Without a rail spur, Clausen Quality Chocolate (CQC) wouldn’t have been interested in investing $105 million to build a chocolate factory in Milton, said City Administrator Al Hulick.
On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced a Transportation Economic Assistance (TEA) Grant would fund 25% of a $1 million rail project that extends a Wisconsin Southern/WATCO rail line to serve CQC.
“TEA grants support great projects across Wisconsin where local officials see ways to advance economic development through infrastructure improvements,” said Evers in a news release. “And deals don’t get much sweeter than finding a way to help deliver sugar to a chocolate factory.”
CQC plans to spend about $105 million to construct and equip a 350,000-square-foot plant. The first phase is expected to be completed and operational in fall 2022 and create 50 new jobs in Milton.
Altogether, Hulick said the project encompassing 146 acres has the potential to be the largest development project in the history of Milton. The next closest, in terms of size, is probably 10 or 12 acres, he said.
CQC’s future plans, if executed, he said could be in excess of 1 million square feet, he said noting the largest building in Milton is probably 290,000 square feet (Charter NEX).
While CQC is paying for the rail spur, the city will own the rail spur and the land that adjoins the rail.
“The potential for economic multipliers that would not exist but for this project are almost incalculable,” Hulick said.
Already an economic ripple effect or at least an interest in economic development is taking place.
In the last 10 days, Hulick said he’s responded to three site selection proposals. He otherwise said he might respond to six in one year.
With a project of this size and CQC’s plans for longevity in this area and continued growth, Hulick said, “we could very likely have spill over into other sectors of our local economy including commercial and residential growth.”
CQC brought land into play for development that likely would not have happened in the fashion it did without their development, he said.
He further explained: “The south side of Putman Parkway will be developed at some point but CQC’s willingness to construct rail and pay for that rail brings in a whole different element of development. The city would have never constructed rail. We wouldn’t have been able to afford to. It would have been completely speculative if we did.
“Their willingness to do that and take on that expense, it’s just beyond what you would expect from a typical development.”
To receive TEA grant funding, the application must be sponsored by a municipal or county government and the project must have the local government’s endorsement. The Milton City Council in November approved Milton sponsoring CQC’s application.
On June 29, the Plan Commission and city council will be reviewing CQC’s first phase site plan and conditional use permit application.
Construction of the rail spur will occur later in fall, but Hulick said CQC is hoping to build its facility sooner than that.
CQC is based in Madison and has manufacturing facilities in Middleton, Watertown and Nevada.