As work on the massive Brillion Works project continues to progress, AriensCo is also taking steps to address the needs of its workforce and the community, including child care, housing and health care.

AriensCo Chairman and CEO Dan Ariens says when Brillion Iron Works closed in 2016, he felt called to purchase the 140-acre property because he knew it would sit idle and hurt the community. “I don’t know anybody who would have put the kind of resources we had from the outset to get it where it is today,” he says.

The first steps for Brillion Works LLC, which manages the Brillion Works project separate from AriensCo, included investing in environmental remediation efforts for brownfield areas and consulting services for the site. The initial work also included laying out the vision for the property and understanding how streets and roads would need to be remapped, redone or created. 

Ariens says efforts now focus on four key areas: supply chain, providing services including child care and health care, adding retail along Highway 10 and developing housing.   

In August, the maker of snowblowers and lawn mowers opened the Brillion Early Learning Center, run in partnership with KinderCare. The center helps meet the child care demand for AriensCo employees, who receive a discount, as well as the larger community.

On the health care front, AriensCo already operates an onsite clinic for employees, but it’s in talks with a Northeast Wisconsin health care organization to open a clinic within the Brillion Works development that would serve the entire community. Ariens hopes to reach an agreement by fall. 

As for housing, Ariens says Brillion needs affordable multifamily, condominium and single-family options, and adding those is part of the vision for the Brillion Works site. Ariens also would like to see restaurant and retail options added to the Highway 10 corridor. Similarly, bringing supply chain partners and light industrial and warehousing operations to the city would benefit not just AriensCo but the entire region, Ariens says. 

Brillion is already gaining ground on the retail front, with Country Visions Cooperative taking over the former Shopko location in the city. “Really, that’s Country Visions taking multiple locations and moving them in Brillion, because strategically, that was a good corporate move, to consolidate operations,” says Mary Kohrell, community economic development director for Calumet County.

In July, the City of Brillion received a $150,000 grant to develop a park within Brillion Works. The grant came from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region and will be used to help open the Spring and Mills creeks that flow under the original foundry building. The creeks will be opened and flow through the park.

The city has received grants totaling $750,000 from the Department of Natural Resources, but the partnership between the City of Brillion and Brillion Works LLC must match that number. The Nelson Family Fund grant will help do that.

“We’re doing everything we can to make Brillion attractive. At the core of (the Brillion Works development) is to build our community up so that we have more local talent opportunities,” says Ariens, whose company also has expanded into the hospitality sector with its AriensCo Museum and Stone Prairie and Round Lake Farms event venues.

Other major development projects in Calumet County include the $10 million expansion of the Ornua Ingredients North America facility near Hilbert and the M-B Companies expansion in Chilton, which is the home of parent company Aebi Schmidt North America’s M-B Airport Maintenance Products and North American operations. Kohrell points to both projects as examples of foreign direct investments.

The expansions mean a need for more workers during a time when workforce is a challenge for businesses throughout the county. “With the nicer, new facilities and maybe a little increase in wages, they might be able to bring in folks,” Kohrell says.

Cities within the county also are demolishing former industrial sites to make way for future redevelopment. The City of Hilbert purchased and is demolishing the former Bel Brands cheese factory, and New Holstein is demolishing the former Tecumseh Products Co. building. 

Kohrell cautions that because both projects used funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as Wisconsin’s CDBG-CLOSE program, redevelopment of the sites will have to wait. Receiving HUD funding means waiting for a legally mandated time period before pursuing redevelopment and receiving approval from the department before proceeding on a project.

Still, Kohrell says the projects mark progress. “Those efforts will be good for those communities. It helps those rural communities take some critical steps forward,” she says. 

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Entrepreneur assist

Supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs in Calumet County also is key to maintaining the vitality of communities, Kohrell says. The Calumet County CDBG program allocated funding to the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. to launch the Resiliency Grant for Northeast Wisconsin Rural Microenterprises program to support small and microbusinesses hurt by COVID-19. 

Calumet County approved $780,000 for small business assistance grants, with grants ranging from $6,000 to $12,000 to each business. Grants, available to businesses with five or fewer employees including the owner, can be used for expenses including payroll, rent, lease or utility payments, business supplies, inventory and business operating expenses.

Funds are targeted to for-profit, existing small businesses located in Calumet and Outagamie County (excluding Appleton), the City of Menasha, the City of New London and the Village of Fox Crossing. Businesses owned by women, veterans or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals receive priority consideration.

As of late July, around 80 people had applied for the grants, and Kohrell was excited and surprised to see the response.

Wendy Baumann, president and chief visionary officer for WWBIC, says the program will help the organization expand its focus on helping rural businesses and entrepreneurs, and providing that support is crucial. 

“If those businesses were to go away, huge numbers of employment would go away. Main Streets would go away. That’s why it’s important, and rural is very important to WWBIC,” she says.

Colleen Bies, WWBIC’s regional project director for the Northeast Region, says in addition to receiving the grant, businesses receive a year of technical assistance where they can take advantage of monthly check-ins, educational programs and assessments that can identify areas for improvement.

“It’s just really great to give them that extra oomph they didn’t have when they started their business,” she says.

To learn more about the WWBIC microgrant program, visit bit.ly/neresiliencygrants