November 3, 2007

Gunshot kills 17-year-old in Racine

A single gunshot this morning at 1:48 a.m. killed a Racine youth.

Police responding to a call at 2514 17th street found Torivio J. Melendez,17, suffering from a bullet wound to the abdomen. He was taken to St. Mary's Medical Center, where he died at 5:30 a.m.

Initial reports say he was struck by gunfire as he stood on the porch; several shots also struck the house.

Lord, I don't want pie in the sky,
I want ham where I am.*

Dan Taivalkoski and empty Food Bank shelf.

Unemployment in Racine is almost 10 percent.

A gallon of gas costs $3.

One day this winter, when it gets really cold, we'll look back wistfully at today's energy prices. (On Tuesday, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin will hold hearings in Madison on We Energies' "request" to raise the price of electricity by 7.5 percent this year, and again next year; and natural gas prices by 4.2 percent.)

But this isn't a whine. Instead, it's a story about someone who's doing something about those problems. His name is Dan Taivalkoski, and he runs the Racine County Food Bank.

Dan and his few employees feed between 1,800 and 2,000 families every month. Not completely; just for a few days. It's not a huge bag of groceries that the Food Bank provides, and there's just one pound of hamburger among the canned vegetables, fruit, spaghetti, cereal and the like.

But for those who need it, a fast-growing number, alas, it's what's for dinner, and thank you very much!

It's designed as an emergency food source, "for three to five days; closer to three," Taivalkoski says. "It's there to get people over the hump -- but just once per month."

Seven years ago, the food bank served fewer than 1,000 familes a month. But every year the number of needy in Racine County has grown. Last year, 1,500 a month; this year between 1,800 and 2,000. Furthermore, the size of these families is growing: more children's mouths to feed.

Who are these people otherwise going hungry? "A lot of the people we help are the working poor," Taivalkoski says. "Minimum wage is not a living wage. Many people are just one paycheck away from being homeless."

Actually, the Food Bank doesn't directly deliver food to the needy; that job is handled by 17 food pantries located throughout the county, and four shelters and seven community meal sites. Until recently, the Food Bank supplied 50 percent of the food distributed by the pantries, which also receive USDA-supplied commodities. (You know, those blocks of cheese and bags of dried cherries purchased to prop up the prices farmers receive).

"But around June, we looked around and the checkbook looked good, the shelves were stocked. And so in July we decided to distribute 60 percent of what the pantries need. And in August we bumped it up to 70 percent.

"We're trying to maintain 70 percent," Taivalkoski said, "but unless we have a very good food drive, and donations hold up through the holidays, we may have to scale back to below 50 percent." What the Food Bank and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) run by the Community Action Agency don't supply, the food pantries have to raise themselves.

"Our goal would be to take all the burden off the food pantries, but the need continues to out-pace our ability to fund- and food-raise."

Things you didn't know:

-- Before taking this job three years ago, Taivalkoski ran the Beacon Tavern and Grill, on Douglas Avenue, for 15 years. ("That was also a non-profit," he jokes.")

-- Before succeeding Tom Berger, longtime director of the Food Bank, Taivalkoski was chairman of the annual Thoughts for Food fund- and food-raiser, which, since beginning in 1993 at George's Tavern, has raised $235,000 and more than 60,000 pounds of food.

-- Most of the financial cost of running the Food Bank comes from the Racine County United Way, which provides more than $80,000 a year; FEMA provides another $35,000.

-- The community's most successful drive is conducted by postal carriers in May; this year they brought in 80,000 pounds of food. Boy Scouts conduct another successful food drive. But smaller events also help: UW-Parkside's Haunted House last week produced 389 pounds of food; on Make-a-Difference Day, Taivalkoski's neighbors raised 600 pounds.

-- In 2004, the Food Bank distributed 159,231 pounds of food.
-- In 2005, it was 328,691 pounds.
-- In 2006, 486,152 pounds
-- By the time 2007 ends, the Food Bank will have distributed 600,000 pounds of food.

-- The Salvation Army in Racine verifies eligibility; the cutoff is an income below 185% of poverty level, which translates to $18,000 income for one person; $24,000 for two; and so on.

-- Finally, if you need help of any sort, just dial 211 in Racine, for human services information and referral, supportive listening and crisis intervention, a program of the Racine County Human Services Department, Safe Haven and the United Way of Racine County.

* Old Southern saying. A longer version goes like this: ""We are not interested in pie in the sky by and by, we want chicken in the kitchen tonight. I want ham where I am today."

November 2, 2007

Real estate: Location, location, patience

How real is the real estate slowdown we keep hearing about? Well it's cost the presidents of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch their multi-million jobs in the past few days.

