UPDATE: WEDC award recipients outsourced Wisconsin jobs to forei - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: WEDC award recipients outsourced Wisconsin jobs to foreign countries

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MADISON (WKOW) -- At least two companies that received financial awards from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) later outsourced jobs to foreign countries, with one of those companies receiving a second WEDC award after the fact.

A 27 News investigation has uncovered that both the Eaton Corporation and Plexus Corporation received millions of dollars in financial awards from WEDC, only to later lay off workers whose jobs were taken by employees at the companies' foreign facilities.

In 2011, WEDC awarded Eaton Corp. with up to $1 million in tax credits if the company met job creation and retention goals at its manufacturing facility in Menomonee Falls.  WEDC officials say the company has received $190,000 in tax credits so far.

In April of 2013, Eaton laid off 163 employees at its Cooper Power Systems plant in Pewaukee and announced it was moving those jobs to Mexico.  Less than a year later, WEDC awarded Eaton Corp. with up to $1.36 million in additional tax credits for a proposed $54 million expansion at that same Pewaukee plant.  But on Wednesday, WEDC Spokesperson Mark Maley told 27 News Eaton Corp. "recently notified WEDC it will not seek any tax credits for this project."

Eaton Corp. is based in Dublin, Ireland, but has numerous offices and interests in the United Kingdom, United States, Indonesia, Singapore, France, Germany and Mexico.

WEDC awarded Plexus Corp. of Neenah with tax credits of up to $2 million in 2011 and up to $15 million in 2012.  Maley says Plexus has received $4.7 million in tax credits to this point.

In July of 2012, Plexus announced it was laying off 116 workers from its Neenah facility.  The U.S. Department of Labor has since ruled those employees, as well as all Plexus employees laid off since December of 2011, are eligible to receive federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) benefits.  Those benefits are only available to employees who were laid off because their jobs were outsourced to foreign countries. 

Plexus Corp. did not identify where it relocated those jobs to in 2012, but also has offices and interests in the United Kingdom, China, Germany, Romania, Malaysia and Thailand.

"Clearly, the taxpayers of this state want to know that their money is helping to build our economy here at home," said Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), the Assembly Minority Leader who also sits on the WEDC Board.  "And so, when I hear this, it really makes my blood boil."

Rep. Barca says he intends to bring the issue up at the next WEDC Board meeting.

Maley says even if a company has plans to relocate jobs at one of its state plants or divisions, WEDC will still work with that company if it has plans to expand and create jobs in other parts of its Wisconsin operations.

"Even the loss of one job in Wisconsin is one too many, and the WEDC routinely works closely with companies that are considering other options to ensure that those jobs stay in the state. In fact, in the last fiscal year, our efforts have resulted in more than 26,000 job being retained in state of Wisconsin - jobs that were in jeopardy of going elsewhere," said Maley.  "If a company makes a business decision to move some of its jobs out of the state - despite our best efforts - we will continue to work with that company to ensure that as many jobs as possible remain in Wisconsin."

But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke calls that practice "appalling".

"As Governor, I will insist that every WEDC award protects against the outsourcing of Wisconsin jobs and companies that don't live up to their end of the deal give back every tax dollar they received," said Burke in a statement released to 27 News.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin has criticized Burke for outsourcing jobs to China as an executive at Trek Bicycle and Gov. Scott Walker's campaign blasted Burke for her comments.

"This is the height of hypocrisy coming from Mary Burke," said Alleigh Marre, a spokesperson for the Walker campaign.  "Trek Bicycle, the company that Mary Burke shamelessly makes millions of dollars off of, received $875,000 in taxpayer money from the State of Wisconsin and has outsourced hundreds of jobs overseas."

Marre is referring to the $875,000 the state loaned Trek so it could build a facility in Whitewater in 1995.

But politics aside, the leader of one Wisconsin business group calls the news disturbing and says the practice has to end.

"What's troubling to me about this is that these companies were given tax dollars explicitly to keep jobs here in Wisconsin," said Lori Compas, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Business Alliance.  "To take taxpayers' money and then turn around and fire hundreds of Wisconsin workers is a real slap in the face."

Officials from Eaton Corp. and Plexus Corp. have yet to respond to 27 News on questions regarding this story.
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