The eastern shore of Lake Winnebago is known as the “quiet side of the lake”. Calumet County, Wisconsin, however, is not so quiet right now. The county has been experiencing a wave of growth and has been acknowledged as the second-fastest-growing county in the state, which means that there is opportunity aplenty.
Calumet County has access to a labor force of nearly 800,000 within a fifty-mile radius, and the population continues to grow, having increased 12.8 percent since 2000. It is growing twice as fast as the state of Wisconsin and almost twenty percent above the national average growth rate. The phenomenal rate of growth and development is driven by its residents’ quality of life and access to opportunity.
Calumet County has an economy based on agriculture and manufacturing. The small, rural community atmosphere has provided the perfect foundation for the county’s development. It has worked alongside its economic development partners to achieve a vision for balanced growth. The goal is to respect the rural, agricultural spaces while maintaining a focus on the growth centers.
The largest municipality in the county is Appleton, which spreads into three counties. “The village of Sherwood, the village of Harrison, that northwest corner is the area of the county that’s growing, and that’s brought on by the continued growth seen in Appleton,” says Calumet County Planner Dena Mooney.
Manufacturing accounts for nearly thirty percent of all county jobs, as Calumet County is home to well-known names such lawn and garden equipment manufacturer Ariens – which has had a long and rich history in the county – iron casting foundry Brillion Iron Works, custom equipment solutions company Amerequip and fasteners and related productions components firm Endries. Access to a skilled labor pool and the necessary logistical capabilities, transportation infrastructure and internet connectivity all serve as important industry supports.
State Highway 57 runs north to Green Bay and south to Milwaukee, and US Highways 151 and 10 run east and west, giving Calumet County a strong transportation network. Canadian National provides rail services so local manufacturing and industry can gain access to markets across the United States with minimal congestion, a characteristic commonly associated with larger urban centers.
Agriculture is also a significant area of activity in Calumet County, and nineteen percent of the jobs in the county are in this field with dairy and cheese at the forefront. The county also hosts a substantial food processing sector and supply chain for agriculture, including equipment manufacturers, agriculture implement dealers, businesses dedicated to animal nutrition and agricultural cooperatives.
Calumet County has food processing firms such as Briess, Bel Gioso and Sargento. Sargento just announced an expansion that will bring an additional 140 jobs to the county. Another area of focus is the establishment of viticulture along the Niagara Escarpment. The escarpment is a prime grape growing area, and the Wisconsin Ledge recently received the official designation as an American Viticulture Area.
In addition to agriculture and food processing, Calumet County has also found a way to capitalize on its natural assets to create a strong local agri-tourism sector to showcase the county’s agriculture. From fiber arts and corn mazes to pumpkin patches, apple orchards and farm stores, agri-tourism is a large part of the county’s efforts to diversify its agricultural base.
“We have communities that want to see growth with new homes being constructed, and then we have towns that don’t really want to see growth because of their vision and dedication to agriculture,” explained Mooney, “Their future is agriculture so sometimes the house and the farm don’t get along, so we have found a good balance.”
Often, companies will hire specialist site selectors to identify the best places to locate future facilities. Site selectors evaluate local incentives, which may be in the form of tax abatements, grants or workforce support, and they assess the transportation infrastructure and supply chain of the region. They also see if the local workforce has the required training and if energy infrastructure is adequate for a company’s needs.
A site selector familiarization tour recently took place in Menasha, which welcomed visiting site selectors from Texas, Arizona, Nebraska and Illinois and took them on a tour of the region’s many assets. The tour, a regional collaboration to showcase the area as an attractive location for potential businesses, was an effort coordinated by the Fox Cities Regional Partnership (FCRP).
The FCRP is an economic development organization that serves Calumet County, Outagamie County and the northern part of Winnebago County. It focuses on industry and specializes in business retention and expansion. Apart from being active in the site selection process, the partnership has been targeting manufacturing, food processing, regional offices and looking to bolster further the region’s transportation infrastructure.
