and Tampa. Allegiant entered the Milwaukee market to provide nonstop service from here to Phoenix and several destinations in Florida. Alaska Airlines launched direct service from Milwaukee to Portland, Oregon. Mexican airline Volaris began offering direct flights from Milwaukee to Guadalajara, Mexico.

19. Roadrunner moves HQ to Illinois
Roadrunner Transportation Systems Inc. moved its headquarters from Cudahy to Downers Grove, Illinois. Roadrunner revamped its management team this year following the discovery of accounting errors that could result in $20 million to $25 million in adjustments and more than $200 million in goodwill impairment charges.

A Guaranty Bank branch at East Pointe Marketplace on Milwaukee’s East Side.

18. Feds shut down Guaranty Bank
Glendale-based Guaranty Bank failed in May and was acquired by Raleigh, North Carolina-based First Citizens Bank & Trust Co. The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency shut down Guaranty and appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as receiver. In order to protect Guaranty depositors, the FDIC arranged for First Citizens to assume all of Guaranty’s deposits and purchase $829.6 million of its assets. Guaranty had 119 branches in five states, just 12 of which remain open. About 500 Guaranty Bank employees were laid off.

17. Milwaukee Tool completes HQ expansion
Milwaukee Tool completed a majority of the work for a $33 million expansion of its Brookfield headquarters this year. The centerpiece is the construction of a four-story, 200,000-square-foot office building. Other projects included: a façade renovation of the existing 183,000-square-foot brick headquarters building, a 20,000-square-foot expansion of the Rapid Innovation Center and a 10,000-square-foot addition to the annex building on the campus.

16. Komatsu completes acquisition of Joy Global
Komatsu America Corp. completed its acquisition of Milwaukee-based mining equipment manufacturer Joy Global Inc. earlier this year. Joy Global was renamed Komatsu Mining, which retains Joy Global’s Milwaukee headquarters and will operate as a subsidiary of Japan-based Komatsu Ltd. The company will continue to promote and invest in the P&H, Joy and Montabert product brands.

15. Milwaukee Public Museum considers relocation
Rather than renovate its current location at 800 W. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Museumleadership has decided to move the museum to a new downtown location in the next five to 10 years, according to MPM president and chief executive officer Dennis Kois. However, museum spokesperson Jenni Tetzlaff said the museum does not have any specific plans for a new location in place, or an official cost estimate for the project.

An exterior view of the MSOE computational science hall from the north on Milwaukee Street. (Rendering: Uihlein/Wilson — Ramlow/Stein Architects)

14. MSOE plans $34 million computational science hall
Milwaukee School of Engineering announced plans to build a $34 million computational science facility, funded by a donation from MSOE regent Dwight Diercks and his wife Dian. The new four-story, 64,000-square-foot facility will be built near the corner of Milwaukee and State streets in the center of MSOE’s campus. It will feature a state-of-the-art datacenter, which will include a graphics processing unit-accelerated supercomputer that will be used by students and local industries. The new computational science facility will position MSOE as a national leader in artificial intelligence education, deep learning, cyber security, robotics and cloud computing, university officials said.

13. Rockwell rejects overtures from Emerson
Rockwell Automation’s board rejected three takeover offers, the highest valued at $29 million, from St. Louis-based Emerson Electric Co., declaring the deal undervalued Milwaukee-based Rockwell, presented significant long-term risk and would not leave the combined company in a position to compete. “Bigger is not always better for driving growth and value creation,” said Blake Moret, Rockwell president and chief executive officer. “While Emerson may see this proposed acquisition as necessary to enhance its growth and earnings potential and expand its capabilities in the industrial automation and information market, Rockwell does not.”

12. Potawatomi begins construction of second hotel tower
Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley held a groundbreaking ceremony in December to celebrate the start of construction for its second hotel tower, a 19-story addition that will expand the property by 180,000 square feet. The $80 million project will add 119 rooms and suites to the 381-room hotel, bringing the total room count to 500 and making it the second largest hotel in the city. The hotel will also feature a spa and additional meeting space. It is expected to open in the spring of 2019.

11. Aurora plans three big projects in region
Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care this year announced plans for three major facility projects in southeastern Wisconsin. Aurora announced it plans to build a new, $324 million hospital in Kohler. The hospital, which would replace the Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center, would be built on a 56-acre site northwest of Union Avenue (County Road TT) and South Taylor Drive, between the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan campus and the Acuity corporate headquarters, along I-43. Aurora also is planning a $130 million medical office building and an outpatient care center west of I-94 in Kenosha. The project would include a 100,000-square-foot outpatient care center and a 100,000-square-foot, three-story medical office building. Aurora also announced plans for a $55.5 million ambulatory surgery center and medical office building at the 84South mixed use development west of South 84th Street, between I-894 and West Layton Avenue, in Greenfield.

