The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has awarded a $250,000 grant to Florence County to help re-open a grocery store that has been vacant for more than seven years.
The lack of a full-service grocery store has been an impediment to economic development in the county and has been an issue in recruiting potential employees, state and county officials say. It also has resulted in half of the county being declared a “food desert” by the federal government.
After several years of trying to fill the vacant Haberkorn’s grocery store, Pat’s Foods, an Upper Peninsula grocery chain agreed to take over the building and open a new store. The county in March created a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) District to help fund the project, and the WEDC grant provided the final piece of the necessary funding.
The new grocery store, a $1.2 million project, is expected to open in June.
“Not only does this project fill a critical need for the residents of Florence County, but it has a significant economic impact as well,” said Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who visited Florence to announce the state grant. “The new store will create about 20 new jobs, and it establishes a downtown anchor that could lead to additional retail growth.”
The state funding is part of WEDC’s Community Development Investment Grant Program, which supports community development and redevelopment efforts—primarily in downtown areas—throughout the state.
“We are pleased to play a key role to bringing a much-needed resource to Florence County,” said Reed Hall, secretary and CEO of WEDC, who joined Kleefisch in making the announcement. “Our Community Development Investment Grant Program is helping communities and counties all over the state with projects like this that will provide a shot in the arm to the local economy.”
State and county officials say the project is a prime example of how public and private entities can work together on initiatives that provide a significant benefit to the community.
“Economic development and job creation doesn’t happen in Madison,” Hall said. “And it can’t happen without strong partnerships like this one. The state, the county and private business worked hand in hand to make this happen.”
“Having a full-service grocery store open again is an important step for Florence County,” said County Chairperson Jeanette Bomberg. “It will help boost our economy. It will create jobs, improve our internal and external image, increase the tax base and help spur new retail growth. But more importantly we will have fresh fruits and meats to purchase locally.”
“The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the State of Wisconsin sent a message that rural counties do matter—and for that we are so grateful,” she added.
Ben Campioni, owner of Pat’s Foods, said the company had been considering reopening the store in Florence for the last five years. But financially the project was not feasible until Florence County Economic Development Director Wendy Gehlhoff told the company about WEDC’s new Community Development Investment Grant Program and submitted an application on their behalf. Campioni also owns and operates grocery stores under the Pat’s Foods name in the Upper Peninsula communities of Houghton, Hancock, Calumet, Ontonagon, and L’Anse.
“We will strive to be an asset to Florence and the surrounding area by providing products and services needed by the residents and seasonal visitors,” Campioni said. “We take part in the communities we serve by giving back to the towns and local charities generously, and we base our business around being “hometown proud.’”
The new grocery store is the latest example of the increased economic development taking place in Florence County.
A new Family Dollar Store is being planned in downtown Florence for late 2014, and Florence Hardwoods LLC is in the middle of an expansion project in the industrial park. All three of these new projects are benefiting from the county’s newly created TIF District.