May 20, 2010

Salsa maker wins entrepreneur's award at RCEDC's annual meeting

Award-winning local entrepreneur Brian Peters at Wednesday's RCEDC annual meeting. 

If you know Brian Peters, you know the man loves his salsa. That love is on its way to becoming a successful business.

Peters, and his idea to create an all-natural salsa, won a local entrepreneur's competition Wednesday at the Racine County Economic Development Corporation's annual meeting. He beat out five finalists for the $1,000 award, which was voted on by a panel of local business owners.

Peters and the four other entrepreneurs gave "elevator pitches" of their business plans to an audience of about 300 local economic leaders gathered at the Veterans Terrace in Burlington. The three-member panel then put the future business owners on the spot, asking tough questions about their business plans and how they intend to create successful enterprises.

Other finalists included:

Norm Walker, Facilities Services and Solutions. Walker helps manufacturers who use compressed air find inefficiencies in their operations. He has a system that identifies, and then quantifies, potential energy savings. The service is actually free at the moment if business owners use the state's Focus on Energy rebate credit.

Jim Nondorf Jr., Water Separation Systems. Nondorf is looking to expand his Racine-based business to help businesses with large boilers become more efficient. He offers a reverse osmosis solution that reduces the amount of water and energy needed in boilers.

Raymond Madden, Computer Renewal. Madden will "up-cycle" used computers to prevent them from being dumped in the landfill. He intends to collect old computers, fix them, and sell them at discounted prices to consumers and businesses.

Ellen Ferwerda, home composting. Ferwerda plans to invent a garbage disposal that will compost food waste and convert it into nutrient-rich soil. It's meant to capitalize on growing interest in composting, which some cities are beginning to require as a way to reduce garbage.

Peters, whose business is called the Peters Cellars Family Kitchen, began working on his business in 2008 when he was laid off from his job after 20 years in the construction industry. He saw the forced career change as an opportunity to reinvent himself into the owner of a natural foods company. Peters' specialty is an all-natural salsa recipe that he intends to sell  as a top-brand salsa. He also plans to work with the homeless at HALO to create jobs and help people in need get work experience.

All five finalists were selected to participate in the "Launching Green Businesses" program, organized by UW-Parkside's Small Business Development Center and the Racine County Workforce Development Center. He and about 20 other entrepreneurs worked through a 15-week class to develop a business plan they can take to investors and lenders to get started.

The finalists were the featured speakers at RCEDC's annual meeting, which also included a review of the county's economic development in 2009 and the organization's annual awards.

Burlington Area School District Superintendent Ron Jandura, who is retiring after 40 years in education, received the Sam Johnson Volunteer Award. Odinn Johnson (left), Sam Johnson's grandson, introduced the award with stories about his family. He referred to Sam as "Grand-Sam" and recalled that the original Samuel Johnson, his great-grandfather, help support a southern school for former slaves

In his acceptance speech, Jandura talked about innovations in education that are helping students apply learning to the real world. One Burlington High class calls students to a "crime" scene at 2 a.m. to process forensic evidence, while another allows students to witness a live surgery. Burlington also created the state's first Construction Career Academy, which teaches students how to work in the building trades.

Jandura predicted major changes in school systems over the next five to 10 years. While education has resisted technology - walk into a school today and not much is different from 50 years ago, he said - it's headed toward a revolution.

In one specific case, Jandura said a student approached school officials about wanting to study Italian, so the administrators found an online class for him to take. The student went on to become an American diplomat in Italy, he said.

About 300 people attended RCEDC's annual meeting on 
Wednesday at Veterans Terrace in Burlington.

Other award winners included:

The Leonard W. Ziolkowski Public Sector Award - Gilbert Bakke, former RCEDC board member and current member of the Racine County Board

The Anthony J. DiCastri Private Sector Award - Roger Caron, president of the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce

Lender of the Year - Glenn Schroeder, vice president, business banking division at M&I Bank

RCEDC also recognized its business loan recipients in 2009. They included:

  • Amarillo Towing of Wisconsin
  • HM Product Solutions
  • Johnson's Gardens
  • Ketter's Flooring
  • Maletto's Packaging
  • Michelle R. Bonnesss, M.D.
  • Nelson Bros. & Strom Quadra
  • Spee-Dee Packaging Machinery
  • Strategic Electronic Solutions
  • Sturtevant Sportsplex
  • Wisconsin Shower Door
RCEDC's 27th annual anniversary celebration started with a welcome talk by RCEDC board President Dan Pettit, followed by a summary of 2009 economic development results by County Executive Bill McReynolds.
Matt Wagner

Burlington Mayor Bob Miller

Matt Wagner, director of UW-Parkside's Small Business Development Center, introduced the entrepreneurs, and Burlington Mayor Robert Miller introduced the community award winners. 

Gordy Kacala, executive director of RCEDC, closed the meeting by saying that, in spite of the recession, he was "pleased with the progress we've had." 

Kacala added that competition is so fierce among communities for new businesses that he's afraid to announce future projects because other communities are trying to poach them.

"That's the reality we're dealing with," he said. 


  1. As I am happy for the entrepreneurs and wish them the best of luck.

    Note other then the Dog and Pony has RCEDC done anything??
    Power points are nice and siting around drinking may be fun but that does nothing to help the un/underemployed

  2. WHEN is Yokit going to "re-enter production" so that billion-dollar technology can re-enter that trillion-dollar market? Perhaps they should say it will grow hair, make you a foot taller and that it confers a UW PhD to whoever eats it.

  3. Dustin, good coverage. I saw you running all over last night.

    This year the main award winners were definitely deserving. A very nice night in a great location.