STURTEVANT — Each year, the Racine County Economic Development Corp. sets a goal to complete 50 projects. In the first six months of 2021, it approved 61 projects in the area.
The growth is attributed to a stronger focus on helping currently existing businesses retain talent and expand, historically low interest rates on loans and more outreach efforts to business owners.
In March, RCEDC reported exceeding most of its goals in 2020, including assisting nearly 100 businesses when it had only planned to help about 60, boosting the number of women- and ethnic-minority-owned businesses by 11%, approving $31 million in loans and working on about 74 projects in the county.
So far, the numbers for 2021 are on the right track.
For example, RCEDC has approved $19.6 million in Small Business Administration loans, exceeding their goal of helping lend $13.4 million. It has helped 26 businesses with SBA loans versus its goal of 14; and so far, it’s helped 35 businesses altogether, on track for reaching its goal of 61.
Interests for SBA loans are at a low neither RCEDC Executive Director Jenny Trick nor Business Financing Manager Carolyn Engel have seen. As of July, for a 25-year fixed-rate loan, the interest rate is 2.82%.
“(The interest rate) has been declining for the last two years, and businesses are lining up to take advantage. So that’s really driving a lot of the growth right now,” Engel said.
And there’s still more to come.
Engel said the corporation received $3.5 million in grants to lend to small businesses and it has been rolling those out with a 0% interest rate.
RCEDC has about $1.5 million left to lend and will continue to do so until June next year.
Engel said one of the focuses in lending has been helping businesses purchase equipment: “We’ve stayed very focused on what’s going to create jobs, what’s going to retain jobs — it’s going to be equipment.”
Of the 61 projects RCEDC approved, the City of Racine held the most, with 17 projects. Next was Mount Pleasant with six projects, Caledonia with five, Burlington with four, Yorkville with three, Union Grove and Waterford with two and Sturtevant with one. RCEDC also approved 23 additional SBA loans to businesses outside of Racine County.
RCEDC pointed to Ashley Capital’s Enterprise Business Park Expansion in Mount Pleasant, called Enterprise West, which will be in TID No. 5, the tax incremental district made to facilitate Foxconn. Ashley Capital bought 48 acres of land for two 390,000-square-foot buildings with an estimated investment of $70 million.
Just a short drive from Foxconn, on Highway 31, is the Fiduciary Real Estate Development group’s prospective site to build 280 housing units with an estimated investment of $40 million.
Aside from new developments, RCEDC is “seeing building expansions, additional locations being added,” Engel said. “So it’s not just the businesses that are … trying to keep their doors open anymore, it’s now those that are looking for the opportunity to grow … and get into a larger business, new location, adding to their business by acquiring others.”
Like many other organizations, RCEDC had big plans for 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But it was a blessing in disguise, offering RCEDC an opportunity to shift its focus to existing businesses.
For example, RCEDC helped Merz North America, a pharmaceutical company in Yorkville and Raymond, add 35 full-time positions with an investment of about $7.8 million. RCEDC also had a hand in helping the new Culver’s under construction in Caledonia with an investment of about $2.8 million.
“(We were) making a lot of phone calls to businesses, talking to them about what challenges and opportunities there were, and then just connecting them with resources,” said RCEDC Deputy Director Laura Million.
RCEDC also works with employers to promote talent attraction, both locally and out of the area.
One of the ways RCEDC helps attract talent is through its Internship Consortium, which increases awareness and supports businesses offering internships. RCEDC is partnered with University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Carthage College, Gateway Technical College, Herzing University and Kenosha Area Business Alliance to match interns with businesses or to create internships.
It’s to “share the story of the region with the talent that’s engaged at those colleges, so they want to stay and maintain a relationship with the community … after they complete their degree,” Million said.
Trick said RCEDC has also seen an increase in minority-owned businesses, including those owned by veterans, women or people of color. “We struggled with a goal of five or 10% for years,” she said.
Now, the percentage is somewhere in the 30s, Engel said.
To support its overall growth, RCEDC hired two new members to its lending staff, Dillon Voltz and Akayna Morrison. Voltz will join the Green Bay office as a loan officer and Morrison will join the Racine office as a credit analyst, according to a press release from the corporation.
Voltz is a University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate who will primarily focus on Business Lending Partners, a division of RCEDC. “I’m proud to join the BLP team, as they have a reputation for quality customer service in Northeast Wisconsin,” he said.
Morrison, a graduate from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will focus on screening and managing loan applications. “I chose RCEDC for the opportunity to help small businesses expand and prosper. I’m excited to grow my career here, and I truly believe our work will fuel my passion for helping small businesses thrive,” she said.
MADISON — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Tuesday announced plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Ron Johnson, adding another name to a packed field of Democratic candidates.
Barnes, 34, is Wisconsin’s first Black lieutenant governor and, if elected, he would become the state’s first Black U.S. Senator.
“Hard-working families deserve every opportunity, but politicians like Senator Ron Johnson aren’t delivering,” Barnes said in a tweet announcing his candidacy. “Instead of changing our dreams, we need to change the game. Join us.”
Barnes joins an already crowded field of Democratic candidates vying for the seat currently held by Johnson, who closed out June with about $1.7 million in campaign funds on hand despite not yet formally announcing whether he’ll seek another term or not.
Barnes said he will not take donations from corporate political action committees to fund his campaign.
Other Democratic candidates running for the seat include Wausau radiologist Dr. Gillian Battino, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, who is currently on leave to campaign, Franklin business owner Adam Murphy, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Democratic Party activist Peter Peckarsky.
