Pratt Industries opens box plant in Beloit

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Neil Johnson
Monday, March 20, 2017

BELOIT—The opening of Pratt Industries’ new cardboard box plant in Beloit is proof Wisconsin is beating Illinois in the border war for business, Gov. Scott Walker said at a ceremony at the plant on Monday.

Pratt’s new facility, a 350,000-square-foot box, will employ 120 people and produce and distribute many, many smaller boxes.

Specifically, the company will use the plant to produce corrugated cardboard boxes that are made of 100 percent recycled paper—600 tons of boxes a day—Pratt officials said during a tent celebration held outside the brand-new plant in Beloit’s Gateway Business Park.

Along with Pratt officials, Walker spoke at the celebration Monday and touted the $52 million plant as a high-tech manufacturing boost for Rock County and southern Wisconsin.

“It’s good to be close to the Chicago market but on the Wisconsin side,” Walker said of Pratt’s new plant after he made a few jokes about the NCAA basketball tournament.

The new facility is in Beloit’s Gateway Business Park. Its development came together in part through the multinational company inking a development deal worth $3.15 million in state business loans and job-creation tax credits through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Pratt officials speaking Monday said the Atlanta company chose Beloit because the 56-acre site in the Gateway Business Park has easy access to the Chicago market and because Wisconsin’s business climate is among the friendliest the company has seen in recent years.

The company employs 7,000 people at multiple facilities in the U.S. and worldwide.

The company would distribute cardboard box materials made in Beloit to local and regional customers, such as Amazon’s 500,000-square-foot distribution center in Kenosha.

Pratt Industries opens at a time when the state Department of Transportation is knee-deep in the Interstate 90/39 expansion project, which will expand the Interstate from four lanes to six from Beloit to Madison, and from four lanes to eight through Janesville.

How the state tackles that project and whether it’s completed on its current schedule are important issues for a company such as Pratt, which will use the Interstate to ship out hundreds of tons of cardboard box pieces a day.

The I-90/39 expansion is scheduled for major work this year, but some of that work hasn’t yet been budgeted.

More than $100 million in northbound lane expansions from Beloit to Janesville would be funded in the 2017-19 state budget, according to a DOT project schedule.

State lawmakers are now in the process of crafting their version of a new roads budget, and their work comes as an audit indicates the 45-mile Interstate expansion project could cost well beyond the $1.1 billion the DOT had estimated.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this month that a state audit of the DOT projects reveals the I-90/39 project could end up costing more like $1.75 billion.

In his 2017-19 biennial budget proposal, Walker asks the Legislature to balance the state’s roads budget largely through borrowing and delaying of some big-ticket projects in the southeast part of the state.

However, Walker has repeatedly said he is asking state lawmakers to keep the I-90/39 megaproject on track.

Walker has said his proposed budget has earmarked money that would keep the Interstate expansion moving under the DOT construction schedule for the next two years.

The project overall has already seen about a year’s worth of delays—mostly because of cuts in the current budget—and estimates are that it’ll take until 2021 or 2022 to complete.

Some state lawmakers have been pushing for a roads budget that would generate more revenue in part through fuel tax or fee increases, but Walker has signaled that he doesn’t want to pay for roads through a tax hike.

When asked by The Gazette on Monday if his office has heard any indication that lawmakers could be eyeing the I-90/39 project for cuts or delays—particularly because it’s been identified as a much costlier project than earlier thought—Walker said he believes the project will stay on track.

“In particular, I’ve highlighted this (I-90/39 expansion) to a number of area lawmakers, including in particular, (State Rep.) Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) who is on the state’s joint finance committee.

“I think we’ve made it a clear enough priority that this (I-90/39 expansion) is an economic issue as well as a transportation issue for this corridor into the state. I think we’re in pretty good shape in that regard,” Walker said.

“There are other issues about other potential projects around the rest of the state, but I think this is one that is pretty solid right here,” Walker said.

Last updated: 4:14 pm Monday, March 20, 2017

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