Latest RLF loan shows benefit of local control

A STARTUP COMPANY WITH solid potential got a needed boost from the Plymouth City Council through a loan from the city’s revolving loan fund.

It raises again the question of whether the state’s intention to consolidate local economic development funds into regional funds administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will take away some of the local impact such funds have had over the years in places like Plymouth.

This latest loan is for $140,000 to TruNorth Components Inc.

The company is being set up by three former executives of Thomas Industries, who plan to manufacture compressors and air pumps for original equipment manufacturers.

They bring more than three-quarters of a century of combined experience in the industry to their new venture. They have a solid business plan, a substantial personal financial stake in the business, and a strong list of prospective customers with a variety of products that will utilize what TruNorth produces.

It’s the kind of new business that Plymouth’s revolving loan fund has given a needed boost, many times over, over the past three decades – companies and businesses that are now a solid part of the city and area economy.

But when the WEDC takes over Plymouth’s fund – and there appears to be no way to prevent it – will such small startup proposals be lost in the shuffle and fall between the cracks?

The consolidation will create a regional economic development superfund, with millions of dollars available for projects throughout northeastern Wisconsin.

But will the Green Bay-based economic development effort focus on larger, big-ticket proposals to the detriment of smaller, localized projects that deserve support as well?

It is a legitimate question.

Plymouth’s fund has rarely ever been in the seven-figure range in available cash, but it has always worked well for local development.

For example, seed money from the revolving loan fund helped Orion Lighting get off the ground many years ago. From that initial effort a major new company has grown, one that expanded to Manitowoc but still with a presence in Plymouth and has grown to a major employer in the region.

It has grown into a major innovator in green energy and technology, earning recognition from President Barack Obama. But it started as a little venture supported by Plymouth’s revolving loan fund.

Will a regional fund, administered in Green Bay, be able to see and support the potential for little ventures like Orion – and many others that have flourished in Plymouth and elsewhere with the support of locally-administered funds?

It can only be hoped that the regional fund will have enough local input from communities like Plymouth that are closer to the ground and able to see the potential in a new venture that might not be as visible from a distance.

Only time will tell.

At issue:
TruNorth Components loan
Bottom line:
An argument for local control

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