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Blackhawk Community Credit Union announces expanded revitalization of downtown Janesville, Wisconsin, that serves as a model for U.S. cities

Representatives of the City of Janesville and Wisconsin Tourism participate in a centennial celebration announcement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Janesville, Wis., – September 28, 2018 – Blackhawk Community Credit Union (BHCCU) today announced a $30 million investment initiative to revitalize downtown Janesville into an ecosystem for innovation over the next several years. Since 2011, BHCCU has grown from $320 million in assets with six branches to just under $600 million in assets, 50,000 members and 12 branches from Stoughton to Janesville to Kenosha.

“Blackhawk Community Credit Union is committed to the families who live and work here and have for generations,” said Sherri Stumpf, CEO of BHCCU, chair of Forward Janesville, finance chair for United Way Blackhawk Region and co-chair of ARISE Now, a public-private partnership that is committed to revitalizing downtown Janesville.

“When General Motors closed its Janesville auto manufacturing plant in 2009, many thought the city would spiral downward,” said Stumpf. “However, job skills training and education was provided through the state of Wisconsin and the Rock County Job Center to those not retiring or transferring with GM. BHCCU made loans to people in the community to start businesses and to bridge families through the recession. The people of Janesville are resilient. We believe the city is a model for how other American cities can revitalize. This is a turnaround story that started with the oldest running GM plant built in 1919 and our commitment beyond a centennial celebration as we place the same cornerstone on this project in 2019.”

“While the Great Recession had quite an impact, nearly every economic indicator for the Janesville-Beloit metropolitan statistical area is stronger today than it was a decade ago,” said James Otterstein, Rock County Economic Development Agency.

The average annual unemployment and industrial vacancy rates are hovering at 20-25 year lows, less than four percent and five percent, respectively. Local sales tax collections are 32 percent higher than a decade ago and property values have enjoyed annual average gains of five percent during each of the last five years. Overall the area’s GDP is up nearly 30 percent from 2008 and four percent from 2016. These GDP gains grabbed the attention of the Milken Institute, which named Janesville-Beloit the 25th best performing small city in 2017.

BHCCU has signed an intent to purchase 2.5 acres on the eastern bank of the Rock River in what will be called the SOCO (south of Court Street) district at 37 South Water Street. The 10,000 square-foot Legacy Center that will house historical artifacts from the credit union’s founding members will be a part of the larger 130,000 square-foot, four-story headquarters that will be home to 200 employees. Preliminary forecasts estimate that the annual economic impact of the new Legacy Center could add up to $250,000 toward area tourism which recorded $244.7 million from visitors in 2017.

The initiative will include a new branch of the credit union, restaurants, a wellness center, and a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the 10,000-square-foot Lea McGuire Conference Center, named after the first and second presidents of the credit union, Glenn Lea and Patrick McGuire. Additional space is anticipated to include: law offices; retail; daycare; and 12 condominiums.

“For 53 years the credit union has made investing in our community its mission,” said Glenn Lea, BHCCU’s Director Emeritus. “I am proud that Blackhawk Community Credit Union’s investment in this project will continue our original mission and make an impact on future generations.”

Gary Mawhinney, former GM plant supervisor

Gary Mawhinney, former GM plant supervisor and retired Wisconsin National Guard in June 2017 with his 1923 Chevrolet Superior Series B Sport Touring Phaeton Convertible, that has been restored by Fagan Chevrolet in Janesville after an extensive search to find it in Wisconsin, Ohio and Oklahoma.

BHCCU, with its Legacy Center, is building exhibits of historic precedence with memorabilia that span the centennial of the plant, including the first model-year Chevrolet Superior off the Janesville assembly line in 1923. Gary Mawhinney, retired Wisconsin National Guard and former plant supervisor, retired from GM in 1995 researched the car’s location from Wisconsin to Ohio and Oklahoma. He bought, restored and donated the car to the Rock County Historical Society who will loan it to the Legacy Center.

“I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to own the first model-year car because my work at the plant was a significant part of my life,” Mawhinney said. “The pace at GM was challenging. We worked 55 hours, six days a week. We produced 1,000 cars and 200 trucks a day and we were number one in quality for trucks.”

Opening in 1919, the GM facility covered 4.8 million square feet. In the 1970’s, during the plant’s prime, it employed approximately 7,000 people.

Gary Nelson worked at the plant for 31 years and his father for 42 years. Nelson recalls it as the first time a company offered the ability to withdraw money from a paycheck to put toward savings.

“It was the only way to save, buy a home to raise a family, own a car and put children through college. My son is now an engineer at J.M. Grimstad after graduating from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. My daughter graduated radiography school and works as an MRI technologist for Mercy Health in Janesville,” said Nelson.

Gary and Carla Nelson and family

Gary and Carla Nelson met and married in 1982. They raised a son who is now an engineer at J.M. Grimstad in Muskego and a daughter who works Mercy Health in Janesville. This picture of their family, including their children and grandchildren, was taken in 2017.

“Other U.S. cities have been less fortunate than Janesville. Our families hold a deep connection to each other. It is remarkable. The good relationships between plant management and hourly workers caught people by surprise. Grandparents, fathers, mother, sons, daughters and siblings dedicated their lives to making great automobiles. The Legacy Center project honors that history,” said Brad Dutcher, Assistant Director for UAW Region 4.

BHCCU’s ground breaking is anticipated for late fall 2019, with completion in 2021. Ken Kueng has worked 26 years for the national construction firm J.P. Cullen that built the original plant in 1919, hired several GM engineers when the plant closed, and is slated to build BHCCU’s headquarters, Legacy Center and conference center.

Ken Kueng, senior superintendent at JP Cullen, the construction firm that built the GM plant in 1919 and is now building the Legacy Center, removing the sign from the front entrance of the GM plant that will be displayed at the Legacy Center.

Ken Kueng, senior superintendent at JP Cullen, the construction firm that built the GM plant in 1919 and is now building the Legacy Center, removing the sign from the front entrance of the GM plant that will be displayed at the Legacy Center.

“When it was time to build a new headquarters for the credit union, I saw the possibility for Janesville to become a more vibrant community. This area is soon to be a model for other cities and a catalyst for continued development that will make our members proud. This is all part of BHCCU’s strategic plan of growth over the next 20-30 years and until the space is needed, we will offset project costs by leasing space to the community to help pay for this investment over time,” said Stumpf.

For more information, please contact Kellee Johnson, The Ballast Group, 312-751-3959, kjohnson@ballastgroup.com.

About Blackhawk Community Credit Union (BHCCU)

Blackhawk  Community  Credit  Union  has  just under  $600  million  in  assets  and  over  50,000 members.  Membership  is  open  to those working or living in Rock, Dane, Jefferson, Walworth, Green, Kenosha, Racine, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties of Wisconsin and Winnebago, Boone, McHenry and Lake  Counties  of  Illinois. Products  and  services  include  savings,  checking,  certificates and credit  cards,  auto loans, mortgages, and home equity loans. Investment services are also available.


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