Southeastern Wisconsin is home to many large manufacturers, several of which have called the area home for decades. In Washington County, Wisconsin, these growing companies are working with local officials to make sure that their growth strategies continue to have a positive impact on the surrounding communities.
The rural town of Hartford, Wisconsin is home to several manufacturers and other large businesses that have grown with the area over the years. Broan-NuTone, an industry-leading manufacturer of residential ventilation products, customized climate, communications and home automation solutions, was founded in Southeast Wisconsin in 1932, and its global headquarters has been an important part of the community ever since.
“Broan has a diverse population of over 800 associates here in Wisconsin. More than 2,000 worldwide, but 800 here at the corporate headquarters in Wisconsin,” says Jeff Mueller, group president, Broan-NuTone. “43 percent of them live in Hartford or the greater area, and the remaining portion are pulled from as much as an hour-and-a-half in any direction.
“I think people choose Broan-NuTone because we’ve been a high quality manufacturer of American-made products since 1932, and the trade, the pros, the consumers all have learned that our products work. We are present in over 80 percent of all households in America.
Access to Quality Transportation
With their corporate headquarters as well as a large manufacturing and distribution center in Hartford, access to well-maintained highways and roads is critical for businesses that have a global distribution footprint like Broan-NuTone.
“I think access to great transportation, highways, roads is paramount today,” says Mueller. “When you look at the change in consumer expectations in the United States, consumers really expect product to arrive within days of it being ordered. That’s true for big box, that’s true for the professional channel that are installing and building homes every day. They don’t have the space for product onsite. It’s also true for the online customers. Good transportation means a good quality business. Without good transportation, businesses can’t succeed.”
Broan-NuTone has grown steadily as the demand for their products has increased. For manufacturers, an expanding footprint can come with many challenges, especially as it relates to surrounding infrastructure.
“I think one of the biggest challenges we face today in getting our goods to market is that the local infrastructure is sound, but all of the truck and semi traffic that we are producing is going right through the center of town, and that produces some safety questions. One of my biggest challenges, I believe, is that we’re considering right now doubling the size of our distribution center. We’ve recently invested $11 million in a new production line, which dramatically increases our productivity and capabilities. We can now produce an exhaust fan once every 4.1 seconds. If you think about our customers around the globe, the ability to produce that fast, if we double the size of the distribution center, that means that we’re doubling our shipments to and from this location.”
Supporting Future Growth
While doubling the size of the Broan-NuTone distribution center will bring additional jobs and other benefits to the community, Mueller is concerned about potentially doubling their truck and semi traffic on surrounding roads, and the impact on the Hartford community’s quality of life.
As manufacturers in the Hartford area plan for their future growth and development, many local business leaders have shown support for a northern reliever route that would help reduce the shipping traffic that is currently running straight through the town. Interestingly, this is a plan that was laid out more than fifteen years ago, but has just recently gained traction.
“I think the doubling of the distribution center and the growth of all of the industries on this side of Hartford will have an impact on quality of life in both Slinger and Hartford on Highway 60,” says Mueller. “What I would like to see is consideration made for putting in a northern reliever route around both facilities that links both the Slinger industrial park as well as the Hartford industrial park to the main freeway system—Highway 41. I think in doing that, we will reduce the truck traffic through the main thoroughfare of town and allow the North and South halves of both communities to reconnect to that. Today, more than 8.5 percent of all traffic on Highway 60 is semi traffic, and that has gone up in recent years.”
The reliever route is well-supported by the Hartford Area Business Council, and Mueller states that he has spoken with many CEOs and other local business leaders who are readily signing petitions and communicating with politicians and other government representatives in support of the project.
“The energy behind a northern reliever route is exceptionally strong right now. We’ve had feedback both from local and county government that there is strong support for putting in the reliever route. I’ve been amazed at the outpouring of support from both the private sector, government and local citizens here in this part of Washington County.”
Infrastructure Planning’s Impact on Businesses
While the majority of the parties involved are in support of the reliever route project, the discussions have been a stark reality check in regards to how infrastructure projects can have a powerful impact on the business decisions of manufacturers and other companies.
