DuraTech Industries celebrated the completion of a $7.5 million expansion Wednesday that is expected to result in at least 125 new jobs at the fast-growing La Crosse printing business.
The 47,000 square-foot addition is the largest in the family-owned company’s 41-year history and includes space for future expansions. The company makes custom labels and decals for appliances, including GE washers and dryers, as well as flexible printed circuit boards and membrane switches used on control panels.
DuraTech received nearly $450,000 in state and local funding for the project. In return, the company agreed that the finished project will have a taxable value of at least $4.7 million, which is expected to generate more than $81,000 in additional property tax revenue this year, and pledged to create at least 41 new jobs.
With about 300 employees at its La Crosse headquarters, the company has met that goal.
President Peter Johnson said the expansion will enable the addition of 125 more, including 15 openings the company is currently trying to fill.
“That makes for a strong La Crosse, a strong Coulee Region and a strong Wisconsin,” Gov. Scott Walker said during Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The move could provide a needed boost to the county’s manufacturing employment sector, which grew by just half a percent from 2011 to 2017, while overall jobs grew by nearly 5 percent. Statewide manufacturing employment grew by about 5 percent during the same period, only slightly behind overall jobs.
But with record low unemployment — just 2.3 percent in La Crosse County — Walker said the state must focus on education, recruitment and programs to get more people on public assistance back into the workforce to fill the 80,000 to 100,000 jobs available each month.
One of the new jobs in La Crosse was filled by a custom-made robot that automatically sorts and inspects printed labels for typos, mis-coloration or other defects not easily noticed by human inspectors. The robot can work for hours unattended, notifies managers by text if something goes wrong and works for $15 an hour under an agreement with the Tennessee-based manufacturer, Hirebotics.
Quality manager Tim Drey said people are suspicious of robots, but this one is not taking anyone’s job, just allowing workers to be more efficient.
Started in Galesville, DuraTech now has about 100 additional workers at sites in Bangor, North Carolina, China and Mexico. Drey said sales have grown by about 10 percent a year since the Great Recession.
Johnson attributes that growth to aggressive research and development and expertise in printing “the tough stuff” that few of the nation’s other 96,000 industrial printers take on.
“We listen to our customers, figure out what their challenges are and try to solve them,” Johnson said. “This new facility will put us one step ahead of our competition.”