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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.