Corporate HQs are in the news

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:06 pm

It is an extraordinary time of change for the real estate of major corporate headquarters in southeastern Wisconsin.

Several large firms based in the region are expanding their corporate headquarters or are contemplating the future location of their offices.

One of the most interesting situations is the headquarters of Gardner Denver Inc. Recently, the firm quietly disclosed that it is moving its corporate headquarters from the Philadelphia area to Milwaukee. The move brings the base of a huge manufacturing firm here. Gardner Denver, a manufacturer of industrial compressors, blowers, pumps, loading arms and fuel systems, is a Fortune 1000 company with annual revenue of about $2.4 billion and more than 6,000 employees worldwide. The company was established in Quincy, Ill., in 1859.

Wisconsin Energy’s corporate headquarters building

The headquarters relocation will only bring a few dozen jobs here initially, but the company could grow its presence in Milwaukee in upcoming years. Gardner Denver currently has about 25 employees in Milwaukee, which is now the corporate headquarters for the company and the headquarters for its Industrials Group. Initially, the company plans to grow the Milwaukee headquarters to about 40 employees.

“We are actively recruiting a team here,” said Luis de Leon, chief executive officer of the firm’s Industrials Group. “We’ve got 25 now. We will grow to about 40 and that will give us enough people for the headquarters. Then we will see how things work and decide what else we could bring here.”

One possibility the company is considering for Milwaukee is the creation of a training center.

“We have ideas (for the Milwaukee headquarters),” de Leon said. “We’re going to evaluate each of them.”

The Gardner Denver corporate headquarters in Milwaukee could grow to “a couple hundred people” in two to three years if a training center is established and other functions are moved here, de Leon said. The company still has manufacturing and back office functions, including engineering and finance, in Quincy. Some of the back office operations could also eventually be moved to Milwaukee, he said.

Gardner Denver moved its corporate headquarters to the Philadelphia area in 2010, saying it needed to be based in a major metropolitan area.

Last year the company opened an office at 222 E. Erie St. in the Historic Third Ward in Milwaukee when Milwaukee business executive Tim Sullivan, the former chief executive officer of South Milwaukee-based Bucyrus International Inc., became the president and CEO of Gardner Denver.

The company occupies one and a half floors in the Third Ward building but will likely need to relocate if it grows the headquarters beyond its initial plans of about 40 employees.

“It’s getting to the point that we’re already pretty tight,” de Leon said. “It’s already getting pretty packed.”

If the office is relocated it will likely remain in the downtown area, he said.

“We like where we are,” de Leon said. “The employees enjoy everything the Third Ward has to offer.”

Another corporate headquarters to keep an eye on is that of WEC Energy Group Inc., which is being formed by Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Corp.’s acquisition of Chicago-based Integrys Energy Group Inc., a Fortune 500 company with $5.6 billion in annual revenue, for $9.1 billion in cash and stock. The deal creates the eighth largest natural gas distributor in the country.

Wisconsin Energy Corp. said WEC Energy Group Inc. will have its corporate headquarters in the “metropolitan Milwaukee area” once the deal is completed, but didn’t commit to a City of Milwaukee headquarters. Wisconsin Energy Corp. is currently headquartered at 231 W. Michigan St. in downtown Milwaukee.

“At this point all we know is that accommodating a headquarters for us, a combined company, is going to have an impact on our space,” said Rick White, vice president of corporate communications at Wisconsin Energy Corp. “We’ll have operational headquarters in the city (of Milwaukee) as we do now, Green Bay and Chicago. But just looking at our current facilities and what we have now, what we might need, we just don’t know.”

White said he expects WEC Energy will be bringing employees of the combined company to the headquarters, but isn’t sure yet how many might be transferred to or hired in the Milwaukee area.

Meanwhile, four large corporations based in southeastern Wisconsin are moving forward with major headquarters expansion plans.

The most high-profile corporate headquarters expansion project in the region is Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s $450 million, 32-story, 1.1 million-square-foot Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons project at its corporate headquarters campus in downtown Milwaukee. Demolition work is nearing completion and construction is expected to begin by the end of the year. The project will be complete in 2017.

Northwestern Mutual is not the only insurer in the region doing a major expansion of its headquarters. Sheboygan-based business, home and auto insurer Acuity is building a $130 million, 260,000-square-foot expansion of its corporate headquarters at 2800 S. Taylor Drive. Acuity’s headquarters, which was last expanded in 2004, currently has 400,000 square feet of space and houses about 800 of the company’s 980 employees. Once the expansion is complete, the 660,000-square-foot facility will have space for 1,600 employees. The project also includes a pair of parking structures. This is only the first phase of a 20-year headquarters expansion plan for Acuity. In 20 years, the company plans to expand its headquarters to 2 million square feet of space, enough to accommodate 4,000 employees, according to president and CEO Ben Salzmann.

Kohl’s Corp. is taking a different approach to expand its headquarters in Menomonee Falls. The company had planned to build a $250 million, 900,000-square-foot second corporate campus in the Woodland Prime office park in Menomonee Falls, but dropped those plans last year. Instead, the company is executing a strategy of expanding its corporate headquarters by purchasing existing nearby buildings rather than building new.

Kohl’s in late 2013 purchased two buildings in Menomonee Falls to help meet its expansion needs: the 300,000-square-foot former InnoWare building at W165 N5830 Ridgewood Drive, which the company bought for $15.2 million; and the 28,000-square-foot former ProHealth Care medical building at W165 N5595 Creekwood Crossing, which the company bought for $2.5 million. The company bought the former InnoWare building to house its IT workers and it bought the former ProHealth Care building to be used as an employee wellness center and fitness facility. Also, last year the company acquired the 53,000-square-foot 800 Woodland Prime building at W127 N7564 Flint Drive in the Woodland Prime office park in Menomonee Falls, about 4.5 miles from its headquarters. Earlier this year the company bought a vacant 6-acre site on Davian Drive, near the Kohl’s headquarters, for $1.25 million.

Recently, Kohl’s purchased a pair of buildings from Ultra Tool and Manufacturing Inc.; a 31,720-square-foot building at W168 N5900 Ridgewood Drive for $1.74 million and a 42,746-square-foot building at W169 N5954 Ridgewood Drive for $2.35 million, according to state records.

“These buildings will house operational functions in the short term, and will allow for potential expansion in the future,” said Kohl’s spokeswoman Kristen Cunningham.

Ultra Tool and Manufacturing plans to move its operations to Germantown, where it purchased the former Forrer Supply facility at W194 N11811 McCormick Drive.

And a firm that moved its headquarters from Illinois to Kenosha County in 2010 now plans to double the size of its campus there. Pleasant Prairie-based Uline announced recently that it is planning a $100 million project to double the size of its corporate headquarters campus, located southwest of I-94 and Highway 165/Q. In 2010, the company moved from Waukegan, Ill. to a new 200,000-square-foot office building and a new 1 million-square-foot distribution center at the Pleasant Prairie site. Now, the firm plans to build another 200,000-square-foot office building and another 1 million-square-foot distribution center at the campus. The company plans to add 500 jobs in the expansion. It currently has about 1,100 employees in Pleasant Prairie.

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Andrew 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, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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