On the Job Heather Wessling Grosz of KABA

The non-profit Kenosha Area Business Alliance is a leading economic development organization in southeastern Wisconsin.

Led by president Todd Battle, it has played an important part in the re-development of Kenosha County. It has launched programs to attract businesses from other locations, thereby bringing more jobs to the area.

Since 2013, its efforts have created more than 11,000 jobs, more than $1.5 billion in capital investment and more than 11.6 million square feet of development.

Since the pandemic, KABA has become a resource center for local employers, managing the COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Fund in conjunction with the city of Kenosha.

It is located at 5500 Sixth Ave.

Heather Wessling Grosz, as vice president of the Kenosha Arae Business Alliance, discusses the organization and it’s efforts in the re-development of Kenosha County:

Q: What do you do in the position?

A: I lead business retention efforts throughout Kenosha County and support corporate attraction efforts. Typically, I put together community and business advantages as formal responses to business relocation or expansion requests.

Q: How long have you been there?

A: Seven years. I started with KABA on July 1, 2013.

Q: How did you end up here?

A: KABA recruited after I served as the assistant director for community and economic development for the City of Wausau. I was tasked to prepare Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) plans and special projects, including securing several business opportunities for Wausau. Before that, I worked as the director of development for the Town of Rome that was just starting a municipally owned business park. We secured small businesses and moved forward a small speculative industrial project. I participated in first discussions advancing support for the Sand Valley golf developments that have now become significant amenities for central Wisconsin.

I currently serve as the immediate past chair for Downtown Kenosha, Inc. (DKI) and for the Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA) and have served both boards for many years. I continue to serve and appreciate local and regional efforts that advocate for impactful change for communities and build positivity for the economic development professional state-wide.

Q: What do you do in your position?

A: I work with multiple partners to help municipalities reach economic development goals. We facilitate meetings between developers and businesses with our municipal leaders to move multiple projects forward. We have leveraged business development tax credits from the State of Wisconsin’s Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) for multiple industrial projects each year.

Q: How difficult is it to perform your objective?

A: Kenosha County is positioned well. [There] are business parks with land for potential small business expansion along the I-94 corridor. It is an ideal space for companies to consider.

With room for future developments in Bristol, Kenosha, Pleasant Prairie, Salem Lakes and Somers, these expanded or new business parks naturally invite opportunity from local to international interests. As a successful project expands or a company continues to invest, others take notice. It is a rewarding profession that is often not considered by young professionals. It should be a more sought-after profession in the future.

Q: How would you describe the impact of your efforts?

A: At the micro level, KABA has helped local businesses secure Community Development Investment grants from the state that support recent efforts such as KABA’s labor market study in 2016, special downtown developments: Herzing University to occupy the former Kenosha News building, the Apis Hotel & Restaurant, Residents at Library Park at the former YMCA facility and The Heritage House redevelopment transformation into The Stella. These projects are complex projects that require multiple advocates and funding partners to succeed.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your responsibilities?

A: I love that there is a long menu of items to improve throughout our communities. Every day is an opportunity to build on future projects. I believe community development needs to go hand in hand with corporate attraction or broader economic development goals. Timing is critical – sometimes it is important to move quickly and sometimes it is important to shelve a project for a later date because the elements are just not all in place yet. Housing efforts, corporate attraction, business park developments, supply chain connections and community development support are tied together and each one is elevated by support from another.

Q: How have you and KABA adjusted to COVID-19?

A: Recently, via retention outreach, KABA, Iris USA and United Way collaborated to distribute masks to the community and raise awareness that IRIS is hiring and expanding mask production in their Pleasant Prairie facility. Continued outreach during this pandemic is important so businesses know that we care about what is happening and how they are adapting to change.

Q: What challenges have you had to overcome personally and on the job?

A: The challenges I had to overcome to advance my career were difficult. Both Adam (husband) and I had solid jobs in central Wisconsin. The opportunity to move my blended family helped us to determine what was important. My husband was the long-standing police chief in the Town of Rome and had worked for that department since he was 21 years old, so this was a big decision for him personally too. We have four children blended from the ages of 17 to 23. They were teenagers when we moved 200 miles away. Our oldest son is now completing his degree at UW-LaCrosse in Computer Science and our two daughters are in college, both incoming juniors, one at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and one at Columbia College in Chicago. The youngest, Evan, goes to Indian Trail High School and will begin as a junior this fall. So, no one is that far away now, and this has been a good change for each of us.

Q: What were your professional challenges?

Professionally, economic development is about adapting to change, so I could not succeed in this profession if I were unable to foster and endure change personally. I am from New Jersey, grew up in a small town near New York City, graduated from the University of North Carolina with an economics degree and studied Russian. When I was in my early 20s, I served with the U.S. State Department, lived in Moscow and worked for the American Embassy for several years.

Although I had studied Russian, I was there during tremendous upheaval, learning and experiencing a new culture on my own. I saw an entire country change in the early to mid-1990’s and was able to get involved with community efforts in Moscow. That experience and seeing people live in difficult economic times as they tried to embrace change (and it was hard for Muscovites to do) was something that attracted me to this profession.

Q: What is the future?

A: Kenosha County has through difficult times. The Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge for the business community, the residents and for KABA. As I am involved in the Salem Business Park developments, I am seeing our companies stick with their expansion plans. KABA has had to postpone events and activities that bring business and the community together. Kenosha County communities are resilient.

Read more at the Kenosha News.

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