And it's not just those at the top, or mired in the subprime mortgage mess at the bottom, who are having trouble. The slowdown is very real right here in Racine, too. It affects home sellers, buyers and Realtors.

Houses are selling in Racine and Racine County -- but not as many of them as just a few years ago. And it usually takes longer, as almost anyone with a For Sale sign in his front yard can attest. Gone, too, are inflated prices. Says one Realtor, "It's a buyer's market."

In 2005, more than $1.1 billion worth of real estate was sold in Racine County -- commercial and residential combined. A year later, the total was $916 million, a drop of 16.6%. (These totals were computed based on the amount of real estate transfer tax collected by the County Registrar of Deeds.)

We're only three-quarters through 2007, but it's clear that no records will be set this year. We're on pace to fall short of last year's totals. Looking at nine-month figures for 2005, '06 and '07, we see: $863 million worth of real estate sold here in 2005; $701 million in 2006, a drop of 16.6%; and $654.7 million in 2007, a year-over-year drop of another 6.7%.

Again, that's both residential and commercial. Commercial totals can be impacted substantially by just a few sales. For example, the Sentry/Kohl's mall and outlots at the corner of Green Bay Road and Highway 20 sold in August for $31.7 million ... which makes a big bulge in the month's statistics, and also in the real estate transfer tax receipts ($95,000 total) which are split by the state and county, 80-20. Yes, we get the short end.

So far this year, 1,735 houses have been sold in the county. That's 21.5% fewer than in 2005, when 2,209 were sold in the first nine months. Similar declines are seen throughout the area: in Kenosha County, residential sales are down 19.7% in '07 vs. '05; Walworth County is down 25.9%; Waukesha County is down 9.8%; and Milwaukee County is down 20.6%.

And the length of time it takes for most houses that do find buyers to sell is getting longer and longer (reversing a trend here between 2001 and 2004, when the pace was speeding up). Of the 533 homes sold in the county in the July-September third quarter, 120 sold in less than a month; another 120 took between one and two months; 84 took three months; 67 took four months; and 142 took longer than four months.

Statistically, in Racine County, the amount of time it takes to sell a house increased 9.3% in 2005 over '04; 32.2% in 2006 over '05; and another 20.5% in 2007 over '06.

But even though it's a buyer's market -- with lots of houses available, stabilized prices and interest rates historically low, about 6.25% for a 30-year mortgage -- things aren't all grim for sellers. Said one Realtor: "If you price it fairly, you're going to sell it."

"All these figures are averages; houses still are selling."

Some other points to consider:

-- Foreclosures haven't been as prevalent in Racine County as in Kenosha and Milwaukee.

-- The sales slowdown may cause some Realtors to seek other employment. It's getting time to renew their board dues with the Racine County Board of Realtors, and for those who haven't sold many houses, the $500 fee may be something they decide to forego. The major firms require all brokers selling houses to be members (although the state does not).

Property Transfers, Oct. 22-30

Here are the property transfers for the week, straight from the Register of Deeds office...

Property Transfers, Oct.22-30

UPDATE: Lehman hopes to rework state's school funding ; GOP leaders stick with plan to benefit rich schools

UPDATE: Lehman responded to the J-S article today with a hand-delivered (specifically noted on the press release) statement to Assembly Speaker Michael Huebsch.

In the statement, Lehman argues that not changing the state school aid will result in tax increases in 70 percent of the school districts in the state (including six in Huebsch's district).
My proposal simply allows the $79.3 million increase in the school levy credit to be distributed consistent with the provisions of the education budgets proposed by the Governor, adopted by the Joint Finance Committee, approved by the Senate in June and by the Assembly in September.
Original Post:

State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, wants to rework a state budget provision that could cost Racine Unified $666,000.

Under the spending plan, approved last week, legislators agreed to distribute $79.3 million through the state's School Tax Levy Credit, not its general school aids program.

While seemingly technical, the difference sends millions of dollars to the state's richest school districts at the expense of poorer districts, like Unified.

“The intent and position of the Governor, the Senate and the Assembly was to increase general school aids by $79.3 million. The timing of the final budget deal prevented that from happening. The simple fix proposed in this bill will make sure that the clearly expressed intent of a majority of the Senate and Assembly is carried out and local taxpayers are protected from an unnecessary property tax hit.”

Lehman said his bill has received bi-partisan support, but the Milwaukee J-S reported today (JS Online: Bill rethinks school funding) that GOP leaders in the Assembly have no intention of taking up Lehman's bill.

