• WisBusiness

Friday, January 30, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Convention centers hope crowds follow new construction


By MaryBeth Matzek
As the mysterious voice whispered in "Field of Dreams," "If you build it, they will come."

Several cities around Wisconsin are hoping that's the case when it comes to their convention centers. In the past couple of years, convention centers in Oshkosh and in the Wisconsin Dells got updates and the KI Center in Green Bay is currently going through a $23 million expansion project taking that facility's square footage to 145,000.

Supporters in Appleton and Milwaukee hope to follow suit with expansion projects of their own.

Nowhere may the battle tougher than in Appleton, which has mulling over proposals for several years. A private group, the Fox Cities Exhibition Center, unveiled plans back in 2010 to build a $27 million exhibition center adjacent to the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in downtown Appleton and paid for by a room tax. The city would own the center and the Radisson would manage it. Supporters point to a study by the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau that the center would bring in an additional $6.5 million annually to the area.

Pam Seidl, executive director of the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the expo center is "a missing piece" in the community's offerings. While the Radisson has plenty of meeting space and a large ballroom for lunches and dinners, it lacks a large expo space for vendors.

While the concept sounds simple, it's not. First, Outagamie County owns the land and the city of Appleton still needs to buy it. Then there's the Radisson, which is currently up for sale after going through the receivership process. The hotel's new owners would need to agree to the management deal. Then there's the room tax – each community in the Fox Cities would need to approve it.

Right now, the land – which once housed a school – still sits vacant as the Appleton City Council still debates whether or not to spend $2 million to buy the property. Supporters aren't giving up, hoping that the land purchase, which is back under consideration by the city's Community and Economic Development Committee, will go through and that the other dominos needed to make the project a reality will also begin to fall.

In Milwaukee, plans for an expanded Wisconsin Center haven't moved as far along as they have in Appleton. Last May, the Wisconsin Center presented a report showing that an expansion will help Milwaukee win back events it has lost to larger venues. Right now, Wisconsin Center expansion plans seem to have taken a back seat in Milwaukee as a future home for the Milwaukee Bucks dominates conversations.

In every case, cities are expanding their centers because of fears they are losing out on events that are outgrowing their facilities. Whether it's a state organization bypassing the Radisson Paper Valley in Appleton and heading to the Monona Terrace in Madison instead or a national group taking Milwaukee off its convention list and moving on to larger facilities elsewhere, there's a real drive by cities to have larger and larger convention and meeting facilities. The real question is if by going bigger places like the KI Center will see increased volume. Time will only tell.

New home for Menasha Corp.

Menasha Corp., a family-owned provider of packaging, logistics and marketing services, says it will tear down its headquarters in Neenah along U.S. 41 this spring and replace it with a new 100,000-square-foot facility that will also serve as headquarters for Menasha Packaging Co., the company's largest subsidiary.

Menasha Corp. officials expect that 25 jobs will be added at the headquarters once the expansion is complete. During the demolition and construction, office employees will be housed at other Menasha Corp. sites in the Fox Valley or in rented office space. Operations at the adjacent corrugated manufacturing and fabrication plant will not be affected by the demolition or construction.

The entire project is expected to cost $28 million.

-- 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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MaryBeth Matzek: Free legal help coming to Milwaukee entrepreneurs


By MaryBeth Matzek
When starting a business, entrepreneurs are full of questions – financial, legal, marketing and more. A new program at Marquette University Law School will help small business owners get some of those answers.

The Law and Entrepreneurial Clinic will offer free legal help to entrepreneurs and business start-ups with a focus on clients who cannot afford legal counsel. Marquette law students will provide the services under the leadership of clinic director Nathan Hammons. He worked previously with entrepreneurs as a solo practitioner and was an adjunct professor at the college before joining it full-time to run the clinic and serves as a visiting clinical associate professor.

“I have a lot of contacts in the business community and kept hearing about the need for this kind of help,” Hammons says. “There’s a similar program in place in Madison using students from the University of Wisconsin School of Law and it made sense to do something like this here at Marquette. The response from the business community has been phenomenal.”

While the clinic won’t be operating at full strength until next September, there are a couple of students working under Hammons’ tutelage this semester.

“I’ve had more than 20 people call already asking for applications so they can receive our services,” he says.

New business owners deal with a variety of issues from deciding on what type of business entity to form, ownership issues, funding issues, contracts and licensure issues. For entrepreneurs with IP questions, Hammond says they will refer those cases out since it’s such a highly specialized field.

“Businesses face a lot of legal issues and I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs through my own legal work that needed help and couldn’t afford it,” he says. “This clinic will fill that need.”

The eight students working in the clinic will be assigned clients to work with. They’ll also receive credit.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for students to gain hands-on legal experience,” Hammons says. “The clinic is a great thing and will help a lot of entrepreneurs.”

Start-ups get boost

Eight entrepreneurs are receiving $75,000 each through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Advance Program, an initiative to provide capital to help commercialize high-tech innovation. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the UW-Extension Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) all partnered on SBIR Advance. This is the second round of companies supported; last fall, seven companies received SBIR grants.