Lasry, the son of billionaire, has proved to be the most adept fundraiser among the Democratic primary candidates so far. He raised more than $1 million in the second quarter of the year without using his own funds, amounting to more than $2 million raised so far during the campaign.
While Barnes’ statewide position as lieutenant governor may catapult him to being a frontrunner in the race, he’ll be faced with pressure to outraise his rivals and compete for attention with a crowd of candidates that already includes Godlewski, another candidate whose name has appeared on a statewide ballot.
Still, the role of lieutenant governor is one with few official duties except to be the next in line for governor.
Even so, Barnes has highlighted his role as chairperson of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change and also serves on the Governor’s Health Equity Council, Wisconsin Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Wisconsin Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force, Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy and Capability and the statewide 2020 Census Complete Count Committee.
Gov. Tony Evers, who is seeking a second term in 2022 issued a statement Tuesday in support of the Democratic U.S. Senate field.
“At the end of the day, Wisconsin deserves better than someone like Ron Johnson, who’s chosen to embrace reckless conspiracies that have risked public health and jeopardized our state’s economic recovery,’ Evers said in a statement. “We’re lucky to have strong Democratic candidates who are running to send him packing, and I look forward to supporting Wisconsin Democrats’ choice to take on Ron Johnson in 2022.”
Evers’ running mate will be selected in the August 2022 primary.
In campaign video released early Tuesday, Barnes highlighted his middle-class upbringing as the son of a teacher and factory worker, and said he wants to focus on addressing challenges in education, the job market, agriculture, health care, climate change and protections for voting rights and democracy.
“There are no idle hands here, no load we haven’t carried,” Barnes said. “No one waiting for a handout or free pass. But hard work isn’t paying off like it used to. The system isn’t working. We see so many people who are working longer hours and harder, often times for much less.”
Barnes got his start in Wisconsin politics in the state Assembly, serving as a representative from 2013 to 2017. In 2016, he unsuccessfully ran for a state Senate seat against Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.
He later jumped into the race for lieutenant governor in 2018r, succeeding in the primary and going on with Gov. Tony Evers to defeat former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who is expected to challenge Evers for governor in 2022.
Barnes in July was awarded his college diploma from Alabama A&M University in 2020. Barnes said he completed his coursework in 2008 but, due to a “minor technical issue” with his transcript, didn’t receive the diploma until last year.
He told the public otherwise when running for lieutenant governor in 2018, describing his educational background as a “BA in Broadcast Journalism—Alabama A&M University.”
Barnes entry into the race will open up the Democratic field for lieutenant governor. In Wisconsin, candidates compete for the position in a primary in August 2022, and the winner goes on to run with Evers as a single ticket.
School board candidates in two Racine County school districts have received hundreds of dollars in donations from political parties in nonpartisan elections.
New campaign finance reports show that candidates in the Burlington Area School District and the Muskego-Norway School District — which straddles Racine and Waukesha counties — received a combined $3,500 from Republican organizations.
The Waukesha County Democratic Party had announced its support for three Muskego-Norway candidates — in response to Republican support for others — but the campaign disclosures show no Democratic dollars flowing into the race.
The partisan support in April 6 school board elections included donations from Rebecca PAC, a political-action committee created by former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a potential Republican candidate for governor in 2022.
The chosen school board candidates included Taylor Wishau and Marlo Brown, both of whom won election to the BASD School Board, and Laurie Kontney, who lost her bid for the Muskego-Norway School Board.
All of the partisan contributions were attributed to Republican sources — none from Democratic organizations.
Public school districts in Wisconsin are officially nonpartisan, which means that no party affiliations appear on school board ballots at election time. And school board members do not typically associate themselves with any political party.
Wishau, Brown and Kontney all have previously defended their decisions to accept partisan Republican support in their campaigns.
In an email, Wishau declined to address how he connected with the Kleefisch organization or whether he felt the partisan funding helped him win election. He wrote that Republican money would not affect his decision-making on Burlington school matters.
“It’s not an issue,” he wrote of the campaign funding. “My voting record and advocacy for this community speaks for itself.”
Brown and Kontney could not be reached for comment.
In a written statement, Kleefisch, who served eight years as lieutenant governor under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, signaled that her financial backing is tied to specific issues in Wisconsin schools.
Kleefisch wrote that she was responding to parents who want to ensure that schools remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also that critical race theory curriculum on the history of racism is kept out of classrooms.
“Rebecca PAC was founded to support conservative candidates in local races across the state,” she wrote. “And I’m happy that we were able to help.”
The extent of Republican involvement in this year’s school board elections in Racine County was not known until a July 15 deadline under state law for candidates to disclose details of their campaign finances.
Each candidate for local office on the April 6 ballot was required either to report that they spent less than $2,000 on their campaign, or to submit an itemized disclosure of their donations and expenditures.
Among those reporting that they spent less than $2,000 were all Burlington City Council candidates in three contested aldermanic races, as well as Burlington School Board incumbent Diane Wood, who finished third in a contest with Wishau and Brown for two open Burlington School Board seats.
In his report, Wishau disclosed that he received a $500 contribution from the Racine County Republican Party and another $400 from the Rebecca Kleefisch PAC. In total, Wishau reported spending $2,840 on his successful campaign for a third term on the school board.
Brown, who was making his first foray into politics, disclosed that he received $900 from the Racine County Republican Party, $400 from the Rebecca PAC and $100 from the First Congressional District Republican Party. He spent a total of $3,042 on his campaign.
Kontney, another first-time candidate, reported a donation of $1,272 from the Waukesha County Republican Party, which she described as a postcard mailing to voters. Kontney spent $2,379 in her losing effort, finishing fourth in a race for three Muskego-Norway school board seats.