Spirit on the Lake

City of Sheboygan
Written by Claire Suttles

Known as the Spirit on the Lake, Sheboygan, Wisconsin is famous for its enviable location along the banks of Lake Michigan. Residents and tourists alike flock to the city’s two miles of unspoiled public beaches to swim, kite surf, wind surf, paddleboard, kayak, jet ski, boat, and fish.
With waters ideal for sailing, Sheboygan has been chosen as one of four U.S. Sailing Centers – and the only one located on fresh water – making it a popular training destination for Olympic sailors. Stretches of the city’s beaches are also great for surfing, drawing thousands of visitors eager to ride the waves.

Sheboygan’s waterways and beaches are a huge boon to the city’s economy. “Tourism drives economic development,” says Chad Pelishek, Sheboygan’s Director of Planning & Development. “Over the years the city has invested a lot of money into the Sheboygan River – which deposits into the lake right in our downtown – and into public infrastructure and corridors to try and promote the lakefront.” The city has also made it a priority to keep waterfronts accessible to all. “Most of the lakefront and riverfront is owned by the city, so we have control over it,” Mr. Pelishek explains. “We have really worked hard on trying to allow people to use the assets that Lake Michigan provides without restricting it with private development.”

In addition to being a mecca for water recreation, Sheboygan boasts children’s and history museums, a significant amount of green / open space, hiking trails and, as the Bratwurst Capital of the World, plenty of fried brats and related festivals. The city boasts three unique shopping areas: the South Pier Peninsula, the Riverfront Shanty Shops on the Boardwalk, and downtown Sheboygan. As well, the Stefanie Weill Center for the Performing Arts has been longingly restored to its 1920s splendor and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is nationally recognized for its collections of folk and vernacular art.

Located on a pristine white sand beach, the majestic Blue Harbor Resort, Spa, and Conference Center boasts a 54,000 square foot indoor entertainment area and waterpark, 180 hotel rooms, 64 villas, event space, restaurants, and eco-friendly lakeshore trails. Golf is also a big tourist draw, and the Sheboygan / Kohler area is recognized as Wisconsin’s premier golf destination, with two courses that are part of the five-diamond American complex. Considered one of the best championship courses in the United States, the Straits at Whistling Straits® hosted the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championships and the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, and plans to host the 2015 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup.

Sheboygan residents enjoy affordable housing and a low cost of living – as of 2007, a whopping 22 percent lower than the United States average. In addition, Morgan Quinto Press ranked the Sheboygan metropolitan statistical area as the sixth safest overall in the nation in 2007. Money Magazine named Sheboygan the “Most Livable” city for six consecutive years and “Best Retirement Community” due to its recreational opportunities, cost of living, and safety.

Sheboygan also enjoys a solid manufacturing base that has stood up to the pressures of offshoring. Mr. Pelishek credits the local workforce and their “strong work ethic” for this achievement. “Sheboygan has historically been a blue collar community with a lot of people working in manufacturing,” he says. “They are very dedicated and work hard toward making successes in the community.” Stable, family owned companies that want to continue investing in the community have also played a crucial role, and in fact, almost 40 percent of Sheboygan’s jobs are in the manufacturing industry.

Rockline Industries is one of Sheboygan’s largest employers and one of the world’s leading developers, manufacturers, and distributors of wet wipes and coffee filters. “Most of the wipes that are on the market today are being manufactured in Sheboygan,” Mr. Pelishek reports. Nemak, which produces high-tech aluminum components for the automotive industry, is another major employer. After enduring a slump during the recession, Nemak was acquired by a Mexican firm, causing concern that one of the city’s largest employers might relocate. The new owners saw the benefits of staying in Sheboygan, however. “They have made a huge investment in the community,” says Mr. Pelishek. The company has expanded its facilities twice since the recession and employment has rebounded to include more than 1,000 people.

The Kohler Company’s global headquarters are located within Sheboygan County, in Kohler, Wisconsin. An international leader in plumbing products, the manufacturer employs more than 5,000 locals. Leading cheese producer Sargento is also located nearby. Sheboygan’s American Orthodontics Corporation is the largest privately held manufacturer of orthodontic appliances in the world. The area is also home to a number of plastics manufacturers as well as several specialty food and beverage producers.

ACUITY is headquartered in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and its presence is helping to drive professional employment in the city. “ACUITY is diversifying our workforce and bringing more professional positions to the community,” Mr. Pelishek reports. The property and casualty insurer manages over $3 billion in assets and employs over 1,000 people.

To be sure, Sheboygan’s businesses enjoy a strong, healthy relationship with the local government. “We encourage business development and work through any obstacles that may be there from a permitting standpoint. We try and encourage the expansion of existing companies and bring new companies into the area.” The city’s economic development team provides specific services and programs to these businesses, including economic incentives in the form of loans and grants, redevelopment assistance, and guidance through the development process. Sheboygan also offers a low cost of doing business, including very low water and sewer rates.

Sheboygan’s strategic southeastern Wisconsin location also helps attract business. The city is conveniently located at the intersection of Interstate 43 and Highway 23, about halfway between Green Bay and Milwaukee. Sheboygan is about an hour’s drive from both cities, two and half hours from Chicago, and five and a half hours from Minneapolis.

Adding to the draw, incoming business owners have a range of quality housing from which to choose, from contemporary designs to historic Victorians. “Overall, the housing quality stock is very good and very economical,” shares Mr. Pelishek. “You can buy a house right on Lake Michigan for a very reasonable amount of money.” Most neighborhoods house longtime residents who are committed to the community and work hard to keep it in good condition. “We’ve got safe neighborhoods, clean neighborhoods, and quality neighborhoods.”

Sheboygan has undergone significant development in the past two decades, beginning in 1994 with the construction of the Harbor Centre Marina. Widely considered the premier destination marina on Lake Michigan, the full service marina boasts an upscale country club feel and is walking distance to downtown and the South Pier Peninsula.

Currently, the city is focused on downtown development. “One of the challenges that we have as a typical Midwestern community is that we haven’t focused a lot on our downtown in the past,” Mr. Pelishek says. A downtown master plan has just been developed that centers around three key assets located within one block of each other: The Stefanie Weill Center for the Performing Arts, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, and a new branch of the public library. The city has recently acquired a vacant, 100,000 square foot department store situated along this block. Plans are underway to demolish the building and create a town plaza that will anchor the arts and culture district, linking its primary assets together and providing a pedestrian walkway and greenspace. City officials predict that the new development will “energize the arts and culture activities happening in this hub area.”

The city is also working to create more housing downtown to meet the demand of young professionals who want to live there. There is some subsidized, low income housing available, but very few market rate apartments and condominiums with the amenities that the city’s young professionals are seeking. “The jobs are here for them, but not the housing; they are driving in from Milwaukee because the product is available in that area.” Fortunately, there are already some proposals on the table, and Mr. Pelishek is optimistic that a new housing development will break ground sometime this year.

Sheboygan’s young professionals are eager to live downtown to take advantage of all the city has to offer. “They want to be able to walk to everything,” Mr. Pelishek says. From unique shopping, arts, and entertainment, to a beautiful, Lake Michigan beach, these residents want to be in the middle of it all. Tourists are equally enthusiastic about the city’s downtown and continue to enjoy Sheboygan’s many assets – which only continue to grow.



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