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November 1, 2007

Burlington attracts concrete products maker, 90 jobs

A Milwaukee manufacturer of concrete products used in highway construction will build a 100,000 sq. ft. plant in Burlington, employing 90-95 workers.

RexCon LLC manufactures portable and stationary concrete plants, concrete paving products and provides parts and machining services. Among its products is a portable concrete batch plant that produces up to 200 cubic yards an hour.

The new facility, expected to open in late 2008, will be built in the City of Burlington's Manufacturing and Office Park.

RexCon manufactures all of its products and performs installation and field support services. The company, founded in 1919 as part of Rex Chainbelt, currently occupies a 140,000 sq. ft. leased facility, on the northwest side of Milwaukee near Good Hope Road. The company's search for a new site included areas throughout southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

RexCon President Jake Jacob said, "Burlington is a community that is continuing to grow ... providing RexCon with the workforce to help run our facility. The quality of life in Burlington, as well as its location in the Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor, attracts the quality workforce tht RexCon will need to compete in an international economy."

Jacob credited Burlington Mayor Claude Lois, the Racine County Economic Development Corporation and others for helping to locate appropriate sites and meeting the company's needs in a timely manner. Final completion of the project's details awaits a decision by state officials on financial assistance.

Feingold urges halt to executions

For the third time in two months, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday stopped an execution, this time just 15 minutes before Mississippi was about put to death Earl Wesley Berry for the murder of a woman 20 years ago. Berry had already eaten his "last" meal.

The constitutionality of lethal injections is in the forefront, as courts have stayed executions in nine states in recent months.

A PBS analysis is HERE.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, a longtime opponent of capital punishment, is the author of S.447 - the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act. He issued the following statement in response to the court's action this week:

“With the Supreme Court issuing yet another stay in a death penalty case this week, it appears likely that states will suspend executions at least temporarily. This de facto moratorium on executions by lethal injection gives us a chance to recognize just how deeply flawed the implementation of capital punishment in this country is.

"Indeed, the Supreme Court’s stay comes just one day after a call by the American Bar Association for a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment based on its detailed study of state death penalty systems, which found racial disparities, convictions based on bad evidence, grossly inadequate indigent defense systems, and a host of other problems with the implementation of capital punishment in this country.

"We should take advantage of this apparent pause in executions to consider the severe injustices within the system as a whole.”

ON ANOTHER MATTER, Feingold joined Senators Susan Collins, R-ME, Edward Kennedy, D-MA, and Norm Coleman, R-MN, in calling for an increase in the amount of money given to students who qualify for Pell Grants, need-based student financial aid.

The four wrote Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle, and conferees to the FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations conference committee requesting that they include funding for the highest possible maximum Pell grant award. The letters are HERE and HERE.

Chrysler cuts seem to spare Kenosha (this time)

The world is flat, Tom Friedman taught us.

So, when I saw a story on the wire this morning about Chrysler cutting 10,000 workers (on top of 13,000 cut in February), I wondered how many of those might be in Kenosha.

Looks like none of them. Chrysler is cutting salaried employees at HQ, and eliminating a number of models that aren't selling well: Crossfire, PT Cruiser convertible, Pacifica and the ominous-looking Dodge Magnum station wagon.

The company will eliminate third shifts at the Toledo North plant in Ohio (750 jobs) and at the Belvidere plant in Illinois (another 1,000) early in 2008. Those plants make the Jeep Liberty, Dodge Nitro, Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot.

Kenosha's 850 workers make none of those models; they make the V6 engines used throughout the Chrysler and Dodge lines (including in the Magnum). Plans were announced this summer to invest a portion of $650 million in Kenosha, as prelude to retooling the factory to make a new family of V-6 engines. Those new engines are called Phoenix ... a nice metaphor for the Kenosha plant itself.

The Associated Press quoted union leaders at the Kenosha plant saying there's no immediate impact here. But, United Auto Workers Local 72 president Dan Kirk says they're not sure what the long range impact might be.

An interesting sidelight is the actual number of jobs Chrysler plans to cut. Various media outlets this morning have reported 7,000, 10,000 and 12,000. Hope for the best.

October 31, 2007

Downtown Holiday Parade, tree lighting on Nov. 10

More than 50 entries will participate in Racine's Downtown Holiday Parade on Saturday, Nov. 10.

In addition to Santa Claus and his elves, lighted floats and marching bands, the Downtown Racine Corporation parade will feature a live nativity scene complete with a camel, three wise men and Mary on a donkey.

Darth Vader, the Milwaukee Brewers Sausages, Downtown’s Mr. Bear, the Racine Kilties and the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies also join the parade.

