Business Leader Blasts Council on Strauss Deal
Hamilton and council members are to blame for losing hundreds of jobs, Sheehy says.
Longtime Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy says the business community worked with Mayor Tom Barrett to bring good paying jobs to the city, only to see the Common Council and its president Ashanti Hamilton do nothing to defend the deal. As a result, Strauss Brands withdrew its proposal to move from suburban Franklin and build a $60 million meat processing plant in the long-depressed Century City area, and create up to 500 jobs in return a $4.5 million city subsidy.
“The business community is baffled as to why a company that has been doing business here since 1937, with 160 city residents as employees, is told in not so many words to take your jobs and shove it,” Sheehy tells Urban Milwaukee. “This is a momentum killer for Century City.” What business, he noted, “wants to follow this outcome?”
“After being appropriately pursued by the mayor to be more aggressive in marketing Century City, we responded,” Sheehy says. “And the Common Council pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.”
The fact that the alderman representing the district now opposed the deal was seen as its death knell, so Strauss Brands pulled out. “We honor and respect the opinions of the community and don’t want to make our home in a place where our presence would not be seen as a benefit,” said Randy Strauss, the firm’s president and CEO, as Urban Milwaukee reported.
Sheehy, however, contends that Hamilton and council members failed to provide leadership where it was needed.
“No one contradicted Rainey’s statement that the Strauss investment was not wanted, including President Hamilton whose district is a geographic neighbor to Century City,” Sheehy noted. “No council member offered a caution, or a ‘let’s not rush to judgement’ statement. No one said ‘hey, I’ve got a number of constituents who make up the 160 city residents now working at the facility in Franklin.’ So absent any comment or outreach, this stood as the council position. This was a missed opportunity that the council owns.”
Barrett tells Urban Milwaukee that the MMAC was a “valuable partner” on the Strauss deal, which was the culmination of many meetings he’s had with business leaders with both the MMAC and Milwaukee 7, both of which promote business in the Greater Milwaukee region.
“I’ve gone to many meetings where employers located in Waukesha or other suburban areas lament that they can’t get employees and always ask how we can get transportation of workers to these jobs,” Barrett says. “And I kept pushing that we need to put the businesses closer to where the jobs are. And frankly, they responded, and I’m glad they did.”
The response was the Strauss deal, which seemed a perfect fit. These were good paying, blue collar union jobs which did not require a college degree, the kind the city was dying for, after decades of lost manufacturing in Milwaukee. And it was a way to get more development in Century City and build on that success. “It was our hope that Strauss Brands’ move to Milwaukee’s Century City neighborhood would have created jobs, provided an economic boost, and inspired other businesses to follow suit,” Strauss told the media in announcing it would kill the deal.
Sheehy says Strauss did its best to make the deal happen. “They opened their business for review, and believed they were both doing something good, beyond their bottom line, and it was good for their business.”
Barrett notes there have never been complaints about the Strauss plant in Franklin. At city hearings Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux noted that “The company leads the industry in humane treatment of animals… I’ve been to the Franklin facility, there is no smell in the air… That’s with the equipment that was older than what will be installed here. This will be state-of-the-art.”
DCD project manager Benji Timm noted that Strauss planned to house the animals on-site for only a few hours before processing in an indoor facility and would climate control the entire plant. A basement would be used to load trucks with hides, blood, manure and other waste.
As downtown alderman Robert Bauman declared, “This may be the cleanest slaughterhouse that will ever exist in the United States.”
In response to Sheehy’s criticism of him Hamilton said this: “If the Strauss company is sincerely interested in bringing this facility to Century City then I would like to welcome them back to the table. It is imperative that they work with local elected officials to put this proposal before the community. We must have the community’s concerns addressed to see if this is an appropriate use at this location before we get this deal done. Any other discussion is childish and reeks of political scapegoating.”
But given the complete lack of support expressed by council members for the deal, the company’s return seems unlikely. Strauss was “blindsided” by the sudden flip-flop on the deal, Sheehy notes, “and no business wants to invite controversy.”
The deal’s failure is a “tragic” outcome, he says, and “only serves to make it harder to sell Milwaukee.”
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- Back in the News: Could Strauss Plant Deal Be Revived? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 12th, 2019
- 5 Takeaways on Strauss Brands Debacle - Bridget Fogarty - Nov 6th, 2019
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Hamilton Keeping Door Open for Strauss - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 29th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Business Leader Blasts Council on Strauss Deal - Bruce Murphy - Oct 28th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Who Lost the Strauss Brands Deal? - Bruce Murphy - Oct 24th, 2019
- Strauss debacle a reflection of Mayor’s overall fiscal irresponsibility and failure to plan - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Oct 23rd, 2019
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Blasts Council On Strauss Deal - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 22nd, 2019
Read more about Strauss Brands development here