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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Tool Tax Benefits Move Ahead, Labor Groups Seek Benefits Agreement

Marti Mikkelson
Milwaukee Tool plans to renovate this building in downtown Milwaukee and eventually locate up to 2,000 employees in the space.

Update on May 4 at 1 p.m. CDT

The Milwaukee Common Council, without debate, unanimously approved the $20 million financing package for Milwaukee Tool, during the Council's May 4 meeting. By the end of this year Milwaukee Tool is promising to move several hundred employees into a now-vacant office building at 501 W. Michigan, and a total of at least 1,200 workers by 2026.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce praised the vote in a written statement: "The addition of more than 1,200 high-quality jobs with one of our region’s most dynamic and innovative employers represents a transformational opportunity for Milwaukee at such a critical time for our economy to continue its rebound. This partnership will benefit the entire region and sends a strong message that metro Milwaukee is open for business.”

Original Story

A potential $20 million financial package to help the company Milwaukee Tool renovate a vacant downtown Milwaukee building and eventually locate up to 2,000 jobs there is moving ahead, but not without some controversy.

The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee unanimously approved a Tax Incremental District (TID) for the project Thursday. Under that designation, Milwaukee taxpayers would provide the grant and city officials would count on increased property taxes and values for repayment.

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Chuck Quirmbach
A rendition of the Milwaukee Tool building, as shown during Thursday's Redevelopment Authority meeting.

Milwaukee Tool Chief Financial Officer Ty Staviski told the authority that his company has been looking for more space to house its rapidly growing workforce. The firm, which began in Milwaukee nearly a century ago but is now part of a conglomerate based in Hong Kong, already has local offices in Brookfield and Menomonee Falls. It's also building a tool manufacturing plant in West Bend.

Staviski said Milwaukee development officials sold the company on the idea that the younger workers the toolmaker says it wants to hire, want to be downtown.

"Where they want to reside and where they want to live, and where the cultural aspect is — it's in the downtown area with all of the things that are going on and the renovations and revitalization that's occurring there," he said.

The property is at 501 W. Michigan Street. Staviski said one of Milwaukee Tool's business units would be located there, with 650 workers in place by the end of the year. The first part of the city money, $12 million, is for the company to hit a target of 1,200 jobs by 2026. An additional $8 million could help Milwaukee Tool expand the building and eventually add 800 more workers.

A push by Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers and the Service Employees International Union for a community benefits agreement was also highlighted at Thursday's meeting. The labor groups say it would apply to about 20 food service, security and custodial personnel who would be employed at Milwaukee Tool.

Anthony Steward works at a restaurant in the Fiserv Forum, where a few years ago the Milwaukee Bucks reached a community benefits deal with employees. Steward would like to see something similar at the toolmaker.

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Chuck Quirmbach
Anthony Steward speaks during a public hearing that was part of Thursday's Redevelopment Authority meeting.

"If you move on this without looking out for workers like me, it leaves us behind, and what service jobs mean for Black and brown people in Milwaukee," said Steward.

Milwaukee Tool said it's agreed to pay those workers at least $15 per hour by 2023. The company promised to keep talking with city officials and its contractors about the benefits package.

Redevelopment Authority member and Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson voted to go ahead with the city grant money, out of fear of losing the Milwaukee Tool Project to the suburbs.

"It's a matter of whether these jobs will exist and add growth to downtown Milwaukee. Or, if they will exist and add to the growth and development of a community that is literally across the municipal or county line," he said.

Johnson said he hopes the worker benefits issue can be resolved before the $20 million financing proposal goes to the Milwaukee Common Council.

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