Bright economic report to board has cloudy side

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – The county’s rosy economic picture has a double edged Sword of Damocles hanging over it.

There are many area employers looking for workers but not enough places for new workers moving into the county to live.

That was the gist of the report Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. Director Dane Checolinski gave to the County Board Tuesday.

Checolinski painted a largely positive picture of the county’s economy, citing high employment numbers and quality of life ratings among other plusses.

But, he added, there are clouds in the county’s economic silver lining.

“Companies are now investing outside the county because they can’t find enough employees here,” Checolinski told the board.

He cited the recent example of furniture manufacturer Mayline, which moved its operations from their long-standing home in Sheboygan to Iowa. A major factor in that decision, according to Checolinski, was the county’s stagnant population and workforce growth.

“For every 100 jobs created in a community, 40 would be filled by people living in the community, 40 by people living within the county and 20 by people who will commute into the county,” Checolinski related.

But, because of the county’s low unemployment rate, many of those local resident-filled jobs would mean new people moving into the county.

But those people have no place to move to, Checolinski continued, because the county’s current housing stock is full.

That’s why the SCEDC is working on partnering with local communities to encourage and foster housing development, especially apartment projects, he said.

“One critical barrier (to growth ) is our housing is full,” Checolinski summarized.

Checolinski and SCEDC Chairman Gary Dulmes both praised the county for its support for and partnership with the group’s efforts.

Checolinski cited the county’s revolving economic development loan fund as a key piece of the development effort.

“The county’s RLF has been effective,” he said, pointing to recent loans that have aided business projects in Plymouth, Waldo and Howards Grove. “Three more loan recommendations are awaiting approval,” by the county’s RLF committee.

Checolinski also praised the partnerships between the private sector and public schools in the county as a key factor in the county’s strong economy.

Those partnerships, he noted, have created job training programs that are unique and advantageous.

“Sheboygan Falls is the only public high school in the nation with a plastic injection molding machine. Plymouth is the only public high school in the country with a high-speed packaging machine,” Checolinski pointed out. That enables local schools to provide job training that benefit local companies and fill their workforce needs.

“Economic development knows no boundaries” between the public and private sectors or between communities, Dulmes summarized.

In his report to the County Board, County Administrator Adam Payne said he had met with representatives of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Paul Ryan and Glenn Grothman during the recent National Association of Counties annual conference in Washington, D.C.

One topic of his discussions, Payne said, was the effort to change the location of the air quality monitoring station in the county from the Lake Michigan shoreline to farther inland.

“Most of the people I talked to in those offices are aware of it,” Payne said of the county’s air quality non-attainment status. He said that status was due in large part to the current monitoring station capturing polluted air blown in over Lake Michigan from other states.

He said area state legislators have already made a push to have the Environmental Protection Agency approve a new site for the monitoring station in the town of Mosel.

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