A company owned by siblings whose family farm paved the way for significant business development on the city’s northwest side was honored Wednesday by the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce.
During its 121st annual dinner at the Fireside Dinner Theatre, the chamber presented its 2019 Economic Contribution Award to CBF Investment Company LLC.
Incoming chamber President Nova Jiongco said that the organization presents this award to an individual, business or organization that has contributed to, and promoted the objectives of, the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce in the areas of job growth and retention, capital investment, facility expansion, community involvement and/or innovation.
“This award was created in 1973 and is regarded as the chamber’s most prestigious recognition,” she added. “Past recipients include some of our largest employers who have positively impacted job creation, and individuals who had a vision of growing their own companies as well as our business community overall.”
The selection committee for this award consisted of past chamber presidents, who met in early January to review the list of worthy nominees submitted by members.
“This year’s recipient has deep roots in our community, going back to the days when the roads coming into town weren’t even paved, and visitors were greeted by green pastures and dairy cows,” Jiongco said in describing CBF Investment prior to revealing its name. “Their family business represents both the past and future of Fort Atkinson, and our community’s evolution has affected them very personally. Changes in their industry, changes to the city’s infrastructure, changes in their own family, have all led to what they have built today. The chamber will be recognizing them in 2020 for celebrating a 25-year anniversary, but their history goes back much further than that.”
Jiongco said that “it isn’t every community that showcases the headstones of its dearly departed dairy cows, but as the home of the National Dairy Shrine, it seems appropriate for Fort Atkinson. And that is exactly what you will find just in front of the Goodwill (Industries) building, where the cows of Crescent Beauty Farms used to roam, and for whom tonight’s recipient is named.”
The chamber president said that CBF Investment Company LLC was formed in 1995, about the time the school district was looking for land on which to build a new high school.
“It was the vision of the family matriarch, Doris Hetts, that the land which had nourished her family and produced prize-winning dairy cows should contribute to the growth of the city,” Jiongco said. “So, with an eye to the future, the new high school was built, followed by three retail malls, a health services building, and two hotels: a total investment of over $10 million.”
She said that CBF partners and siblings Randy Connery, Rhonda Shore, Renee Beilke and Rodney Hetts attribute their success to the businesses that have located in those spaces: Fort HealthCare, Goodwill Industries, Pizza Hut, Subway, Cricket Wireless, Advanced Pain Management, Edward Jones and Sherwin Williams, along with the Holiday Inn Express, built in 2000, and the Country Inn & Suites, built in 2018.
The Country Inn was named “2018 New Hotel of the Year” by the Country Inn & Suites Radisson franchise.
Jiongco quoted Tom and Carol Becker, who are local Subway franchise owners and partners in the hotel properties, as saying that the nice thing about the CBF developments is how diverse they are, attracting health care, retail, restaurants, and education tenants, who in turn are addressing the needs of this community and beyond.”
The chamber has benefited too, she added, since the hotels contribute to the local room tax, which is used by the city and the chamber tourism department to promote Fort Atkinson as a destination to live, work and play. At least 60 jobs were created in the two hotel properties alone, and all the businesses that have located in the other buildings are members of the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce.
Hoard Historical Museum director Merrilee Lee said it is difficult to picture the Hoard Historical Museum & National Dairy Shrine, or Fort Atkinson or Wisconsin’s dairy industry without the involvement of Allen and Doris Hetts, according to Jiongco.
“It was through the direct efforts of Allen and Doris that the World Dairy Expo began in 1967, the National Dairy Shrine moved their museum to Fort Atkinson in the early 1980s, and Wisconsin dairy developed greater international connections, particularly with Japan,” Lee said. “And now it is hard to imagine our city without the economic contributions of CBF Investments. Thank you to the Hetts family for all that you have done to shape our town and Wisconsin dairy. What a wonderful legacy for you and your parents.”
Jiongco said the the late family matriarch would be proud to see her vision realized.
“You can now stand on Doris Lane and, in every direction, see the impact that Crescent Beauty Farms has had on the history and future of Fort Atkinson. So it is our pleasure to present Rodney Hetts, Renee Bielke, Rhonda Shore, and Randy Connery with the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce 2019 Economic Contribution Award.”
Upon accepting the chamber’s Economic Contribution Award on behalf of himself and his family, Rodney Hetts remarked, “Thank you … What an honor!”
“The complexion of the west side of Fort Atkinson has changed over the years, rest assured,” Hetts observed. “The last 25 years were very interesting.”
He thanked his sisters, and those individuals whom, he said, were instrumental in helping develop the area that once had been farmed by his parents, the late Allen and Doris Hetts, and their family.
“Through teamwork and flexibility and vision, we started something in 1995 that might have been a great idea,” Hetts said. “Today, it might have become a great idea.
“I’d like to, foremost, thank the city,” he commented. “Back when we started, (then-City Manager) John Wilmet — he was a great help. And today, (City Manager) Matt Trebatoski and the (city) staff — everybody’s said he’s been awesome to work with.”
The recipient also extended a “big thank you” to PremierBank and its staff.
“Russ (Turk) and Dave (Bienfang) have been great throughout the years, seeing that same flexibility — what you have to do.”
Hetts also thanked Holiday Inn Express general manager Mary Jo Eggers and her staff.
“Running hotels, we were new (to that),” Hetts acknowledged. “It was not something we were educated in, and having those kinds of people really makes a difference. And our success is because of them.
“On behalf of myself and my sisters, I truly am happy to accept this award,” he concluded. “Thank you very much.”
Because state Sen. Steve Nass and Rep. Cody Horlacher were attending the govenor’s State of the State address Wednesday evening in Madison, Fort Atkinson City Manager Matt Trebatoski presented the legislative citation to the CBF Investment partners on the legislators’ behalf.