UPDATED: Uline groundbreaking brings visit from the governor
Duke Uihlein welcomed dignitaries to the groundbreaking for a massive distribution center in Hudson by quipping that it was Uline Shipping Supply Specialists' version of occupy Wisconsin.
The humorous reference to the Occupy Wall Street movement went over well with the friendly crowd of government and business leaders who laughed and applauded at the remark.
The reason for the occupation, later speakers would emphasize, was Wisconsin's favorable business climate.
Gov. Scott Walker was among the dignitaries who helped members of the Uihlein family break ground for the 640,000-square-foot facility last Friday.
The facility will have 14.7 acres under roof -- including a 610,000-square-foot warehouse and 30,000 square feet of offices -- when the first phase of construction is completed in the summer of 2013.
Construction is scheduled to start next spring on the nearly 64-acre site on the south side of Hanley Road between Hwy. 35 and Rock Street.
Duke Uihlein is vice president of distribution for the family-owned and operated Uline company. He runs the distribution center now in Eagan, Minn., that is relocating to Hudson.
"A major reason why we have grown in Wisconsin is because of the tremendous cooperation from the state and local officials, and the business-friendly environment of the state," Uihlein said in his welcoming remarks.
He said the company anticipates beginning operations with roughly 200 employees at the Hudson facility, and the long-term plan is to nearly double the building's size to more than 1 million square feet.
"Hudson will be a long-term home for Uline," he said.
Duke Uihlein was followed to the podium by Hudson Mayor Alan Burchill, who also extended a welcome to the group of 75 to 100 government officials, business people and members of the press gathered in a tent on the Uline property.
"Welcome to Hudson, the gateway for economic development for the state of Wisconsin," Burchill said.
"It is a pleasure to be in a partnership with a company like Uline," the mayor said. "...They are good people to work with. They drive a hard bargain, but I think we were fair, and we look forward to the economic impact it will have on our community, St. Croix County and the whole state of Wisconsin."
Burchill singled out Community Development Director Dennis Darnold to thank for his work in bringing the company to Hudson.
State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, introduced Gov. Walker.
"Since our governor took office in January of this year, and we came in as a Legislature, we knew that in order to turn our economy around in Wisconsin we needed to do two the things," Harsdorf said. "We needed to get our fiscal house in order and we needed to focus on creating a friendly business climate in the state."
She added, "Today, we're here because we made progress in those areas."
Harsdorf credited Walker with leading "reforms" that will lead to the expansion of businesses already located in Wisconsin and attract businesses from other states.
"It has been a great team effort. Certainly, we have great advocates for this part of the state right here," the governor said when he took the podium.
He thanked Harsdorf and state representatives Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, and John Murtha, R-Baldwin, who also were in attendance, for their support for his agenda in the state Legislature.
"What I like most about this company and this family is their optimism," Walker said, referring to the Uihleins' long-range plans for the Hudson facility.
"It sends a powerful, powerful message to other job-creators... that Wisconsin is a place for optimistic entrepreneurs," he said of Uline's move to Hudson.
Liz Uihlein, the president of Uline, talked about the company's history and her family's support for Gov. Walker.
She began by saying she was going to "spice things up" in response to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that her husband, Uline CEO Dick Uihlein, had donated $205,000 to Walker for his recall election campaign.
Liz Uihlein told about the financial difficulty the family had gotten into in 1977 after Dick quit his job while they were building a big house in Lake Forest, Ill.
"I made a vow with my husband that if we ever got out of this mess, we would never ever let it happen to us again. So sometimes you learn from the bad things," Uihlein said. "What people don't really understand, but we learned, is that there's no happy ending when you spend more than you take in. It doesn't work."
She said they responded by cutting back their spending, working hard, succeeding, and then returning to the standard of living they were accustomed to.
"Today Uline is a debt-free company. We have a substantial cash reserve. The only money that we owe is on some mortgages -- not a lot -- on several of our buildings," Uihlein said.
Addressing the controversial law to end most collective bargaining for public workers in Wisconsin, she said: "In this case, we totally, totally support Scott Walker and applaud his efforts. It is remarkable in this day and age to have a politician run saying what he intended to do and get it done. He's trying to dial it back for a while so you can come back stronger."
Uihlein described herself and her husband as "kind of political animals."
She said Dick Uihlein's father was a big supporter of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society and one of her cousins was a longtime leader of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.
Uihlein also said the work ethic and education of Wisconsin workers, plus "shovel-ready" building sites, attracted Uline to the state.
The company moved its corporate headquarters from Illinois to Wisconsin in 2010. The headquarters are located in the community of Pleasant Prairie outside of Kenosha.
Gov. Walker, Sen. Harsdorf, the Uihlein family and Uline company officials left the tent to pose with shovels for photographs following the program.
Walker later returned to take questions from television and newspaper reporters. Many of the questions dealt with the effort by his political opponents to have him recalled from office.
"The bottom line is I was elected by a majority of people a year ago to balance the budget and to do it without raising taxes, and to do it without cutting core services. We've kept all those promises. We'll continue to do our part," he said.
Asked about five consecutive months for job losses in the state (an estimated 14,600 in November), Walker said Wisconsin still has had a net gain of jobs for the year after losing 150,000 jobs over the previous three years.
The unemployment rate was at 7.3 percent for November, compared to 7.9 percent in August and 7.6 percent a year ago, he noted.
"The last few months have been difficult," he acknowledged. "We're a state highly dependent on manufacturing. A fair amount of our manufacturing base is based on exports, particularly Europe. We've all seen what's happened in Greece, Portugal and Spain. That's had a negative impact on our manufacturing."
Walker said that's why Wisconsin needs more companies like Uline.
"The bottom line is if you have a friend or a neighbor or a family member who is looking for work, it doesn't matter what the job numbers are," he said. "(They) need work and help. And that's what we're committed to doing."
Uline warehouses and sells products that are used to package and ship goods, from its base of boxes, tape and stretch wrap to material handling equipment such as pallet trucks, carts and dollies.
Its website, www.uline.com, boasts some 22,000 products, including janitorial supplies and office chairs.
Uline prides itself on getting products under way to customers within hours of the order being placed. The goal is to have orders that are in by 6 p.m. reach their destination the next day.
The company has run help-wanted ads in the Hudson Star-Observer and Hot Sheet Shopper since announcing its plans last June.
The ads offer customer service representative positions paying up to $17 per hour; general warehouse jobs, up to $17 per hour; warehouse manager trainees, up to $24 per hour; and sales representatives, up to $45,000 a year.
The company says it also offers outstanding benefits and an excellent work environment.