September 2010

Stimulus Dollars Fuel Wis. Plant Expansion
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Seven years ago, Milwaukee Local 2150 organized a 320-member bargaining unit at Waukesha Electric Systems, a manufacturer of medium-sized transformers. A long and challenging organizing drive left labor and management employees alike wondering whether they could move forward, improve relationships and build a more successful enterprise.

All of their doubts were put to rest with a May announcement by SPX Corporation, Waukesha Electric's parent company. SPX announced a $70 million, 140,000-square-foot expansion of its Waukesha manufacturing plant using $12 million in advanced energy manufacturing tax credits from the federal stimulus.

Adding capacity to the 292,000-square-foot plant will meet the growing demand for transformers needed to transmit power generated by wind turbines and photovoltaic systems to distant load centers. Set to open in the fall of 2011, the expanded plant will add 250 new jobs. Two hundred will be bargaining unit positions.

"This expansion is good news for SPX, the city of Waukesha and all workers in the plant," says Local 2150 Business Manager Forrest Ceel. "We aim to build the world's best transformers right here in Waukesha," says Ceel. That is no idle boast.

Waukesha's growing footprint is geared to producing some of the largest transformers available, including units rated at 500 megavolts and up to 765 megavolts. The transformers, which weigh hundreds of tons, will sell for between $2 million and $10 million each.

Large power transformers are extremely sensitive to contamination. The new facility will include a state-of-the-art clean room for final assembly.

Ceel and Todd Scrima, chair of the bargaining unit that has grown to 380 members, say that Waukesha's management team, led by President Tom Brockley and Vice President David Goodwill, worked hard to develop a workplace culture more capable of taking on the challenges of a tough market for electric equipment.

"We do a lot of internal auditing of products and procedures that helps us locate problems with the quality of the product," said Scrima, an 11-year employee who began winding coils and now works as a quality specialist.

In addition to federal stimulus dollars, SPX will receive $9 million in tax-incremental financing from the City of Waukesha and $4 million from the state.

Broad support was essential to win necessary financing, says Ceel. Key partners in the advocacy effort include Gov. Jim Doyle; Phil Neuenfeldt, Secretary-Treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO; former Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson; Gale Klappa of Wisconsin Energy and John Procario of American Transmission Company.

More than 300 workers at Waukesha Electric Systems have helped the manufacturer attract major federal and local stimulus dollars for expansion.