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There was a time when Racine was filled with factories cranking out goods. Racine Manufacturing Co., Walker Manufacturing Co. and Jacobsen Manufacturing were among the companies employing Racinians and contributing to the city’s economy.

The plots of land where those factories once stood are barren today, owned by the City of Racine. Do we want that? Is city ownership in the best interests of the people of Racine?

Yes, it is.

For $25,000 a year — the amount the city pays a contractor to maintain those former factory sites, and about 12 other sites in the central city and in West Racine — those plots stay in the hands of an entity looking to maximize their value to the city. That’s preferable to a hypothetical landlord who buys one of the plots, stays for only a few years and leaves a mess behind.

It’s in the interests of the city — and the county, because a prospective employer would surely not limit hiring to city residents — to find a buyer looking to put down roots. To find an entrepreneur with a vision, one that could make his or her company into the next Twin Disc, Modine or InSinkErator, to cite just three companies who are still here and aren’t going anywhere.

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The time to clean up these sites is now, while economic times are still tough. When this recovery gets out of first gear, we will want those sites ready to be built upon.

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One of the things the Racine area is woefully short on is “spec buildings” — new, empty buildings of warehouse size, which are attractive to startup companies which have an idea but not a place to set up shop. Cleaning up and/or maintaining these sites increases the possibilities.

“If you build it, they will come” isn’t just a line from a movie. Earlier this month, The Journal Times took note of the expiration of Tax Increment District No. 5, which was established to finance and build what is now known as Olsen Industrial Park. Twenty-seven years after the city annexed 69 acres on the city’s southern edge, that piece of land is home to 14 companies which employ 400 people. The industrial park’s 2011 revenue exceeded the cost of building the park by $2.6 million.

Each of those plots of land should remain in the city’s hands until the right buyer comes along, one who wants to do business in Racine, for Racine. To Mayor Dickert and Brian O’Connell, the director of city development: Keep up the good work. Find the best deal for us.

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