Officials tout local investment in Beaver Dam and Dodge County
Local officials gave updates on the state of the economy in Beaver Dam and Dodge County Wednesday when the Beaver Dam Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon at Beaver Dam Country Club.
Beaver Dam Mayor Becky Glewen, Beaver Dam School District Superintendent Mark DiStefano and Dodge County Board Chair Russ Kottke joined Mark Hogan, the CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, spoke.
Hogan spoke about Governor-elect Tony Evers’ proposal to dissolve the WEDC, a public-private agency that supports business growth with grants, and bring its functions back under the full purview of the state government. Republican legislators passed a law in 2011 to replace the Department of Commerce with the WEDC after Gov. Scott Walker took office.
Hogan said dissolving the WEDC would require lawmakers to change state statute, an unlikely outcome. The legislature will still be under the control of Republicans after Evers takes office next year.
“I look forward to working with the governor-elect to talk to him about the strong base we have at WEDC, the programs that we have,” Hogan said in an interview. “I understand what his priorities are and I believe that when he sees the base that we have, the foundations that we’re working on, I think that there’s a lot of things that will align with what his priorities are.”
The WEDC has faced criticism for failed loans, negative audits and concerns over its accountability as an organization.
“I think we’re more transparent than virtually any other economic agency in the United States,” Hogan said. “We continue to look for ways to improve. That’s what strong companies do.”
In his speech, Hogan noted several projects in Dodge County that have received funding from the WEDC. Such projects include Birds Eye Foods, John Deere and Polyfirst Packaging, which received grants for expansion. Hyper Immunized Ag Processing received a grant for capital investment. In addition, school districts have received funds for fabrication labs that have spurred public-private partnerships.
Hogan showed a slide that indicated more than $3.5 million has been invested in Dodge County by his agency. The investments with businesses created more than 300 manufacturing jobs.
The city of Beaver Dam received a $126,000 grant from WEDC to support the development of Ooga Brewery on Spring Street, which will be housed in a vacant building.
The city is pursuing another WEDC grant for the downtown area, though Glewen said she cannot disclose any more information until the grant is announced.
She said Wednesday that there has been more than $20 million worth of private investment in the city this year, including $2.5 million downtown.
“The things that are happening here are due to a lot of hard work from a lot of people, whether they’re volunteers, nonprofit organizations, business leaders, the very important investors who believe in the untapped potential of our community to invest in,” she said.
She pointed to the new Holiday Inn Express that will spring up near the mall and two new housing projects that are under construction. Glewen also talked about grants the city has received to pursue energy efficiency projects and resultant savings.
“Our current accomplishments have sparked an interest in seeing this progress continue. There’s a welcome excitement in our community from individuals to be a part of the movement,” Glewen said. The future is bright for Beaver Dam if we continue on the collaborative path that we have started on. We have the potential to truly transform the heart of our community and in turn create a sense of welcome, of belonging, of choice to be here, and of sharing that experience with others.”
Officials also talked about renovations at the high school following a $49 million school referendum, including the new field house. Glewen said that when she was at an open house for the school renovations, she saw a student talk to his impressed parents about the school’s tech education area.
DiStefano said the local spending from the upgrades was projected at $1.5 million to $2 million but announced Wednesday the district had actually spent $2.4 million locally.
DiSefano said he expects that the field house will attract athletic tournaments and other events to Beaver Dam, bringing people to the city who will eat, shop and stay in hotel rooms. City officials say the new hotel will address a need for rooms in Beaver Dam, especially given the future events with the field house, and keep people from looking elsewhere for lodging.
At the county level. Kottke said the proposed soybean processing plant in Waupun is moving forward slowly but surely. He also said the county is continuing to work with Jefferson County in its economic partnership and is looking at housing concerns as part of that. The county has committed $85,000 to the Thrive partnership.