Children are encouraged to bring their letters to Santa which will be picked up along the parade route by Racine postal carriers. All letters will be hand-delivered directly to Santa. Children are reminded to put their return address on their letter as Santa has promised that he will personally answer every letter he receives!

The parade begins at 5:30 p.m. on Main and State Streets, progresses south along Main Street and then heads west on Sixth Street to City Hall.

Following the parade, the Community Christmas Tree will be lighted in Monument Square. The tree is sponsored by Gene Johnson, and the parade by Modine Manufacturing.

This year’s tree is a 35 ft. pine tree donated by Sharon Wood of Racine. The tree was planted in 1977 by Sharon and her husband, David, as the final touch for their new home, and graced the family’s yard for 30 years. The tree is being donated in memory of David Wood, who died in 2004.

Here is the lineup for the 2007 Downtown Holiday Parade:
SE Wisconsin Racine Hog Chapter #5624
Modine Manufacturing, Parade Sponsor
Mayor Gary Becker
Dance Arts Center
Miss Racine
Miss Outstanding Teen 2007
Miss Festival of Trees
Miss Teen WI American 2007
94.5 WKTI
Mickey Mouse
Great Northern Corporation
Fox 6 WITI
Milwaukee Dancing Grannies
Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort
Racine Art Museum
Academy of Dance
US Postal Workers
Proper Paws University
American Professional Driving School
Milwaukee Brewers Racing Sausages
Racine Kilties
Racine Area Soccer Association
Racine Public Library
Racine Studio of Performing Arts
American Coed Pageants
Taylor Stefanski
WISN Channel 12
Jelly Belly Candy Company
501st Midwest Garrison Star Wars Characters
WMYX 99.1
Racine 4th Fest Calliope
Racine Montessori School
Brownie Troop 5912
Ivanhoe Pub and Eatery
It’s All About Racine – Mark Eickhorst
Washington Park High School Varsity Pom Pom Squad
Cedar World Furniture
Tech Corps Wisconsin
Century 21 Savaglio & Cape
Boy Scout Troop 203 Drum & Bugle Corp
Racine coalition for Peace and Justice
Old Timers Athletic Club
Palmen Dodge Jeep of Racine
International Mi-Ki Registry
Cub Scouts Pack 129
Northside Preschool
Masters of Movement Arts
Live Nativity Scene – Jo Don Farms
Racine Broadcasting, WRJN and Lite Rock 92.1
Racine County Farm Bureau
Gospel Lighthouse
Penquin Characters
Guarantee Bank
Blood Center of Wisconsin
Horlick High School Student Government
Casablanca de Mexico
Miss Latine Racine Scholarship
Four Seasons Lawn Care and Rental
Downtown’s Mr. Bear
Downtown Racine Corporation
Starbucks Coffee Co.
Racine Zoological Society and Santa Claus

Dozens of sick students force schools closed

Three Unified schools will be closed Thursday because of a mysterious illness that's left at least 75students sick with flu-like symptoms.

The district announced today it was shutting down Starbuck and Mitchell middle schools, and Mitchell Elementary school so staff can sanitize all surfaces.

The district described the closings as a "precautionary measure" after several students became ill.

The Racine Health Department is investigating the incident, which may be related to food served at the schools.

WISN Channel 12 reported 50 students at Starbuck Middle School and 25 students at Mitchell Middle School got sick Wednesday.

The Journal Times reported 90 students at the three schools were affected by the illness.

The Associated Press interviewed Michele Breheim, an epidemiologist with the city health department, who gave two telling quotes:
"All we know is that the children were vomiting. We don't know what's caused it yet."

"This is very unusual because the onset was around the same time," Breheim said. "It would make us think there is a common factor. We just need to figure out what it is."

The Milwaukee J-S interviewed Janelle Grammer, the city of Racine's public health administrator. She said officials are studying the food students ate in the last three days, but some students who became ill did not each lunch at the school on Wednesday.

She also told the Milwaukee paper that adequate temperatures were maintained for the foood during storage and preparation.

The middle school lunch menu on Wednesday was tacos, chilled fruit, corn and Spanish rice.

Unified's Halloween-themed menu for elementary schools was (seriously) "scary salisbury steak" with "ghostly gravy," "pumpkin boo-day cake," "Dracula's dinner roll," "frightly fresh apple half" and "witches whipped potatoes."

City may shut group home for teen girls

A group home for at-risk teenage girls may be shut down by the city because of repeated incidents involving Racine police.

