posted on January 29, 2013 11:12
(Janesville, WI) Gazette Editorial
The industrial turnaround in Janesville and Rock County has been impressive.
Sure, there’s that 4.1-million-square-foot elephant on the city’s south side, the former General Motors assembly plant. You can’t, however, count that vacant building against those doing yeoman’s work to improve our local economy. After all, GM has its factory on “standby” status. As long as it remains that way, it’s not available for reuse by some other company.
A chart in Monday’s Gazette—part of a two-day report by Jim Leute—showed the change in available industrial space from 2008-10 to 2010-12. Available space across the county dipped from more than 4 million square feet to about 2.35 million. In Janesville, available space declined from almost 2 million square feet to barely above 500,000. The overall vacancy rate of 7.3 percent in available industrial space is close to healthy.
Who deserves credit? You can start with people such as James Otterstein and Vic Grassman, the economic development leaders for Rock County and Janesville, respectively, and others involved in Rock County 5.0, a five-year public-private economic development organization. Applaud local, county and legislative leaders who have enacted plans and policies that make our city, county, and state inviting to developers.
Don’t, however, ignore the entrepreneurs themselves. They are private business owners who saw opportunities amid the economic gloom and took financial risks that they hoped would pay off in the long run.
We’re not just talking about the factory owners but also those who own industrial space. For example, Jeff Helgesen suddenly found himself the owner of a 706,000-square-foot building left vacant when GM supplier LSI left town. He got creative, redeveloped the Venture Drive space and now rents to multiple tenants. Likewise, when Green-Tek moved from Edgerton to a larger factory on Enterprise Drive in Janesville that was left empty when GM supplier Lear closed up, Jim Grafft used his empty Edgerton building to house his Tecumseh-Power business.
The Great Recession did our city and county no favors; in fact, it socked us harder than the average city and county across the country. It’s safe to say, however, that we’re up off the mat. We’ve come back swinging. The economic development picture isn’t perfect, but neither are we surrounded by crumbling factory carcasses.