September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, through its partnership with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, is now eligible for up to $175,000 in state tax credits to add 28,500 feet to its processing facilities, which are currently producing 80 tons of cheese curds daily.
"Wisconsin is the top cheese-producing state in the nation, and the success of businesses like the Ellsworth [Cooperative] Creamery is crucial to ensuring the industry remains strong," said Mark Hogan, secretary and CEO of WEDC. "We are pleased to be able to support this expansion, which is good news for Pierce County and the region, as well as the entire dairy industry."
Paul Bauer, manager of the creamery, said the 400-farmer cooperative has outgrown its current facilities.
"These tax credits helped this project move forward, allowing us to expand employment opportunities and grow our market share outside of the state, both domestically and internationally," Bauer said. "The expansion is part of the ongoing effort to grow profit by capturing more of the consumer dollar through consumer-packaged curds."
A continuous surplus of milk on the market means the creamery at its current size has been operating over capacity for quite some time.
"The cheese production side of our creamery is operating over normal capacity to keep up with consumer demand, which is putting stress on the consumer packaging side of our business. This addition will allow us to better meet our packaging needs and keep up with production," Bauer added.
Continued growth in demand for the creamery's various products, which includes various flavors of the famed cheese curds for both consumer and food service markets, has also been a driving factor in the creamery's need to expand.
"Our value-added product-line has been experiencing steady increases. We're now to the point where further growth is not possible unless we address packaging concerns," said Kim Beebe, marketing coordinator for the creamery.
The expansion, which is set to include packaging facilities as well as additional cooler space, is expected to create 14 jobs. Hiring for these positions started when ground was broken on the expansion in October 2016.
"Once construction got underway, we began a hiring process to fill warehouse support and supervisory positions. Currently, we're recruiting to fill packaging positions to round out our packaging team," Beebe said.
The cooperative is optimistic that adding on to its current facilities will benefit its farmers and the greater Ellsworth community in the long run.
"The support of the WEDC affirms Wisconsin's commitment to our business and agriculture overall. To us, this project is about more than square footage; we're building a stronger dairy infrastructure for our employees, member owners and community," Bauer said.
Bauer added that, while some farmers have been skeptical about the expansion, the overall feeling was positive.
"Any expansion is received with mixed reactions by the members, but we have demonstrated positive margins in this segment. Overall, our farmer-owners are receptive as they know this means higher returns on their milk and need for their milk on a long-term basis," Bauer said. "Just like any good business person, our farmers know smart and strategic investments are needed to keep their cooperative business growing and viable."
Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection secretary Ben Brancel is also enthusiastic about the creamery's addition, particularly since the creamery has visited China and other countries in southeast Asia on trade missions sponsored by DATCP.
"Their curds are a local favorite, but they have found favor in other countries as well," Brancel said. "I applaud Ellsworth for not only this expansion, but for its continuing efforts to promote the dairy industry around the world."
The creamery hopes to be working in the new space as early as this May.[[In-content Ad]]
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