Milwaukee Biz Blog: The biggest local business stories of 2018

Arena opening, streetcar launch were major milestones

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Last updated on June 25th, 2019 at 01:42 pm

Another busy year is coming to an end, which is a fun time to take a look back at all of the big news stories that happened in our region in 2018.

As the year comes to a close, I have compiled by annual picks for the biggest southeastern Wisconsin business news stories of the year (you can also check out my 2017, 2016 and 2015 lists.)

Here’s my list of this year’s biggest area business stories, in ascending order:

20. Klement pivots after losing Brewers sponsorship
Milwaukee-based Klement Sausage Co. Inc. was blindsided this year when it lost its iconic 25-year sponsorship of the Famous Racing Sausages at Milwaukee Brewers games to Sheboygan Falls-based Johnsonville Sausage LLC. Klement then pivoted to other community sponsorships and announced deals with Summerfest, the Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee County Parks and the Wisconsin State Fair. In October, the company announced a $7.5 million investment in expanding and modernizing its South Chase Avenue plant in Milwaukee.

19. Johnson Controls to sell its battery business
Johnson Controls International plc
continues to make news with the transformation of its business. The company announced plans to sell its automotive battery business to Brookfield Business Partners L.P., a Toronto-based private equity firm, for $13.2 billion. It is not immediately clear what the sale will mean for Power Solutions employees in the Milwaukee area. The business is headquartered on the same campus as JCI’s corporate facilities in Glendale, and there are around 500 employees in the region. Selling Power Solutions leaves Johnson Controls as a business entirely focused on building solutions and technologies, a portfolio shift that has taken place over several years.

The Leonardo DRS facility planned in Menomonee Falls.

18. DRS will move from Milwaukee to Menomonee Falls to expand
Leonardo DRS Inc.
announced that it will move out of Milwaukee’s central city to a new 350,000-square-foot high-tech industrial building and an existing 120,000-square-foot office building in Menomonee Falls. The company plans to add 220 new jobs at the facility and will also move about 450 jobs there from Milwaukee.

17. Milwaukee Tool expanding, again
Milwaukee Tool
broke ground on another major expansion project at its headquarters campus in Brookfield. The $32 million project will add a 114,500-square-foot office building along the north side of Lisbon Road. In 2016, the company completed a 200,000-square-foot office building on the campus.

16. Children’s Hospital plans big expansion
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin announced plans for a $265 million expansion at its campus in the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa. The most visible part of the project is a planned six-story addition that will connect the hospital to the Children’s Clinics building on Connell Drive. The new structure will house specialty clinics and allow the hospital to consolidate all surgical services onto one floor. The hospital also plans to renovate and enlarge its emergency department and trauma center.

15. 30-story building proposed in Bayside
Milwaukee-based Cobalt Partners announced plans for a $200 million mixed-use development along I-43 in the Village of Bayside. The project, called OneNorth, would include a 30-story luxury apartment tower, far taller than any other building on the North Shore.

14. IKEA opens Oak Creek store
The much-anticipated arrival of Swedish furniture retailer IKEA in southeastern Wisconsin finally happened in 2018, when its 295,000-square-foot store opened at West Drexel Avenue and I-94 in Oak Creek. The company hired about 300 employees to work at the store and said it would add another 150 to 200 employees on a seasonal basis.

A rendering of the R1ver project planned by Michels Corp. along the Kinnickinnic River in Milwaukee.

13. Michels plans major mixed-use development on KK River in Bay View
Brownsville-based Michels Corp. announced plans for a $100 million mixed-use development on the former Horny Goat Hideaway property northwest of First and Becher streets in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. The project will include office space, apartments and a hotel. Called R1ver, it will be anchored by a regional office for Michels Corp., which initially plans to have 400 employees there. Phase one of the development is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.

12. Komatsu to build new headquarters in Milwaukee’s Harbor District
Komatsu Mining Corp.
announced plans to consolidate its Milwaukee operations by building a $285 million corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility at the long-vacant former Solvay Coke site in Milwaukee’s Harbor District. The complex will have 170,000 square feet of office space, a 20,000-square-foot museum and training building, and 410,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The project is expected to be complete in 2022. In exchange for $59.5 million in state income tax credits and $25 million in tax increment financing from the city, the company pledged to create 443 new jobs, which will bring its total employment in the region to around 1,000.

11. Redevelopment plans unveiled for Shops of Grand Avenue
The owners of The Shops of Grand Avenue in downtown Milwaukee unveiled a dramatic redevelopment plan which could finally turn around the long-struggling mall. The plans include a food hall, office space and 52 residential units in the mall, now known as “The Avenue.” GRAEF-USA Inc. will move its corporate headquarters from the west side of Milwaukee to The Avenue, bringing 170 employees downtown. The food hall, to be called 3rd Street Market Hall and located on the ground floor of The Avenue, will feature 21 local restaurant tenants.

