WHO WE ARE : HISTORY

Our History...

It Was Time For Forward Janesville

The late 1980's were filled with uncertainty caused by a slowdown in the economy. Major employer layoffs and poor prospects for improvement led community business leaders to the conclusion that specific action focused on job diversity and increased opportunity through new company recruiting were the keys to turning the corner. It became apparent that one organization whose entire focus was business would provide the answer. In 1991, Forward Janesville was born through a merger between the Janesville Economic Development Corporation (JEDCO) and the Janesville Area Chamber of Commerce. All economic and community development initiatives were combined into one organization, increasing its overall effectiveness.

An aggressive program called the New Beginnings Program was launched in the spring of 1991. As a partner to the city's Economic Development Department, the concentration on expanding existing employment and attracting new businesses paid off in tandem with improvements in the economy. Being prepared to take advantage of new business opportunities and the expansion of several key industries allowed Janesville to realize over 1,750 new manufacturing jobs in less than four years. Direct ties to the new business incubator helped turn entrepreneurial desire into new employers testing their ideas in a nurturing atmosphere. A shell building was built, attracting potential employers to Janesville, and a more aggressive marketing campaign improved the image of Janesville as a good place to do business. Having accomplished a great deal through the New Beginnings Program, businesses and community leaders realized there was still more to be done to ensure a successful future for Janesville.

During late 1994 and early 1995, Forward Janesville, through input from business, community and education leaders, developed "The New Century Program," a strategy for the next four years that would guide Janesville economic development efforts into the 21st Century. The major thrust of The New Century Program was growth through retention and expansion of existing business. The four main program areas included: 1) Existing business growth and expansion; 2) Downtown revitalization; 3) Education; 4) Economic Diversity. Another key component that was successfully developed was a strong government relations program. During the years 1996 – 2000, Forward Janesville built a team of experienced professionals and recruited a volunteer team of over 300 business leaders involved on the Board of Directors, and various Councils and Working Groups. During this time the organization gained respect locally, statewide and nationally as an effective economic development organization. This broad-based approach to economic development positioned the organization to make incredible progress.

The economic downturn that began in 2000 affected the Janesville economy and Forward Janesville . Membership that had soared from 455 in 1995 to 740 in 2001 began to decline. Staff positions were cut and redefined, and program areas were reevaluated. In 2003, Forward Janesville found itself in a stronger position than in the previous two years, with a solid team of staff and volunteers once again in place and a renewed commitment to its mission.

The organization continues its strong work in government relations, education, small business, economic development and membership services. Recently, Forward Janesville has begun establishing regional partnerships that will help secure the economic future of this area and strengthen and diversify the area economy.