State’s business climate did not impact Thomas Industries’ decision

    Editor’s note: Wisconsin Department of Commerce Secretary Richard Leinenkugel recently wrote this letter to James Haney, the president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Haney’s response can be seen here.

    Dear Mr. Haney:
    Let me begin by saying that during my time as Department of Commerce Secretary, I have appreciated our discussions about promoting economic development in Wisconsin. In these tough economic times, I appreciate that you share my concerns about the health of Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector. I have valued your willingness to work in a productive and cooperative way with the Department of Commerce.
    However, I am disappointed in James Buchen’s (WMC’s vice president for government relations) recent opinion article on the Thomas Industries decision to relocate a manufacturing facility to Monroe, La. He asserted that Wisconsin “does not have a competitive business climate to begin with” and implied that policies currently undergoing legislative review were instrumental in the company’s decision to move to Louisiana.
    Had he called me before writing this article, we could have candidly discussed the issues and challenges in the Thomas Industries project. I would have assured him that neither the state’s business climate nor the pending policies he mentions had any bearing on the company’s decision. His allegations are untrue. When we disagree on policies, we should have a healthy debate. But when he makes disparaging comments not founded in fact, and contorts the facts to make a political case, he does damage to the state’s overall economic development efforts and Wisconsin’s national and international image. Wisconsin’s loss should not be WMC’s political gain. I am writing today specifically to ask that you set the record straight.
    I have appended a timeline and summary of our efforts in the Thomas Industries project. I would appreciate a public clarification, and I ask that your organization refrain from using this project to portray Wisconsin in a negative light. If you wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

    Best regards,
    Richard J. Leinenkugel

    Department of Commerce Thomas Industries Fact Sheet:
    Monday, 2/2/09 –Sen. Joe Leibham claims that upon hearing of Thomas Industries’ potential move, he calls the Governor’s office to “suggest he get involved.” However, it was actually a Leibham staffer, Greg Gasper, who called the Department of Commerce Area Development Manager, not the Governor’s office. Commerce Area Development Manager (ADM) Dennis Russell calls Thomas Industries 32 minutes later. Very little information is shared by the company. Dennis Russell sends Joy Schneider at Thomas Industries the Prospect Data Sheet (PDS) required to get the underwriting and review process started.   

    Friday, 2/6/09 – With no PDS in hand, Commerce officials decide to proactively open a file on Thomas Industries and begin research. Sec. Leinenkugel is briefed by Commerce staff for the first time. Greg Gasper sends an Outlook meeting notice to Governor’s legislative staff. It appears this is the first time Leibham’s office contacts the Governor’s office. Governor’s office immediately contacts Commerce and is told the review is already underway. This is forwarded on to Greg Gasper, who replies “That’s good news. We’ve appreciated Commerce’s reaction time on this one.”
    Monday, 2/9/09 – Two Commerce staffers attend a meeting chaired by Sen. Leibham that includes local representatives from Thomas Industries, mayoral and economic development staff. Company presents general list of needs. Commerce indicates that it will respond immediately to the company as soon as the company details the specific project needs via the PDS. Commerce staff makes first mention of asking the Governor to call the company. Sec. Leinenkugel is briefed about meeting.
    Tuesday, 2/10/09 – Sec. Leinenkugel emails Commerce staff and asks for an “aggressive” package. Sen. Leibham calls Dep. Sec. Aaron Olver to debrief on meeting. Leibham asks to speak with Sec. Leinenkugel.
    Wednesday, 2/11/09 – Sec. Leinenkugel talks to Sen. Leibham and discusses a call to Thomas Industries.  Sec. Leinenkugel notes the willingness to have the Governor do the same when the project is clear. Greg Gasper emails Sen. Leibham’s Thomas Industries’ contacts to Commerce. However, they are locals and do not include any of the actual decision‐makers. Aaron Olver asks Commerce staff to prepare briefing documents for calls by Sec. Leinenkugel and Governor Doyle to  decision‐makers at the company’s headquarters. 
    Friday, 2/13/09 – Company’s PDS is received at Commerce. Leinenkugel speaks with Helen Cornell, VP of Finance at HQ. Governor’s office asks for update and articulates the desire to make a call. 
    Monday, 2/16‐ Wednesday, 2/18/09 – Commerce works with locals to finalize incentive package. On 2/17, Aaron Olver travels to Sheboygan and meets with Sen. Leibham.  They discuss Thomas Industries. Phone call is scheduled with Governor and company’s CEO.
    Friday, 2/20/09 – Governor Doyle makes call with Sec. Leinenkugel to Thomas Industriesʹ CEO Barry Pennypacker to detail the stateʹs offer. Commitment letter and offer details are emailed to Helen Cornell at 3:39 PM from Sec. Leinenkugel. Commerce mails commitment letter to company detailing incentives. The dollar amount matches 100% of what the company requested. The state offer makes the move to Wisconsin cost‐free for Thomas Industries. Sen. Leibham is informed of call by Aaron Olver.
    Monday, 2/24/09 – Gov. Doyle writes President and CEO Barry Pennypacker and VP‐Finance Helen Cornell to express his commitment to the project.  
    Tuesday, 2/25/09 – Commerce Bureau Director John Stricker attends a meeting chaired by Sen. Leibham that is attended by local principals. NOTE: NO MEMBERS OF THE COMPANY’S EXECUTIVE MANAGEMENT TEAM ARE IN THE ROOM. State offer is discussed.  Sen. Leibham follows up with an email thanking the participants for their efforts and urges everyone to avoid media contacts. NOTE: Leibham mistakenly claims offer is made at this meeting, but in reality it was made by Governor Doyle five days earlier with the company’s CEO.
    Wednesday, 2/26/09 – Sen. Leibham calls Zach Brandon and wants to discuss talking points for a media call. Zach Brandon urges Sen. Leibham not to talk to the media out of concern that doing so might tip the state’s hand to Louisiana. Sen. Leibham talks to media, anyway, and calls the state’s offer “unprecedented.” He possibly tips state’s hand by announcing that the offer goes “beyond” what the company is seeking.
    Monday, 3/2/09 – Sec. Leinenkugel calls Helen Cornell to check in.
    Friday, 3/6/09 – Aaron Olver talks to Sen. Leibham about the determining factors.
    Friday, 3/13/09 – Sen. Leibham calls Zach Brandon for information regarding the local union’s position on specific concessions requested by managemen.
    Thursday, 3/19/09 – Zach Brandon talks to IBEW regarding the status of negotiations. 


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