Gov. Scott Walker on Monday called for increasing job-retention tax credits to entice consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark Corp. to keep two manufacturing facilities open in northeast Wisconsin, rather than eliminate 600 jobs.
The Republican, who is up for re-election in November, wants the Wisconsin Legislature to increase the tax credits from 7 percent of payroll to 17 percent. That would put them in line with incentives offered to Foxconn Technology Group under a nearly $3 billion package Walker signed last fall to lure the Taiwan-based company to the state.
“Retaining outstanding Wisconsin companies like Kimberly-Clark is just as important as attracting new companies to our state, which is why I’m proposing we offer larger tax credits to ensure the company keeps those 600 jobs where they belong — in Wisconsin,” Walker said in a statement.
A spokesman for Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark, which makes Kleenex tissue, Huggies diapers and other paper products, did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The move to close the Wisconsin plants came as part of Kimberly-Clark’s plans to reduce its workforce by 12 to 13 percent, or 5,000 to 5,500 jobs, and close or sell about 10 manufacturing facilities.
The Neenah factory, which makes non-woven products, is slated to close within 18 months. There is no closure date announced for the other plant in nearby Fox Crossing, which makes Depend adult diapers and other personal care products.
Walker’s jobs agency can currently give Kimberly-Clark and other companies a 7 percent job-retention credit, but raising it to the same 17 percent Foxconn got would require a law change.
Republican legislative leaders did not immediately return messages seeking reaction to Walker’s proposal.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, of Oshkosh, accused Walker of “saying just about anything” to win re-election while underestimating how unpopular the Foxconn deal is around the state. He said Walker was being reactive, rather than being a leader to protect existing jobs.
“This sounds more like someone who is caught off guard and is defensive,” Hintz said of Walker’s Kimberly-Clark proposal. “There are a lot of economic forces at work that are transforming the global economy, including Wisconsin’s. There are many of us who think the governor has not been in tune with these changes as he’s needed to be.”
The Foxconn deal negotiated by Walker and signed into law last year extends nearly $3 billion in tax credits if the company invests $10 billion and hires 13,000 people to work at a massive display screen factory and campus planned in the southeastern corner of the state.
Kimberly-Clark was founded in Wisconsin in 1872 and moved its corporate headquarters to Texas in 1985. It currently employs about 3,200 people in northeast Wisconsin, including at its North American consumer products headquarters in Neenah. It also operates a plant in Marinette that employs about 225 people.
Walker also said Monday state officials are talking with Industrial Assets about incentives for the company to continue mill operations in the Fox Valley.
Foxconn, meanwhile, announced Monday that it is planning to purchase an office building in downtown Milwaukee.