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Wisconsin Rapids

May 14, 2024
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Aerial image of Matalco plant.

Certified Sites program helps Wisconsin Rapids keep growing

Matalco targets a shovel-ready site for growth

Following the closure of the Verso Paper Mill in 2020, a fixture in Wisconsin Rapids for 116 years, local officials faced the enormous challenge of filling that gap in the local economy.

Image of Angel Laidlaw

Angel Laidlaw, President and CEO, Centergy

A total of 900 people were out of work because of the shutdown, but Wisconsin Rapids officials worked tirelessly to spark growth using all of the tools at their disposal.

“Even in the midst of something that seemed devastating to our community, there was still growth happening,” said Angel Laidlaw, president and CEO of Centergy, the area’s regional economic development organization.

One of the tools that proved vital was an industrial site in the Rapids East Commerce Park that had been designated as shovel-ready by WEDC’s Certified In Wisconsin Program, which helps eliminate uncertainty for site selectors choosing a parcel to develop.

Cushioning the blow

Verso announced the mill’s closure in July 2020—but four months later, Matalco opened its Wisconsin Rapids plant and hired 80 people, which helped to soften the impact.

“They hired some of those workers, so we were able to backfill at least some of that job loss within a couple of months of that closure notification,” said Kyle Kearns, the city’s director of community development.

The company, which invested $80 million in its 110,000-sqaure-foot manufacturing plant, receives scrap aluminum, melts it down, and recasts it as aluminum billet that is shipped to a variety of businesses.

Matalco built on a site that was designated as ready for development through the Certified In Wisconsin Program. The certification provides due diligence studies and removes many of the ambiguities, pitfalls, and delays that can confront developers during the siting and planning process. For site selectors and developers, Certified Site designation serves as a pre-qualification, indicating that a property’s title is clear, that it possesses sufficient utilities and other infrastructure for industrial use, and that it is properly zoned and has adequate transportation access for such uses, among other criteria. Working with WEDC, communities can obtain Certified Sites designation for properties with a subsidy that reduces the cost relative to what they would pay to pursue the designation on their own through an independent consultant. Each community demonstrates readiness though dedicating significant staff time and effort and by investing in the due diligence studies required for certification.

“Even in the midst of something that seemed devastating to our community, there was still growth happening.”

Angel Laidlaw

President and CEO, Centergy

Growth through challenge

As the company began production at the plant amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Robert Roscetti, Matalco’s vice president of corporate development, said the facility serves strong North American demand for aluminum.

Image of Kyle Kearns

Kyle Kearns, Director of community development

“It made strategic and financial sense to build our latest facility in Wisconsin,” Roscetti said, adding, “We were able to complete the commissioning and startup of operations and come in under budget.”

Kearns said the certification helps market available development sites. “Early on, the city saw the value in certifying the site, and I think it did aid in Matalco’s interest in the site, knowing that the due diligence studies were complete,” he said. Kearns noted that cooperation with WEDC was vital as the Matalco project progressed and will be needed as the city tries to find other uses for the 700-acre paper mill site.

In 2022, through state and federal cooperation, a $793,000 rail spur was completed, linking the plant to major rail lines. “We’re excited to be in Wisconsin,” Roscetti said at the opening. “This area is an ideal fit for our business needs and positions us well to serve our customers.”

AT A GLANCE

Company:
Matalco

Idea:
Expand operations in Wisconsin to serve North American aluminum markets

State support:
Certified Site designation, Business Development Tax Credits, help with rail line extension, coordination with local officials

Outcome:
80 new jobs and an expanded tax base

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