CRANDON - Hometown Trolley looks likely to stay in Crandon--and expand its facilities there--after a vote by the Forest County Board on Tuesday.
Other counties have tried to draw the manufacturer away, but Tuesday's vote gave the company confidence it can expand its production onto the current Forest County fairgrounds.
Right now, more than 50 people work at Hometown Trolley. By the time it's done with expansions, that number could be more than 200.
"It's the very lifeblood of the city," said Forest County Board Supervisor Larry Berg. "There are other good businesses here, but this is such a large one, and growing so quickly, it really holds our future."
"Immediately, right now, what we need to do is show that we want Hometown Trolley to stay here and tell them that we will work with them to make sure they can expand," agreed fellow Supervisor Melinda Otto.
Hometown Trolley plans to expand south. Phase One would add 75 feet of building and 15 to 25 jobs. Phase Two would expand the facility by another 300 feet and add between 50 and 150 jobs, according to Hometown Trolley Chief Operating Officer Dustin Pence.
After an hour and a half of discussion, by a unanimous show of hands, the Forest County Board approved a plan in concept to give or sell part of the fairgrounds to Hometown Trolley.
But that agreement didn't come without a lengthy legal discussion. A land deed more than 20 years old makes the issue more complicated. According to the deed transferring the land to county, if the county uses or sells the fairgrounds for something other than a fair, the county needs to replace it with equal or better fair facilities. The Forest County Agricultural Society, a volunteer group that helps put on the fair, has fought hard to make sure the fair will keep adequate facilities.
Some supervisors questioned whether the deed's provisions were actually in effect.
"When you put it in perspective of what Hometown Trolley brings to the county and what happens once a year, I think there's no comparison," Otto said. "I'm going to vote for economic development every time."
Forest County's lawyer made his interpretation clear.
"A preliminary opinion is that those restrictions are enforceable," said Forest County Corporation Counsel Paul Payant.
Forest County will form a committee to explore options for fair placement. Forest County Agricultural Society President Howard Sipple will be part of the committee.
"All parties are in favor of economic development," Sipple said. "Yet the board did back the fact that they want to support the county fair."
The 2018 fair will be hosted at the same site.
"I'm very relieved with that," Sipple said. "We've had a promise made here today."
Beyond that, plans are unclear.
"If we have to come up with a new fairgrounds, that's what we'll do," said Forest County Board Chair Paul Millan.
Hometown Trolley plans to start Phase One of its expansion in October. Phase Two will start in 2018 or 2019.