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Developer certain he can build auto-assembly plant in Janesville

By Jennifer Hoff, jhoff@wisctv.com
Published On: May 12 2014 09:22:13 PM CDT
JANESVILLE, Wis. -

Developer Bill Watson said he is certain he can bring an automobile assembly plant back to Janesville.

Watson wants to start building soon on Interstate 39/90. He showed News3 the piece of property that sits 8 miles south of Janesville and Highway 11. He said it’s a perfect spot to construct the 1,000-acre, single-story, mile-long plant, although he doesn’t own the property.

"I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than this," said Watson, who said the plant would also bring back 10,000 jobs.

Janesville’s General Motors assembly plant closed nearly six years ago and with it went hundreds of jobs.

Watson wants to partner with private investors to build a new plant and lease it to an automaker. Watson originally told other news media he could convince GM, but during our interview he refused to name an automaker that might be interested.

"There’s no risk for anybody except us and the investors that come along with us. Please give me a chance to do it,” Watson said.

Besides an auto plant, he proposed building two more manufacturing plants on land he owns in the town of Milton to manufacture things like toasters, machine tools and electronic products. The entire development could cost a billion dollars.

"I don’t think anybody believes that it’s coming just because they’ve heard this before," longtime Janesville resident Dudley Kimball said. Kimball worked at GM until the '80s and isn’t buying Watson’s big idea.

"Start building," he said. "That’s the only way I would start believing it’s coming."

"We will build a lot of assembly plants, and we’ll do a lot of things that will be very important to the economy of Rock County," said Watson, whose career started in the '70s in Florida.

By the 1980s, several Florida engineering firms sued Watson because they said he didn’t pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars for work they did on a large development project.

Local newspapers reported South Florida’s Water Management District even filed suit because Watson built ditches and canals without the right permits.

Watson blamed a bad relationship with his former business partners and said eventually, the federal government took over and Watson settled out of court for nearly 300 acres.

He said he went on to build a successful resort community in Palm City that today, has 10,000 people living in it.

Watson also said within weeks he will build on- and offramps for I-39/90. But it’s up to the U.S. Department of Transportation to connect them to the interstate.

Watson got the OK to make dirt versions since he owns the property. He said he wants to speed up the interstate’s expansion project from Madison to the Illinois border. WisDOT officials said it will be finished in 2021.

Watson also made a pitch last year to build a 900-acre industrial park at County Road west of Milton. But the mayor said he asked for more specifics and said he hasn’t heard from Watson in two months.

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