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Bob Wirch, one of the two Democratic state senators in Wisconsin facing a recall election Aug. 16, 2011, tells voters they should keep him in office because of his record on creating jobs in his Kenosha-based district.
But can the former factory worker and 19-year lawmaker, who is being challenged by Republican Jonathan Steitz, fairly claim part of the credit for coaxing an Illinois company to bring hundreds of jobs over the border?
The claim is made in a flier Wirch’s campaign mailed July 25, 2011 to voters. The flier cites Uline, a national distributor of shipping, industrial and packaging materials, and includes this headline:
"Bob Wirch helped bring Uline to our area -- creating 800 local jobs."
So, did he?
Uline describes itself as a family-owned company that employs 2,600 employees across the country. It was founded in 1980 by Dick and Liz Uihlein; Dick Uihlein is the great-grandson of the founder of the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co., one of Milwaukee’s famed beer makers.
The company was headquartered in Waukegan, Ill., just south of the Wisconsin border, when it announced n June 2006 that it would expand in Pleasant Prairie, a Kenosha suburb about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. Both Wirch and Steitz, a lawyer who is making his first run for public office, live in the village.
Uline made big news in January 2008, when it announced it would move its headquarters to Pleasant Prairie and build a distribution center there, investing $100 million and employing 1,000 people by 2010. The company also said it would utilize state government incentives that were later calculated to be worth up to $18.6 million over nine years.
The Wirch campaign flier led Dick and Liz Uihlein to issue a statement in response on Aug. 3, 2011.
"We worked with a variety of state and local officials during the relocation process; however, state Sen. Wirch was not one of them," the couple said in the statement, noting they do not support Wirch’s campaign.
That’s a strong rebuttal to Wirch’s claim that he aided in the company’s move.
The statement also noted that a bill Wirch sponsored to help Pleasant Prairie with economic development -- which is also mentioned in his campaign flier -- was not introduced until July 2011 -- months after Uline had completed its relocation. The bill was "by no means a determinative factor in our decision to relocate," the company’s statement said.
When Wirch’s bill was signed into law in August 2011, Wirch said it would lead to 800 new jobs in Pleasant Prairie being created through a future expansion at Uline and the launching of a new biotechnology business incubator, according to the Kenosha News.
But those 800 jobs are only projected, not already created, as the headline in Wirch’s campaign flier stated. Only some of the jobs are expected to come from Uline. And, in any case, they have nothing to do with Wirch’s claim that he helped Uline relocate to Wisconsin.
When asked to respond to the statement issued by Uline, Wirch said in an email to the Racine Journal Times that he had toured Uline in 2010 "and discussed with company leadership the importance of a strong workforce and well-trained workforce."
But touring Uline after it had relocated hardly equates to helping land the company in the first place.
Also responding to Uline’s statement, Wirch campaign spokesman Phil Walzak told the Kenosha News that all references to Uline would be omitted from future campaign materials. "Sen. Wirch is very respectful of Uline’s wishes and he has no intention of misrepresenting them," Walzak was quoted as saying.
We asked Gillian Morris, another spokesperson for Wirch’s campaign, for evidence that Wirch helped Uline’s relocation from Illinois. She argued the statement Dick Uihlein issued was "politically motivated" since he had contribute to the anti-tax Club for Growth. That’s not even on point.
The statement in question from Wirch is his claim that he "helped bring Uline to our area -- creating 800 local jobs." We found there is no evidence to back the boast.
Uline brought roughly that number of jobs to Wirch’s state Senate district by the time it concluded its move from Illinois in 2010. But the company said it didn’t work with Wirch at all on the relocation. And the bill Wirch makes reference to wasn’t signed into law until long after Uline had relocated.
Wirch’s claim of helping land a big new employer is not only false but ridiculous -- or, Pants on Fire.
Editor’s note: After this item was posted Aug. 12, 2011, Wirch’s campaign provided us additional information -- pointing to a bill other than the one cited in the original flier as evidence Wirch helped bring Uline to the area. That bill, sponsored by Wirch, allowed for business expansion in the area of Pleasant Prairie where Uline moved.
However, the bill was introduced Jan. 25, 2008 -- three weeks after Uline had already announced its relocation Uline’s chief financial officer, Frank Unick, would not comment on whether the bill played a role in the relocation.
Pleasant Prairie Village Administrator Mike Pollocoff said part of the company’s expansion could not have occurred without the bill, which also affected other companies. But by that point, Uline had already committed to the $100 million relocation. So, we feel it’s a stretch to say the bill "helped bring" the company to Pleasant Prairie.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Company expands to Pleasant Prairie," July 1, 2006
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Getting mileage out of proximity," Jan. 7, 2007
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Uline’s move to bring jobs," Jan. 4, 2008
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Enterprise Zone keeps jobs in check," June 14, 2010
Uline.com, About Uline page
Uline.com, Company History page
Uline, "Correcting the record" statement, Aug. 3, 2011
Journal Times, "Company says Wirch campaign statement false," Aug. 3, 2011
SteitzForSenate.com, About Steitz page
PleasantPrairieOnline.com, About village page
Interview and email interview, Bob Wirch campaign spokeswoman Gillian Morris, Aug. 9, 10 and 11, 2011
Email interview, Jonathan Steitz campaign spokesman Dan Hunt, Aug. 9 and 10, 2011
Kenosha News, "Gov. Walker in Pleasant Prairie to sign TIF bill," Aug. 9, 2011
Kenosha News, "Uline refutes claims in Wirch campaign literature," Aug. 4 and 7, 2011
Wisconsin Legislature, 2011 Senate Bill 144
CampaignMoney.com, Richard Uihlein campaign contributions
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