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In what will be its first North American factory, a German candy maker plans to build a $242 million facility in Pleasant Prairie that will employ 400 people.

Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday hailed the move by Haribo coupled with the recent opening of a cardboard box factory employing 120 workers in Beloit, a Mills Fleet Farm distribution center employing 325 workers in Chippewa Falls and Thursday’s news that the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent in February as signs the state’s economy is getting sweeter.

“There’s announcement after announcement after announcement and that’s because we’re building an outstanding climate by which employers can create not only jobs, but jobs with good salaries, with good benefits, with opportunity for growth both in wages and advancement and it’s done because we have a great team effort,” Walker said.

Walker said the company chose to locate in Wisconsin for several reasons, including being located in the Chicago region, access to transportation and the quality of the local university and technical college system. He said the company pays workers above-average wages.

“Most of all they just like the business environment,” Walker said.

Company officials were not present for the announcement at the Capitol. In an email response to a request for comment, a company official said Haribo is very excited “about this new beginning.”

Wisconsin has struggled to generate the 250,000 jobs Walker promised during his first election in 2010 and has lagged its Midwest neighbors as technology and outsourcing have helped manufacturers slim down their operations. ManPowerGroup recently announced it was cutting 150 jobs in Milwaukee.

Walker blamed the pace of job growth on the state not having the skilled workforce to fill the jobs.

He said that’s why his budget proposal includes more money for the University of Wisconsin System, technical colleges and job training programs.

“There’s not a week that goes by where I don’t hear from employers who tell me, ‘I can create more jobs, I just need enough people with the skill sets to fill them,’” Walker said.

Haribo plans to open the 500,000-square-foot facility by 2020, the company’s 100th anniversary, in a new office park the village of Pleasant Prairie is developing, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. CEO Mark Hogan said. The village purchased the 400-acre site for $37.5 million and plans to sell land to the company at market value, village administrator Michael Pollocoff said.

Hogan said the state economic development agency has put together an incentive package to help bring the company to the state, but the details won’t be released until after the WEDC board approves the deal.

Hogan said the incentive is tied to job creation, capital expenditure, job training and supply chain and has been in the works for the past six months.

“We’re very confident that we’re going to be able to put the package together that obviously is making sense for Haribo to come to Wisconsin,” Hogan said. “We’re still in the phase of trying to understand their final needs relative to capital expenditures and employment needs.”

Haribo produced the first gummy candy, the Gummibärchen, in 1922. That’s German for gummy bear.

The company reports making 100 million of its Gold-Bears each day in 16 European factories that employ 7,000 workers.

According to WEDC, the facility is one of the largest investments of new operations by a foreign company in Wisconsin history. Other examples from years past include Japanese food company Kikkoman in Lake Geneva, Irish food company Kerry Group in Beloit, Italy’s Seda International Packaging in Racine County and India’s Infosys Technologies in Milwaukee.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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