Much of the development efforts being undertaken in Calumet County are done through partnerships and collaborations in the interest of the region as a whole. Unlike other counties in the state, Calumet County has not designated an independent economic development organization. Instead, it has chosen to take the lead to work regionally to maximize results and benefits.
Independent of the FCRP, Calumet County offers free business counseling through the University of Wisconsin’s Green Bay Small Business Development Center. The county extends its revolving loan fund program to existing and new businesses and is served by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), as well as New North, a regional economic development organization with eighteen participating counties.
The county is, said Mooney, “Doing what we can with what we have for our businesses, and that’s why we feel investing in a regional partnership is so crucial and a smart choice. It makes good economic sense to not isolate ourselves but rather work regionally because we are so small, but we know the impact communities like Appleton can have in our county.”
Calumet County is also a member of the Fox Cities Economic Development Professionals (FCEDP) organization, the Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Development Partnership (NEWREP), the Wisconsin Counties Association and the Lakeshore Industry Cluster Initiative. It also works with the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board and the Fox Valley Technical College towards regional workforce development.
Workforce development is a crucial effort of Calumet County and its partners, especially the Fox Cities Regional Partnership, which is working hard to match a skilled workforce with existing and new businesses in the county. The partnership has created its Talent Upload program to familiarize college students from around the Midwest with the region’s top employers and provide access to countless career opportunities.
According to Matt Payette, Planning, Zoning and Land Information Department Director, “In 2015, the program welcomed Ariens and Sargento, new sponsors of the program bringing talented college students to Brillion and Hilbert, respectively, for this award-winning career exploration and community familiarization program.”
“We have a local and dedicated workforce,” said Payette. Calumet County has an overall negative commute in terms of workforce, with over 1,000 residents traveling outside of the county to the Fox Cities region, Oshkosh and the Green Bay Metro Area for work. Furthermore, the county will be hosting a job fair on January 18th to help meet the workforce needs that businesses are facing and to help counterbalance commuting patterns.
The quality and pace of life have been important reasons for population growth in Calumet County. Many residents have traded in the hustle and bustle of urban centers for the peace, recreation and overall balance that Calumet County has to offer.
“It’s a lot more peaceful,” Mooney said. “It’s very safe, high graduation rate, beautiful views of Lake Winnebago – especially on the western side of the county. We don’t have that big city feel, and I think that’s why we see such high population growth because people want to get out of that central city and just kind of get some space and come to our neck of the woods.”
Calumet County boasts four distinct seasons for tourists and residents alike to appreciate. With thousands of acres of wildlife areas, lakes, rolling hills, cliffs and prairies, it is an ideal location for those who want crowd-free, quality time next to the beauty of nature.
The county is very welcoming, and there are many lodging opportunities, such as camping or traditional lodging, to enjoy after a day of adventure in underground caves or State Wildlife Areas. As this is the Supper Club Capital of the Midwest, people can taste the flavors of Calumet County and reenergize after a day full of nature and fun! Its proximity to places like the Green Bay area means it is only a short, scenic drive to take in a Green Bay Packers game or to cheer on the Milwaukee Brewers.
Mooney does not think that the growth in population has placed a strain on Calumet County’s resources and infrastructure or challenged that quality of life. “For us at the county, I guess we’ve always kind of known that it was coming, so I don’t think we have reached a point of concern where we see a struggle maintaining that quality of life because of that. I think it can only actually improve it.”
Moving forward, Calumet County will look to maintain that critical balance. It is engaging in appropriate planning to ensure the farmland necessary for agricultural purposes, ag-tourism and agricultural production is preserved while promoting development, tourism and the marketing of its natural assets. And it will continue to bring together the business community and the skilled regional workforce for ongoing growth and success.
Come and see what Calumet County has to offer. It is not just a great place to live; it is a great place to work, invest and visit.