Wisconsin unemployment rate drops to 4.6 percent
April 17, 2015 10:20 AM
The Wisconsin unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in March, down from 4.8 percent in February, according to preliminary estimates released by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

The rate is the state’s lowest since June 2008, and remains below the national unemployment rate, which was at 5.5 percent in March.

However, Wisconsin lost 5,000 private sector jobs from February to March.

The labor force participation rate was at 68.4 percent statewide in March, down from 68.6 percent in February, but surpassing the 62.7 percent participation rate nationwide.

In the 12 months ending in March, Wisconsin added 48,200 private sector jobs. Among the leading industries for job creation were construction, manufacturing and financial activities.

"Wisconsin's preliminary March unemployment rate of 4.6 percent is the lowest rate since June 2008 (and) remains well below the national unemployment rate," said DWD secretary Reggie Newson. "In addition, the statistically significant year-over-year job increases across multiple sectors are positive economic indicators that we are on a long-term path to advance a Wisconsin that supports greater freedom and prosperity."

The DWD based its statistics on data obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics report, which is obtained through a monthly survey of about 3.5 percent of Wisconsin employers. The CES is often subject to revision.

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Modine plans to close Iowa manufacturing facility
April 17, 2015 09:58 AM
Racine-based thermal management product manufacturer Modine Manufacturing Co. announced conditional plans to close its manufacturing plant in Washington, Iowa. The company said the decision is dependent upon the conclusion of bargaining with the union at the Washington facility. The closure would impact approximately 245 full-time employees.

The Washington plant makes liquid charge air coolers, plate oil coolers and fuel coolers for the automotive, commercial vehicle and off-highway markets. Modine plans to transfer the Washington production to other facilities in North America, including those in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; Joplin, Mo.; and Jefferson City, Mo.  Plans call for the plant to close over an approximate 24-month period.

"Closing operations is never easy," said Scott Wollenberg, regional vice president – Americas. "However, our analysis of Modine's global product lines and North American manufacturing strategy led us to conclude that the best long-term solution for Modine and its shareholders is to consolidate all the Washington products into other North American facilities. Closing the Washington plant will help us rationalize production, maintain the scale we need in our manufacturing operations and improve our overall competitiveness and profitability.  We are committed to making the transition as seamless as possible for our customers and to assisting our affected employees during the transition."

In connection with the upcoming closure, Modine expects to incur a charge of approximately $2 million in the first quarter of its 2016 fiscal year, primarily related to anticipated severance payments.  In addition to temporary inefficiencies, the company anticipates to incur total closure costs of approximately $3 million over the entire closure period.  

Modine forecasts it will generate annual savings of at least $9 million once the closure is completed in fiscal 2018. In addition to achieving savings, it predicts the consolidation will result in additional revenue opportunities and growth in vehicular markets due to the more competitive cost structure.

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U-Haul buys former Harley plant in Wauwatosa for $5.25 million
April 17, 2015 10:33 AM
An affiliate of Phoenix, Ariz.-based U-Haul International Inc. purchased the 395,000-square-foot former Harley-Davidson plant in Wauwatosa, which the company shut down in 2011, for $5.25 million, according to state records.

The building sits on a 21.6-acre site northwest of U.S. Highway 45 and Capitol Drive. The property, which has an address of 11700 W. Capitol Dr., sold for less than its assessed value of $6.7 million, according to Milwaukee County records.

The building was built in 1946 and has been vacant since Harley consolidated local manufacturing operations at its Menomonee Falls plant.

The property was listed for sale by James T. Barry III, Kevin Barry and David Buckley of Milwaukee-based DTZ Barry. James T. Barry III declined to comment on the deal.

A representative for U-Haul could not be reached for comment.

The deal is one of the largest recent industrial real estate deals to occur in the region, and it eliminates one of the few large industrial spaces that were available in the market.

Southeastern Wisconsin had a 4.86 percent industrial space vacancy rate in the first quarter, according to Xceligent data, and Milwaukee County had a first quarter industrial space vacancy rate of 7.56 percent.

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State launches joint venture to advance water entrepreneurship
April 17, 2015 10:05 AM
Veolia, The Water Council and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation have reached an agreement to launch a national competition to support entrepreneurship and economic development while fostering sustainability efforts in the field of water in Milwaukee.

Veolia and the two organizations agreed to work together to develop a new, two-year program called “POW!  emPowering Opportunities in Water.” The joint program will provide a special opportunity for innovators and social entrepreneurs to fast-track water-related ideas that can improve sustainability and resiliency efforts in the field of water.

