Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Could Strauss Plant Deal Be Revived?

Ald. Johnson working to save deal, Barrett holds out hope, community meeting planned.

By - Dec 12th, 2019 01:05 pm
Strauss Brands facility rendering. Rendering by ESI Design Services.

Strauss Brands facility rendering. Rendering by ESI Design Services.

Could the proposal to build a Strauss Brands meat packing plant in the Century City area be revived? There are some encouraging signs, including a community meeting planned for Saturday to discuss the issue and behind-the-scenes work by Ald. Cavalier Johnson to push the deal. Meanwhile, Mayor Tom Barrett has repeatedly said he hasn’t given up and would continue pushing the deal 

The proposal had seemed like a slam dunk: Strauss, now located in Franklin, wanted to relocate to the city and build a $60 million meat processing plant in the long-depressed Century City area, and would create up to 500 jobs in return a $4.5 million city subsidy. 

It meant blue collar jobs for an area that had been decimated by decades of decline for old-line manufacturers, driving high rates of unemployment for African American employees. It meant more progress in redeveloping Century City, something the city had been working on for more than a decade. And it located Strauss nearer to the city residents who already made up 60 percent of its workforce, as the company noted. 

The proposal won unanimous support from the Common Council’s Zoning and Neighborhood Development Committee and was expected to be “overwhelmingly approved” by the full council, as downtown alderman Robert Bauman told Urban Milwaukee. 

But the deal died largely due to the opposition of mayoral candidate and state Sen. Lena Taylor, as a story by Urban Milwaukee revealed. Taylor condemned the proposal as a “top-down” deal being “imposed” on the community and her top legislative aide Michelle Bryant, who is a talk show host on WNOV radio, devoted several days of shows to shine a negative light on the deal, raising concerns about “odor, run-off, rat infestation, disposal, etc.”, as she told Urban Milwaukee. The show’s audience is predominantly African American.

As a result, Ald. Khalif Rainey, the alderman for the neighborhood where the plant was to be located, received “an overwhelming response from neighbors in opposition to the project,” as he put it, and withdrew his support. And since the council typically follows aldermanic privilege, following the wishes of a district’s representative, that seemed to kill the deal, and Strauss withdrew its proposal. 

But there are some signs of hope the deal could be revived. As a story in the Business Journal reported, there has been behind-the-scenes work by Ald. Johnson, whose district is near the area where the plant was to be located. Johnson told the publication he sent a letter to company owner Randy Strauss asking him not to drop its project, but didn’t hear back from him.

Johnson also made an unannounced visit to the Strauss plant in Franklin. “I just randomly stopped by,” he said. “I didn’t see anything that was troublesome and I didn’t smell anything other than air,” Johnson said.

As Barrett and Department of City Development representatives have noted, the plant in Franklin has been there for decades, with no complaints from neighbors. Franklin Mayor Steve Olson has been lobbying the company to stay in that suburb. 

Johnson told the Business Journal that he thought the deal could be revived, “With proper outreach and education — primarily on odors.” 

That’s exactly what is planned for this Saturday, as a story by the Journal Sentinel reported. “The community meeting will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Good City Brewing, 3945 N. 31st St.” Expected to attend are Rainey and DCD Commissioner Rocky Marcoux. The meeting is being sponsored by the Century City Triangle Neighborhood Association, the Sherman Park Community Association and Amani United Neighborhood Association. It’s “designed for neighborhood residents to learn more about” the Century City development, where the plant was to be located, “and to provide comments about how they think the business park should be developed,” the story noted.

Johnson has proposed that residents in the area who are concerned about possible odors could be offered bus rides to Franklin to check out the area.

While all this is encouraging, there are still obstacles to surmount. For starters, there has been no word from the company as to whether it will reconsider. The comments of Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce leader Tim Sheehy blasting the Common Council for killing the deal, raised considerable doubt as to whether the deal could ever be revived.  A knowledgeable observer told Urban Milwaukee “there is still a possibility” for a deal, but no decision is likely “for months” as the company must review “multiple options.” 

And should any progress occur, there is also the problem of opposition again arising from Taylor and her full-time aide (and part-time radio host) Bryant. Neither responded to a query asking whether they would support a revival of the deal.  

Update 10:50 a.m. December 13: Bryant contacted Urban Milwaukee to say this about Taylor’s stand on reviving the deal: “Senator Taylor supports transparency and community inclusion, in whatever the next steps are for the project.  In addition, she is interested in understanding the business case and if the proposed incentives and tax credits compliment the expected job creation or opportunities.”

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3 thoughts on “Back in the News: Could Strauss Plant Deal Be Revived?”

  1. Jeffrey Martinka says:

    Please come back to MKE, Strauss! The area needs the jobs and you need the workforce! Please….

  2. Duane says:

    Yes, what could better symbolize the “slash your own throat” mentality of free trade better than putting a “meat harvesting facility” where we once had a huge manufacturing facility that provided great jobs for the community.

  3. Frank Martinelli says:

    In our community, at a time when we are making great strides in understanding the impact of trauma, why would some of our leaders even consider Strauss Foods locating in Century City as a viable way to help build Milwaukee’s future economy with real living wage, family supporting jobs?

    PTSD in the Slaughterhouse

    Killing for a Living: Psychological and Physiological Effects of Alienation of Food Production on Slaughterhouse Workers

    Working ‘The Chain,’ Slaughterhouse Workers Face Lifelong Injuries

    Slaughtering for a living: A hermeneutic phenomenological perspective on the well-being of slaughterhouse employees. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Report

    Frank Martinelli

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