Bronson Haase was perfectly content to retire and relax in the custom antique log vacation home he and his wife, Jackie, are building in northern Wisconsin.
After all, Haase’s career and his resume had long ago been fulfilled with remarkable achievements. His contributions to the southeastern Wisconsin community were tangible.
The former president of Ameritech Wisconsin and chief executive officer of Wisconsin Gas Co. had served as the co-chairman of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. He walked away from the corporate board rooms and quietly served as a member of the Marquette University Business College Advisory Board, the United Performing Arts Fund Board of Trustees and the Camp Board for the Milwaukee Boys & Girls Club.
However, he recently resurfaced from retirement as the new president of Pabst Farms Equity Ventures LLC, where he is working with developer Peter Bell to create the $1 billion Pabst Farms project in Oconomowoc, the most ambitious real estate development venture in the history of Wisconsin.
Pabst Farms will literally create a new upscale city in western Waukesha County.
Haase again quickly made his mark, securing an agreement in January for SBC Communications Inc. to create a fiber-optic network for voice, video and high-speed Internet connections throughout the 1,500-acre Pabst Farms complex. The trial "fiber-to-the-premises" technology at Pabst Farms will be the first of its kind in the world.
Haase is in charge of attracting commercial development, including industrial, office and health care tenants for Pabst Farms.
In a recent interview with Small Business Times executive editor Steve Jagler, Haase said the scope of the Pabst Farms project presented a challenge he simply could not resist. The following are excerpts from that interview:
SBT: I can’t tell you how many times in recent years people have said to me, "What ever happened to Bronson Haase? What’s he doing?" Can you tell us how it came to be that you are involved with Pabst Farms?
Haase: I was asked and brought in by the Pabst Farms people to evaluate what kind of communications they were going to need for the 1,500-acre development …. Having lived out here my whole life, I mean I literally grew up in Waukesha, went to St. Mary’s, Catholic Memorial, lived in Hartland and now live in Chenequa. I live here, so I know Waukesha County well.
They said, "Just come in and help us with this, because we’ve got a lot going on, and frankly, we don’t have strength in communications, and you can help us with this."
I said, "Look, I’m a high-end guy. I’m a big-picture guy, but I can ask the right questions, and I can give you my recommendations on what you ought to do."
I was on a consulting basis.
SBT: How fast will this new fiber-optic system be?
Haase: In the one-year trial, SBC is going to provide free high-speed Internet access to all of the homes that are occupied at 3 megabits, in and out. What that translates into is that if you have a 56-k modem on your computer right now and you are downloading something that takes you five minutes, under this new high-speed Internet access, at 3 megs, it will take you six seconds.
They’re going to provide satellite video on the Dish Network, which they invested $500 million for. They’re going to provide WiFi, or wireless fidelity, throughout the complex so that businesses and the like can make use of the 360 acres of common area in Pabst Farms and go sit outside by the pond, or whatever, and still have the same high-speed off their laptop. They’re going to take all this and put it on one bill for the user.
They put DSL (digital subscriber lines) throughout the entire complex. The other positive thing about that is DSL isn’t just restricted to the boundaries of Pabst Farms. It goes beyond it, and now the Corporate Center in the City of Oconomowoc, Olympia Village and the Target Distribution Center along Highway 67 now are able to have DSL. There are benefits to the City of Oconomowoc, and that’s important to us.
SBT: The SBC component of this — did your connections there as the former president of Ameritech Wisconsin play a role in SBC’s involvement in Pabst Farms?
Haase: Well, let me say this. At least, from the standpoint of being able to bring it to the attention of people at SBC who might view it a positive thing for them to be involved in, yeah, I think it probably did. But it was their decision.
It is the only place in the nation they are putting fiber optics into the home in a new development. That hasn’t been done any other place. So, they could have chosen any other place.
SBT: It will be a national showcase
Haase: It will be a national showcase.
SBT: What else about this project convinced you to get on board, to make it your next career move?
Haase: First of all, I never knew there was going to be another career move. I was kind of enjoying exactly what I was doing, which was occasionally helping out somebody on a consulting basis if it was interesting. And the rest of it was building my log home up north. The typical things, having a good time with the family and all of that sort of thing.
