Wisconsin’s Park Place

City of Janesville
Written by Claire Suttles

Set along the Rock River amongst the rich farmland, and green woodlands of central Wisconsin, Janesville enjoys an ideal location for both business and pleasure…
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Known as Wisconsin’s Park Place for its abundant outdoor amenities, the community is also within easy driving distance of Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, Green Bay, and Des Moines, which creates a host of economic opportunities. “We have a geographic presence amongst millions of people here in the Midwest,” says Economic Development Director Gale Price. “That is key.”

Situated at a transportation nexus, Janesville’s citizens enjoy direct access to I-39 and I-90 and relatively close access to I-43 and 94, US Highways 51 and 14 and State Highways 11 and 26. This central, crossroads location has helped the city of 63,575 grow steadily since it was founded in 1836, becoming a major commercial and industrial center for the State-Line area. Janesville’s strong work ethic has also been a driving force behind the community’s success. “People want to work in Wisconsin. There is data out there that shows that, in Wisconsin, there are more people holding multiple jobs than any other state. That shows the work ethic.”

Local government also does its part to attract, and retain, businesses. “Janesville has one of the lowest costs of doing business in taxation rates of any Wisconsin community,” Mr. Price explains. “And that relates back to fiscally responsible city government.” Janesville also offers lucrative incentives to incoming businesses, including a TIF “Gap” Financing Program through Forgivable Loans on site development and traditional loans on equipment, Janesville Development Opportunity Zone, and Job Creation Forgivable Loans when possible. The Forgivable Loans “work a lot like a grant, but the forgivable loan(s) have benchmarks that need to be hit. And if those benchmarks are hit we can forgive the loan. That is a very active program right now and we have a lot of companies that are looking at us primarily because we can offer that.”

Janesville’s no-nonsense approach to development is another major attractor. “We are pro-development in Janesville,” Mr. Price states. “We are supportive of companies that want to come here.” The team is committed to not only making the transition hassle-free, but to fast-tracking the entire process as well. “From a development standpoint, the city has a very strong process to get people to market. So speed to market is a big reason why someone should come here, because if somebody needs to build something quickly, we can get it done. We can basically put together a development project in six weeks; that is not something that many communities can do. We have a streamlined one-stop shop approach to development review.”

The city has adopted the Janesville Comprehensive Plan to ensure that the community’s short and long term development goals are met. The plan takes the full range of “Quality of Life” aspects into account, from land use and economic development to transportation, parks, and open space.

Market driven and action oriented, the Rock Renaissance Area Redevelopment and Implementation Strategy (ARISE) provides a clear vision for revitalizing Janesville’s downtown and river area. “Basically, it looks at downtown and [recognizes that] this needs to be the core of the community,” Mr. Price explains. This downtown core needs to provide the amenities and distinct identity that residents want, so a foundational feature of the project will be to create a “sense of place” that ties the community together and brings the city recognition.

ARISE involves developers, landowners, elected officials, and downtown businesses in the much-needed cleanup and redevelopment of the Rock River and surrounding vicinity. Aesthetics and functionality are key, so an important first step is ripping out an unattractive parking deck that spans the river, freeing the waterway – and the adjoining riverfront space – to capitalize on one of Janesville’s key assets and create the Town Square. Long-term development will likely be divided into residential, entertainment, shopping, and other business activities such as restaurants to maximize the positive impact the revitalization will have within the downtown area. Throughout the development process, the city’s historical character will be carefully protected to preserve the authentic downtown and create additional amenities that establish that coveted “sense of place.”

Janesville’s pro-business policies and central location have helped the city hold onto much of its manufacturing; in fact, 35 percent of the workforce is employed in the manufacturing and distribution sectors. Surrounded by Wisconsin farmland, Janesville is an ideal spot for food processing. “Being in Wisconsin, we have a tremendous amount of food suppliers and food companies,” Mr. Price points out. “The food industry is something that we see ourselves continuing to advance in because there is a ton of food produced around here with the farms and other related companies.” Perhaps most notably, Seneca – one of the largest fruit and vegetable canning companies in the world – runs a 1,106,000 square foot processing plant in Janesville.

The community also supports food-packaging companies, which complement the food-processing sector. “When you’ve got companies producing the packaging for the food producers in the same town, the cost of getting that product to the customer is lower, so that allows the cost per unit to be less. Those are partnerships that tend to help everyone.” For instance, eco-friendly Coextruded Plastics Technologies and Green-Tek are successful Janesville start-ups that engineer sustainable, microwavable packaging.

GO-GREEN is one of several noteworthy homegrown companies in Janesville. “You’ve got a number of startup companies that were birthed here and have been successful.” Lab Safety Supply started in a local garage, grew into a multimillion company, and was eventually acquired by the Fortune 500 industrial supply company, W.W. Grainger. “It’s a great hometown story,” says Mr. Price.

Currently, SHINE Medical Technologies is one of Janesville’s hottest startups. The innovative company will deliver reliable, Molybdenum-99 used in medical procedures, primarily for detecting and treating heart disease and cancer. SHINE is moving its offices from Madison to Janesville and building a new production facility there. “That is a huge boon for Janesville because it is technology oriented. It capitalizes on our proximity to University of Wisconsin Madison and a competing company [that] is opening in Beloit, which is just down the road. Between the two companies, the majority of medical isotope used for tests in the northern hemisphere could all be produced here in one county. This is a worldwide product.”

Incoming companies like SHINE will find that Janesville offers a high quality of life in addition to business opportunities. The city is known for its lush 2,300 acres of parkland and recreational areas, replete with boat launches, ball fields, and playgrounds. Two public golf courses, tennis courts, and over 27 miles of paved bike trails provide more opportunities for outdoor recreation. Sports fans can catch a Janesville Jets hockey game at the Ice Arena or an award winning Rock Aqua Jays water ski show, while art and culture lovers will enjoy shows at the Janesville Performing Arts Center, or a stroll through the Rotary Botanical Gardens. Janesville also offers great regional level shopping and a variety of dining experiences, including live music at several local pubs.

Janesville also boasts impressive historic architecture. In fact, a whopping twenty percent of the buildings in Wisconsin that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places are located in Janesville. One of the most renowned is the Tallman House, the only private residence in the state where Abraham Lincoln slept. The city has 13 historical districts that are ideal for walking tours, or history buffs can visit The Helen Jeffris Wood Museum Center, which features traveling exhibits and special events. In addition, the Rock County Historical Society hosts a range of festivals and events.

A low cost of living and a good school system are arguably the city’s greatest draws. In addition to its highly ranked K-12 schools, Janesville “has a very strong post secondary education system,” led by Blackhawk Technical College, as well as a branch of the University of Wisconsin.

Aptly named Park Place for its abundance of green, open spaces, Janesville offers a strong business climate as well as the lifestyle that employees and business owners want. “The quality of life here in Janesville is really the best in Wisconsin.”

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