One economic theme for 2016? Laying a foundation for future industry in Oshkosh.
Officials expect to clear land around the city and lay blueprints aimed to attract new business and help current companies expand in the next year. This means shovel-hardy infrastructure upgrades, planning to attract aviation and a new-to-Oshkosh loan program for budding and burgeoning businesses.
While officials expect continued growth and investment – in retail, for instance – along Interstate 41 in 2016, the city also plans to revamp Wittman Regional Airport and proffer improvements to industrial parks on the north and southwest end of town.
“The land is available,” said Allen Davis, Oshkosh director of community development. “Now it’s a matter of clearing that land for development.”
Meanwhile, new life in the city’s core will follow changes on the edge of town. The Common Council voted earlier this month to approve a settlement in a long-running lawsuit over the fate of the decaying Buckstaff property. Under that deal, contractors could begin leveling Buckstaff buildings on South Main Street by late winter. That nearly 8-acre lot could be clear by September.
The Buckstaff demolition would open a slice of real estate along Oshkosh’s south shore. Another minted settlement over the abandoned former site of Pioneer Resort and Marina last summer, could mean that property may also see new life.
Industrial park boost
Davis said the city expects to complete improvements to Oshkosh’s existing industrial parks on the north and southwest sides of town.
Two new rail spurs — these are an offshoot of tracks that connect to a main rail line — one for Oshkosh Corporation, another for business in the southwest industrial park, will allow these companies to ship goods by train, not just by truck.
In the north industrial park, the city plans to install a stormwater detention system to divert water off company land. Davis said when the industrial park was built on the north end of town, this storm water system wasn’t common practice. This system would allow existing companies to use more of their land; latent water can prevent new building.
Another tool to attract business: the city and the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation launched a $2.4 million business loan program. While communities like Fond du Lac have long used these grant programs to help create new companies and support existing ones, Oshkosh didn’t have a similar system.
This program could provide an incentive for new businesses to move to the region, or help existing businesses to expand.
“I’m pretty bullish on our outlook,” said Jason White, CEO of GO-EDC. “With development we’re probably looking at a five or 10-year production. I’ve always described the motto as: activity breeds activity.”
White said GO-EDC is working to finish a planning document, drafted with a Defense Department grant, that would map how the region could seek to build an aviation industry in Oshkosh.
This plan, with infrastructure improvements in and around Wittman Regional Airport would scaffold a path to attracting aviation companies.
The Economic Development Administration granted the city $2 million toward a $2.8 million project to lay the foundation for an aviation business park. This means contractors will construct sidewalks, streetlamps, storm water and detention basin and other sculpting necessary for a company to drop roots there.
Davis expects this project will be finished in time for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture convention, which regularly draws about 500,000 flight enthusiasts from around the world.
Wittman also secured nearly $7 million in funding from the city, county and Federal Aviation Administration Nov.4 to launch a host of improvements to its runways and water runoff. This is phase one in a project to realign Taxiway B — parallel to the airport’s 6,179-foot runway — and install a storm sewer system at Wittman, 525 W 20th Ave. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation expects the project will be completed by fall 2016.
Still on the agenda next year is the need to train workers for future careers. Susan May, president of Fox Valley Technical College, said the school plans to continue its practice of re-training workers from companies like Oshkosh Corp. and Bemis for more skilled jobs at those companies.
“The working-age population here is starting to shrink,” May said. “Baby Boomers are starting to retire, so every employer is looking for talent.”
The college also expects to ramp up its efforts to reach out to students to drum up interest in careers like Information Technology, May said. Fox Valley Tech has partnered with Amplify Oshkosh locally, and The New North, a regional economic development organization, to promote interest in this industry.
“The IT demand is huge and it’s growing here,” she said. “There’s almost not a field that we offer programs for that doesn’t need talent.”