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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Northwest Enterprise Network aids entrepreneurs


By MaryBeth Matzek
The state's largest business incubator isn't in Milwaukee, or even in Madison for that matter. Nestled in the far northwest corner of Wisconsin, the Northwest Enterprise Center Network covers more space than any other by offering 10 business incubator spaces in six different communities.

"It's one of the largest incubator programs in the country and it's right here in northwest Wisconsin," says Rick Roeser, the center's program manager.

The network was launched by the Northwest Regional Planning Commission in 1998 when the first incubator opened. Since then, other locations have been added. Each one – they're located in Spooner, Grantsburg, Iron River, Medford, Phillips and Siren – features modern, flexible spaces that businesses can reconfigure to meet their needs.

The majority of businesses in the incubators are manufacturing focused, particularly plastics and tool and die.

"The network's purpose is to provide the necessary resources to enhance technology-based business development that add economic diversification and strength within the region by creating high-skill, high-wage jobs" and the companies housed in the incubator are creating those types of jobs, Roeser says.

Dental Metrics Laboratory in Iron River is one of the newest tenants to call the center home and owner Merlyn Coy said his company would not have gotten off the ground without its help.

"Without them, my business wouldn't exist," he says. "Not only did it provide me with a physical space for my business, but everyone has been so helpful from helping me develop a business plan and flush out ideas to just being able to walk out my door and talk to other entrepreneurs to see how they dealt with an issue."

Coy founded Dental Metrics, which uses digital imaging, 3D printers and CNC manufacturing equipment to produce metal-free dental restoration products, because he grew tired of driving to Duluth. "It was a long commute and I wanted to do something like that here," he says. "I had a friend who was in one of the incubators and it turned out to be a great fit."

Beyond just providing space, the incubator provides resources to help businesses get up and running. From working with entrepreneurs on their business plans to helping them secure financing, there's multiple ways the Northwest Enterprise Center Network can lend a hand, Roeser says.

"The enterprise centers are just one tool in the tool box of helping businesses," Roeser says. "If you are going to help businesses grow and expand, you need the right pieces."

To date, more than 40 companies have used the incubators and more than 370 jobs have been created. Roeser says $42.2 million in private investments have also been made as a result of the incubators being in place.

"We believe we can grow our own successful businesses and that's a great way to build the overall economy," he says. "It's also a way to diversify the economy and the types of jobs we have here."

Bank growth

When County Bancorp Inc. went public earlier this year, one of the goals was to grow the holding company for Manitowoc's Investor Community Bank so it could grow through acquisition. That plan paid off when County Bancorp recently announced it had entered into an agreement to merge with Fox River Valley Bancorp Inc.

The move gives Investors branches in the key markets of Green Bay and Appleton. The purchase price is about $28.9 million. The new combined financial institution will have more than $1 billion in assets and County will be the sixth largest exchange trade bank holding company headquartered in Wisconsin.

Read more on Investors Community Bank in a recent column from Matzek

Expo center gets approval

After years of discussion and months of debate among Appleton City Council members, Appleton will finally get an expo center. Appleton officials recently signed the papers to spend $2 million to buy land from Outagamie County for the expo, which will be connected to the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel.

In recent weeks, 10 Fox Cities communities voted to approve an extra room tax to offset the building costs of the $30 million-plus facility. Construction could begin next summer.

The Radisson will manage the expo center for the city and handle operations costs. The center is expected to generate $6.5 million annually in visitor spending, according to a 2014 market analysis.
-- 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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