Recent developments have the county’s northeast quadrant hopping.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Sam Blahnik, community development director at the Village of DeForest, sells the attributes of the DeForest area which has quickly become a bastion of business-development activity. Blahnik, who’s held his role for two years, is quick to credit other team members for their foresight, such as his predecessor, Gregg Frahm, or the current Village President Judd Blau, or even the community itself for believing in growth.
Blahnik, an Iowa native, came to Madison for a job with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection and later worked for Baker Tilly Virchow Krause before joining the Village of DeForest. With the village, his role is to handle proactive outreach, serve as a liaison between the village and the business community, and work on quality-of-life matters on behalf of village residents.
We spoke to the 40-year-old about the area’s recent economic development and what might lie ahead.
IB: Based on several recent announcements, the DeForest area is hopping. What’s the secret sauce?
Blahnik: We are located between Sun Prairie and Waunakee, communities that are experiencing wonderful growth, so our location offers a big advantage, and our school referendum asking for $41 million last year received greater than 75% approval, so our residents understand that we’re in an area that is poised for growth.
IB: Dane County is one of the best-performing counties in the state. Any number of areas can take advantage of that. Why DeForest?
Blahnik: From the business standpoint, the triple-interstate is key. We have 60,000 vehicles daily passing by on I-90/94, 20,000 each day driving on Hwy. 19, and about 18,000 vehicles per day on Hwy. 51. By 2050, the [state] Department of Transportation predicts interstate traffic will double to about 120,000 vehicles a day, and a recent population study commissioned by the school district predicts a boost in our population by 30,000 in the next 15 to 20 years.
IB: Recent headlines have impressed regarding new businesses moving to DeForest — perhaps even surprising some.
Blahnik: When I came on board I was surprised to learn that we had more residents than many other surrounding communities but fewer residential amenities, like restaurants. That information allowed us to be very competitive with the Norske Nook, for example.
IB: But it didn’t happen overnight.
Blahnik: Our first TIF district [including Ball Corp., DEMCO, Firestone, American Girl, and Sanimax] was created about 20 years ago and is set to close this year. As a community, we realized that if we didn’t prepare in advance for growth we’d miss out when the timing was good. After the recession we created six more TIF districts between 2009 and 2011, so the foresight of our board and village president was key.
IB: Was the Norske Nook the spark that ignited the influx?
Blahnik: The Little Potato Co. came on our radar in October 2015, and I believe that had we not had a WEDC-certified, shovel-ready site at the time, we might not have been able to get that deal done by April 2016. But when the Norske Nook news hit, a buzz was created.
IB: What are some other recent moves?
Blahnik: Miller-Bradford & Risberg, an equipment supplier, recently built on six acres. There’s Reynolds Crane, Truck Country, and the Kenworth truck dealership. This spring we had a good run, with Little Potato in April, the Bell Labs expansion in May, American Packaging Corp. in July, and now GRB Baseball Academy in August.
IB: Tell us about that.
Blahnik: The timing was fortuitous, really. Our facelift to Fireman’s Park was well underway and we were in the middle of discussions about a new athletic complex when we entered a discussion with Greg Reinhard [GRB owner]. GRB Baseball Academy is expanding to a 52,000-square-foot, $3 million baseball and softball facility here. His business succeeds indoors and with traveling tournaments. He needs access to field space and we need people coming through town. The new park will encompass about 20 acres, have four ball diamonds, two football/lacrosse fields, and tennis courts. It will be a win-win.
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