Company, which has purchased naming rights to what will be called Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village, has reputation in Milwaukee for generosity.
By Alison Matas Repository staff writer
Editors’ note: Johnson Controls and the Hall of Fame Village have forged a partnership that will bring innovative technology to the the Hall’s campus in Canton. Johnson Controls also bought naming rights to Hall of Fame Village. The Canton Repository’s Alison Matas went to Johnson Controls’ U.S. headquarters in Milwaukee to find out what that means and what the Village will look like. This is the second of a two-day series on Johnson Controls.
MILWAUKEE The Silver Spring Neighborhood Center sits between two public housing developments, in a place where 37 percent of residents live in poverty.
On a weekday this month, children napped in the early child development classrooms. A woman walked on a treadmill in the fitness center, which is open to the community. The center also runs a food pantry, offers a low-cost nursing clinic, provides office space for the nearby neighborhood association, hosts after-school programs and family events, and participates in a job program for the hard-to-employ.
Silver Spring Neighborhood Center gets a chunk of its funding from the local United Way. The United Way’s largest corporate contributor: Johnson Controls.
More than building technology
Johnson Controls makes more than building technology. The company also is the largest manufacturer of automotive batteries in the world: An estimated one in three cars on the road is powered by a Johnson Controls battery.
The company sold 152 million batteries in 2016. On average, about 30 percent of those are sold to automakers, and 70 percent are sold to places such as Wal-Mart or AutoZone. It’s a business that employs 15,000 people around the world and yielded $6.6 billion in sales this year, Johnson Controls Power Solutions spokeswoman Gretchen Miller said.
Batteries aren’t manufactured at the Milwaukee-area headquarters, but they are researched and tested there. They’re stuck in chillers overnight to ensure they’ll turn on in cold temperatures, they’re immersed in hot-water baths, and they’re given vibration tests.
The company’s batteries also get some real-world research with the help of Las Vegas cab drivers. They use Johnson Controls batteries, and the company checks in periodically to see how their products are weathering a tough environment, said Mike Andrew, director of academics and technology for Johnson Controls Power Solutions.
Johnson Controls makes lead-acid batteries and lithium ion batteries for hybrid vehicles. The company also is developing start-stop batteries for newer vehicles – the batteries stop the car engine when the driver of a vehicle brakes. Over time, the batteries are expected to save drivers 5 percent on fuel costs. It’s a short-term environmental solution, Johnson Controls officials said, since electric and hybrid vehicles have been slower to gain widespread adoption than anticipated.
Students at The Ohio State University have helped the company research the start-stop technology.
As part of its process, Johnson Controls recycles batteries, too, and is the world’s largest recycler of automotive batteries.
When a customer purchases a new automotive battery, the seller collects the old battery, which then is returned to Johnson Controls. The company use the old battery to create a new battery, which then is sold to customers.
Tom Ellis, executive director of the neighborhood center, points out that one company is responsible for about 10 percent of the United Way’s total dollars raised. But it’s not just writing a check; a Johnson Controls spokesman, who sits on the neighborhood center’s board, helped serve food at the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
Ellis’ face turned serious. “That’s real stuff,” he said.
Johnson Controls, which purchased the naming rights to Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village, has a reputation in Milwaukee for its generosity. The company’s employees and its foundation routinely support local fundraising campaigns. Executives are encouraged to serve on boards of area nonprofit organizations. Employees can apply for grants to complete service projects. And the foundation’s leadership recently started a neighborhood initiative focused on bringing support to one of the city’s poorer sections, located only a few minutes from the company’s Milwaukee-area campus.
Grady Crosby, who heads the company’s foundation, said Johnson Controls’ dedication to sustainability is reflected in its relationship with the community. Rather than only consuming resources, the company’s footprints in a city should leave it in a better state than it was. He expects that mentality will extend to Canton.
“We want to be a catalyst,” Crosby said.
The United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County announced this month it raised a record $60.1 million in its 2016 campaign. Johnson Controls gave $5.7 million of that, again making the company the campaign’s biggest corporate supporter.
United Way President and CEO Mary Lou Young said the company’s involvement goes beyond fundraising; its relationship with the organization is year-round. In 2015, Johnson Controls CEO Alex Molinaroli helped co-chair the annual campaign. Employees routinely volunteer during the “season of caring,” last year helping 16 community-based organizations with projects.
“They really walk the talk. There’s nothing I can tell you other than it’s a win for you to get JCI (Johnson Controls) to do this and be in your town.”Mary Lou Young, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County
This year, a group of Johnson Controls employees was helping fill 200 backpacks with school supplies when the power went out. They stayed and finished the work using flashlights on their cellphones.
“They really walk the talk,” Young said. “There’s nothing I can tell you other than it’s a win for you to get JCI (Johnson Controls) to do this and be in your town.”
Some of Johnson Controls’ donation to the United Way comes through employee contributions: Of the 1,000 people in their 20s to 40s who participate in the United Way’s emerging leaders program – a designation that requires an annual $1,200 gift – 220 are from Johnson Controls.
Other dollars are from a matching gift from the company’s foundation. Johnson Controls Foundation awards grants to organizations in the United States where its employees live and work, with priority given to organizations where employees are volunteering or on boards.
The most recent tax document available for the company’s foundation shows its largest donations – a combined $5.86 million of close to $9 million given that year – went to United Way and to Milwaukee’s United Performing Arts Fund.
Similar to ArtsinStark, Milwaukee’s UPAF gives grants to area arts organizations, such as a children’s theater, the symphony, the ballet and an opera company.
Deanna Tillisch, president and CEO of the organization, said Johnson Controls has been UPAF’s largest corporate donor since 2014. In the past five years, the company’s support through corporate gifts, sponsorships and workplace campaigns has totaled $6.14 million.
The company always has a member on UPAF’s board, she said, and has employees who serve on the boards of the arts organizations UPAF supports.
“Johnson Controls is an absolutely amazing partner, and I’m not just saying that because they give us money,” Tillisch said. “They do more than that.”
In the neighborhoods
Along the lakefront in Milwaukee sits Discovery World, a science and technology center that offers educational programs for kids.
Starting in January, 580 children will visit the museum at least five times during a six- to eight-week period to learn about anatomy, robotics, circuitry and fresh-water studies, thanks to a grant from the Johnson Controls Foundation.
The new program is part of the foundation’s effort to direct more funding to neighborhoods in its own backyard. Crosby, with the foundation, said company heads realized they were donating a lot of money but weren’t seeing much progress in the areas surrounding Johnson Controls. Poverty and crime remained high. Educational attainment stayed low.
Representatives from the foundation met with community leaders from religious, academic and nonprofit sectors to talk with them about what it would take to make their neighborhoods thrive. They pointed to jobs, education, economic empowerment, arts and sports. And that’s where Discovery World came in – middle school and high school principals identified specific needs related to STEM activities.
The idea was an outgrowth from what other major companies were doing elsewhere in Milwaukee, Crosby said. If each company takes care of its own neighborhood, it leads to a holistic, citywide solution.
The charge from Molinaroli, Johnson Controls’ CEO, was to change the trajectory of lives of people who live in low- to moderate-income places.
Crosby said the company needs to demonstrate a similar commitment in Ohio because it will be involved there for at least 18 years.
“We shouldn’t be playing around,” he said.
Reach Alison at 330-580-8312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @amatasREP