Project will turn former alfalfa storage into shoe manufacturing facility, extension of company’s operations
MERRILL, WI. MAY 9, 2022 – Weinbrenner Shoe Company, Inc., the biggest maker of “Made in USA” footwear, is expanding its operations into an abandoned industrial site with help from the city of Merrill and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
WEDC is supporting Weinbrenner’s rehabilitating and occupying the long-dormant facility with a $250,000 Idle Sites Redevelopment Grant. The city of Merrill is also contributing a $300,000 development incentive to the project. Company officials say the expansion, which will create at least 50 new jobs, will help them meet increased demand for their products.
“It’s great to see Weinbrenner, which has deep roots in the Merrill community, continuing to invest in Wisconsin and its workers,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s leading economic development organization. “This project benefits Merrill on many levels, which is why it makes sense for WEDC to invest in it.”
The renovation “increases the city’s tax base by turning a derelict property into a profitable one,” said Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson, who also explained WEDC’s pivotal role in the project. “You never want to say it would be impossible, but it would be very difficult without that money from WEDC.”
The 14.2 acre property belonged to Hurd Window & Doors from 1982 to 2008 before a seven-year vacancy. In 2015, some of the property’s older buildings were demolished in an asbestos remediation project and two remained—one 142,000 square feet and the other 17,000 square feet. Great Lakes Alfalfa leased the larger building and used part of it for agricultural storage. Merrill Area Development Corporation (MADC) took over the property in 2017 before selling it to Weinbrenner for $300,000 in March of 2021.
The 142,000 square-foot building will house manufacturing and the other will be used for storage. Renovations include adding new offices and employee break areas, adding production lines, and installing a roof that meets safety codes. Located less than a mile from the company’s existing facility, the acquired property will serve as an extension of Weinbrenner’s operations in Merrill.
“We could’ve just gone in and cleaned it up, but what we really did was make sure, in converting this facility, that we did it with our employees in mind,” said Jeff Burns, president of Weinbrenner Shoe Company. “Having the help from both Merrill and WEDC definitely helped us complete this vision—to provide a building that the city of Merrill could be proud of and our workers could be proud of.”
Founded in 1892, the Weinbrenner Shoe Company was initially located in Milwaukee before opening factories in Marshfield and Merrill in the 1930s. The company has been employee-owned since 2000, and is the leading manufacturer of American-made footwear. Weinbrenner produces several brands of work footwear, including its signature Thorogood brand. The company is looking to scale up its operations in Merrill because demand for American-made products, Weinbrenner’s and otherwise, rose 54% in 2021, a trend the company expects to continue.
“In the last five years we’ve invested a lot in marketing to tell people what a great shoe we make here in Wisconsin,” Burns said. “We take pride in making the best footwear in the world.”