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Friday, August 22, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Oshkosh creates cohesive economic development group


By MaryBeth Matzek
For years, figuring out who ran economic development in Oshkosh was a puzzle. Was it the chamber of commerce? The city? Chamco (the city's industrial development organization)? The actual answer was actually all three, but now there's a new unified economic development organization in place that pulls together businesses, non-profits and government entities to help companies create jobs and reach out to new businesses to help diversify the local economy.

GO-EDC or the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. hopes to create 1,000 local jobs in Oshkosh and the surrounding area during the next three years. That goal came out of a strategic planning process involving its diverse board of directors that includes leaders from government, Fox Valley Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, local schools, local non-profits, area businesses and those existing organizations already involved with economic development. Originally, the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce was not involved in the planning process, but is now involved and placed a staff member on GO-EDC's board.

Bill Wyman, chair for GO-EDC and owner of The Waters, a special events facility in Oshkosh, says the new organization aims to provide direction and leadership to local economic development.

"This effort is an important new chapter in the history of collaborative efforts in Oshkosh," he says. "GO-EDC will build upon the solid foundation that presently exists in our regional economy."

While adding 1,000 jobs with a pay rate higher than $16.75 per hour is its prime goal, the group also hopes to meet with 150 existing businesses during each of the next three years while investing in the city's new aviation business park and business accelerator.

GO-EDC has been in development for years, but picked up steam last summer when the group operated as a commission through an ad hoc governance arrangement. GO-EDC became a non- profit last spring and was formally announced earlier this month. The group hopes to bring on a full-time executive director by January.

"GO‐EDC seeks to build upon – and help extend – the solid work that has been conducted by the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce and Chamco," says Wyman, adding that the group's by- laws stress it will work together with the plans and models drafted by the other organizations. The goal is to raise at least 60 percent of GO EDC's funding from the private sector, with remaining funds to come from Winnebago County and the City of Oshkosh.

Wyman says GO-EDC is a true partnership that links private sector with the non-profit sector and the public sector.

"We are exploring ways to have the business community effectively partner with others who help make Oshkosh strong with a reliable supply of high skilled labor," he says. "We want to remain business-lead, though, and this is reflected in our governance structure, funding assumptions and broader outreach and development plans."

Changes ahead?

Waupaca Foundry Inc. -- the largest iron foundry company in the world and the largest employer in Waupaca County -- will have a new owner by the end of the year.

This week, Hitachi Metals Ltd. announced it was buying Waupaca Foundry for $1.3 billion from KPS Capital Partners LP. KPS Capital bought Waupaca Foundry in 2012 from ThyssenKrupp AG. As owners of the foundry, KPS Capital invested millions in capital upgrades and operational improvements, boosting profits by 40 percent in two years. Hitachi Metals, which is headquartered in Japan and has foundries the United States, Japan, Korea and India.

Waupaca Foundry operates six manufacturing facilities, including three in Waupaca and one each in Marinette, Tell City, Ind. and Etowah, Tenn., that employ a workforce of 3,900. There's no word yet how the ownership change will affect employment numbers.

Rural communities get boost

The Innovation Foundation of Western Wisconsin received a $100,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help businesses in rural areas. The Innovation Foundation will help start-up and growth companies by providing access to expertise in different areas to help them grow. The grant fund can be used in communities with populations of fewer than 5,000 in Barron, Clark, Dunn, Jackson, Polk, Rusk or Taylor counties.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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