MENOMONEE FALLS - While the village of Menomonee Falls is the third largest manufacturing community in Wisconsin, a 20-percent vacancy rate in its manufacturing base was a major impetus for the board to approve an annual $23,454.47 contract with the Waukesha County Center for Growth on Monday, Feb. 20.
The Center for Growth was formed last year, but has already attracted a dozen communities in the county, including the village of Sussex, town of Lisbon, and the cities of Waukesha, Oconomowoc and Brookfield.
“There are three main reasons why this has appeal," said Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald. "The first one is that the Center for Growth will focus on industrial development, business growth and development throughout the county, and be sort of a one-stop conduit for information for anyone looking to either expand or operate new in Waukesha County. Clearly, the appeal of manufacturing economic development makes sense for us, as it’s a big portion of the job base that we have here.”
The center was one of County Executive Paul Farrow's primary objectives when he took office in 2015.
"It took about a year to study certain models for countywide economic development and they worked with communities to vet the best system for Waukesha County," Fitzgerald said. "This will be a non-profit corporation that is affiliated and housed in the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce."
The county will pay $250,000 per year for the operation of the center.
Fitzgerald informed the board ahead of the vote that because of the preliminary process by the center, a Germantown company is moving to the Falls.
"I’m pleased to announce that ... one company that operates their headquarters currently in Germantown — the First Choice Ingredients company — will be expanding here; they were able through working through Waukesha County to acquire an existing 83,000-square-foot building on Anthony Drive in the Falls and will be relocating here and hiring 20-30 employees starting in March, so there’s already a reasonable return.”
But, not all board members were convinced about the contract.
Trustee Paul Tadda said spending the money was unnecessary.
"I see this as just another opportunity for a government program to be started and to over-promise and under-deliver," Tadda said. "Waukesha County has put the most in, but we are all Waukesha County taxpayers. I have a sense that this is not going to work out well. It does seem like $23,000 is not much because it’s off the TID’s so while it’s less of an impact on our budget, I don’t see this as being necessary. I think the normal real estate broker would put Menomonee Falls at the top of their list as far as searching and placement of businesses, and I don’t see this working.”
Tadda was the only board member to vote against the contract.
“I would like to see this work for a year or two before we commit to it," Tadda said.
Fitzgerald described a constant churn in Menomonee Falls of businesses moving in and out of the manufacturing base; he said the national database that the center would create for the village highlighting available development would, hopefully, help stabilize the sector.
"We always have about a 20-percent vacancy in our manufacturing center because there’s a constant churn, whether leased or owned space, and frankly the database – the one-stop shop for making contact – those are things we don’t do well, or at all," Fitzgerald said. "I don’t want to oversell this because I think, like anything, it will be difficult to measure, but we will make reasonable efforts to gain data and information before the next year is committed. The reality for us is we’ve been okay on our own, but I think this can help us in several ways, particularly with the vacancy churn, which has been happening to us on an ongoing basis.”
Ultimately, the board approved the contract 5-1 for a one-year term.
"We would use tax increment dollars from our TIF districts across the village to pay for this fee, and we generally would recommend to you that we think this is advisable," Fitzgerald said. "It’s a one-year agreement, so if for some reason we were unhappy, we need not be committed past the one-year period. We think it has reasonable appeal and there would be a reasonable return for the village.”