Moments before I took the stage to moderate the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Future 50 program at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center last September, an economic development official who shall remain nameless wanted to tell me something.
“Today is very important day. There are representatives from a company from Spain in the room. They’re here to get a feel for what our business community and our business climate are like. They’re thinking of moving jobs here,” the official whispered to me.
With more than 500 people in the room … As if I wasn’t nervous enough!
A month or two later, the chief executive officer of a local manufacturing company told me that local economic development officials had arranged for some people from a foreign country to tour his plant. The mysterious, unidentified visitors wanted to learn more about potential vendors or partners in the region, in case they decided to move here.
Weeks later, I learned that Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of City Development, would not be able to attend the BizTimes Commercial Real Estate & Development Conference because he needed to travel to Spain on a business recruitment mission.
It was an “Aha!” moment.
Soon thereafter, BizTimes Milwaukee broke the story that Milwaukee was one of three finalists to be the North American headquarters of a Spanish alternative energy company.
As we now know, that company turned out to be Ingeteam, a Spanish wind turbine company that confirmed Tuesday it will construct a $15 million, 100,000-square-foot facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley. The complex will span about 8.1 acres at 3757 W. Milwaukee Road.
Ingeteam, headquartered in Bilbao, Spain, will employ about 275 workers in Milwaukee by 2015.
Milwaukee was chosen to be the site of the new plant after a coordinated recruitment effort that included officials from the Milwaukee 7 economic development team, We Energies, Marcoux and Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Richard “Dick” Leinenkugel, who went to Spain to seal the deal.
“The Menomonee Valley was once Wisconsin’s largest brownfield,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “Now, the valley is home to businesses that employ thousands of people.”
The deal was made possible by $1.6 million in tax credits through the federal stimulus program, up to $4.5 million in state tax credits and another $500,000 forgivable loan from the state.
"After carefully analyzing our company’s needs, we selected Milwaukee for our new production facility because the city is conveniently located for distribution of our products and has a solid industrial base from which Ingeteam can source materials," said Ander Gandiaga, Ingeteam’s corporate director for international development.
“Milwaukee also has a labor pool experienced in electrical manufacturing. In addition, the area boasts prestigious universities with some of the highest-ranked engineering departments in the country that offer specific courses in renewable energy, which will be very useful when it comes to finding specialized staff," said Aitor Sotes, chief executive officer of Ingeteam Inc., Ingeteam’s subsidiary in the United States.
Gandiaga also said the Wisconsin team "made an impressive effort to sell Ingeteam on the virtues of locating in this community. The Ingeteam project perfectly fits the model of the clean energy economy and job creation goals that the city and state are pursuing.”
Ingeteam considered more than 80 sites before selecting Milwaukee as the North American home for its company.
“They could have located this $15 million facility anywhere in the nation. Believe me, Michigan tried very hard,” Leinenkugel said.
Meanwhile, Spanish high-speed train manufacturer Talgo is shopping around for a site in Wisconsin to build an assembly plant after the state agreed to purchase two 14-car train sets.
Javier Rupérez, consul general of Spain in Chicago, said more Spanish firms are considering coming to Wisconsin.
“The state I have been visiting more often is Wisconsin,” he said.
“Milwaukee is going to be the first stop for a lot of Spanish companies to check out, ‘What did Ingeteam see?'” said Marcoux, who met with several Spanish firms during his journey.
The doomsday naysayers who perpetually beat the drum that Wisconsin is a horrible place to do business again had to take a holiday Tuesday. I love when that happens.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.