Lake Country Foods to close mid-March,
lay off 91
Company attorney cites inability to keep up with customers’ expectations

By Hannah Weikel - Freeman Staff

Jan. 18, 2018

 Lake Country Foods will close its Oconomowoc facility on March 15, affecting 91 employees.
Rebecca Seymour/Special to The Freeman

OCONOMOWOC — Lake Country Foods announced Tuesday its plan to permanently close the plant in Oconomowoc — formerly owned by Nestle and Carnation — in two months and lay off its 91 employees.

The company, located at 132 S. Concord Road, will fold for good on March 15, citing the cost of modernizing its nearly 100-year-old facility as the reason for closing. Employee layoffs will go into effect the following day.

“There was no economical path forward to continue operations given the age of the plant and the tremendous costs which would be associated with modernizing the facilities in order to maintain the high standards the company has historically set for its products,” a statement from Lake Country Foods said. “Therefore, we have reached the very difficult decision to permanently cease operations.”

The company manufactures dry powders using “world class” agglomeration techniques, though it’s best known for making malted milk powder, according to the website.

Greg Gill, attorney for Gill & Gill, S.C. in Appleton, represents Lake Country Foods and said the owners do not have plans to reopen the plant in a new location.

“There was not a path forward that made any amount of sense,” Gill said. “We are wrapping up existing orders and not taking any new business.”

Gill said Lake Country Foods — owned by a private group — will sell the equipment inside the plant and the premises likely won’t be viable for manufacturing anymore.

Oconomowoc Mayor David Nold, who learned about the closure Friday, said he hasn’t heard whether the owners plan to sell the building or keep it. The facility is next to an active rail line, which could be an appealing selling point to another company, he said.

Finding other work

For the 91 manufacturers and administrative workers who will be without a job after March 15, the state Department of Workforce Development and two unions that represent them are already stepping up to help.

Gill said the company met with all the employees in person last week to notify them of the layoff and will be communicating through union staff and administrators until the plant closes.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development will help the workers file for unemployment and search for new jobs or programs that will teach them different skills, Gill said.

Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Workforce Development has also been contacted about the imminent layoff and is offering services to Lake Country Foods employees searching for jobs in the area. The group has helped over 500 laid-off workers in the tri-county area look for jobs in the last year, finding them employment for an average wage of $20 an hour.

Laura Catherman, president of WOW Workforce Development Board, said the labor market in the region is very tight, meaning many companies are eager to hire, making it easy for workers to find new jobs.

Most of the Lake Country Foods workers are represented by Milwaukee-based International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers-District 10 or Madison-based Teamsters Local 695, according to a mandated WARN notice sent out last week. The unions will negotiate with Lake Country Foods over the effects of the closure and help ease the transition out of the company.

Representatives of the two unions were not available for comment Wednesday.

Nold said there’s talk of holding a job fair for the 91 workers, but nothing has been confirmed.

“There are jobs out there,” Nold said. “I’m not sure they’ll be near to what they have now, but hopefully they can keep their standard of living.”