Milwaukee-based E.R. Wagner is moving forward with plans to relocate its operations to Menomonee Falls from North 32nd Street and West Atkinson Avenue and has scheduled a groundbreaking for July 19.
Lew Schildkraut, E.R. Wagner president and chief executive officer, said the company has outgrown the usefulness of its current facilities, which include three buildings covering 160,000 square feet. The facilities, parts of which date back to around 1900, have issues with low ceilings, leaking roofs and disintegrating floors.
The new facility, to be located at W130 N8691 Old Orchard Road, will actually have a slightly smaller footprint at 157,000 square feet, but with 26-foot ceilings and being under one roof, the facility will be more efficient and the company will be able to take advantage of modern manufacturing practices.
"We're trying to make E.R. Wagner an employer of choice and in all honesty that's somewhat challenging to do with our old facilities at our current location," Schildkraut said.
[caption id="attachment_144967" align="alignright" width="508"] Rendering of the E.R. Wagner facility that will be built in Menomonee Falls.[/caption]
E.R. Wagner designs and manufacturers hinges, stampings, machined and wrapped tubes, casters and wheels for a variety of industries. The company has 150 employees in Milwaukee and another 70 in Brookfield, Illinois.
The low ceilings at the current facilities force the company’s inventory to take up more floor space. With higher ceilings, Schildkraut hopes more inventory can be stored vertically, leaving more room for equipment and offices. The additional space will also allow for more efficient production and better collaboration, he said.
The current facilities even make meetings with larger groups of employees a challenge. If the weather is good large meetings can be done in the parking lot, otherwise they are held among inventory racks.
The new building will have an outdoor patio, gas fireplaces and walking trails. It is situated on 32 acres, 15 of which are wetlands. The building’s planned orientation has been flipped away from the street so its main windows will overlook the wetlands. The facility will also be air conditioned.
The building is to be completed by the middle of next year with the relocation taking place over an extended period of time to minimize the interruption of production.
E.R. Wagner purchased the property in August 2015 for $1.5 million.
The project is mostly being financed with $10 million in industrial revenue bonds and is also supported by $600,000 in tax incremental financing from the village of Menomonee Falls.
E.R. Wagner has invested $12 million in new and upgraded machinery over the last several years, Schildkaraut said. He hopes to take better advantage of automation and robotics technology in the new facility.
A portion of the investment in new equipment was supported by a $2 million loan from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation in 2015. Schildkraut said the money has gone towards the creation of new jobs and MEDC was aware the company was exploring relocation when the loan was issued.
The loan does include provisions that make the terms less favorable if the company relocates and Schildkraut said the company will repay what it owes.
Jeff Fleming, Milwaukee Department of Community Development spokesman, said the company’s plans have evolved and while the city’s preferred result would be to keep the company in Milwaukee, the best alternative is one where city residents can continue working at the company.
Schildkraut said the company spent a lot of time looking for the right location and looked at options throughout the area, including vacant land and existing buildings.
“Milwaukee has been very good to us,” he said, adding the company didn’t target a specific area. “Our goal was to find a location that provided the best opportunity to achieve our objectives.”
E.R. Wagner has employees commuting from throughout southeastern Wisconsin and Schildkraut said the centralized location with easy access to the highway will help in employee attraction and retention.
Schildkraut said he doesn’t anticipate the company will add many positions in the short-term as increased productivity will help keep up with demand. The new building does provide the potential for growth in the future and the design includes room for a potential 45,000-square-foot addition.