The possible expansion of SC Johnson‘s Waxdale manufacturing plant and the company’s lack of disclosure about its plans there is making some Sturtevant trustees wonder if all the fuss over Willow Road – and now the village’s yard waste site – could have been avoided.
Specifically, SCJ CEO Fisk Johnson and spokesperson Kelly Semrau have both made public statements about Willow Road and how the yard waste site issue could negatively affect a future significant investment in the form of a possible $70 million expansion. However, neither have offered any further details.
Potential for new jobs
In a conversation earlier this week with state Sen. Van Wanggaard, though, Racine County Eye learned that SCJ’s expansion project could mean a new bottle manufacturing facility on land the company is believed to be buying past the southern border of Waxdale that is in the Village of Sturtevant. Currently composed of the Cobble Court condominiums and vacant frontage parcels, the land is located along Durand Avenue across the street from Farm & Fleet.
Racine County Eye reached out to Wanggaard after Sturtevant trustees Tuesday expressed their frustration about the failed Willow Road relocation and ongoing negotiations about the yard waste site that now involve both County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and Wanggaard.
Trustees questioned the involvement of the county and the state in the situation, but Wanggaard said the possibility of losing SC Johnson over an 8.5-acre yard waste site was too big for him to not step up and try to work out a deal.
Wanggaard said the new operation could employ 400 to 500 new workers.
“The thought is to put up a building for a bottling manufacturing operation to keep more production in-house instead of having to ship those things in,” he said. “We’re talking 400 to 500 new jobs here.”
Semrau would not confirm whether a new bottle manufacturing facility was in SCJ’s future.
“SCJ is a privately held company and we don’t discuss the specifics of future business plans as that could signal our competition. Being competitive is something that is very important in today’s business world,” she said in an email.
Village President Steve Jansen was surprised to learn about the potential new plant. When Racine County Eye asked him for comment about the possible new facility, he said had the village been aware, even conceptually, of SC Johnson’s plans, the back-and-forth of the last few months could have been avoided, and the parties would be in a vastly different place today.
“All they had to do was talk to us,” he stated. “All of this could have been avoided.”
Trustee Chris Wright was just as flummoxed.
“I feel like SCJ was playing a game with us, but we only had half the rules,” he said. “If (the plan for a new plant) is true, they should have told us and we would have worked with them like we’ve worked with so many other businesses who required confidentiality or non-disclosure clauses. They could have saved a lot of headaches.”
Jansen pointed to the year that village staffers worked with UNFI representatives before there was even the hint of an announcement.
“I respect that SC Johnson is a private company, but of course we would have been willing to take steps to protect their confidentiality like we have with other companies in the past,” he said.
To TIF or not to TIF?
Also at issue is the future growth and development of Sturtevant using tax incremental financing districts, or TIF districts. Including the Cobble Court land in a new TIF district was on the village’s radar and would have provided an avenue for Sturtevant to take part in any financial packages SCJ could receive when the company is ready to move forward.
The lack of confirmation from SC Johnson, though, could send Sturtevant trustees back to the drawing board, so-to-speak, and force them to reconsider the boundaries of their next TIF district after their current district closes next year.
“The village deals with private companies all the time, and we work with many different types of companies to have them develop in the village,” Trustee Chris Larsen said. “We are obviously very good at it, but what we are not good at is dealing with companies that don’t give us the full story. We would be a willing partner, if (SCJ) would let us.”
Larsen is also chair of the Community Development Authority, and he confirmed the Cobble Court area was identified as a prime development location, perfect for inclusion in a new TIF district.
Semrau wouldn’t comment on how being more forthcoming with Sturtevant leaders would have changed the manner in which the Willow Road situation was handled and how the purchase of the village’s yard waste site might move forward.
“I stood up at a board meeting (and) I did make mention of one investment that we’ve put on hold – so that is public,” she wrote in her email to Racine County Eye. “I won’t comment on any other parts of your questions as it doesn’t serve anyone at this time.”
What happens now
Jansen said he expects to continue working with SC Johnson representatives, Delagrave and Wanggaard toward a resolution about the yard waste site because the village and the company should be good neighbors to one another. SC Johnson has offered to buy land and develop it according to Sturtevant’s standards for a new yard waste site.
“I want to work out the best deal for our residents, which means not one dime of their money can be spent for a new site,” he said. “I’m confident we can get something done.”
Wanggaard is also optimistic about a resolution, albeit one where neither party walks away entirely satisfied.
“This is about making a compromise,” he said. “If they’re both a little unhappy, then we’ll know we have a fair deal.”