The city Plan Commission will consider a proposal tonight to shutdown the Lydia Group home at 3131 Taylor Ave. (click for map) Sgt. William Macemeon, of the Racine Police Department, said in a report to the comission that third-shift police officers have responded to 17 complaints at the group home for runaways and disorderly conduct since Oct. 1. All of the complaints have involved the same three girls, ages 15, 15 and 13.

The group home is tied to the Milwaukee County Court System and the girls are supervised by Milwaukee County case workers. Even though the girls have violated the terms of their placement at the group home, their case workers and the head of the group have not requested that they be removed to a secured environment, Macemon said.

Assistant Police Chief Steve Hurley reported that he spoke with a supervisor at the group home and asked them to call Lt. Al Days to discuss a solution to the repeated calls to the facility. The supervisor had not contacted Days as of Oct. 23.

City staff is recommending the group home be closed. The Plan Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal today at 4:15 p.m.

October 30, 2007

Need a hug? Hap's your man.

Meet Hap, a Great Dane/Boxer mix who is 8 months old and looking for a home. Not just any home; before coming to the Countryside Humane Society as a stray, Hap was malnourished, and probably left for days in a wire cage. He's now getting special care at Countryside: lots of loving (he practically hugs whoever is with him) and extra cottage cheese for the calcium he needs to strengthen his feet and make his bones better. Staff at Countryside take turns giving him lots of exercise.

Countryside also will hold four more low-cost cat and dog vaccination clinics this year: Nov. 1 and 15, and Dec. 6 and 20. The shelter is at 2706 Chicory Road; to check on clinics or Hap, call 262-554-6699.

(P.S. Last week's dog seeking a home -- Jack, a Collie/Brittany mix -- still hasn't been adopted. Check him out HERE.)

Dear Mr. ... uh, Ms. .... uh, Sir/Madam:

Sunday's New York Times had an article about gender-fluid names like Kelly or Dana, whose owners can turn out to be either boys or girls. (No mention of Pat, the androgynous Saturday Night Live character created by Julia Sweeney. Huh! Some paper of record!)

According to the Times, names that once were strictly for boys are sometimes co-opted by girls. Shirley, for example, used to be a boys' name, until that mop-headed Shirley Temple ruined it for guys forever. Leslie also used to be just a boy's name. And what's with Chris? A newly popular name that spans both sexes these days is Peyton, given new currency by the Colts' quarterback.

What are the most popular names for babies born in Racine? Unfortunately there's no database that lists the given names of all last year's 2,627 births in the county. But the state provides a list of the most popular names used in Wisconsin, so we'll go with that. For 2006, the winners were, in order:

GIRLS: Ava, Emma, Emily, Olivia, Isabella, Abigail, Hannah, Grace, Elizabeth, Ella.

BOYS: Ethan, Jacob, Logan, Mason, Noah, Alexander, Benjamin, Tyler, Owen, Michael.

The word of the day ends in -phobia

This was going to be one of those "word-of-the-day" posts, but The Goog, as usual, delivered more than it was asked for.

Rather than one word, we have three, all appearing to mean the same thing: a fear of heights.
(Batophobia also carries with it a fear of being close to high buildings.)

All of which is a preamble to the picture at the right. If you suffer from any of the aforementioned -phobias, then step away from the picture, and certainly don't look up as you walk by the Racine County Courthouse for the next few weeks.

Holton Brothers of Grafton is in the second year of a three-year tuck-pointing and stone-securing project; 395,000 of your tax dollars at work. They've already done the north and west sides of the 11-story courthouse and are now working on the south and east sides. They've been at work since mid-August, and will continue until the weather drives them inside. The work is delayed each spring and summer until the courthouses falcons fledge and depart.

For the history buffs among you: the courthouse was built in 1932. The last time it was tuck-pointed was in 1984.

October 29, 2007

What do the movies we rent say about us?

The most frequently rented movies in and around Racine, according to Netflix: Cosmic rays, mutants, a cryptic killer, Mel Gibson's summer vacation in 16th century Central America and American backpackers' vacation in a haunted hostel (blood and gore included free). Could our tastes be any more lowbrow?

You have to go all the way down to No. 8, "The Ultimate Gift," for anything uplifting: a James Garner vehicle that feels like a Hallmark Channel Christmas special. Still, a lot better than those ahead of it on the list, and you can watch it with the kids.

