Spectrum Brands Holdings is getting a $4 million forgivable loan from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to keep nearly 500 jobs at its Madison offices and to invest in its Wisconsin operations over the next five years.

It is the largest forgivable corporate loan issued so far by the WEDC, which began operating July 1 as a replacement for the state Department of Commerce.

"It's about securing those companies and their jobs that have built these communities," said Paul Jadin, WEDC chief executive officer. "Gov. Walker was very involved with (Spectrum Brands') leadership throughout this process, as well."

Terms of the deal require Spectrum Brands to maintain at least 470 full-time jobs at its corporate headquarters and technology center in Madison through Sept. 30, 2016. The company also will have to spend at least $40 million on equipment or building improvements by the same date.

If it meets those standards, Spectrum Brands will not have to pay back the $4 million or interest from the seven-year loan but it will have to reimburse the agency for the $80,000 origination fee.

Spectrum Brands' products include Rayovac batteries; Remington hair care devices; Cutter insect repellent; Dingo dog treats; and George Foreman grills. In addition to Madison operations, the company's Portage plant makes hearing aid batteries and employs 190; a Fennimore factory employs 320 making alkaline batteries, and a returns center in DeForest has five employees.

"Since our origins more than 100 years ago as a battery manufacturer on Madison's East Side, our company has played a significant role as a major employer in Dane County and other parts of Wisconsin," said Dave Lumley, chief executive officer, in a news release.

Spectrum Brands currently has 421 full-time employees in Madison. The company plans to hire 60 employees right away, including 55 in Madison. More than half of those are to mesh functions of the Miramar, Fla.-based Russell Hobbs small appliance business that merged with Spectrum Brands in June 2010, spokesman Dave Prichard said. About 15 will relocate from Florida.

The small appliances unit, which includes Farberware, Toastmaster, Juiceman, George Foreman and Black & Decker cooking devices, is being folded in with the Remington personal care unit.

Prichard said the $40 million is not expected to go toward a major project but is likely to be used for equipment and other factory updates over the five-year period.

He said Spectrum Brands, which struggled with a huge debt load and emerged from bankruptcy in August 2009, was not seriously considering moving out of Wisconsin.

"Our intention was always to remain not only in the state of Wisconsin but in the Madison area," Prichard said.

But Jadin pointed to the company's past history that included shutting its East Side Rayovac packaging plant and Middleton distribution center in 2003 and moving the work to Dixon, Ill., as well as transferring corporate headquarters to Atlanta from 2004 to 2010.

"We were aware, based on their prior activity ... they had options. We wanted to make sure they were narrowing their options to Wisconsin only," Jadin said.

It's not uncommon for state and local governments to provide such incentives, said Barry Gerhart, Ellig professor of management at the UW-Madison School of Business. "It is a reality that companies like Spectrum Brands can be mobile. There's nothing that I know of that requires them to produce batteries here in Wisconsin," he said.

Jadin said the WEDC is looking at other companies that may qualify for proactive loans, but added, "I'm not sure if there will be many of this magnitude."

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