Leaders of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce expressed frustration after Franklin-based Strauss Brands announced Monday that it was dropping plans to build a new headquarters and meat processing facility in the Century City Business Park in Milwaukee.
“This decision by the Common Council has killed the momentum for Century City,” said MMAC president Tim Sheehy.
The company planned to build a $60 million facility at Century City, located on the city’s northwest side at Capitol Drive and Hopkins Street. The company would have brought 250 jobs to Milwaukee initially.
The Century City Business Park is located at the former site of the A.O. Smith and Tower Automotive manufacturing complex, which once employed thousands of workers. After Tower Automotive shut down the operation in 2006, the site was acquired by the city, which has spent years converting it into a business park. Efforts to attract businesses to Century City have been slow to show results, but Talgo and Good City Brewing have established operations there. Talgo plans to increase its employment at Century City to 90 and Good City has about 10 employees there.
The Common Council last week referred the Strauss Brands plans back to committee after hearing from protesters who said they objected to having a “slaughterhouse” at Century City. Alderman Khalif Rainey, who represents the district where Century City is located, switched positions within a matter of days, and pulled his support from the project.
After that, Strauss Brands decided to drop its plans for Century City.
Sheehy said the collapse of the Strauss Brands plans are a devastating blow to efforts to develop the business park and attract jobs to the central city.
“There’s no way to spin this other than that this is a serious blow to the prospects of marketing Century City as a location for capital investment and job growth,” said Sheehy. “That was a roughly 2-year courtship (to attract the company to Milwaukee) to meet the self-expressed needs of Strauss to find a new location.”
MMAC senior vice president Steve Baas took to twitter to express his disappointment in the failed project.
“The MKE Common Council running Strauss Brands out of town is an undeniable black eye for Milwaukee,” Baas tweeted. “Sends a horrible message to any business looking to locate in the city in general and Century City in particular.”
Within a 72-hour period of when Common Council considered the proposal, Rainey said he received “an overwhelming response from neighbors in opposition of the project,” according to a statement he released Friday.
“In keeping true to the vision of Century City, and standing for the interests of the people in the neighborhood, I do not believe the Strauss meat processing plant is a good utilization of that space,” he said in the statement. “I am listening to the voices in my community, and I expect the (Mayor Tom Barrett) administration to do (the) same and withdraw their push for this proposal.”
Slaughter Free Milwaukee, a grassroots organization who protested Strauss Brand’s relocation to Century City, called the jobs exploitative with employees developing post-traumatic stress disorder as a major concern. The organization also highlighted possible impacts to the neighborhood such as odors and pollution.
However, both Sheehy and Barrett spoke Monday of the misinformation surrounding the proposal and called out the Common Council for not having visited Strauss Brands’ facility.
“I mean, Alderman Rainey made a decision without ever visiting the company,” Sheehy said. “And so, there were all sorts of accusations made about the company, how it processes meats and the conditions of employment and yet nobody (on the Common Council) even bothered to even go visit the company.”
Some protesters and residents said they felt the city tried to get Strauss Brands into the neighborhood without notifying the public about its operations. But Barrett contested that notion, calling it a “false narrative,” a “bunch of malarkey” and said Strauss Brands’ plans were always open to the public.
“This was not a situation of trying to sneak jobs in,” Barrett said. “I’m proud and I’ll tell anybody I’m proud to have family supporting jobs. And I’m going to continue to fight for family supporting jobs even if we get blow-back.”
Barrett called Strauss Brands’ jobs “blue-collar,” adding that Milwaukee needs jobs at every rung of the economic ladder.
“There are many people who see this is a way to start climbing the ladder of opportunity in our community,” Barrett said. “And I don’t think we can dismiss that.”
Although the Strauss Brands Century City deal is dead, Barrett said his administration is committed to creating family supporting jobs in Milwaukee neighborhoods.
“I’m hoping this puts a gigantic spotlight on this site and that there are other employers who are going to say, ‘Okay, that was a missed opportunity, maybe we can come in and create family supporting jobs,’” Barrett said.
However, Sheehy is not so optimistic.
“Again, you’re telling a company that employs 160 residents that they’re not good enough to locate here,” Sheehy said. “I think that’s a chilling message.”
Looking at the marketing package that MMAC has for Century City, it’s going to be difficult for Milwaukee to attract prospective tenants given the city’s treatment of Strauss, he said. Sheehy analyzed Century City’s marketing package, which includes pros such as workforce supply, public transportation, freight rail service and Milwaukee as a dedicated partner. However, Century City’s challenges include crime, facility security, employee safety and its distance from the freeway, he said.
“You put those things together and I’m baffled why Strauss Brands would be chased out as a potential user,” Sheehy said.
He said Good City Brewing, which is located in Century City, was looking for corporate partners and asked, “Who knows what would have come on the heels of Strauss Brands?”
“It’s not just true for football teams,” Sheehy said. “Momentum (for economic development) was important and we had some momentum going here again and maybe that’s the best way to put it. This decision by the Common Council has killed the momentum for Century City and it’s an open question as to how fast and if we can recover from this.”