“I think right now, Broan is at a critical juncture. We need to know, I really want to know prior to running twice as many trucks through this community and through Slinger, that there is a plan. Otherwise, my board is advising me I should look at other locations for potential warehousing.”
Mueller is not alone. Many of the other business leaders in the area are facing the same challenge—the ability to expand in order to meet demand, as well as meeting the needs of their shareholders is critical for businesses with national and global distribution, and if local infrastructure planning doesn’t align with their future business goals and interests, many businesses are forced to find other locations in order to expand.
“I have heard other CEOs within the Hartford Area Development Council that sit on the board state that if the reliever route is not built and there is no clarity, their expansion plans in the next five to ten years will change and they may have to look outside of Hartford and Washington County for their next location.
“If there isn’t clarity on a plan, and it doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow, but if there isn’t clarity on putting in a plan, I feel it would be a mistake to actually double the size of our distribution center here in Hartford. The demands… are so great that we need to be able to deliver in 24 hours to many of them. Without good infrastructure, that’s a challenge, and running twice as many trucks through Hartford and Slinger, while many of the other great businesses in the area are also increasing their productivity, will create bottlenecks. I think that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Infrastructure Planning’s Impact on Communities
Organizations look at a variety of factors when making the decision to develop in a specific area—one of which is the ability to effectively deliver their goods to market. Another key element is attracting talent. Companies need to know that the surrounding community and its quality of life will be able to attract and support the workforce that they need to run their operations.
“I’m a runner and much of my time is spent in Hartford going along the streets and through the parks, etc., which are beautiful. However, I cross Highway 60 multiple times and it’s quite dangerous in my opinion, as a full grown adult to cross Highway 60. We have the Boys and Girls Club on one side of Highway 60, and the largest city parks on the other side, or a school on one side and the parks on the other. Having a significant amount of truck traffic—and trucks not stopping as quickly as other vehicles, I think it’s a safety concern having that amount of trucks going directly through both Slinger and Hartford. I think it improves quality of life to have less truck traffic going through both cities.”
Broan-NuTone and other businesses in the area have been very satisfied with the amount of recent infrastructure investment in the community.
“When I look at our community today, the state and the local government are doing a lot to invest in infrastructure. Highway 60 has been redone in the last six months. Highway N has been redone in the last twelve months. There’s been a considerable amount of improvement in the roads and infrastructure within the area.
“I think the strategic piece here is that the businesses are growing at a fairly nice rate and we need to be looking to the future and planning for the future and hopefully giving Hartford and Slinger a bit of their community back. Thus, I want to make certain our headquarters remains here and is vibrant here. For me, what’s important is that I have clarity that when I expand my distribution center and when I expand my footprint here in Hartford, I’m not doing what I would consider further damage to these communities and I’m allowing my business to meet our customer needs in the most efficient and fastest way.”
Investing in the Future
Broan-NuTone remains committed to staying in their community, and has already begun to invest in their expansion in Hartford with $11 million allocated to a recent expansion of their production line, which has already created new full-time and part-time jobs.
“In terms of expanding jobs here, it’s an ongoing movement. The $11 million investment we made in the last year was largely in automation but there were 40 plus full-time employees and a large number of part-time employees that we brought on, as well as sourcing products from around the region. I think we’re increasing jobs on a regular basis here and ultimately the doubling of the distribution center will increase jobs further—probably in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 people over time. I think in general, because Broan-NuTone is such a strong supporter of local businesses in our sourcing, it also has a force multiplication effect on local employment, especially within southeast Wisconsin.”
The proposed reliever route project in Washington County is just one example of how infrastructure planning and development can have an impact on the viability of success for businesses of all sizes. It’s also important to understand the impact that it can have on our nation’s communities.
“When I look at the new Boys and Girls Club in Hartford, and the growth in attendance at that club—more than 90 kids a day are there every single day, across Highway 60 from the city park. I also look at just crossing Highway 60 in the two sections of downtown. A change in the reliever route, a reduction from 8.6 percent semi traffic to something else on Highway 60, I think will have a huge impact on the quality of life and the safety of all residents of Hartford. I think that it will have the same impact on Slinger and other communities down Highway 60.”