May 18, 2022
New London: An ideal place to work, play, and grow
This article was first published in the MEUW LiveLines newsletter, Volume 71, Issue 5.
Driving through New London, visitors will recognize business signs for many household names; Tyson Foods, Granite Valley Forest Products, Steel King Industries, Amcor, and 250 other businesses, civic clubs and organizations call New London home. What is it about the area that draws in these large employers?
A reliable and responsible pool of employees, the community’s low cost of living, favorable rates with the local utility, access to a business park that is ready for expansion, close proximity to larger cities, and a location that provides affordable land to operate on all make New London a great place to do business.
Exemplifying New London’s industrious and hardworking spirit is 13-year-old entrepreneur Jayden Bessette. Bessette discovered he has a passion for creating unique fishing flies and has since sold 75 to the local bait shop — and upon delivery the owner immediately put in an order for 100 more. According to Jayden Bessette’s father, Jason Bessette, the business-savvy youth saw an opportunity to earn money his own way and pounced on it. Jason Bessette is encouraging his son in his business endeavors, while also making a friendly side bet as to how quickly the next order can be filled.
Situated on the crossing of the Wolf and Embarrass Rivers and referred to as a fisherman’s paradise, New London has an ideal market for those fishing flies. Local residents not only enjoy strong employment opportunities, but also access to the great outdoor recreational activities made possible by living in a small Wisconsin community. Opportunities to fish, kayak, duck hunt, camp, canoe, and more are all available in New London.
Taking advantage of its charming location, the community hosts its annual Big Whopper Weekend fishing tournament, a celebration made extra special with buffalo burgers, gun raffles and live entertainment.
In addition to being recognized as an area for great outdoor activities, New London is also known as New Dublin. Yes, you read that correctly. Once a year the community renames itself as New Dublin for the week of Saint Patrick’s Day, complete with a parade and Irish Fest. Keeping the party going throughout the year, New London also brings in visitors for car shows, a cheese and sausage event, Heritage Days, Rail Fest, Fall Fest and more.
To make the most of the downtown area for these events, the city recently applied for and was awarded a $2.9 million grant for downtown redevelopment. The city will use the funds to update street lighting, install new benches, and create intersection bumpouts with decorative brick. Completion of the work is expected in 2024, providing ample time to plan for another grant that was received for Oshkosh Street and is scheduled to be wrapped up by 2027.
The timing of the grants couldn’t be better. With a thriving business district and popular community events, New London is experiencing a period of growth. The area is perfectly situated near the bigger cities of Green Bay and Wausau, while also being an easy drive to the Fox Valley, bringing in residents who live in the area but commute to work. New homes and apartment buildings are constantly being built to accommodate the growth.
And powering all of these large successful businesses, popular community events and ever-growing residential needs? New London Utilities, the community’s not-for-profit, locally owned utility. The utility building itself is situated along a quiet section of the Wolf River, with a view of the water, trees, and nearby wildlife. From there, utility staff work to supply the community with affordable, reliable, and responsible power.
Jason Bessette, the father of our young entrepreneur mentioned earlier, is busy at work at New London Utilities. As general manager, Bessette is charged with overseeing utility staff, working with the city on upcoming plans, and making arrangements to keep utility projects on time and under budget. Native to New London, Bessette is following in the footsteps of his grandfather who, years prior, was a night watchman at the same utility. Bessette, true to New London reputation, is a hard worker and high achiever, holding three journeyman cards for linework, substations, and metering.
Bessette started working at the utility as a lineman at age 20 and, as he puts it, “fell in love with working lines.” He later took on a metering apprenticeship under the direction of Randy Wetmore, who saw potential in the young lineworker. Working his way up, Bessette led the utility team dedicated to building seven of the nine substations in New London, and eventually ended up in his current role in 2020, when Steve Thompson retired after three decades of service.
When asked, Bessette shared that the main reason behind accepting the new position was to help keep costs down for the community. Another big driver for taking on the role of general manager was to be an advocate and ally for the staff he oversees.
“Trucks are worthless without people to drive them,” is Bessette’s belief, and he’s made a commitment to prioritizing employees and providing competitive wages that help prevent turnover. That being said, the utility still values quality equipment, and did purchase three new trucks over the past year as well.
New London has a young crew driving those new vehicles, with a lead lineworker, two first-year journeymen and two second-year journeymen. The lineworkers know they have a say at the utility and feel comfortable voicing their opinions. Bessette describes the utility as embodying a “team atmosphere,” and trusts the employees to do their jobs efficiently and well.
When first starting out in his current role, Bessette found value in the mentoring opportunities coordinated through New London Utility’s wholesale power supplier and joint action agency WPPI Energy. There, he was paired with Kaukauna Utilities General Manager Jeff Feldt, who was also chair of WPPI Energy’s board of directors at the time. Feldt passed on knowledge gained through his two decades of work in the utility industry. Bessette recalls Feldt declaring, at a Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin (MEUW) management training event, “If the utility can’t run well without you in the office, you’re not doing it right.”
Bessette took that to heart and has since reaped the benefits of having a trusting relationship with staff and giving them the autonomy necessary to do their jobs responsibly and with confidence.
WPPI Energy, an organization that New London helped establish in 1980, has been a partner to New London Utilities in other ways in addition to the New Leadership Training. For example, the organization is steering New London’s power supply towards a more sustainable mix by adding renewable energy resources. In September of 2021, Point Beach Solar Energy Center came online, bringing 100-megawatts of solar energy to the power supplier’s energy portfolio.
WPPI Energy also provides access to programs such as Choose Renewable, where residents and businesses can add a few dollars to their monthly utility bill to ensure their space is powered with renewable energy. New London residents have shown an interest in renewable energy, and the utility appreciates the opportunity to talk with customers about utility-scale solar and the Choose Renewable program. Working through the utility often provides customers with a more affordable and accessible pathway to achieving their renewable energy goals versus installing residential rooftop solar energy panels.
New London is no stranger to conservation and sustainability. Thirty years ago, the utility embarked on the New London Resource Project. The utility guided local businesses on energy efficiency projects and provided low-interest loans that were then paid back with the money the businesses saved on their utility bills. That assistance is still available today through the utility’s Shared Savings Program.
Another organization vital to New London Utilities’ success is MEUW. Wisconsin is home to 81 cities, towns and villages that own and operate a municipal electric utility, and New London is one of them. Workers for New London Utilities believe that safety cannot be compromised, and MEUW helps the utility meet their safety goals while also providing a bevy of additional resources including services and advocacy initiatives.
With great organizations helping support New London Utilities, the utility itself can better focus on serving its residential and business customers — which is going to continue to be a necessity, given the growing city needs. Thankfully, the utility also has support through its very involved city council and utility commission.
Many of the utility’s large industrial customers are adding employees, with expansion plans expected to take place over the next three to four years. Some are even considering moving towards more automation to fill their needs, as the market for employees gets tighter and employers have to work harder to gain their share of available workers.
Fortunately, New London is well positioned for the future. The next generation has a solid foundation to build upon, with a flourishing community to assist its growing economy. While we don’t know yet if Jayden Bessette will win that bet against his dad for finishing the next order of fishing flies, it’s clear that the area’s industrious spirit and supportive community are a perfect fit for his generation’s untapped potential.