Haribo’s decision to build its first U.S. gummi bear plant in Kenosha rather than near Chicago was based partially on seeing smiling faces during a visit to the Brat Stop restaurant near Interstate 94.
That visit came as Haribo of America leaders explored sites near both communities to build a candy manufacturing plant. Wes Saber, executive vice president and CFO of Haribo of America, visited Kenosha County with Haribo’s chairman Hans Riegel (third-generation leader) so they could get a better feel for the community. Saber said that, at the start of the search for a plant site, he was partial to the Chicago area. But that was before coming to Kenosha with Riegel.
“People were smiling,” Saber recalled. “People were happy. Haribo, we were welcomed, it’s great. That personal piece of it was very important, even when you add it to the numbers, that becomes very powerful.”
That led to what has become one of southeast Wisconsin’s largest business attraction victories. Haribo of America in December opened the first phase of its plant located west of I-94 in Pleasant Prairie and is on its way to hiring 400 people there. Future phases and expansions could bring the plant to 2 million square feet, generating an expected 4,200 jobs, including both direct employees of Haribo and hires by other businesses spurred by their presence in Pleasant Prairie.
Saber discussed the Wisconsin project in depth Sept. 21 during a Q&A at the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Power Breakfast with editor-in-chief Mark Kass. He talked about future expansion and hiring plans, Haribo’s plans for growth in the U.S., challenges from the uneven economy and the Covid-19 pandemic, and the strengths of the Wisconsin business community.
Q: How did Haribo decide to expand in Kenosha County? “At the beginning of our journey looking for a place to call home in North America, we looked at 112 different sites. In Wisconsin, it was 34, and the majority of the sites were in Illinois.
“We had certain criteria, and what attracted us to Kenosha specifically is a place that we can call home. It was not only about the economic incentive, it was not about the infrastructure, but it was about the community, about the integration of the community, the support system that exists for the business to not just come to the location, but after we start operation as well, how that looks. That was the number one criteria.”
Q: How have things gone for you there? “I think we started the journey in 2017. … We have our machining and construction complete, and we started to produce our first gummi bears in December 2022 in Wisconsin, which is really a big celebration for our associates.”
Q: How many employees are actually in the plant right now, and how many do you expect to have? “We have currently 187 proud Haribo associates in jobs in Wisconsin. In addition, we have around 60 or 70 contractors and other warehousing facilities. We’re going to have 220 more open jobs soon, for phase one, and our project is four phases.”
Q: What are the next phases? “Currently, our manufacturing facility is close to a half a million square feet. … We will double the size of our phase 1 with the second phase, manufacturing (space) plus doubling the size of the warehousing. We are currently working on the planning and the design. We are in that process now and we are already in touch with great partners, I think we have about 52 partners helping out with the project to decide the time.”
Read more at the Milwaukee Business Journal.