Antigo works to retain Merit Gear employees after Rexnord announces plant closureSubmitted: 05/21/2019
Stephen Goin
Stephen Goin

Antigo works to retain Merit Gear employees after Rexnord announces plant closure
ANTIGO - Close to 100 people in Antigo will soon decide if they want to move to Milwaukee and stay employed or lose their current jobs and look for new ones closer to home.

That decision comes after Merit Gear's parent company announced Friday it will close its Antigo location and move those jobs by March 2020.

City officials, like Mayor Bill Brandt, say they're working hard to keep those people and their skills in the area.

Brandt ran Antigo's police department as Chief of Police before he decided to run for mayor in 2009. He says he sought the position because he wanted to make Antigo a better place to live.

"I was born and raised in Antigo so, you know, I had a genuine concern for the city so I gave it a shot," said Brandt.

The year before Brandt was elected, the city was in the spotlight when then Governor Jim Doyle mentioned Merit Gear at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

"Just this month I was at a small town facility in northern Wisconsin called Merit Gear which has a long history of making gear boxes," said Doyle. "Most of them used to go in cars and trucks, but now they're largest and most highly engineered gears are turning inside the generators of windmills and they say business is booming."

When Milwaukee based Rexnord purchased Merit Gear in 2013, Brandt said that acquisition was viewed positively.

"We felt that it was a good fit for the community," said Brandt.

After Rexnord announced it was closing its Antigo location and moving all gear manufacturing to Milwaukee, Brandt says he was shocked.

"It was just as much as surprise to us as it was to the employees at Merit Gear," said Brandt.

The employees he's spoken to found the move upsetting and abrupt.

"I'm hoping that all 80 find work back in our community here," said Brandt.

According to the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation, convincing the Merit Gear workers to stay in Antigo may be easier said than done. Executive Director Angie Close says North Central Wisconsin already has a problem keeping workers in the area.

"It's going to continue to be a challenge it we're not able to bring people to our area, not just Langlade county but our region," said Brandt.

She says a community response team composed of state, county and city stakeholders will provide those workers with the help they need to find new jobs if they want them.

North Central Technical College and Wisconsin based workforce development organizations are among those the city is in talks with to provide that assistance.

"Our number one priority is making sure there are resources available for any affected workers that are in any kind of industry," said Brandt.

Those resources range from writing assistance to new skills training and some sort of unemployment benefit. Brandt hopes it will be enough to connect Merit Gear workers with new employers in Antigo.

"I think the other manufacturers in town see it as an opportunity for them to get some very good employees," said Brandt.

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