Astronautics to consolidate 450 jobs in Oak Creek, leaving Milwaukee

Headquarters to move by fall, manufacturing transitioning at a later date

Astronautics plans to move into the former Master Lock headquarters.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:48 pm

Astronautics Corporation of America, which has had a corporate presence in Milwaukee since 1959, will consolidate its operations in Oak Creek at the former headquarters of Master Lock.

Astronautics plans to move into the former Master Lock headquarters.

The company, which designs and builds avionics equipment for the commercial and military aerospace industry, said it plans to move its headquarters by the fall and will move its other Milwaukee-area operations to the facility in the coming years. The Oak Creek location at 135 W. Forest Hill Ave. will have 450 Astronautics employees when the consolidation is done.

Chad Cundiff, president of Astronautics, said moving into the 148,000-square-foot facility would allow for improved collaboration. He said speed to market for new products is a key Astronautics advantage and having production and engineering work together will improve the company’s processes.

“We’re excited about being able to bring all of that together,” he said, noting the company’s search had been a two- to three-year process.

Astronautics will buy the building, although Cundiff declined to disclose the price. The property has an assessed value of about $12 million, according to Milwaukee County records.

Cundiff said the company has had good discussions and collaboration with Oak Creek officials but is not getting any direct state or local support for the project.

The move does not come as a surprise, however. Oak Creek officials rezoned the property last month for “an undisclosed manufacturing company,” but sources said Astronautics was eyeing the site for its operations. Astronautics had previously looked at other sites in the region for its operations, including Glendale and the former Pabst Brewery complex in downtown Milwaukee.

Cundiff said the company looked through the I-94 and I-43 corridors for potential locations. Even though the company has a growing engineering presence in Arizona, he said the search did not expand outside of Wisconsin.

“We have a great workforce here in Wisconsin and so we were interested in trying to find a location that, by and large, would allow our folks to stay engaged with us,” he said.

Astronautics current headquarters is located at 4115 N. Teutonia Ave. in Milwaukee and the company’s main manufacturing facility is located at 1426 W. National Ave., also in Milwaukee. The facilities are each around 100,000 square feet, but Cundiff said neither has enough room for the company to consolidate its operations. Both facilities are multi-story buildings and are not set up for modern manufacturing.

Cundiff said the company was looking for higher ceilings, more open space and the ability to install an IT infrastructure that enables better communication with other offices and customers around the world.

“Our customers are completely global,” he said. “Half of our business is outside the United States and almost none of our business is in Wisconsin.”

In announcing the decision, the company also pointed to the nearby amenities of Drexel Town Square and proximity to Gen. Mitchell International Airport as added convenience for employees, customers and job candidates. The company is already planning a career fair on April 13 in Oak Creek and currently has 35 openings.

There is not an immediate timeline for when the manufacturing operations will move from Milwaukee to Oak Creek. Astronautics also has a smaller facility at 133 E. Washington St. in Walker’s Point. Cundiff said the company is evaluating the best way to establish operations in Oak Creek and some equipment might end up staying at other sites.

As for the current headquarters, Cundiff said the company does not have any plans to continue to use it and is actively evaluating “what’s next” for the facility.

For the city of Milwaukee, the decision marks another major corporation moving operations out of the central city area. Leonardo DRS announced in December it would move to Menomonee Falls. The DRS project drew criticism from some because it came with tax incentives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and support from Milwaukee 7, an economic development entity that typically does not get involved in projects moving from one city to another within the region. Supporters, however, said the prospect of DRS moving outside of Wisconsin prompted the state support.

The Astronautics headquarters is just a few blocks from where DRS is currently located on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Losing those two companies is a major setback for efforts to redevelop the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, which also lost the architectural millwork firm Glenn Rieder to West Allis in 2017. The corridor area was once home to thousands of manufacturing jobs at A.O. Smith and later Tower Automotive.

The city has spent millions preparing the 84-acre former A.O. Smith site, now known as the Century City business park, for redevelopment. The project has seen some success with Talgo establishing train operations and Good City Brewing committing to buying a 53,000-square-foot spec building.

But development in the 30th Street Industrial corridor has not taken off in the way it did in the Menomonee Valley.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.