MANITOWOC — Last fall, Kenlyn Gretz wanted to buy land and build a new office complex for his debt collection business.
"I could have gone in blindly, and ended up with a huge mess," said Gretz, whose Americollect on Alverno Road has grown from 48 employees to 55 in the past six months, with a goal to be at 100 in three years.
Gretz turned to the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County for advice on potential properties for his expansion, after making the decision to leave his cramped, downtown quarters on Eighth Street.
"Diana Schultz did an awesome job," Gretz said of the EDC's client services and marketing director. "In three days, she gave me the information I would have not known how to ask for."
As the EDC moves into new offices on Aug. 1 and celebrates its fourth anniversary in September, Executive Director Ken Stubbe can count Gretz as a satisfied business owner.
In a Monday interview, Stubbe and Steve Shellman, EDC board chairman and a certified public accountant, said the majority of the EDC's efforts continue to be focused on strengthening companies, of all sizes, that already have a presence and commitment to Manitowoc County.
"'How can you make my project less expensive?' That's what they want from the EDC," Stubbe said of the common inquiry fielded by his staff, which also includes Tracy Benter, as director of operations.
"The EDC arranged a meeting with a Department of Commerce official for us," recalled Matt Jacobsen, president and co-owner of Heiden Inc., a metal fabricator.
His company already had bought a $750,000 laser for cutting metal plates, so the EDC couldn't help Heiden get state money to help in the purchase.
"But, because the laser requires additional machinery, the EDC helped us get $25,000 in state tax credits to help offset the cost of plant reconfiguration and new equipment," Jacobsen said.
Most state aid is predicated on job creation and the Expo Drive plant has added several employees.
"We're chock full at Heiden right now," Jacobsen said, with the company having grown from 52 to 57 employees, with another five to be hired.
Stubbe and Shellman said the EDC isn't a bank making loans, but can point businesses and partners to funding sources to make a deal happen.
The EDC's 2007 highlight might have been helping the city of Kiel put together a $5 million package of state and local financing and incentives to keep the Polar Ware-Stoelting Companies in Manitowoc County.
A 100,000-square-foot expansion to its Kiel plant cost about $7 million, with 190 jobs retained and about 110 new jobs expected to be created, averaging $16 per hour.
And, ultimately, money and jobs are the yardsticks for measuring the EDC's efforts and return on taxpayer and private sector donor dollars.
Stubbe and Shellman estimated the EDC's 2007 economic impact — derived from number of clients served, active projects, programs and services provided — as:
· 346 new jobs created;
· 850 existing jobs maintained;
· $9.5 million in new payroll;
· $26.2 million in existing payroll maintained;
· $220,000 in new property tax revenue.
In its first three full years of operation, the EDC's annual budget was almost exactly $400,000, split 50-50 between donors and the cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers and county of Manitowoc, at $2.40 per person.
The county's contribution was based on the population not living in the two cities.
Stubbe said Thursday projected annual funding for 2008 and several years following is actually lower — $358,000 — because it no longer has start-up costs, with the same ratio of public-private funding.
Shellman said the EDC's efforts aid Manitowoc City Planner David Less and Two Rivers Economic Development Supervisor Dan Pawlitzke. EDC staff quickly can prepare land and facility data sheets for site locators calling on behalf of companies looking to possibly move to Manitowoc, or expand an existing operation.
"It's all relationship building," Stubbe said of putting different parties together, from private and public sectors.
The first step of any expansion involving the EDC starts with Stubbe's analysis to see "if the (existing or new) business has a credit-worthy project.
"We need to decide whether the project can get funded. There's a lot more to it than (the entrepreneur) saying, 'this is a great idea,'" said Stubbe, who previously served in economic development corporations in Superior, Fond du Lac and Grafton, N.D.
As part of an effort to help revitalize downtown Manitowoc, and operate in more space, in August, the EDC's offices will move to 2,500 square feet on the first floor of downtown Manitowoc Place, at Eighth and York streets.
Since its birth in September 2004, the EDC has been operating out of space at The Chamber of Manitowoc County on Memorial Drive.
"I think the EDC is doing what we envisioned … serving as the centerpiece, the connecting point for a lot of things to be pulled together," said Tim Schneider, the EDC's first board chairman.
"I don't think the EDC will change a whole lot, but will, hopefully, gain even more confidence from the business community in the services we provide," said Schneider, chief operating officer and co-founder of Investors Community Bank.
He was a member of an ad-hoc Business Roundtable group, formed in 2001, to discuss ways to strengthen Manitowoc's business climate.
"The motivation to be part of the EDC is to make the community a better place," said Shellman, manager of Schenck Business Solutions Manitowoc office, who also was a member of the roundtable that spurred the
EDC's creation and led fundraising for its staff and operations.
"A rising tide raises all ships, and it's been fun to see the area become recognized and grow," Shellman said.