Under the parameters of the agreement, Veolia and The Water Council would issue a nationwide challenge to entrepreneurs and startup companies revolving around specific areas of interest. Startups that have the highest likelihood of solving the challenge will be chosen to enter the program. They would be given financial incentives to locate their ventures at the Global Water Center in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.

“It’s great news that the major international water company, Veolia, selected Milwaukee to house its entrepreneurship program and this further validates that southeastern Wisconsin is the nation’s home of water technology commercialization and entrepreneurship,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said. “In recent years, Milwaukee has seen a dramatic increase in the number of startups attracted to the Global Water Center, and we are pleased to develop this program with a global leader in optimized resource management.”

Submission guidelines and further details about the “POW!” program will be announced soon.

“This program provides a great opportunity for emerging water-technology companies to take the next step by partnering with The Water Council and the technical experts at Veolia,” said Reed Hall, secretary and chief executive officer of the WEDC. “WEDC is very pleased to be part of this partnership.”

“We are thrilled to be working with Veolia on a major entrepreneurship project,” said Dean Amhaus, The Water Council’s president and CEO, who signed a memorandum of understanding in Paris, France, with Laurent Auguste, Veolia’s senior executive vice president of innovation and markets. “Milwaukee is truly the home of water technology and water entrepreneurship in the US, as seen by the increasing number of startups that have been attracted to the Global Water Center since its opening.”

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ZBB forms partnership with Solar Power Inc.
April 17, 2015 10:57 AM
Menomonee Falls-based ZBB Energy Corp. announced today its intention to enter into a supply agreement with Solar Power Inc. for energy storage systems with total combined power output of 40 megawatts over a period of four years.

The value of the initial supply agreement is estimated at $80 million to $120 million, depending on the mix of storage applications and installation requirements.

Headquartered in Shanghai, China, Solar Power is a global leader in enabling photovoltaic solutions for business, residential, government and utility customers and investors. ZBB is a developer of energy management systems solutions serving the utility, commercial and industrial building markets.

ZBB said the strategic partnership creates a solar industry powerhouse that will combine solar photovoltaic (PV) systems with energy storage and systems management solutions for utility, commercial and residential applications.

"In a short period of time, SPI has become a major global player in providing PV systems solutions and innovative renewable energy financing models,” said Paul Koeppe, ZBB Energy chairman. “SPI has a strong, worldwide presence in the highest growth markets for our products. This agreement gives us immediate access to regions and countries where we lack a presence today, providing a major opportunity for ZBB to become a global leader in energy storage and energy management systems. In addition, we expect this partnership to completely change the paradigm at ZBB from development stage to a high growth manufacturing company."

The supply agreement will be entered into at the closing of a Securities Purchase Agreement between SPI and ZBB that was executed today and is valued at $33.4 million, consisting of a combination of newly issued common stock and convertible preferred stock of ZBB.

Under the terms of the SPA, SPI will purchase 8 million shares of ZBB common stock for approximately $5.3 million at a price per share of $0.6678 and 28,048 shares of ZBB Series C Convertible Preferred Stock for approximately $28 million. The aggregate purchase price of the purchased preferred shares was determined based on a price of $0.6678 per common equivalent. The Purchased Preferred Shares are only convertible upon the completion of specific procurement milestones detailed in the Supply Agreement. With this infusion of capital, ZBB will have in excess of $45 million of cash on its balance sheet.

In addition to the initial $33.4 million investment into ZBB Energy, the Securities Purchase Agreement contemplates that ZBB will issue to SPI a warrant to purchase 50 million shares of ZBB common stock for an aggregate purchase price of $36.7 million and a per share exercise price equal to $0.7346.

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The Bog golf course is for sale
April 17, 2015 12:00 PM
The Bog, an 18-hole golf course in Saukville that was designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer, was recently listed for sale.

The course covers a 297-acre site at 3121 County Highway I in Saukville and has a 10,500-square-foot clubhouse. The Bog opened in 1995 and is being sold by its original developer, Terry Wakefield. It is being listed for sale by Patrick Gallagher of Milwaukee-based Siegel-Gallagher and Chicago-based Links Capital Advisors.

“It’s just time for (Wakefield) to move on,” Gallagher said. “He’s been a good steward of the course for many years.”

The asking price for the course is $3.5 million.

