Milwaukee officials next week will ask Congress for $750,000 to persuade Astronautics Corp. of America to build a new headquarters in the city.
“Astronautics is, I would say, one of the most important companies in the city of Milwaukee that not a lot of people have heard of,” said Alderman Robert Bauman, who will be part of the city delegation visiting Washington, D.C.
Astronautics, established in 1959 in Milwaukee, produces electrical equipment and systems for boats and aircraft. The company’s current headquarters is in northwestern Milwaukee. Astronautics also has two manufacturing plants in Milwaukee and a building in Madison.
The company is searching for a location to build a new headquarters, and, Bauman said, there’s a fear the company will move out of Milwaukee and possibly to New Jersey. Astronautics’ parent company, Kearfott Corp., is headquartered in Little Falls, N.J., and has a manufacturing plant there.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority has not discussed the possibility of a move to the state or a headquarters project with Astronautics, said Glenn Phillips, the authority’s public affairs officer.
Milwaukee will ask U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and U.S. Rep., Gwen Moore, D-Wis., for $750,000 to help Astronautics build in Milwaukee. The gift would pay for the renovation and redesign of a former shipping building, called Building 42, in the Pabst Brewery complex that would be used as the company’s headquarters.
Brewery Project LLC, which owns the building, has offered to sell it to Astronautics, said Mike Mervis, vice president of Brewery Project.
“That’d be great,” Mervis said of the federal gift. “I don’t know what else to say. We were not aware of this.
“We’re actively engaged in trying to put together a proposal for Astronautics to try to get them to move to our Building 42, and that would be a great assistance.”
The federal money would be part of an incentives package Milwaukee is assembling for the company, said Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Milwaukee Department of City Development.
“The city is still interested in working with Astronautics,” he said, “and this was one possible way of adding an element to the package. It’s not a sure bet one way or another, but it is conceivably part of the mix.”
Fleming said he could not provide more details about the city’s efforts to woo Astronautics.
Tony Hozeny, spokesman for the state Department of Commerce, said the agency does not comment on whether it is negotiating development deals with companies.
The department offers incentives to companies, such as Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac, to create or retain jobs in the state.
Holly Russek, registered agent for Astronautics, said she cannot comment on any aspect of the company’s deliberations.
Moving Astronautics to the Pabst property could help spur other development on the western edge of the Park East corridor, said Pete Beitzel, vice president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Milwaukee has to keep the company, he said.
“I think they’re important,” Beitzel said, “because they hire a lot of inner-city people for jobs, and they combine that with some of the high-tech stuff.”
Bauman said if attempts to get the federal money fail, the city could offer tax-incremental financing through the TIF district it created for the Pabst Brewery.
TIF districts let cities borrow money to support development in an area and use taxes generated by the area’s increased property value to pay off the debt. When the debt is paid off, the district reverts to traditional property tax collections.
“This would be, obviously,” Bauman said, “in the city’s interest to make sure they stay in Milwaukee.”