Commentary: Century City finally gains momentum

Last updated on September 26th, 2019 at 01:43 pm

When was the last time a company with more than 200 employees decided to move its headquarters from the suburbs to Milwaukee’s central city? I can’t think of one.

So, it was a very big deal when Franklin-based meat processing company Strauss Brands announced that it would build a new headquarters and processing facility at the Century City business park in Milwaukee.

Century City was created by the city at the former A.O. Smith/Tower Automotive site, south of West Capitol Drive and along West Hopkins Street. The city acquired the 84-acre site in 2009 and began a $40 million project to clean it up, demolish dilapidated buildings and install new infrastructure. Century City is the city’s biggest initiative to attract much-needed jobs to the north and northwest side of Milwaukee.

It has taken years for those efforts to show any significant progress. The city partnered with Fox Point-based General Capital to develop a 53,160-square-foot speculative industrial building at Century City. The building was completed in 2016 but sat vacant, until this year.

Good City Brewing bought the building last year and moved its office and warehouse operations there recently. Good City occupies a portion of the building and hopes to lease out the rest of the space.

One of the few remaining buildings at Century City from the A.O. Smith days is occupied by Talgo, a Spanish-based company that makes trains. Talgo left Milwaukee after then Gov. Scott Walker canceled plans for a high-speed rail system in the state, for which the company had been making trains. But the company later returned to Century City to perform work on a $73 million contract to overhaul rail vehicles for Los Angeles County. Earlier this year, Talgo was awarded a $139 million contract to rebuild rail cars for Metrolink in Southern California, work also to be done at Century City.

Now comes Strauss, which plans to build a 175,000-square-foot facility at Century City and will have 250 employees there. The company could get up to $4.5 million in incentives from the city if its employment there grows to 500.

“We just feel it’s a good location for our workforce,” said Strauss chief financial officer Jerry Bussen. “We sort of mapped out our workforce and found that most of them commute in from that area.”

In this tight labor market, availability of labor is one advantage the central city can offer to businesses that are otherwise typically resistant to have operations in low income areas with higher crime rates.

The new momentum at Century City is welcome news for the north and northwest sides of Milwaukee, but many more employers and jobs are needed in that area of the city. Planned moves to the suburbs by Astronautics and Leonardo DRS will remove 900 jobs from lower-income neighborhoods of Milwaukee.

Hopefully more companies take an interest in Century City.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.