For years, several businesses from Illinois have chosen to move or expand north of the state line into Kenosha County.
One of those companies is Haribo of America, Inc., the Rosemont, Illinois-based division of the German maker of gummy candy. The company considered 112 different sites in numerous states for its first North American manufacturing facility and chose a site along I-94 In Pleasant Prairie. There, the company is building a 500,000-square-foot complex that is expected to employ 385 people when it is completed in 2022. Future expansion phases could bring employment to more than 1,000 at the Haribo complex.
“One of the attractions (to Kenosha County) for us was the collaboration between the different organizations in Wisconsin to attract and on-board new businesses,” said Wes Saber, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Haribo of America. “All the way from the state level, Wisconsin Economic Development (Corp.), KABA (Kenosha Area Business Alliance), which is a very unique organization, the village, as well as the educational institutions.”
Saber will be one of four business leaders on the main panel for BizTimes Media’s upcoming Racine/Kenosha County 2035 event (biztimes.com/2035). The free, virtual event, to be held from noon to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, will focus on the opportunities and challenges that face this critical area of southeastern Wisconsin.
In addition to Saber, the speakers on the main panel for the event will include John Batten, chief executive officer of Racine-based Twin Disc, Inc.; Ted Matkom, Wisconsin market president for Gorman & Company; and Chad Navis, director of industrial investments for Zilber Property Group.
Unlike Haribo, Twin Disc is well established in the area, having been based in Racine for 103 years. The area’s strong manufacturing workforce and supply chain have helped keep the company in the area all of those years, Batten said.
However, Racine County has not done as good of a job as Kenosha County in attracting new businesses, he said. Kenosha County has an advantage due to its location just north of Illinois. But another issue is that Racine County’s communities have not worked together as well as those in Kenosha County, Batten said.
“I think eastern Kenosha County works much better together – the city, Pleasant Prairie and Somers – I see their working relationship much better than eastern Racine County, east of I-94,” he said.
Asked if Racine County has fully taken advantage of its location between Milwaukee and Chicago to attract businesses, Batten said, “I would say that’s a hard, ‘no.’ We haven’t. Attracting companies is a bit like going to the gym if you haven’t done it in a while. It’s tough at first, but it’s good for you in the long run. We desperately need to be even half as successful as Kenosha County in attracting new businesses.”
Kenosha County’s biggest asset is the work done by KABA, said Matkom. Gorman has done development projects in Kenosha and Racine, and KABA is the biggest difference between doing business in the two communities, he said.
“The cog in the wheel in Kenosha is KABA,” Matkom said. “There is nothing like that in Racine.”
One challenge both Racine County and Kenosha County are facing is attracting the talent that businesses need. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Racine County’s population has grown only 0.5% since 2010 and Kenosha County’s has grown only 1.9% during that time.
“That’s a challenge for the state of Wisconsin and southeast Wisconsin, attracting talent and developing talent,” Saber said.
“It’s only going to get more difficult (to find quality employees) until we start bringing in, recruiting talent into the area,” Batten said.
“Labor is difficult just about everywhere,” Navis said. “It is a condition that impacts this region, but I also think it’s quite common.”
Following the main panel discussion, the Racine/Kenosha County 2035 event will have a pair of concurrent breakout discussions, an education and workforce panel and an economic development panel, to take a deeper dive into the talent and economic development issues mentioned by the main panelists.
The education and workforce development panel will include:
The economic development panel will include:
To register for the free, virtual Racine/Kenosha County 2035 event, go to biztimes.com/2035.