Seneca Foods unveiled a plan to build dormitory-style barrack housing for the more than 100 migrant laborers who work seasonal jobs at the food processing company’s plant in Janesville.
In a proposal sent to the city earlier this year, Seneca says it is seeking annexation and zoning changes that would allow it to build five barracks and other amenities to house about 145 migrant workers who work on the plant’s vegetable processing lines during the busy summer and fall seasons.
If Seneca gets city approval, it would build the barracks on land south of the plant for seasonal migrant workers who come mainly from southern Texas but also from Mexico, a company official said. In recent years, Seneca has been housing workers at local motels, the company said.
“This (motel arrangement) is not a sustainable option from a cost perspective, and further does not allow for quality amenities that we need,” including food, security, laundry service and a location near the plant, Eric Martin, a Seneca Foods vice president, wrote in the proposal.
The proposal, dated March 16, says Seneca has hired more seasonal help in Janesville in recent years, attributing the trend to a regional labor shortage and expanded productivity at the 1 million-square-foot plant.
A growing portion of the seasonal employees are migrant workers who work during the busy season and then return to where they live or move on to other parts of the country to pursue other work.
At other locations in Wisconsin, including smaller plants in Gillett and Oakfield, Seneca has barracks for seasonal workers under a program it refers to in its proposal as a summer “labor camp.”
Over the past few years, Seneca has seen some of its migrant workers become full-time employees. The company anticipates that in coming years, it will need about 260 seasonal workers, nearly half of which Seneca believes will be migrant workers.
Seneca’s Janesville barracks would be managed by a plant crew leader. Each barracks building would house about 30 workers in an open layout with partitions splitting living quarters into multiple dormitory pods to house a few workers each, a company official said.
The housing would include an outdoor green space, an indoor recreation area, kitchens, and a canteen that would provide meals and other services for the workers. There would also be transportation provided for workers to get to and from work, to go shopping, or to otherwise leave the Seneca campus, a company official said.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has regulatory oversight over such housing, Seneca officials said.
Janesville City Council President Rich Gruber said Seneca has been working with the city for “months” on the proposal and that the company has been considering building barracks for a few years.
Gruber said the barracks would be a step up for workers who have been put up in local motels during their seasonal employment, based on what the city has seen from Seneca’s plans and from touring other company barracks.
“It beats the dickens out of some of the dormitory housing I’ve seen at some of the tourism and hospitality facilities in Walworth County. It beats the dickens out of a motel,” Gruber said. “You’re at least giving people a safe, comfortable roof over their head.”
The city council is slated for an initial discussion on the proposal Monday, Gruber said.
The proposal would first require the city of Janesville to annex a 6-acre parcel where Seneca plans to build the barracks. The land, which Seneca already owns, is just south of the plant but is currently part of the town of La Prairie.
Gruber said Seneca’s proposal would require zoning and ordinance changes, which means the proposal would first run through the plan commission. Gruber said the commission would have the authority to recommend fine tuning of the proposal.
A Seneca official said the company would like to break ground on the barracks this fall and hopes to begin using the housing in June 2020.
Janesville native and longtime congressman Paul Ryan is moving his family to a Washington, D.C., suburb, a Ryan spokesman said.
Politico broke the story Tuesday, saying Ryan and his family are temporarily renting a house in Maryland, “and he’ll be spending time there as well as their family home in Janesville.”
Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert confirmed those and other details.
Seifert said he would not say more because “it’s a personal matter.”
Seifert did not respond to Gazette questions about whether Ryan is taking a job or other position in the D.C. area and how long the temporary move would last.
The move will place the Ryans close to the sisters of Janna Ryan, the former speaker’s wife, who live in the D.C. area, Seifert confirmed.
Ryan and the former Janna Little, an Oklahoma native, married in 2000. They have lived in Janesville, raising three children, ever since. The children are now all teenagers.
Janna knows the D.C. area well. She earned a law degree from George Washington University and worked as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., before she met Ryan, according to news reports.
Ryan’s American Idea Foundation, which he announced in a speech in Janesville earlier this year, will remain based in his hometown, Seifert confirmed.
Ryan often touted his Janesville roots in his two decades in the House of Representatives and reportedly lived in his D.C. office the entire time, never renting or buying a home there.
Ryan, 49, spoke to the public in his hometown twice after he retired from the House of Representatives. He said in April he had started the foundation out of an office on Main Street in Janesville and would be guest-lecturing at Notre Dame University, but he never mentioned he might move.
Ryan also took a seat on the board of directors of Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News and other Fox media properties.
Ryan ran for vice president in 2012, when now-Sen. Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee for president.
In 2015, Ryan became speaker of the House.
On April 11, 2018, Ryan announced he would step down as speaker and from the House when his term ended in January 2019.
The announcement led to the election of another Janesville Republican, attorney Bryan Steil, as the 1st Congressional District’s representative.
Steil received Ryan’s support, including funding, in his race against the Democrats’ nominee, Randy Bryce.
Bryce tweeted sarcastically in the wake of the news: “Wait. He lived in Wisconsin?”
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