- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A top executive at Wisconsin’s largest business lobby dissuaded the state’s job-creation agency from contacting food conglomerate Kraft Heinz about its future plans after the company’s merger was announced and before the announcement last year that Oscar Mayer’s 100-year-old plant in Madison would close, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

The Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1LyN4fg ) reported it obtained emails under the state open records law showing that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce had alerted the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. in June that other states were seeking to lure Kraft Heinz facilities out of Wisconsin. Specifically, the email related to concerns about Kraft Heinz’s Beaver Dam cheese plant and does not mention any concerns about Oscar Mayer closing.

WEDC officials discussed meeting with Kraft Heinz officials in person as soon as possible, but instead decided to get more information from the business group’s senior vice president, Jim Morgan.

“I met with Jim Morgan yesterday for more (perspective),” Wade Goodsell, a WEDC business attraction account manager, wrote to the agency’s then-CEO Reed Hall on June 30. “He provided good background information, but he doesn’t see a need for us to engage with Kraft at this time, it was more of an FYI.”

Morgan emphasized in an interview Wednesday that the conversation was related to the Beaver Dam cheese facility, and not Oscar Mayer.

Like other local and state officials, Morgan said he had “no inkling” that Kraft Heinz would close the Madison plant. The parent company plans to close the Oscar Mayer plant by early 2017 and relocate its corporate headquarters to Chicago, eliminating about 1,000 jobs.

“I think my conversation with them was a pretty isolated unrelated conversation,” Morgan said. He declined to say whether the jobs agency should have reached out to Kraft Heinz after the company’s merger was announced in March.

Gov. Scott Walker spoke briefly with a Kraft Heinz executive over the summer about setting up a meeting, but he didn’t follow up with the company until prompted by a local lobbyist in October, according to records provided by his office. The company declined to meet with the governor before announcing the closure on Nov. 4.

The agency didn’t meet with Kraft Heinz officials in person until after the Oscar Mayer announcement.

State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who represents the Oscar Mayer site, said the state should have done more to prevent Oscar Mayer from leaving Wisconsin.

“Now I know why more wasn’t done - because this supposed pro-business advocacy group inexplicably told them not to,” Taylor said.

WEDC spokesman Steven Michels said the agency always responds and seeks to take action on leads from local, state or regional partners.

“In no way does WMC or any other chamber, regional or local economic development group direct WEDC’s policies or decisions,” Michels said. “In this case we followed up with where the lead was generated.”


Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj

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