A consultant for Spectrum Brands asked Wisconsin officials for help consolidating its operations in Wisconsin as early as June 2010, but it was not until nine months later in mid-March 2011 that the company — already in Madison — disclosed its identity.

The consultant for the company, which later received a $4 million forgivable loan from the state, went so far as to say protests at the State Capitol last year could be a strike against choosing Madison, according to emails obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal through an open records request.

The company, which has battery factories in Portage and Fennimore, said last week it will move its headquarters and tech center to a new building on Deming Way, in Middleton, in 2013. Chief executive Dave Lumley said he almost moved Remington and the corporate base to Florida but the forgivable loan from the state helped persuade him to stay here.

In a June 23, 2010, note, Atlanta real estate consultant Harry Joseph asked a Department of Commerce official to schedule a telephone conversation, saying he was working on a confidential site search in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

Several months later, on Jan. 24, 2011, Joseph asked for a meeting “to give you an update and to discuss what incentives might be available to our client should they decide to consolidate in Wisconsin.”

One month later, on Feb. 21, 2011, Joseph cited concerns that “recent protests and ‘unrest’ ” could have “a detrimental impact” on choosing Madison “as its office consolidation location.” He said he also was looking at Des Moines, the Chicago suburbs and Milwaukee, and he asked if officials could “help incent my client to look past this apparent community discord.”

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which first reported the story Wednesday, said officials did not know the talks involved Spectrum Brands — parent of Rayovac, Remington and George Foreman grills — until March 2011.

Paul Jadin, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the successor agency to Commerce, told the Center he would “much prefer” knowing the company’s identity from the start, although it is unclear if the state’s response would have been different. Jadin could not be reached by the State Journal on Wednesday.

WEDC spokesman Tom Thieding said it is “not all that uncommon” for companies to mask their identities during early inquiries.

But development expert J. Mac Holladay said when direct visits begin, “they’re going to tell the economic development professionals who they are.”

Holladay’s Atlanta consultant firm, Market Street Services, is working on the Madison region’s Advance Now job growth plan.

Holladay, who has served in government economic development positions in three states, also said it is more common for companies to ask for incentives toward the end of a search rather than the beginning.

Joseph, the Spectrum Brands consultant, said he still is under a confidentiality agreement and deferred questions to company spokesman Dave Prichard, who did not immediately respond.

WEDC announced in November it will give Spectrum Brands $4 million to keep at least 470 jobs in Dane County and make $40 million in capital investments in Wisconsin over the next five years. If employment drops below 470, Spectrum Brands will have to pay back the state $8,511 per job lost, up to a maximum of $4 million, plus a penalty of 2 percent a year.

 

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