Records show lack of contact before Oscar Mayer announcement

Northside business walk planned to test Oscar Mayer loss impact

Newly released records point to a reason for the lack of contact between Wisconsin’s job-creation agency and Kraft Heinz before the food conglomerate announced the closing of Madison’s Oscar Mayer plant last year.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports a top executive at Wisconsin’s largest business lobby dissuaded the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. from contacting Kraft Heinz about its future plans.

Emails released to the newspaper show Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce had alerted the agency in June that other states were seeking to lure Kraft Heinz plants out of Wisconsin.

The emails show the agency decided not to contact Kraft Heinz after talking to an official of the business group.

Some lawmakers are saying WEDC dropped the ball.

“Gov. (Scott) Walker and his so-called job creation and retention agency dropped the ball,” Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said.

The newly released emails leave Madison Alder Larry Palm wondering what could have been done.

“I think it’s entirely possible that the state completely miscalculated this,” Palm said. “It’s obviously not their fault that decisions were made, but certainly if we had been able to prevent a valid counter-offer, maybe there would be other choices.”

Palm said WEDC should have contacted the company.

“It’s crazy that the default isn’t, ‘Let’s contact.’ You know, that’s a pretty low burden to call up, ask for a meeting, find out what everyone’s thinking,” Palm said.

Now with 1,000 jobs set to go away in Madison, Palm said the emails show the state missing a major opportunity.

“If they said ‘No, we don’t want to talk,’ well alright, you tried,” Palm said.

Officials said Wednesday the conversation was about the company’s Beaver Dam cheese plant — not Oscar Mayer.

WEDC sent News 3 a statement Thursday:

“As is clear in the communications, the discussion in June was specific to cheese marketing and Kraft’s Beaver Dam’s cheese operations. The plant manager stated in June that the facility was not at risk. In November Kraft publicly reaffirmed their commitment to the Beaver Dam facility and stressed its continued importance to the North American supply chain.

“Specific to the Oscar Mayer plant as Secretary Hogan said at our November Board meeting ‘we are all hands on deck to move forward and make sure we make the best of the situation.’ To that end, we are regularly meeting with groups of local, regional, and workforce officials to continue to assist the workers in finding new jobs and to help with the future use of the property however possible.

“We work daily with our local and regional partners and are consistently responsive to information we receive about a company. WEDC’s foundational existence relies on our network of partners and stakeholders and the relationships that they have with businesses and communities. “