Tech colleges add to good business climate in Oshkosh

March 27, 2012

From “Survey: Oshkosh good for business” — Oshkosh business executives say Oshkosh has better universities and technical colleges, fewer problems recruiting employees and a better economic outlook than their counterparts throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

In 2011, the Oshkosh Business Retention and Expansion Committee, an Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corp. subcommittee, conducted 38 one-on-one surveys with Oshkosh CEOs and business owners to determine their business outlook and to identify problems such as transportation and parking issues or training problems before they become more significant.

Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Partnership communities in 16 counties have conducted a total of 286 surveys since the program started in 2007.

OAEDC Economic Development Coordinator Evan Wendlandt said results from 2011 surveys indicate none of the 38 Oshkosh businesses expect to close in the next three years and 82 percent of them project sales growth in the next year. In comparison to regional results, Wendlandt said fewer Oshkosh companies reported problems with employee recruitment and retention and more expect the economy will improve in the next five years.

“We want to find out what they’re seeing now, what they fear might happen and for these interviews to be the first red flag so if any issues come up, we can resolve them right away,” Wendlandt said.

Festival Foods Manager Rick Vanderloop said his meeting with the group a few months ago helped ease some of the grocery store’s concerns about the closure of the U.S. Highway 41/State Highway 21 interchange well before construction began last week.

“We discussed how we were going to get customers to come to this side, to make it more of a destination,” Vanderloop said. “They told us about the West Side Association’s sign program and that helped us direct traffic around the road closings.”

Vanderloop called it “a good discussion.”

Melissa Kohn, director of Fox Valley Technical College’s Oshkosh campus conducted some of the interviews. She said the tenor of the interviews was positive even during the recession, when companies faced challenges at every turn.

“I’ve gone through the down time where some of these companies could have talked about doom and gloom, but there’s always been this sense of optimism about things getting better,” Kohn said. “What I often find is employers are, first, appreciative of the interest in their business and, second, reaffirmed. Employers really want to show us what they’re making, what their product is.”

Kohn said she also benefits from the process. She said she gains a better understanding of the local economy and what FVTC can do to remain responsive and helpful to manufacturers in the area.

OAEDC Executive Director Rob Kleman said the surveys also noted many companies reported financing, the state’s tax structure, public transportation and parking remain issues.

“The most important part of the program is we’re reaching out to our local businesses and wanting them to tell us the good things as well as the local issues they face, so we can help address them right away,” Kleman said. “Any issues that do come up, we incorporate into our work plans so we make sure businesses can get what they’d like.”

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