Category: 2018-19 Session Recaps

This post was written by “Team Colors United,” made up of LDA 2018-19 participants: Teresa Riesterer, Blackhawk Community Credit Union; Beth Peters, ANGI Energy; Ethan Lee, City of Janesville; Michael Davis, Nowlan & Mouat; Amy Kenyon, Milton School District; and Jessica Dobratz, Express Employment Professionals.

A welcome from the Blain’s CEO

CEO Jane Blain Gilbertson tells the story of Farm-n-Fleet.

CEO Jane Blain Gilbertson tells the story of Farm & Fleet.

The December Leadership Development Academy meeting took place on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 at Blain’s Supply Distribution Center in Janesville.

The morning started off with a welcome from Jane Blain Gilbertson, CEO of Blain’s Farm & Fleet. Ms. Gilbertson shared the history of the company that dates all the way back to the recession era. Originally, Farm & Fleet was an automobile dealership in Ladysmith, Wisconsin and business boomed after World War II. In the early 1960’s Farm & Fleet decided to sell their dealerships and began their first farm store in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Due to state laws, fleet vehicles were given a discount on farm merchandise, so Farm & Fleet would have two numbers on the price tag. One number would be for customers with a fleet card (discount) and the other number would be for non-fleet customers. Over time, the store added auto parts/supplies and continued to add new merchandise divisions. Today, Blain’s Farm & Fleet has 40 stores throughout Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.

After graduating from college, Ms. Gilbertson worked in the corporate world in large cities. The values that she learned from the family business did not always match up to those of her job in the corporate world. Because of this, she decided to come back home to Janesville and work in the family business.

One value that Blain’s Farm and Fleet believes in is the importance of the company giving back to the community. She discussed many projects and charities the company gets involved with and emphasized the importance of each store’s ability to work with and for the community they live in.

Al Hulick, James Otterstein, Gale Price

Janesville Economic Development Tour

The Janesville area economic development tour was hosted by Gale Price and James Otterstein. The tour started with Gale highlighting some of the new additions to downtown Janesville as well as some of the new business activity in Janesville: Block 42 restaurants, ARISE now, Demolition of the former GM plant, Beloit Avenue Industrial area, Dollar General Distribution, and SHINE Medical Technologies.

Touring Miniature Precision Components in Janesville

Touring Miniature Precision Components in Janesville

The bus tour took a short stop to tour Miniature Precision Components (MPC). MPC is a thermoplastic business that specializes in automotive components and parts founded in 1972 by the Brost family. The company started in Jay Brost’s garage and grew quickly after developing an automotive check valve for the Ford Motor Company. The tour was led by MPC staff in which they highlighted their robotics and the diversity of the products they produce.

Milton Tour

The Milton portion of our tour was hosted by Al, Hulick, City Administrator of Milton. Al provided LDA participants with a brief history of the city and explained how two communities, Milton and Milton Junction merged in 1967 to form one city.

He took us past the Milton House which is a National Historic Landmark and recognized for the Underground Railroad. Milton College was also very important to the community until it closed in 1982. Today, several of the buildings are occupied by antique shops, offices, apartments and the city library. For those who would like to visit Milton, it is home to the 2018 Library of the Year!

Al highlighted Crossroads Business Park and mentioned the businesses that currently occupy space in Milton as well as why it would be a good place for others to locate there. The city is busy welcoming new families as a new residential development called Redhawk Farms is in full swing.

Mural inside Blain Supply

Mural inside Blain Supply

Blain Supply Tour

A tour of Blain Supply was led by employees of Blain Supply. The facility tour consisted of seeing some of the inner workings of Blain Supply: call center, mock store setup, vendor meeting rooms, and the distribution/loading area.

James Otterstein speaks to the group

James Otterstein speaks to the group

Economic Development Presentation & Group Exercise

The final portion of the December LDA meeting included a presentation by Mr. James Otterstein, the Rock County Economic Development Manager, entitled Economic Development 101.

Mr. Otterstein began by defining Economic Development as “the process of creating and/or stimulating wealth through the mobilization of human, financial, physical and natural resources related capital to generate marketable goods and services,” and the importance of strong economic development to all members of the community; as they say, a rising tide lifts all ships.

He then reviewed some of the tools used for this end, including Tax Increment Financing, leveraging real estate, and Janesville’s ARISE NOW plan, as well as instances where these tools were used to drive economic development. Finally, we were presented with key economic indicators, and how they have improved since the recession due to intelligent planning of economic development.

Following Mr. Otterstein’s presentation, we were presented with a group exercise whereby each group was tasked with creating a pitch based on a Request For Proposal for an imaginary corporation looking to open a manufacturing facility.

It was up to each group to determine how best to sell the corporation on Rock County, which data to present, and how, as we were given 5 to 8 minutes to present information we had been given over the course of multiple eight-hour days. In the end, Group 5 knocked their pitch out of the park, and won the simulation.

This post was written by “Team Change Makers,” (pictured above) made up of LDA 2018-19 participants: Katie Lange, Blackhawk Technical College; Jacob Carter, ANGI Energy Systems; Erin Goepfert, Blackhawk Community Credit Union; Rebecca Veium, Community Action; Daniel Jackson, School District of Janesville; and Joann Nupnau, Advia Credit Union.

Lessons about homelessness

True to form, our November LDA session was packed with wonderful learning opportunities for participants.

The morning kicked off with a homeless panel sharing their insights about the homeless reality in Rock County. Homelessness is a multifaceted issue with many layers to address. The panel identified a lack of affordable housing as a primary contributing factor in addition to poverty, mental health, and substance use disorders.

Local school districts identify hundreds of homeless youth and unaccompanied youth every year. Within the Janesville School District, roughly 50% of the students qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program and roughly 79% of students in the Beloit School District qualify. Living in poverty affects the physical and mental health of the individual along with the educational outcomes of the children.

How can you help? Contact your local homeless providers or school district to see how you can help those they serve.

Hunger simulation exercise

Following the homeless panel discussions, participants had the hands-on opportunity to experience challenges low-income people face day to day when trying to feed themselves and their families.

The Hunger Task Force lead participants through a hunger simulation where LDA members took on a persona and lived in the shoes of someone with limited resources trying to secure food for 3 days. While there were some laughs along the way from the “Grocery Store” owner making unreasonable demands and denials to customers, members came to realize the barriers faced in trying to access resources for food.


The morning ended with guest speakers from GIFTS Men’s Shelter in Janesville. GIFTS has an impressive volunteer base that makes it possible for them to serve homeless men in recovery. Members heard first-hand from one of their participants how GIFTS is giving him the opportunity to turn his life around and how grateful he is of their help.

Our afternoon started with lunch sponsored by Visit Beloit and time to chat with our project groups. The room was filled with laughter and brainstorming energy while groups took advantage of their time to plan. We were all so focused that we got ourselves a bit behind schedule for our afternoon agenda.


Communication & courageous conversations

Linda took charge of the group and broke us up for a REAL Colors activity; continuing to reinforce how to communicate best with all colors. Note: those were some pretty impressive interpretations of a sailboat!


The session ended with Courageous Conversations about diversity and inclusion. Astounding statistics were shared with the room regarding racial inequities in the State of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is one of the worst states rated in a number of measures reported in 2010 and appears that more recent numbers will be about the same. Presenters lead activities to defy stereotypes and to challenge the group to become more inquisitive about those around us.

Our takeaways

At the end of the day, be kind to each other as you never know what they are going through. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate and compassion is the medicine that everyone can prescribe.

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