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.”
More recruitment and expansion
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.”
Helping existing businesses
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.
Creating more jobs
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.