“That is a fraction of its original cost,” Gallagher said.

The Bog is a public, 18-hole championship caliber golf course, he said. It has been ranked as one of the top 10 golf courses in the state by Golf Digest.

“We have several offers already,” Gallagher said. “This is a really desirable course. The quality of this course is way up there.”

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Maker Faire targets creative entrepreneurs
April 17, 2015 10:21 AM
The second-annual Maker Faire Milwaukee will return to Wisconsin State Fair Park on Sept. 26-27.

The free regional event is produced by the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and Milwaukee Makerspace and is presented in collaboration with MAKE magazine and sponsored by Brady Corp.

Maker Faire Milwaukee aims to inspire, inform, connect and entertain in a family-friendly gathering that highlights the do-it-yourself spirit of our community and celebrates innovation in technology, education, science, arts, crafts, engineering, food, sustainability, and more.

More than 35,000 people attended the 2014 inaugural event in Milwaukee, making it one of the largest featured Maker Faires in the United States.

New additions for the 2015 event include expansion of hall space in the Exposition Center for the event’s hands-on workshops for children and adults, demonstrations, speakers and exhibitors that showcase 3D printing, electronics, robotics, laser cutting, soldering, lasers, alternative energy, blacksmithing, indie crafts, and more. The event will include an extended two-day Design and Build Challenge sponsored by GE.

“Innovation is at the core of Brady's success over the last 100 years,” said Kelley Yunk, director of WPS Americas sales and marketing effectiveness for Brady Corp. “We hope that the Maker Movement empowers a whole new generation with the understanding that they have something unique to contribute to the quest to find innovative solutions to problems in their communities and workplaces.”

“The Maker Movement is a remarkable initiative – helping shape how we live, work and learn,” said Fern Shupeck, executive director of the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. “The Maker Movement has been particularly meaningful for young children who are learning new skills and experimenting through hands-on experiences. We are honored to present this free educational platform with our Maker Faire Milwaukee event partners.”

Maker Faire Milwaukee is independently organized and operated under license from Maker Media Inc. Maker Faire Milwaukee welcomes makers of all kinds to exhibit at the event. The Call for Makers will open on May 25. More information about exhibiting, volunteering or sponsoring is available at

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Hide House is for sale
April 17, 2015 12:05 PM
Hide House Creative, a series of connected former tannery buildings in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood that now provides space for an eclectic mix of small firms, start-ups and creative tenants, is for sale.

The complex is located at 2612-31 S. Greeley St. and is owned by an affiliate of Fox Point-based General Capital Management. It has a total of 140,875 square feet of gross building area, including about 81,637 square feet of improved, lease-able space. About 82.6 percent of the currently lease-able space is occupied.

The Hide House complex is listed for sale by Patrick Gallagher, Matson Holbrook Jr. and Max Schultz of Milwaukee-based Siegel-Gallagher. The asking price is $2.9 million.

“We have several interested parties that are looking at it,” Gallagher said. “It’s just a really creative space, a very cool building It has a real creative mix of tenants and is located in a neighborhood that attracts that ilk.”

The buildings in the complex were built from 1898 to 1949. The complex was originally the home of the Greenebaum Tannery.

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Riverfront Plaza office building downtown is for sale
April 17, 2015 12:09 PM
Riverfront Plaza, a 6-story office building located at 1110 N. Old World Third St. on the Milwaukee River in downtown Milwaukee is for sale.

The 108,671-square-foot building is currently 71 percent occupied. It is owned by a local investment group and is listed for sale by Patrick Gallagher and Matson Holbrook Jr. of Milwaukee-based Siegel-Gallagher.

Tenants in the building include Lucille’s Piano Bar & Grill and Ale Asylum Riverhouse.

The building was built in 1923 and was completed renovated in 1987, Gallagher said.

“I think (the investment group that owns the building) see that the office market is recovering from the recession,” he said. “It’s a good time to be a seller.”

The property could benefit from being located near the proposed new downtown arena for the Milwaukee Bucks and the ancillary development that the Bucks owners are planning around the arena, Gallagher said.

There is no asking price for the building. An offer due date has been set for May 6, Gallagher said.

“We’ve had four or five tours so far,” he said.

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Nonprofit Weekly: Ries honored with Vision Award at MANDI program
April 17, 2015 11:35 AM
About 840 friends, partners and advocates of LISC Milwaukee joined the organization Wednesday at Potawatomi Bingo Hotel & Casino to not only celebrate its 16th annual MANDI Awards program but also congratulate Leo Ries, who is exiting the organization at the end of the month after 15 years of service as its executive director.

