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Lawmaker: 'Ship has already sailed;' tax incentives unlikely to sway Petco to stay in RhinelanderSubmitted: 01/14/2019
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter
bmeyer@wjfw.com

Lawmaker: 'Ship has already sailed;' tax incentives unlikely to sway Petco to stay in Rhinelander
RHINELANDER - Don't expect government tax incentives to convince Petco to keep Drs. Foster and Smith (DFS) in Rhinelander.

Petco, which owns DFS, announced last week it will close most of its Rhinelander operations and lay off 289 workers.

Last month, former Gov. Scott Walker pledged $28 million in state money to keep a Kimberly-Clark paper products plant in Neenah. That move saved almost 400 jobs.

But it looks unlikely something similar could happen for DFS.


According to state Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander), the company's mind is made up.

"At this point, we think that's not their intent. They do, obviously, just want to pull out," Swearingen said. "It seems like that ship has already sailed, so now the focus is specifically on the 289 employees and their families."

In 2014, DFS, when it was considering selling its business, asked Petco if it would keep the company in Rhinelander. Petco said yes.

"The real gut punch is when they just dropped the bomb like that and let their employees know via the letter, and the rest of the community, that they were just actually going to close up shop with the exception of the Live Aquaria and move on. So, that's disappointing," Swearingen said.

In an email on Monday, Petco spokeswoman Lisa Stark didn't directly answer our question about whether Petco broke a promise in leaving Rhinelander.

"Closing DFS now is a difficult but necessary business decision driven by evolving consumer preferences and Petco's ongoing brand evolution and retail transformation efforts. We appreciate that it has a very real effect on both individuals and the broader community in Rhinelander, and we are committed to partnering with state and local agencies to support those impacted as best as possible," Stark wrote.

Last week, Gov. Tony Evers sounded cautious about giving taxpayer dollars to keep companies like Petco in-state.

"The hope is that those tax credits create jobs and better financial environments so that there is good revenue coming into the state, but there's a balance that has to be there," Evers said. "But we will be checking into that. That's very concerning."

The Live Aquaria department of DFS will stay in Rhinelander and actually double its workforce to about 60. Stark, the Petco spokeswoman, said Live Aquaria will "continue to grow in Rhinelander."

The Oneida Co. Economic Development Corporation plans to meet with Petco corporate executives in the near future.

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VILAS COUNTY - UPDATE 7/18/2019

An earlier version of this report conflated the two criminal complaints filed against contractor Gerald Stodola.

The first complaint filed February 14, concerns Stodola and a homeowner who alleges Stodola failed to inform the homeowner of a delay in construction. The first complaint also alleges theft by contractor.

The second complaint also filed February 14, concerns Stodola and the St. Germain Chamber of Commerce, whose leaders also allege theft by contractor. They believe Stodola used money meant for a new chamber building for other purposes.

The defense argued in both cases that the plaintiffs, both represented by the Asst. District Attorney, did not show probable cause in their complaints.

Judge Neal Nielsen rejected the defenses motion to dismiss the first complaint, saying the fact that Stodola did not finish the job he was hired to do was evidence enough to show probable cause.

Nielsen rejected the defenses motion to dismiss the second complaint because Stodla himself mentioned using funds for the St. Germain project for something else. Nielsen believed that showed probable cause.

Preliminary hearings for both cases are set for September 18, 2019.
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ORIGINAL STORY 7/17/2019
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