Charter Wire will move to new facility by end of year

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Charter Wire, which is building a new, 160,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, has started moving some equipment to its new facility and expects to have all production moved there by the end of the year.

Crews from MSI General, the general contractor on the project, are still finishing the facility, said John W. Mellowes, general manager of Charter Wire.

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“The building is up and they are working on all of the mechanical (systems) inside now,” he said. “They will be done by mid third quarter. Our process will take quite a bit of time. Our goal is to be under one roof by end of the year.”

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Between one-fourth and one-third of the equipment in Charter Wire’s new facility will be new. The company’s total investment in the new plant, between machinery, real estate and construction, will be about $20 million, Mellowes said.

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The existing Charter Wire facility at 114 N. Jackson St. in the Historic Third Ward is 175,000 square feet. Although the new facility will be 15,000 square feet smaller than the current building, the company will have a much more functional layout for manufacturing.

“The 160,000 (square feet) feels a lot larger than the 175,000 here (in our current facility),” Mellowes said. “We’ve been on this site for 70 years, and the walls don’t move, but the manufacturing process has to. This is a great opportunity to get quite a bit more efficient with our processes.”

In its current facilities, Charter’s employees, on average, touch a product eight to nine times during the manufacturing process. In the new facility, employees will touch products about five times on average.

The new facility in the Menomonee Valley will also give Charter Wire fewer transportation headaches.

“In a normal year, and 2009 is not a normal year, we’ll have between 2,500 and 3,000 trucks in and out of this plant,” Mellowes said. “The Third Ward, especially in the festival season, it is not an easy time for semi drivers to get to our location.”

Charter Wire has 97 employees. Although its orders have been slow, it has not laid any workers off, Mellowes said.

While the company is building the new facility to better position itself for future growth, it will not immediately hire new employees when it moves.

“The real emphasis is to grow the business,” Mellowes said. “We have this opportunity to relocate the business and we are taking the opportunity to leverage that chance to grow. We’re going to have a few different capabilities in the business, and our new layout will allow us to do some slightly different things.”

Charter Wire has a significant amount of business in the automotive sector, which is expected to remain relatively slow for the rest of 2009. However, the broad reduction in inventory across a wide range of industries through the first six months of the year holds some promise for increases during the rest of the year, Mellowes said.

“We service many industries and one thing that is consistent is that everybody has run their inventories really low,” he said. “The steel service center industry, which is a bit of a barometer for us, their inventories are at recent record lows. That means that any sort of uptick in business will lead to an over-correction when it comes to inventory.”


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