Let's be clear: Anyone -- ANYONE -- who says Menard's would have created 800 jobs in Wisconsin were it not for those meddlesome kids at the DNR is a liar. Or a fool. Or, yes, in the case of the likes of Jessica McBride, Charlie Sykes, and Deb Jordahl, both.
How does the Brawler know this? Why can the Brawler say this so definitively while others, including Brawler fan Patrick McIlheran, will only go so far as to say Menards could be lying?
Let's start by looking at the thought process it takes to reach the conclusion that Menards would have put 800 jobs in Wisconsin.
1. Menards wanted to build a 750,000 square foot warehouse in Eau Claire.
2. The DNR pointed out that the facility would have covered two small wetlands. Regulations govern the filling of wetlands. Eighty percent of applications to fill wetlands are approved (St Paul Pioneer Press, 4/5/05).
3. Outraged, the repeat polluters at Menards decide the best course of action is to create not one but TWO manufacturing/warehouse facilities -- with roughly twice the square footage of the proposed Eau Claire facility and build them 600 miles apart.
If you think this sequence of events is logical, you're qualified to be a rightwing think tank apparatchik, a talk show host on WTMJ or a political consultant.
Most logical people, when they stop to think, would recognize Menard's was strengthening and diversifying the distribution/production infrastructure for its store network as it expands and deepens its presence in markets across the Midwest. Therefore, they wouldn't be shocked that Wisconsin lost out.
They'd also see through Menard's PR move.
They'd recognize Menard's was trying to bash its friends at the DNR. They'd also recognize Menard's was playing damage control by going on the offensive. After all, Wisconsin taxpayers have shelled out millions in subsidies for this company. They might think it, -- I don't know -- uncool? treasonous? that Menard's repays their munificence by taking their jobs elsewhere.
Suffice it to say, thanks to credulous reporting first by the Eau Claire Leader Telegram and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Menards got its spin out there.
But let's be clear. At least one of those warehouses -- and probably both -- was always going outside Wisconsin.
How does the Brawler know that? Because as far back as October 1, 2004, the Toledo Business Journal reported that Menards was looking to make a major "investment in a manufacturing and distribution center in Holiday City. The production and distribution facility represents potentially over 350 jobs. Ohio is in competition with at least one other site in Indiana for this project." No mention of Eau Claire here -- and none in later coverage (which cited Michigan as another contender).
As the Brawler previously reported, Menards has talked about how they want to expand in Ohio. And this 735,000-square-foot facility has been described as a feeder for stores in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. These jobs were NEVER going to go into Wisconsin. EVER.
So, was Wisconsin seriously in the running for the site in Iowa? That's harder to tell. But plenty of signs point to no.
The Brawler thinks this for several reasons.
First,Menards dealings with, and treatment of, the DNR were bizarre from the get-go. The move came into prominence in February 2005 because Menards was outraged that the DNR. I don't know about you, but the Brawler has never dodged a ticket by yelling at the cop.
As the JS story noted, Menard's never applied for a permit and let communication drop with the agency (despite its claim it spent a "Million dollars" trying to deal with the DNR on this, a figure for which the media ought to demand an accounting before they repeat):
The DNR sent a letter to Menards in February 2005, saying the agency was willing to continue to work with the company to resolve the issues at the site, Celello said. That letter was followed by a meeting with Menards officials that included Doyle and DNR Secretary Scott Hassett.
According to the DNR, the agency sent four letters to the company after that meeting, and held a follow-up meeting May 4, 2005, involving representatives of Menards, the DNR and Doyle's office. The agency and Menards last communicated on the matter on May 18, 2005, the DNR said.
Clearly, Menard's wasn't aggressive in pursuing the matter.
And there's this: The Dec. 6 Wisconsin State Journal reported that DNR Secretary Scott Hassett "said that issue has been resolved and the company will build in Wisconsin, though not in the wetlands area that was in dispute." Why would Hassett think this?
Finally, in January 2006, Menard's announced it was building a facility in Shelby, Iowa. That's less than a year after the inital brouhaha. The Brawler would not be surprised if Menard's had already jettisoned the Eau Claire option in February and committed to Iowa.
(Note the timing. Iowa was announced in January. The Ohio facility was announced in August. Why is this news now? Because Menard's wanted it to be news now. Why would they want it to be news now, weeks away from an election? Draw your own conclusions. Was Mark Green in the area on Friday?)
Anyway, all these signs point to a company that was not seriously committed to doing business in Wisconsin.
The second reason the Brawler thinks that Eau Claire was bound to be a loser was geography. Menard's is expanding its presence in Iowa and it's also looking to crack into Missouri. Shelby, located near Interstate 80 (east-west) and Highway 71 (north-south) is much closer to these markets than Eau Claire. It's also closer to places like Omaha (half hour or so) and Sioux Falls. Again, this matters for fuel costs. It matters for being able to maintain inventory at the monster, 240,000-square foot stores it's buildling.
The third reason the Brawler thinks that Eau Claire was bound to lose was the benjamins. As in the nearly $4.7 million in local and state incentive money Menard's was receiving for building there. (Omaha World-Herald, 3/2/06)That's a lot of cheese, as toddler Brawler says. Given Wisconsin had shelled out more than $4 mill last November to expand a subsidiary's HQ, how much corporate welfare could Menards reasonably expect to receive from the Badger State?
(Note, while Wisconsin media reports have described both facilities as hosting 300 to 400 jobs, the Omaha World-Herald report says the plant would "employ more than 200 people.")
In short, Menard's is lying when it says the DNR's actions cost Wisconsin 800 jobs. The DNR has approved wetland fills before and was willing to do so again. It was willing to work with Menard's. At a minimum half of those jobs never would have been in the state. The Brawler thinks it's likely that none of them would have.
Menard's can run its business as it sees fit. But shame on them for blaming the DNR for corporate decisions that might not go over well with Wisconsinites. And shame on the mainstream media and the idiots of the right for perpetuating this lie.
And the Brawler wonders: If Menard's believes in insulting a state that's bent over backwards for it in the past, how much generosity should they expect from the state in the future? If I were Home Depot or Lowe's, I'd see this as an opportunity...