The announcement last month of the first business to commit to the former Dairyland Greyhound Track site was a significant step in an ongoing, and at times controversial, process in attempts to redevelop the site.
And early Thursday morning, the first shovels of dirt were turned, albeit in a ceremonially capacity, since grading work at the site has actually been underway for several days.
Gov. Tony Evers headlined the groundbreaking event for Heartland Produce Co., a Kenosha-based wholesale distributor for more than 25 years, which in June purchased approximately 31 acres of land at the 240-acre site at Interstate 94 and Highway 158.
Dairyland Greyhound Track closed in 2009, and former Gov. Scott Walker denied attempts to develop a casino at the site in 2015 during his failed bid to be the Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 election.
Heartland, which originated in Elgin, Ill., in 1989 and moved here in 1994, will take up residence in a new 206,000-square-foot cold-storage facility. There is also potential for even more future expansion of an additional 213,000 square feet.
To employ about 180
The company, which distributes fruits, vegetables, organics and locally grown produce, is expected to employ about 180 people — an increase from the current workforce of 150 — at an average wage above $28 per hour, according to a press release issued after Thursday morning’s event.
Construction on the 31-acre site — purchased for $5.19 million — is expected to be completed by next spring. When the announcement was made in June that Heartland had made the purchase, Co-Owner and Vice President Ryan Dietz said the company had outgrown its current 80,000-square-foot facility at 4550 70th Ave.
“This project is a win for the community and our regional economy,” Evers said. “It underscores how important connecting the dots sets our businesses, families and our communities up for success.”
Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian echoed Evers’ sentiments.
“It’s an exciting day because Heartland, a company that has been in Kenosha, a company that has grown in Kenosha, is a company that is expanding in Kenosha with their headquarters,” Antaramian said.
MAYOR JOHN ANTARAMIAN
“As a city, we are proud to have you in Kenosha. We are thrilled at what you have done, and we are looking to forward to the future you are going to bring to the people of the community and the employees that work for you.”
Tax credits aid project
Evers and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes also announced Thursday that Heartland Produce will receive up to $500,000 in state income tax credits during the next three years. The actual amount of credits is contingent on the number of jobs created and the amount of capital investment completed by the company during that period.
Hughes said Thursday’s event was the first groundbreaking ceremony the WEDC has attended since the pandemic.
“Making the decision to expand your business and to land in Wisconsin is a 30-, 40-, 50-year decision,” she said. “I’m just incredibly excited that we’re able to help Heartland make that decision. A $500,000 tax credit is not a huge amount of money when it comes to a $30 million expansion, but it really shows that the state has the businesses’ back.
“When a business comes to us and says, ‘We have this idea,’ and we’re able to help that idea come to fruition, we’re able to help that idea maybe a little bit bigger or take a little of that risk of that business, we’re glad to be able to do that.”
The new facility is part of “Greeneway Development” at the Dairyland site, which is planned to include a 360-unit apartment complex, industrial buildings, a business park and retail development.
Zilber Property Group and the Forest County Potawatomi Community are developing the project, which is planned to include nearly 1.6 million square feet of industrial construction, about 432 multi-family residential apartment units and 117,000 square feet of anticipated future commercial retail and office space.
“Developments like Greeneway are important because areas like southeastern Wisconsin, and Kenosha in particular, are growing rapidly, because companies like Heartland Produce understand exactly what Wisconsin has to offer, which is a lot,” Evers said.
“This is a great place to start and run a business, and we’re excited to watch how Heartland Produce continues to grow with us.”
A family company
Heartland President William Dietz Jr. said the company’s official beginning goes back to his grandfather, who ran a location in Caledonia. Dietz then joined forces with his dad and a partner in the 1960s in Chicago.
After the company outgrew its space in Elgin, that’s when the move to Kenosha began to take shape, he said.
“Kenosha offered us some wonderful opportunities,” Dietz said. “We have grown and enlarged our warehouse several times. We’re excited about our future in Kenosha.
“It’s going to give us the opportunity to serve our customers better, to expand our product line and keep consumers in Wisconsin eating good, healthy produce every day.”