1. Fantastic Four
2. The Hills Have Eyes 2
3. Zodiac
4. Apocalypto
5. Hostel
6. Derailed
7. Fracture
8. The Ultimate Gift
9. 300
10. Bridge to Terabithia
11. The Holiday
12. The Good Shepherd
13. Blades of Glory
14. Children of Men
15. Surf's Up
16. Ghost Rider
17. The Number 23
18. Rome: Season 2
19. The Pursuit of Happyness
20. Premonition
21. Breach
22. Shooter
23. Disturbia
24. Eragon
25. Failure to Launch

Holiday begins with Festival of Trees

"Enchanted Christmas," the 19th Annual Festival of Trees, will be held Nov. 11 - 18 at the Masonic Center in Downtown Racine. This year’s event will include new activities and entertainment, and tours of the Masonic mansion, built by Henry S. Durand in 1857. The house, which was sold to the Masons of Racine in 1921, is at 1012 Main Street.

The Festival opens at noon on Sunday, Nov. 11 offering visits with Santa, and holiday treats in the Candy Cane Café. A kids area will offer face painting, storytelling, magicians, and costumed characters. There will also be holiday bingo and movies. The marketplace will offer early Christmas shopping from Downtown boutiques.

The Festival will provide over 50 one-of-a-kind decorated trees, garlands and wreaths as well as spectacular holiday decorations throughout the Mansion. Visitors can win a tree, wreath or garland by purchasing raffle tickets. The tree raffle drawing will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18.

Senior Holly Day will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 12. Seniors 55 and older will receive discounted admission, a complimentary raffle ticket, and pastry from Home Instead Senior Care. Seniors will also enjoy a performance by the Kitchen Band and a game of Holiday Bingo.

Family Night on Friday, Nov. 16 is sponsored by WRJN and Lite Rock 92.1. From 5-9 p.m. guests will be greeted by live reindeer and children can enjoy Rudolph’s “bouncy house” in the parking lot, and Star Wars characters inside. Live entertainment will be performed by the MIT’s from 6-8 p.m. and Night Wing from 8-9 p.m. And, a spaghetti dinner will be served in the ballroom from 5-8 p.m.

Special Memory Tree Ornaments will be available for $10, and will be hand-painted with the name of a loved one, and displayed throughout the Festival. The ornament is a glittery red star, and after the festival ends they may be picked up at the DRC office.

General admission prices to the Festival are: $6 adults; $4 seniors; $4 children (ages 3-12). Children under age 3 are admitted free.

The Festival will be open the following dates and times:

Sunday, Nov. 11 – noon – 7 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 12 – 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 13 – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 14 – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 15 – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 16 – 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 17 – 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 18 – 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

For more information, go HERE or call the Downtown Racine Corporation office at 262-634-6002.

The best candidates (our) money can buy?

The Real Debate Wisconsin blog pointed out this weekend that Republican presidential candidates raised $95,000 more from the Badger State than Democratic presidential candidates.

But what about here in Racine? When we vote with our wallets, what's the outcome?

So far in 2007, there's no contest. Checking the Federal Election Commission donation reports reveals two frontrunners, one in each party.

Among Democratic presidential hopefuls, Barack Obama received $7,500, with $3,800 coming from Jeff and Lisa Neubauer. Neubauer, former state party chairman, organized fund-raisers for Obama in the spring that netted $250,000. Far behind: Hillary Clinton and John Edwards each received $1,000. Everybody else on that crowded debate stage got zip.

Among Republicans, put your hands together for Mitt Romney, who received $6,100. Two-thirds of that came from Helen Johnson Leipold and her husband Craig (spending his Predators' windfall early?) Romney's closest competitor in the county is -- drumroll, please! -- a tie: Ron Paul received $4,600 from Sandra and Fred Young Jr. and Tommy Thompson got the same from Loraine and Charles Vignieri. Sam Brownback got $2,300 and John McCain $1,700. Alan Keyes (!) received $201.

Putting all that fund-raising to shame, however, was the S. C. Johnson & Son Inc. Political Action Committee, which received $43,275 in donations. There were six $5,000 checks from family and board members, and the rest from board, directors and employees in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $250.

And where is the SCJ PAC spending its money? So far this year, it has made 13 donations of $1,000 or $2,000 to House and Senate candidates around the U.S., in an eclectic variety of states like California, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa and Maryland. The money was split equally between the two parties, although seven Republicans received donations vs. six Democrats. Only one Wisconsin pol has benefitted: U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-6th District (Oshkosh and Sheboygan), received $1,000.

Want to do your own search, find out who your neighbors are supporting? Start HERE and HERE.

OIC honors Karen Bayer, David Maurer

Karen Bayer, executive director of Leadership Racine, and David Maurer, executive director of United Way of Racine County, will be honored next month.

They will receive the 2007 Leon H. Sullivan Community Award at the Opportunities Industrialization Center's 8th Annual Awards Banquet, on Friday, Nov. 16, at the Racine Marriott.

