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Evansville hitching optimism to Stoughton Trailers

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GINA R. HEINE
February 3, 2011
— Word that Stoughton Trailers might soon reopen its Evansville plant is spreading optimism among city officials eager to see business at the corner of Highway 14 and County M.

"The facility's been closed for four years," Mayor Sandy Decker said. "It'd be just great to get it open again and see business picking up."


The real estate sign has come down, and workers are in the 350,000-square-foot plant preparing equipment to start up—if and when signed contracts arrive, said Keith Wise, public relations manager.


"Nothing's for sure right now, and that's the problem," he said. "There's rumbling, but we don't have an order."


The plant closed quickly in 2007 because business went to China. Ken Wahlin, managing director of parent company STI Holdings, told the Wisconsin State Journal that Chinese manufacturers did not meet expectations of some of their U.S. customers.


"There's obviously some opportunities we're exploring, trying to bring some work to that factory," Wise said.


The company could add 50 to 100 people in Stoughton, 150 in Brodhead and up to 300 in Evansville, "if all goes well," Wahlin told the State Journal.


More than 400 people used to make containers to transport goods by rail car and chassis for semitrailers at the Evansville plant.


"Whether we're talking about vans, containers and chassis, there's a lot of pent-up demand," Wise said, "and we still don't know what this means. Are people finally replacing equipment because they have to or is there something else shaking there?"


Stoughton Trailers last month held a job fair at the Rock County Job Center seeking workers for its Brodhead plant, which reopened in November, and its Stoughton plant, where a second shift was added in October.


Production has been increasing minimally but steadily the last six months and the company is still seeking applications for its Stoughton and Brodhead plants, Wise said.


The Evansville Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism has maintained a "very good" relationship with Stoughton Trailers, said John Morning, chamber president.


Reopening the plant would be great for the city, county and region, he said, because it means more jobs and more people spending money locally.


Decker noted how quickly the plant closed because of foreign competition.


"It's great if we can get manufacturing in the United States," she said. "We need to turn the tide on that."


The plant is about 350,000 square feet, she said, and conversations the city had with others interested in the space found they were only seeking about 50,000 square feet.


"There aren't that many companies that utilize that much space," she said.



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