LISC Milwaukee – Local Initiatives Support Corporation – is part of a national organization working to transform struggling urban neighborhoods into prosperous and sustainable ones.

Read more in today’s Nonprofit Weekly.

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Milwaukee Biz Blog: New Bucks arena would bring increased tax revenue and jobs
April 17, 2015 10:36 AM
Even if the legislature decides against public financing to build a new arena in downtown, Milwaukee, the taxpayers will be on the hook for repairs, maintenance and debt service costs for the Bradley Center.

State Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) makes the case for finding a way to finance a new arena in today’s Milwaukee Biz Blog.

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Morning Headlines: Hotel Northland developers secure $44 million for renovation
April 17, 2015 09:56 AM
All the exterior signs point to a pending start to the much-anticipated renovation of the Hotel Northland. KPH Construction has erected construction fences around the historic, 91-year-old downtown hotel and CEO Keith Harenda wants to "wake this sleeping giant" as soon as possible.

Read more in today’s Wisconsin Morning Headlines.

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Weekend preview
April 17, 2015 09:55 AM
As the weather warms up, there are a variety of events to choose from for your weekend entertainment.

Read all about the options in the Weekend Preview. OnMilwaukee is a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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Gehl family gives $3 million in gifts to employees
April 16, 2015 11:02 AM
After they sold their company in Germantown in March, members of the Gehl family gave generous cash gifts of gratitude to the employees at Gehl Foods Inc.

Each full-time employee received a gift of $10,000, including a $5,000 donation to their 401(k) plan and $5,000 in their next paycheck. Each part-time employee received a gift of $7,500, including a $5,000 donation to their 401(k) plan and $2,500 in their next paycheck.

All told, the company’s 370 employees received more than $3 million.

“It was is just a great act of appreciation and generosity on the family’s part and meant so much to everyone here,” said John Slawny, vice president of business development at Gehl Foods.

The Gehl family sold the company to Wind Point Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm, for an undisclosed sum.

Gehl Foods has three Germantown facilities and a West Bend bottle-making operation. Gehl Foods, which manufactures aseptic dairy products including nacho cheese, pudding and smoothies, reported $250 million in sales in 2014. It was founded in 1896 by J.P. Gehl as a three-room creamery that made “renovated” butter. In the 1960s, it shifted to non-refrigerated, sterile dairy products.

Katherine Gehl rejoined the family company in 2007 and led it as president and chief executive officer since 2011, succeeding her father, John, and her brother, Andy. Gehl has been succeeded by Eric Beringause, a food industry veteran who most recently served as CEO of Sturm Foods in Manawa. Gehl continues as a member of the company’s board of directors.

Gehl Foods has increased sales by 80 percent and added more than 100 jobs since 2007. During that time, the company has invested more than $100 million in new technologies and has increased product innovation and new business. More than 1 million people nationally consume Gehl cheese sauces each day in more than 200,000 movie theaters, concession stands, convenience stores and restaurants.

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Erik Buell Racing closes, affecting 126 employees
April 16, 2015 11:13 AM
East Troy-based Erik Buell Racing LLC permanently ceased operations on Wednesday at noon. The racing motorcycle manufacturer, located at 2799 Buell Drive, had 126 employees.

According to the WARN notice, Erik Buell Racing failed to acquire a capital investment and subsequently filed for receivership in Walworth County Court. The company anticipates that its assets will be sold.
"To say this setback is a disappointment does not begin to express what I feel right now," said founder and chief executive officer Erik Buell. "The turn we recently took, after we thought we were moving forward, was unexpected. We thought we had secured funding, but in the end, we were not able to get that funding in place. Therefore we need to do the best we can under the circumstances for all parties in interest."
He continued, "EBR is closed for now, but the dream and the vision still exist. I understand that Henry Ford's initial efforts at an automobile company failed and yet Ford still made his vision a reality that exists today. I am personally grateful for the support of our outstanding workers, customers and vendors. While this is a sad ending, I personally hope for a new and better beginning."

Erik Buell Racing, a spinoff from Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. founded in 2009, opened an office in the Netherlands in 2014 to help expand distribution and overall brand awareness in Europe.

Also in 2014, Buell was a recipient of the BizTimes Media Bravo! Entrepreneur Award. The award honors business leaders who best exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit with bold leadership.

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