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Republic Airways marks third big win for state program

By Sean Ryan

State and local officials are hailing the landing of Republic Airways in Milwaukee as further proof that a state program created in June to attract companies actually works.

The state is offering up to $27 million to Republic Airways, which bought Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines on July 31, to establish a maintenance hub at General Mitchell International Airport.

The money is through Wisconsin’s Enterprise Zone tax credit program, which gives companies tax discounts for retaining jobs, creating new positions and spending money on capital projects.

The program was approved in the state biennial budget in June. Since then, it offered up to $70 million to keep Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac, $35 million to keep Oshkosh Corp. in Oshkosh and now $27 million for Republic Airways.

By giving companies incentives to retain jobs and spend money on new buildings and equipment, the state is using a carrot to lure companies that other states don’t have, said Zach Brandon, senior policy director for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

Many of the new Milwaukee jobs are expected to come from Frontier’s operations in Denver and Las Cruces, N.M.

“We needed a program that focused not only on retaining jobs,” Brandon said of the new program, “because if they’re not going to consolidate here, they’re going to consolidate elsewhere.”

Republic will get credit for retaining the 800 jobs in Milwaukee, and to create the up to 800 jobs it may add for aircraft maintenance operations at General Mitchell, technical support and a flight reservation call center in Oak Creek.

Steve Baas, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce director of government affairs, said the program is a smart use of public money because it only gives breaks to companies that perform by keeping jobs or growing. For each job retained or created worth between $20,000 and $100,000, Republic gets to write off 10 percent of the wages on its tax balance.

“Ninety percent of the taxes on the new job is better than 100 percent of nothing,” Baas said.

Having the former Midwest employees stay around General Mitchell will help the businesses around the airport, such as Lindner Logistics LLC, which operates a warehouse for airlines. Co-owner Gregg Lindner said he expects the business from Midwest that he’s slowly lost over the years may return under Republic.

“When the economy started down-turning (Republic) had hangar space and they moved the stuff out of the warehouse and started using the empty hangar space,” said Lindner, who is president of the Gateway to Milwaukee business improvement district that promotes development around the airport.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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