A Waukesha County Business Survey conducted in September indicated 84 percent planned to expand their workforce and 72 percent planned to expand or remodel their business space in the next three years.
Evidently, there’s more economic growth on the horizon for Waukesha County. The key will be assisting those businesses in making their expansion plans a reality.
Last month, the Waukesha County Business Alliance was awarded a contract to do just that by administering the county’s new economic development organization. It is using the survey to formulate its strategy.
The Alliance is busy assembling the paperwork to obtain 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and is engaged in a search for a leader and a board of directors, said Suzanne Kelley, president of the Alliance.
The economic development director application deadline was June 15, and now the Alliance is sorting through them and conducting interviews to determine who will lead the organization. The majority of applicants are from Wisconsin, Kelley said.
“We have quite a few applications in already. Probably in the area of 15,” she said recently. “We hope to have a director by August 1.”
The goal is to officially launch the economic development organization in September, Kelley said.
Marketing and administrative support for the nonprofit will be provided by the 10-employee Alliance, which will co-locate the organization at its offices, 2717 N. Grandview Blvd. in Waukesha.
The Alliance, which was the only applicant for the program, already receives calls from its more than 1,000 business members about which resources they can draw upon to expand in Waukesha County.
“The economic development organization is going to be focused largely on business expansion, retention and attraction,” Kelley said. “And to really be a central point of contact to businesses that are looking to expand in Waukesha County.”
The 335 Waukesha County businesses that responded to the September survey said the following would help them grow: A low tax environment; a pipeline of highly skilled workers; and access to a variety of financing options, including SBA loans and grants, training assistance, and apprenticeship and workforce development program capital.
“At this point, Waukesha County has a revolving loan fund as well as a leveraged loan fund that are potential financial resources for businesses,” Kelley said. “Long term, we hope to significantly grow the financial tools that are available to help businesses expand. One of the roles of the new economic development director is to help build those resources.”
Four entities will jointly fund the new organization’s operations for the first three years. Waukesha County will chip in $250,000 and the city of Waukesha will contribute $50,000. The University of Wisconsin Small Business Development Center and the Alliance will each fund $50,000, with their commitments paying the salary of a business outreach specialist at the nonprofit.
After three years, the economic development organization and its funding sources will be reevaluated, said Dale Shaver, director of the Waukesha County Department of Parks & Land Use, who led Waukesha County’s development of the new organization.
The previous Waukesha County Economic Development Corp. closed down in October 2014 due to an unsustainable financial structure. The county is working on a cooperation agreement among the other municipalities within Waukesha County to financially sustain the new organization and provide feedback, he said.
“Our hope is that we will have an agreement drafted and then be back out to meet with municipalities over the next two months here as they convene to review their budgets for 2017,” Shaver said.
The Alliance’s nonprofit, a public-private partnership, will initially be staffed by the economic development director and the business outreach specialist.
It will have an independent board of directors comprised of business leaders, Shaver said.
Its primary focus will be on helping stage one (fewer than 10 employees) and stage two companies (between 10 and 99 employees) grow in the county.
“We know that we have a lot of stage one and stage two businesses and that is probably our biggest opportunity to drive economic growth throughout the county,” Kelley said.
The Waukesha County Business Survey also made clear there may not be enough space available for all of the business expansion in the works, Shaver said, so the county is studying its land use and evaluating offering incentives for additional industrial and business park development.
Municipalities could use the results of this land study to determine whether to form tax increment financing districts to spur industrial park development, he said.
“We heard from some local officials that they just don’t have the expertise to market lands that are in their municipalities…and they need an economic development organization to help them do that,” Shaver said.