After four and a half years of being involved with various local projects and businesses, DeForest’s community development director is saying goodbye.
Throughout Sam Blahnik’s tenure with the village of DeForest, he’s helped to attract new companies to the area and aided existing businesses during expansions.
Blahnik came aboard at the village with a background in sales and interacting well with people. He was encouraged by Village Administrator/Finance Director Steve Fahlgren to look into the director position when it became available. The two knew each other from previous jobs and Fahlgren knew Blahnik was a “people person,” according to Blahnik.
“He thought we would do well collectively for the community,” Blahnik said, adding that without Fahlgren, many of his successes at the village would have not been possible.
When he first started as the community development director in July of 2014, Blahnik said a lot of the “preparation steps” had already been put into place by village leadership. Officials had established seven tax incremental financing districts, which Blahnik referred to as one of “the greatest economic tools in Wisconsin,” worked through the village’s approval processes to make them flow better and received certification on a shovel-ready site. One thing that was missing was the promotion of the village and its attributes. Blahnik recalled how someone told him when he first started the community was “silently awesome.”
“I think that’s where I was able to step in,” Blahnik said. “I could focus on that promotion and execution side versus the preparation.”
Over the years, Blahnik has seen awareness about what DeForest has to offer increase – he called it “a heightened celebration of what is here” and said it wasn’t all because of him.
“There’s been some very positive press and publicity,” Blahnik said. “… With these new businesses and expansions of existing businesses and the Highway 19 growth… I think that no matter who comes in to replace me… the village is in a very good spot to continue that momentum and build on that positivity.”
Highlights of Blahnik’s time in DeForest include the additions of businesses like Norske Nook, American Packaging Corporation, Little Potato Company, Fleet Farm and GRB Academy, as well as the expansions of businesses such as Bell Laboratories and EVCO Plastics. While the new companies brought attention to the area, Blahnik also recognized the significance of existing businesses doing well and expanding.
“Many people view economic development as the attraction of new businesses, but it’s important to maintain and allow for existing expansions,” he said.
Blahnik said another highpoint was the Active Arts project, which took two existing businesses – Midwest Professional Karate and Jump Around Gymnastics – out of leased buildings in the village and into a new facility.
“It’s wonderful to see people realize their dreams and establish their legacies in the community,” he said.
Blahnik was also named the community leader of the year by the DeForest Windsor Area Chamber of Commerce in 2015.
“That was a wonderful accolade that helped remind me that I was trying to do better for the community,” Blahnik said.
In one of the “most rewarding jobs” of his professional career, Blahnik most enjoyed helping businesses achieve goals and benefit the community in the end.
“It is great to see when someone’s efforts result in tangible projects,” he said. “It was neat to interact with people who represent these projects and work with them to create a solution that ultimately is a legacy for their business… Then long-term the benefit comes back to the community in the form of jobs, seeing businesses invest in community involvement and tax base, so we can provide continued service and better amenities.”
Blahnik said one of the toughest parts of his departure is leaving behind the current projects happening in the village.
“There are so many positive things happening right now, like the athletic complex and projects like Heritage Credit Union,” Blahnik said.
Blahnik will also miss the village team, which he said works “toward many common goals for the betterment of the community,” and the village board, which he said was extremely supportive of him and “deals that are proper for the community.”
As for where he’s going next, Blahnik said he wasn’t actively seeking a different job, but through his interactions with developers, landowners and company representatives, he’s gained relationships with many individuals. After his last day at the village on Dec. 28, Blahnik will be stepping into a role with 1848 Construction Inc., a Dane County construction company.