Claudius Adebayo, director of OIC, called Bayer and Maurer "two of the giant pillars of community service in the area."

Named after the Rev. Dr. Leon Howard Sullivan, who founded OIC in Philadelphia, 44 years ago, the community award honors those making permanent contributions to the community.

Both Bayer and Maurer have demonstrated their dedication to improving the quality of nonprofit management and services, their love of children, family and the organizations that serve them, Adebayo said.

For 85 years, United Way of Racine County has provided resources to improve the quality of life for people throughout the county, through nonprofit agencies and support of community leaders.
Leadership Racine, established in 1997 by RAMAC, the Racine Community Foundation and the United Way, prepares promising leaders for positions of public influence and decision-making.

OIC of Racine County was opened in 1988. It operates a number of programs helping low-income populations; its YouthBuild Racine Project, which trains young adults in construction trades and helps them to complete their GED, won an award for being the best in the nation in February.

The Leon H. Sullivan Awards Banquet is a fundraiser for OIC. The banquet will also feature a silent auction of donated items including African arts, Harley-Davidson jackets, solar-powered family tent, luggage, collectible coins and tools. Reservations are being accepted at (262) 636-3818 or e-mail on or before Nov. 2.

Of secrets, perception and the catbird seat

These are good times for Gordy Kacala, executive director of RCEDC.

He has secrets to keep.

After almost three decades working to enhance the economic development of Racine County, Kacala is busy bringing together developers, communities and landowners – all (hopefully!) to provide tax base, jobs and services for county residents.

How many secrets is Kacala holding close right now? More than 1.5 million of them -- if each square foot of soon-to-be-announced construction is counted as a secret.

Kacala really wants to take me into his confidence; he gives hints, lets me guess wrong once or twice, helps me narrow it down. Then, when I finally come up with the right company behind an upcoming project, he swears me to secrecy, alas.

In the past month, three large projects have been announced: a 380,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Sturtevant, and two warehouses totalling 420,000 sq. ft. in Mount Pleasant.

These, encompassing 126 acres, are just the tip of the iceberg. There are approximately 900 acres of business-industrial potential just in the narrow corridor between Highways 11 and 20, and I-94 and Hwy. V.

The 900-acre figure is significant in light of a 2005 SEWRPC study which examined all developable land in existing industrial/business parks in Racine County. The study concluded that less than 500 available acres met seven key criteria (streets, sewers, buildable, etc.) in the entire county.

Expect a major announcement from that other end of the county soon. (Hint: “Burlington is our hottest community.”)

Which still leaves more than 1 million square-feet of development in Kacala's pipeline.

“I'm surprised by the size; they're huge,” Kacala says. “We're back to large facilities. Companies are centralizing their regional focus.”

But why should we care about warehouses when it's really manufacturing jobs we want and need?

Kacala lets me know, in no uncertain terms. (He tells me the same question was asked by a certain reporter I consider dumber than a rock. I am mortified.)

“Warehouse-distribution centers are good for three reasons: They bring tax base; given our location they're an understandable use; and, finally, because of changes in manufacturing and out-sourcing, this is the way business is done today.”

Get the warehouse, and it “solidifies” a company's presence. “Warehousing and manufacturing go together,” he says.

Furthermore, “If people see things happening, it will change perceptions,” he says. “We've got to change the minds of people who live here first.”

There's another, less-benign reason why we should be glad developers are building distribution warehouses here: Our existing labor force isn't ready for manufacturing jobs.

Yes, the city of Racine has an 8.6% unemployment rate (the rest of the county is about half that). But Kacala cites the 2000 Census, which showed that 42% of males age 18-24 don't have a high school education. A sobering statistic.

That was six years ago; Kacala estimates the figure might hold true today for 18-28-year-olds, or 18-30's. Two local companies, he says, “bought robots because they can't find trained people.”

“We're competing with China,” he says.

Pointing to the small amount of newly available industrial land within the city, the former Jacobsen-Textron site, Kacala says: “It's not the availability of land that's the problem, it's the labor force.” He's had to deliver that unhappy message to a number of inner-city organizations seeking jobs for their constituents. Education is the key.

The development is coming; if we don't improve our own labor force, Kacala says, more than a million workers live in the I-94 corridor, from Lake County to Milwaukee; “relatively good commuting distance.”

Development will provide a range of jobs. Yes, warehouse jobs are at the lower end, but it's all we can now fill.

“If we get the businesses here, and unemployment is still 10%, then we've (failed) big-time.”

Today, “every location within a softball throw of Milwaukee is developed.”

