Neumann sets up shop

Mark Neumann the businessman is excited about how his company will play in the Dane County housing market. Come to think of it, Mark Neumann the politician is optimistic as well, in part because he has confidence in the business climate being created by the man so many people here revile – Gov. Scott Walker.

Waukesha-based Tim O’Brien Homes announced last month that it is expanding into Madison, with plans to create 200 new jobs over the next two years. The home building company is co-owned by business partners Tim O’Brien and Neumann, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Herb Kohl. Neumann said the company’s growth along the I-94 corridor, from Kenosha to Milwaukee to Madison, and work in Jefferson County by a second company he co-owns with his son, is part of what drove the decision to open an office in Dane County.

But that’s not all.

“In terms of why now, I think an investment of this nature is a clear statement of our confidence in the future of the state of Wisconsin under a pro-business governor like Scott Walker,” he stated. “It’s hard to make a decision to make this kind of investment in these times, but we’re very optimistic that the future of our state is strong and that we will see job growth, and of course that job growth is necessary to turn the housing market around.”

The specter of Neumann capturing the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate – he’ll have to upset Tommy Thompson to get it – and challenging a favorite daughter like Tammy Baldwin makes me wonder about the company’s business prospects here, but given the geographic pattern of the company’s growth, Dane County is the next logical step.

Asked if he was concerned at all about his politics hurting the company in Dane County – not so much because the majority of residents are not down with his views, but because roadblocks often are placed in the way of development – Neumann dismissed the notion.

“There is an abundant supply of vacant single-family lots available, and in terms of us actually having to do development in the foreseeable future, I’d say that’s fairly limited,” he said. “We’re optimistic that the market is very strong there. You’ve got some things in the Dane County marketplace that we don’t have in other markets – things like government, medical, and so on – that make us very optimistic this is going to work.”

Tim O’Brien Homes, which started in 2007, now employs 240 people in southeastern Wisconsin and has built more than 900 new homes in its first four years. Neumann understands the company is venturing into a competitive market with respected builders, a respect he shares, but he thinks that’s healthy. “Competition is good, not bad,” he stated.

If you think a building company co-owned by a prominent Republican ignores the green building trend, you would be wrong. Given the popularity of the energy-saving features of new home construction, that would be bad business. Three years ago, Tim O’Brien Homes decided to build an energy-producing home, one that produces more energy than it uses. With geothermal systems providing the heating and cooling, and solar systems generating electricity to run the geothermal, Neumann said consumers who have chosen this option are getting a check back every month because the local utility company is buying electricity from them.

It’s in keeping with his determination, and his partners’ determination, to keep politics out of business operations. “I will only say that politics is not part of the business decision,” Neumann said. “It’s strictly about whether something makes business sense. In this case, it’s our natural expansion. We’ve grown along that freeway route, and it’s just time to grow again.”

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