Western building remains ‘for sale’

December 18, 2018

The large, former Western Industries, Inc. Engineered Products Group facility on Watertown’s southeast side is being emptied of its contents and remains for sale, with potential buyers occasionally visiting the facility.

“We’re cleaning out the building and trying to sell it off,” former facilities manager Bron Wetzel told the Daily Times.

The newspaper reported in mid-May that a letter to employees confirmed Western Industries, Inc. would be closing its entire production operation here, with the firm relocating to Schiller Park, Illinois. Wetzel said it also has a facility in Wheeling, Illinois, and is operating each under the general monicker Block Midland Group, which is owned by the firm that purchased the Watertown facility, Speyside Equity Fund. Speyside bought Western Industries Inc. from its investment firm owner Graham Partners of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 30, 2016, for an undisclosed price. The deal also included Western’s Plastic Products Group located in Winfield, Kansas.

The Western Industries Engineered Products Group plant here produced components and complete, custom-designed appliance products, electromechanical assemblies and complex cosmetic assemblies, finally closing this fall.

Wetzel was the lone person working Friday morning in the 245,000-square-foot factory and office complex, located at 1141 S. Tenth St. He was in the office section, tending to the computers.

“We keep the heat on,” Wetzel said, adding, at this point he has “no idea” who might eventually purchase the facility or when a sale might take place. “But prospects exist for the building’s sale. We’ve had several of them through here.”

A Dickman Company, Inc. real estate sign sits on the lawn along the South Tenth Street main entrance to the campus. The Dickman Company website stated the property, classified as industrial and dating to construction in 1969, has a sale price of $2.9 million. Of its 245,000 square feet, 8,600 feet of it is office space.

According to Wetzel, other Western Industries facilities in Schiller Park and Wheeling are receiving leftover equipment from the Watertown factory while the remainder is for sale. A sign telling of the equipment liquidation hangs in the window of the Watertown facility front door and directs interested parties to contact a Chicago liquidator for related information.

When asked if the large, older manufacturing facility might be razed at any point, Wetzel said its owners have every intention of selling it and what any buyer might do with it is up to them.

“They are strictly going to try to sell (the plant),” he said.

The closing of the facility this fall was not the first time the Watertown manufacturing building experienced change. In 1999, Western Industries, a parent company of Watertown Metal Products, was sold. At that time, Watertown Metal Products was one of the city’s largest employers, with about 275 people on its payroll. Western was based in Milwaukee and had annual sales of approximately $250 million.

By 2010, the days of Watertown Metal Products’ industrial manufacturing emphasis were being methodically replaced by a rejuvenated business strategy. By then, the game plan for Western Industries was rooted in ongoing appliance innovation and an ultimate focus on high-end manufacturing. The firm saw the Western Premium line of high-end cooking and laundry products as its new manufacturing focus.

In May, official notice Western Industries would be closing its plant in Watertown was received by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. This official notification, required by the state of Wisconsin for employers closing a plant or terminating a large number of workers, stated approximately 85 employees would be on permanent layoff.

The workforce development department Dislocated Worker Program provided transition assistance to affected workers. The state office also said these employees were eligible to get help finding new jobs through the state’s job centers.

Update hourly