Kacala says he receives one or two development inquiries a week, and 10-15% of those turn out to become projects we have a shot at. “Fifty-two a year; if you get 10 of those, that's pretty substantial.”

For now, Racine County is in the catbird seat.

DP Wigley to host 'Homebrew Day' on Nov. 3

Racine's DP Wigley, 234 Wisconsin Ave., will take part in "Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day," on Nov. 3.

The event is open to anyone interested in learning how to brew their own beer. DP Wigley will host the event at their "Hop To It Brewing and Winemaking Supplies" shop, which is located in the same building as their main business in Downtown Racine.

The homebrew day is scheduled for 9am to 3pm on Saturday, Nov. 3. Call 262-633-8239 or email for more information.

In 2006, 1,200 participants brewed 2,200 gallons on Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day at 51 sites worldwide (including sites in Canada, South Africa, Nigeria, England, Indonesia, and United States).

October 28, 2007

Halloween: Smiling kids, no politicians ... yea!

Clearly, this is not an election year.

Not a single Richard Nixon, George Bush or John Kerry showed up at the front door tonight, demanding sugar. (Thinking back, 2004 was especially scary. Not Halloween so much, but the actual election.)

No, this year's trick-or-treaters were dominated by princesses and GIs in camouflage. Oh, sure, a vampire or two, and a skeleton, and a lot of pre-teens with Madonna-like microphones, which a dad had to explain represents "High School Musical," a movie we've been fortunate enough to avoid so far.

For three hours, our doorbell was rung strictly by adorable kids with big smiles who, we predict, should visit the dentist soon.

Lyle Peters, Jeff Shawhan feature at Artists Gallery

Our friends at the Artists Gallery sent over this announcement for November's featured artists. Please support the local arts scene!
The Artists Gallery is pleased to announce that featured artists for November 2007 are are well-known watercolor painter Lyle Peters and ceramic artist Jeff Shawhan. Their exhibit is named "Fire and Water".

Jeffrey Shawhan is currently an Associated Professor of Art at Concordia University in Meqoun Wisconsin. His new works focus on the ceramic process known as Raku. Raku is a 16th century firing process which requires the works to be removed from the kiln at 1850 degrees. The works are then placed in combustible materials like paper or sawdust. The reaction the glaze has with the carbon-rich atmosphere is what causes the lustrous metallic colors and crackle patterns characteristic of Raku. Jeff’s new works incorporate mission style patterns on large vessel and platters.

The watercolors which Lyle Peters produced for this exhibit were inspired by time spent on the lakeshore in both Wisconsin and Michigan. A retired Racine art teacher, Lyle has been painting mostly watercolors for the past ten years. He is currently president of the Wisconsin Watercolor Society and was one of the original founders of the Artists Gallery where this show is held.

The public is invited to the exhibition reception on Friday, November 2nd, 2007 from 5-9 pm.

The Artists Gallery is a cooperative business venture of 30 local & regional artists and Racine’s only “artist owned” gallery. The Artists Gallery is located at 312 Sixth Street. Business hours are 11 AM to 5 PM Thursday through Saturday and 1 to 4 PM on Sunday. Additional hours will be available as the holidays approach, and special hours are available by appointment. For more information, call 262/635-9332 or go to

Gov's veto gives Racine spending room

Local governments will have more money to work - if they want it - after a last-minute change to the state budget.

Racine could boost its budget at least $400,000 following Gov. Jim Doyle's line-item veto that raised municipal levy limits to 3.86 percent. The initial rate was 2 percent.

The late change means more money for the Racine city government, if the City Council and mayor want to pass along a greater levy hike to the taxpayers. Becker initially proposed a 2 percent increase in the amount the city raises in property taxes, cutting it back from 4 percent after the Legislature passed its state budget.

Doyle's veto could allow Becker to revert back to his initial plan. That could mean retaining the police officer and three firefighters cut from Becker's plan. It could also save the job of a community center director that Becker proposed for elimination.

One alderman said its likely the police officer position will be saved (it would have been cut through attrition, not a layoff). As for the rest, that's likely up the City Council, which will debate the budget over the coming month.

Becker said Monday that any additions to the budget will be up to the City Council. "Any additions will come from them, but I do have a few ideas I hope they look at," he said without elaborating.

The Milwaukee J-S is a bit behind on the story with news this morning that Becker had to cut $580,000 from his budget to accommodate the 2 percent levy limit.

But the story did have a nice detail on the budget. The mayor's plan includes $50,000 for hand-held parking ticket machines for city police cars. That'll make it easier for officers to hand out parking tickets at the new fee of $13 per offense. Lovely.