Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch visited the Innovation Center at Whitewater University Technology Park on Thursday to declare a 35-acre parcel of the park a “Certified In Wisconsin” site.
A “Certified In Wisconsin” site is a development-ready site that has been reviewed and approved by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) as meeting certain development criteria, as evaluated by the firm Deloitte Consulting.
The “Certified In Wisconsin” designation is an economic development tool used to accelerate business start-up and growth. The Whitewater University Technology Park is the 16th location to be designated as a “Certified In Wisconsin” site in the state.
Along with Kleefisch, several other officials spoke at the designation ceremony. They were Whitewater Common Council President Patrick Singer, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper, and WEDC business and investment attraction director Coleman Peiffer.
Whitewater Community Development Authority (CDA) Chairperson Jeff Knight made opening comments and introduced each speaker. About 20 people attended the event.
“We have seen tremendous success in this program,” Kleefisch said. “This program is how we roll out Wisconsin’s red carpet to potential investors.”
She then cited how she often visits businesses in Illinois, Minnesota, or Atlanta or New York City to talk to site selectors for businesses in those states and cities, and how Wisconsin would be a great place for them to operate.
“One of the first things they ask is ‘Really, how easy is it to get in and do business quicky,’” Kleefisch said. “With our Certified In Wisconsin program, it is exceptionally easy, because if you are a certified site in Wisconsin, it means the site has already jumped through all the hoops. It means you walk in and we give you the keys to your successful economic future; and now, that is happening here in Whitewater.
“This is a great investment in Whitewater’s future, and this is a great investment in the university’s future,” she added. “It is great investment in this model of breaking down silos and convening bright people around a common vision for economic prosperity. So, who wouldn’t love a vision like that? That is why I am really excited for Whitewater, and the entire state.”
Kleefisch added that there are 17 different development projects under way at the other 15 sites across the state, creating 1,600 jobs and about $300 million in capital investment.
The lieutenant governor then briefly discussed WEDC’s Capital Catalyst program in which entrepreneurs are connected with funds to create economic opportunity.
“For the last three years, our Capital Catalyst program has invested $675,000 in these types of entrepreneurs,” Kleefisch said. “They have raised $4.4 million and now employ about 100 people; and that is just one program we do at the WEDC, just one community impacted.”
She said she only can imagine the impact that this new certified site will have in Whitewater.
“It is one thing to do it through state government, but the organic and natural movement towards growing the Whitewater economy is alive and well,” Kleefisch said. “You have huge advocates in (Senator Steve) Nass and (Rep. Cody) Horlacher at the state capitol, and you have a huge advocate in me as well.”
Both Horlacher and Nass were in attendance at Thursday’s event.
The council president spoke next.
“I want to thank the WEDC for this site designation,” Singer said. “Whitewater has really tried to position itself as a regional driver in the economic engine of our state, and part of that is the university, and what a great asset that is for our community and region.
“I often talk about how Whitewater is a community of 14,000 but we have impacts far and wide,” he added. “We look at how we make Whitewater a regional hub and drive a lot of the innovation that has been talked about in the past. Once we have this certified site designation, it is just going to light up some of the other things.”
He then mentioned the city’s revised code, which was reconstituted, in part, due to response from businesses that formerly said Whitewater was a difficult place to do business.
“After some feedback, we revised our codes and streamlined a lot of processes so that, as the Lieutenant Governor mentioned, once a business comes in, it is easy as one, two, three,” Singer said. “That is something we have taken pride in, and this certified site program is right in line with where we want to be.”
He concluded by citing the long-time partnership between the city, the university, and WEDC and the success they have had in the past.
Chancellor Kopper next expressed her “deep appreciation” for the support the university and community has received from the state.
“Today we celebrate a very successful collaboration between the city, university, and the state of Wisconsin,” Kopper began. “The work, the innovation that happens every single day at this facility makes a difference not only in our city, but for our whole region, and certainly our state.
“This certification, as you heard from the lieutenant governor, is certainly a vital component for our future development,” she continued. “This certified site recognition will make this place even more appealing to businesses and entrepreneurs who value what the city has to offer in terms of the very positive business climate, coupled with the high quality of life we have here in this community, and the benefits — and I am not too biased on this — of having an exceptional university willing, ready, able and passionate about supporting every business, every entrepreneur that comes to the community and being a partner in their success.”
She said the university is committed to the community in many ways.
“Part of our mission is to serve the city, this region and this great state,” Kopper said. “We are not only focused on partnering with economic development but also workforce development.
It is also a key, certainly, to our students’ success.
“At UW-Whitewater, there is an a entrepreneurial spirit that abounds in every corner of our campus, and, without question, being a Warhawk means being innovative and being passionate about serving this city, region and state,” she concluded. “I believe the certification of this site is just one more way in which we expand our impact.”
Peiffer, the final speaker, explained how and why a site becomes certified under WEDC’s program.
“It is exciting to continue to add to our list of sites, because it is not an easy process,” Peiffer said. “I want to thank Jeff and Pat Cannon at the CDA because we worked for almost a whole year on this project. As somebody who oversees this process, I get to see the criteria and hard work that goes into it, which is always ongoing, and that is on purpose.
“We want to identify and assure that the sites we certify are truly the most development-ready sites in the state,” he added. “We make them pass difficult criteria with very high thresholds that must be met.
“It is all or nothing — you must meet all the thresholds for issues like wetlands, endangered species, archeological issues — you have to clear all of those typical roadblocks that show up in a development deal,” Peiffer continued. “We want to be sure the sites we select have eliminated all of those things that slow down developments.”
He said that Deloitte acted as “a third party auditor” to ensure that all the criteria have been met for a site under consideration. Peiffer added that the program will continue into 2017 as well.
Kleefisch commented more after the formal ceremony was over.
“This provides a unique opportunity for anyone who chooses to invest here because of the potential collaboration opportunities,” she said. “Already, Whitewater has proven to be a great collaborator with the WEDC program. This is where investors want to be.”
Thursday’s designation makes the Whitewater University Technology Park unique from other “Certified In Wisconsin” sites. According to Peiffer, none of the other 15 “Certified In Wisconsin” sites are directly connected to a university campus in the unique way that the Tech Park is connected to the UW-Whitewater through its students and faculty.
The other sites are in Beaver Dam, Beloit, Chippewa Falls, DeForest, Fitchburg, Green Bay, Howard, Janesville, Menomonie, Prescott, Stevens Point, Verona, West Bend, Westport and Wisconsin Rapids.