A rendering of the planned American Family Insurance Amphitheater prepared by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

10. More big changes planned at Summerfest
Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., the nonprofit organization that runs Summerfest, released plans in January to replace the Marcus Amphitheater at Henry Maier Festival Park with a new main stage sponsored by Madison-based American Family Insurance. The Marcus Amphitheater, which was completed in 1987 and cost $12 million to build, is the largest stage on the Summerfest grounds and seats around 23,000 people. The new amphitheater, to be called the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, also will seat about 23,000 people. Milwaukee World Festival President and Chief Executive Officer Don Smiley estimated the new amphitheater will cost between $30 million and $35 million to build. Smiley said the organization is tentatively planning to select a contractor and begin construction in 2019. In September, work began for a new north entry gate at Henry Maier Festival Park and the creation of a new community plaza adjacent to Urban Park. The project will be complete in time for the 2018 Summerfest. In December, officials announced plans for a new Uline Warehouse stage at the north end of Henry Maier Festival Park.

9. U.S. Open played at Erin Hills
For the first time the U.S. Open men’s golf tournament was held in Wisconsin. Erin Hills in Washington County was the host site for the tournament, which was won by Brooks Koepka. Erin Hills is a newcomer to the club of elite American golf courses hosting major professional championships. The course received good reviews overall, though some said it was too easy because of its wide fairways, while others complained that the fescue grass off the fairway was too thick. The tournament attracted thousands of golf fans to the area and had an estimated $120 million economic impact on the region.

BMO Tower rendering

8. Construction begins for BMO Tower in downtown Milwaukee
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in November to celebrate the start of construction of a 25-story office tower in downtown Milwaukee, which will become the home for BMO Harris Bank’s Wisconsin headquarters and the home office for Milwaukee-based law firm Michael Best & Friedrich. The $132.6 million project is being developed by Irgens. It will be built on the site of the parking structure next to BMO Harris Banks current downtown Milwaukee office building at 770 N. Water St. Irgens will redevelop that building after the new office tower is complete in late 2019.

7. Construction begins for IKEA store in Oak Creek
Construction began in June for the much-anticipated IKEA store in Oak Creek, which will be the Swedish furniture retailer’s first location in Wisconsin. The 291,000-square-foot store is being built northwest of West Drexel Avenue and I-94. The store is expected to open in the summer of 2018.

6. The Corners of Brookfield opens
Southeastern Wisconsin’s newest shopping destination, The Corners of Brookfield, opened this year, with the first stores opening in April. Built at the former site of a Menards store and Marcus Theatres’ West Point Cinema between Bluemound Road, I-94 and Barker Road, the 750,000-square-foot complex includes stores, restaurant and apartments and is anchored by the state’s first Von Maur department store.

5. Associated Bank to acquire Bank Mutual
In July Green Bay-based Associated Banc-Corp announced its plans to acquire Brown Deer-based Bank Mutual Corp. for $482 million. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2018, pending regulatory approvals and closing conditions. Bank Mutual’s bank subsidiary will be absorbed by Associated’s bank subsidiary. Associated will maintain all the existing business operations and its presence in each geographic market. The company expects a 45 percent cost savings from the transaction, which it indicated will be drawn from mainly branch consolidations and headcount reductions. About 50 percent of Bank Mutual branches are within one mile of an Associated Bank branch.

4. Aurora Health Care to merge with Advocate Health Care
Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care and Advocate Health Care of Downers Grove, Illinois announced plans today to merge in a union that would create the 10th largest nonprofit health care system in the United States. Both Aurora Health Care and Advocate Health Care are the largest health systems in their respective states. Under the merger, each system would maintain its current headquarters and continue to use its current name. The combined system, which would operate as Advocate Aurora Health, would have annual revenues of about $11 billion and serve nearly 3 million patients annually. It would operate 27 hospitals and more than 500 sites of care, and employ more than 73,000 people.

3. Haribo to build plant in Pleasant Prairie
Haribo of America Inc. announced that it plans to build its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Pleasant Prairie. The Rosemont, Illinois-based subsidiary of German gummy bear maker Haribo said it will be “one of the largest facilities in the confectionery industry.” The $242 million project will support 400 jobs. The roughly 500,000-square-foot facility will be located in the Prairie Highlands Corporate Park, west of Interstate 94 between Highways 165 and 50. Construction is expected to begin in 2018 with production starting in 2020.

2. Construction completed for Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons
Construction was completed this summer for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s new 32-story, $450 million office tower at the company’s downtown Milwaukee corporate headquarters campus. The company unveiled plans for the 1.1 million-square-foot building in 2013. The 16-story East Building on the campus was torn down, and construction of the new building began in 2014.

1. Foxconn plans massive LCD screen facility in Mount Pleasant
It was the story that dominated local business headlines ever since President Donald Trump dropped a hint about it during a visit to Waukesha County Technical College in June. The announcement of Foxconn Technology Group’s plans for a $10 billion, 20 million-square-foot LCD plant stunned the region and excited many in the local business community. Also shocking is the size of the state’s $3 billion incentive package for the project, approved by Republicans in the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker. Combined with costs for highway, local road, water, sewer and power projects for the Foxconn facility, the total subsidy is around $4 billion. The state incentives will depend on hiring and capital expenditures and Foxconn plans to eventually have 13,000 employees. The plant could also attract numerous Foxconn suppliers. Walker said the project will transform the state’s economy and dubbed the area Wisconn Valley.

No matter if the Foxconn project is huge success, a white elephant or something in between, it will continue to be one of the biggest local news stories for years to come.

Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2018 for you and your company.

Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.

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