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Milwaukee Tool begins making hand tools in the U.S. — a first for the company

Milwaukee Tool building
Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee Tool workers listen to speeches Wednesday, ahead of a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the company's new factory in West Bend.

Fast-growing toolmaker, Milwaukee Tool, has opened a $55 million facility in West Bend that will have about 150 people making screwdrivers and pliers. Other types of hand tools may be added later.

Milwaukee Tool, owned by Hong-Kong based Techtronic Industries, is attempting for the first time to make hand tools in the U.S. That goes against a general tool industry trend of more production in other countries.

The change pleases Ted Galbraith, who is the lead forge operator at the West Bend plant. "It's great to see some things come back from overseas, see stuff made in the USA. I've worked at
at other manufacturing plants where they were losing a lot of their work to overseas stuff. So, it's nice to see things come back this way," Galbraith tells WUWM.

So, just how is Milwaukee Tool going to make a buck making hand tools in Wisconsin?

Company official Tim Albrecht spoke at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in West Bend Wednesday. He said for now, the tools will be marketed to tradespeople such as plumbers, power utility workers, electricians and those working with heating and cooling systems.

Albrecht said in recent years, Milwaukee Tool has spent a lot of time talking to those customer groups. "And realizing that they had to modify the hand tools that they had. They were welding extra parts on their hand tools. They were scoring the heads of the hand tools to ream pipe for example," he explained.

Milwaukee Tool executive Steve Richman speaks during Wednesday's event.
Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee Tool executive Steve Richman speaks during Wednesday's event.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers praised the opening of the tool plant and said the state is assisting the company's continued expansion — $22 million in Enterprise Zone tax credits were given to Milwaukee Tool this year, making the state's total help for the firm more than $70 million.

Group President Steve Richman acknowledged the help from the public sector, but he said the company now has more than 3,700 workers in Wisconsin, and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in capital projects.

"We have consistently over-delivered in every place we have built a manufacturing plant, an office facility or anything else," Richman told WUWM.

Richman said he's very optimistic about future growth, yet at the same time describes the firm as a "paranoid group."

He explained, "We know that if we don't disrupt and change the game and provide the solutions to our users, then they're going to want some other product from somebody else that's gonna deliver better solutions. And that paranoia keeps our teams working hard."

More design and engineering work at Milwaukee Tool is about to take place at a refurbished office complex in downtown Milwaukee. But Richman said construction delays will prevent full use of the building until the first quarter of next year.

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