Rendering of the new Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert hall planned at the Warner Grand Theatre.

10. MSO begins Warner Grand Theatre project
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra began an $80 million project to transform the former Warner Grand Theatre building on West Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee into a new performance hall for the MSO. The venue will provide new life for West Wisconsin Avenue and the Westown neighborhood of downtown. The MSO will move to the venue from the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, where it often faced scheduling conflicts. The opening of the renovated theater for the MSO, which will be called the Milwaukee Symphony Center, is expected for the fall of 2020.

9. Brewers and Bucks both in the playoffs
The Milwaukee Brewers and the Milwaukee Bucks both participated in the playoffs in 2018. The Bucks lost their first round series to the Boston Celtics in seven games. The Brewers won their division on a tiebreaker game vs. the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, then swept the Colorado Rockies in the first round of the National League Division Series. The Brewers then lost to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, coming just one victory short of their first trip to the World Series since 1982. The Brewers played six playoff games at Miller Park and the Bucks played three playoff games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which was their final season in the 30-year-old arena.

Harley riders at the 115th anniversary celebration.

8. Harley’s 115th
Harley-Davidson Inc. held its 115th anniversary celebration this year, with events scattered throughout the Milwaukee area. An estimated 150,000 motorcyclists came to the celebration, resulting in an economic impact of $95 million on the region, according to Visit Milwaukee.

7. Amazon plans major Oak Creek facility
Despite having a massive operation in Kenosha, Seattle-based Amazon announced plans for a $200 million, 2.6 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Oak Creek. As part of a $16.9 million tax increment financing deal with the city, Amazon committed to create a minimum of 1,500 full-time jobs at the facility by the end of 2021.

6. Foxconn
Foxconn Technology Group
remained a fixture in headlines in 2018. Work is ongoing in the $10 billion LCD manufacturing campus the company is building in Mount Pleasant. Controversy from the $4 billion state and local incentive package the company is getting was a major factor during the election. Foxconn announced several major initiatives throughout the state in 2018: establishing a North American headquarters in downtown Milwaukee, buying buildings in Green Bay and Eau Claire to establish innovation centers, announcing plans for a similar facility in downtown Racine, pledging $100 million to support research at UW-Madison and joining Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., Johnson Controls and Advocate Aurora Health to form a $100 million venture capital fund.

5. Tariffs
In an attempt to prod other countries to renegotiate trade deals that are more favorable to the U.S., President Donald Trump placed tariffs on steel and aluminum and on numerous Chinese goods. While some supported Trump’s efforts to get better trade deals for the U.S., others were critical. The group Tariffs Hurt the Heartland says Wisconsin companies have paid an additional $139 million on imports since the Trump administration instituted the tariffs. Harley-Davidson said it would move production of motorcycles for Europe to overseas facilities to avoid steel and aluminum tariffs placed on the European Union. Trump harshly criticized those plans. In late November, Trump signed a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico to replace NAFTA.

The Hop

4. Downtown Milwaukee streetcar begins service
After years of debate, the controversial $128 million downtown Milwaukee streetcar, named The Hop, began operations this year. The initial line runs from the Intermodal station, through the Third Ward, the central business district and up to the Lower East Side. More than 75,000 riders utilized The Hop during November, exceeding the city’s projections, city officials reported.

3. Walker loses re-election bid
Gov. Scott Walker has carried out an aggressive pro-business agenda since he was sworn into office in early 2011. But he lost his bid for a third term to Democrat and state superintendent of public instruction Tony Evers. However, Republicans maintained control of the Legislature and made changes during a lame-duck legislative session, held after the November election but before Evers is sworn in, to reduce the powers of the new governor in hopes of protecting changes Republicans made during Walker’s administration.

2. The demise of Boston Store
The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., the Milwaukee and York, Pennsylvania-based parent company of Boston Store went bankrupt this year and was then liquidated. The company filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 in hopes of finding a buyer to reorganize the company and keep it going. However, those efforts were unsuccessful. The company was sold in a bankruptcy auction to a group that then liquidated the company. All of its stores, including all of the Milwaukee area Boston Stores, were closed, completing a more than 100-year run for the iconic local department store chain. Later in the year, Indiana-based CSC Generation Holdings purchased the intellectual property assets of Bon-Ton and relaunched its brands, including Boston Store, as online retailers. CSC also indicated it might open a limited number of brick-and-mortar stores.

1. Fiserv Forum opens
The new $524 million, 17,500-seat arena opened in downtown Milwaukee in time for the 2018-’19 basketball season. The arena is off to a strong start with both the Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette University men’s basketball teams playing well and drawing big crowds. The concert lineup for the new arena has been long and impressive, including shows this year by Justin Timberlake, Metallica, the Foo Fighters, The Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac. The name of the arena was also big news, with Brookfield-based Fiserv reaching a naming rights agreement with the Bucks.

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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.