Sep 16, 2012

In Janesville, political spotlight and hundreds of new jobs are sparking local economy

Excerpted from Wisconsin State Journal
By Barry Adams

Water skiers from China, Belgium and Australia are among those competing in this weekend’s World Water Ski Show Tournament on the Rock River at Traxler Park.

In the city’s downtown, shoppers looking for a bargain at Carousel Consignments debate politics over free cups of coffee. A few blocks east, barricades and Secret Service agents have become part of the landscape of the historic Courthouse Hill District.

There is a vibe in this city of 62,000 people and it goes beyond aqua-focused international visitors and Paul Ryan’s bid for the vice presidency, which has renewed the national spotlight on Janesville and caused residents to pay more attention to the campaign.

The energy that is gradually building here and throughout Rock County also extends to its battered but emerging economy. Since January 2010 there has been $600 million in capital investment that created 1,600 jobs primarily in the manufacturing and health care fields. About half of the available industrial space in the county has been filled and the county’s unemployment rate has dropped to 8.9 percent from 13.9 in March 2009.

“There’s no question we’re moving forward, but it was a deep hole,” said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville since 2001. “We’re not back from where we were, but we’re definitely seeing some progress.”

The national media has descended on Janesville, and the General Motors assembly plant, now idle with weeds sprouting around it, is often a focal point. But with Ryan traversing the country — at least for the next seven weeks — and making his hometown a part of his campaign narrative, officials here say the exposure for the community is better than any planned marketing campaign.

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