Grant recipients announced this month include Radom Corp of Hales Corners, Northside Enterprises in Black Creek and six Madison companies -- NitricGen Inc., Swallow Solutions, AmebaGone LLC, Semba Biosciences, Medical Engineering Innovations Inc. and inseRT MRI. All winners receive CTC training and individualized assistance. CTC consultants and local mentors support recipients through Lean Startup training, commercialization plan development and review, matching products with market needs and other customized assistance.

Port of Green Bay reports strong 2014

The Port of Green Bay saw its strongest year since the start of the Great Recession in 2014 with the port handling 2.3 million tons of cargo – the most since 2007.

The 2014 total is a 3 percent increase from 2013 when 2.2 million tons of cargo came through. Increases in petroleum coke and petroleum products along with limestone helped drive up the totals for the port, which opened later than usual because of last year’s brutal winter.

-- 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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Monday, January 5, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Health care systems sign on to HHS sustainability initiative


By MaryBeth Matzek
Sustainability and health care aren't normally mentioned in the same breath, but a new initiative is looking to change that – and improve the care provided to patients. Late last year, representatives from 11 healthcare organizations – including two from Wisconsin – were invited to a White House summit on the topic.

La Crosse-based Gundersen Health and Appleton-based ThedaCare were in attendance to learn about the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities Initiative. The program is designed to develop tools and information to help health care facilities prepare for the impacts of climate change and increase their ability to provide continuity of care before, during and after extreme weather events.

The new guide looks at the best practices organizations can take to improve their climate readiness, says Paul Linzmeyer, ThedaCare's sustainability leader.

"By embracing these new guidelines, ThedaCare will be better prepared to care for patients and the community during any severe weather events as well as being prepared for the additional strain climate change is expected to put on our health care system through associated illnesses and the exacerbation of chronic conditions like cardiovascular and respiratory diseases," he says.

Sustainability initiatives are nothing new for Gundersen, which was the first healthcare organization in the nation to commit to energy independence (that was back in 2008). To hit that goal – which it achieved this past October -- CEO Jeff Thompson, MD, says Gundersen focused on two main initiatives: reducing consumption by improving efficiency and producing cleaner energy.

Thompson is proud Gundersen is the first healthcare system in the country to attain energy independence.

"We set out to make the air better for our patients to breathe, control our rising energy costs and help our local economy," he says. "We believe we have made more progress on all three than anyone else in the country. Gundersen has shown that you can be financially disciplined, improve the local economy and positively impact the environment."

Gunderson has a division, Envision, focused on sustainability and creates its own energy through a variety of resources including two manure biodigesters, two wind turbine sites and a geothermal heat system that provides heat and air conditioning to a hospital.

While ThedaCare's sustainability initiative is newer than Gundersen's, the organization plans for energy neutrality, zero waste, and closed loop water systems by 2025. It's also searching for sustainable, self-sufficient energy solutions that don't rely on the existing power grid, Linzmeyer says.

As for why healthcare providers should get involved in sustainability initiatives, Linzmeyer says it makes sense – especially since the healthcare industry makes up 20 percent of the nation's economy.

"Since ThedaCare serves as an anchor in its communities, we see an opportunity to lead discussions on climate change by showcasing the latest climate adaptation and resilience practices to local businesses, non-profit organizations, and community leaders," he says.

Déjà vu?

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn announced this week he now owns 7.7 percent of the Manitowoc Company and will push for the company to split its crane and food service businesses into two separate businesses. This the second time in recent years that Icahn has turned his focus to a Wisconsin-based company.

In 2012, Icahn launched a bid to buy Oshkosh Truck and shake up its leadership and strategy, including selling off JLG, which makes construction equipment. That endeavor, which included a proxy fight, ended after Icahn failed to get 25 percent of shareholders to back his plan.

It will be interesting to see if Manitowoc Company officials fight Icahn as hard as Oshkosh leaders did. In Manitowoc's case, Icahn isn't the first shareholder to bring up the idea to split the company in two. In early 2014, Relational Investors, an institutional investor based in San Diego and owns 8.5 percent of the company, said it would seek to split the company in two to increase the value of their shares.

Cheese factory expansion

It's no secret Wisconsin is the cheese capital of the United States and one of the state's cheese factories is getting bigger. Family-owned Baker Cheese Factory in eastern Fond du Lac County is spending $7 million to expand and modernize its factory. The project, which is expected to be complete by next fall, will create about 40 new jobs when complete.

As part of its expansion, Baker is building a new wastewater treatment facility that will allow the company to expand its whey operations. Whey is a popular food ingredient and demand for it continues to grow. In addition to whey, Baker Cheese manufactures 100 percent natural string cheese under its own label as well as for private labels.

Baker Cheese Factory will receive $800,000 in economic development tax credits over the next three years from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. depending on the number of total jobs created and retained.

-- 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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