Gardner Denver already considering expansion plans for HQ

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Gardner Denver Inc., which is in the process of moving its corporate headquarters from suburban Philadelphia to Milwaukee, is already considering future expansion plans here, according to Luis de Leon, chief executive officer of the firm’s Industrials Group.

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 de Leon. “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.”

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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 company’s medical divison will remain based in Germany “for now,” de Leon said. Its energy division is based in Houston and will likely remain there, he said.

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But the 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, but no firm plans have been established.

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.

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, de Leon said.

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Gardner 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.”

Gardner Denver announced recently that Sullivan was resigning after about 10 months in the position. His replacement is Peter Wallace, a Gardner Denver board member who previously worked for West Milwaukee-based Rexnord Corp. for 25 years, including a stint as CEO.

De Leon was chief operating officer at Bucyrus for seven years and joined Garnder Denver when Sullivan became CEO.

The company is moving its headquarters to Milwaukee to get back to its Midwestern roots and closer to its Midwestern operations, including those in Quincy, Ill., de Leon said.

“Quincy is very remote,” he said. “We have a history in the Midwest. We wanted to come back close to where our operations are, but we didn’t want to go to those remote locations.”

Milwaukee also offers lower costs, a good workforce, a pro-business state government and proximity to Chicago for international travel, de Leon said.

The company also has a plant in Sheboygan.

De Leon spoke today at a press conference for the Gardner Denver 200 Fired Up by Johnsonville, a NASCAR Nationwide Series Race that will be held Saturday at Road American near Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County. Gardner Denver will have 300 customers visiting Milwaukee this weekend to attend the race.

The coincidence of sponsorship of the Wisconsin auto race and the company’s headquarters move to Milwaukee has been “good timing,” de Leon said. The company wanted to sponsor the race to help re-energize the Gardner Denver brand, he said.

“The company has been very internally focused,” he said. “We felt we needed to refocus on our customers. We want to get our name out there to make it a better known brand to help them sell our products.”

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