And yet … you get a little bit antsy when you’ve been involved in the day-to-day corporate world. After a couple of years of doing things I very much enjoyed, sometimes I thought, "You know, I got one more game left in me. Put me in, coach. I’m ready to go."
If the right opportunity came by, and I felt I could really make a difference, and I could really feel passionate about it and draw upon my experiences and work with a group of people to make things happen, I’d consider that.
SBT: And Pabst Farms fit that bill?
Haase: This is a master-planned, 1,500 acres. It’s identify who you want here, and then you go out and get them and bring them in.
Second, this is unique. This is different. This creative. This has not been done before. Boy, that’s intriguing. And you know what? It’s high quality. And I like that.
And then the other thing was, this is a small group of people. It’s now about eight or nine people. I mean this sincerely – very talented, extremely dedicated people …. You start to see these people, and you say, "I want to be part of that group." I like the people. I like the entrepreneurial part – totally different from the corporate world that I had been dealing with in the past.
The other part is, it’s literally in my back yard. So you add all that together, and viola!
SBT: To play devil’s advocate for a moment. However well-intentioned Pabst Farms is, and however impressive this development will be, part of me, when I’m sailing by it on the freeway, says, "That will be nice, but what’s wrong with just keeping it all green, keeping it all farm and forests?" Do you ever think about that, Bronson?
Haase: You know, I think everybody does. If you live out here, I think you have to have some thoughts just like you expressed. I got in at this point in time because it’s been designated. It’s been zoned. It’s going to happen. It’s done. It’s approved.
Now, the question is, how do you make it such a development or a community that people will love, that is complementary to the surrounding area.
But I’d be lying to you if I said I never had that feeling, that "Why don’t we leave it all green space?" But if you think that the intersection of I-94 and Highway 67 that’s been zoned what it’s been zoned, and it’s going to stay that way forever, that’s not real.
SBT: So, given the only two real options left, it could be developed in piecework, with whatever pops up on whatever parcel, or it could be done in a cohesive, thought-out way, right?
Haase: I’d like to make sure it gets done the right way. The other unique part is Peter Bell’s philosophy about it is, "We don’t need to just sell property here helter-skelter. We want the right organizations. And if we have to wait a year or two in order to accomplish that, that is what we’re going to do."
Not everybody has that luxury or the money to do that. But Peter is in a position to do that. Are we going to do it perfect? Probably not. Are we going to do it extremely well? Absolutely.
SBT: In your role in attracting commercial development, the health care component of Pabst Farms could be a real political minefield for you. Given the ongoing resentment between Aurora Health Care and ProHealth Care and the City of Oconomowoc, that could be dicey. Are you talking to providers to determine what will be developed and who will develop it at Pabst Farms?
Haase: I will be. I do know the circumstances. I do know the issues. And I do know this. If you’re going to build a community of 9,000 to 11,000 people, you’re going to need some kind of health care. Now, is that a medical office building? Is that a clinic complex? Is that assisted living? Is it a hospital? I don’t have the answer for that yet, but we’re going to have some form of health care there.
SBT: Another thing still hanging out there is the fate of where GE Medical, now GE Health, puts its 300 or so IT jobs in the area. The company has been dangling those jobs about, pitting the suburbs against downtown Milwaukee for some time now. I know Pabst Farms is in the running for those jobs. What’s the latest word?
Haase: They continue to look, obviously, at I don’t know how many locations. Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that. But it’s more than one. They seem to be saying, "You know, we’re thinking about doing something here." Now, they said before in 2002, but they’re looking at it again.
SBT: Will this new SBC/GE Security technology give Pabst Farms a huge advantage over other sites in getting those GE Health jobs?
Haase: I’d like to think so, in that it’s all there. I can tell you that there’s nothing you’re going to lack for in communications at Pabst Farms. Period.
It’s a great opportunity. That’s a great company. Candidly, I don’t know about the other places, per se, and I don’t care what they’ve got. We’re going to put our best foot forward. We’ve got a great product to sell. If we don’t get it, we move on to the next thing. I can guarantee you this: It’s going to be the best darned proposal we can put together. And if we don’t get it, we gave it our absolute best shot. We’re not going to leave anything on the table. It’s going to be everything we’ve got.
Feb. 20, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee