EC Life Magazine - Summer/Fall 2022 Edition

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Background photo by Seckora Photography

Welcome to The EC Life, an Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce publication, where you the reader are able to dive into a variety of community driven stories that feature local businesses, explore the vitality of the area and share the overall sense of home that Eau Claire provides.

Thank you to all of our readers.

Curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”. I have shared this quote from Walt Disney several times over the past five years. We the Eau Claire Area Chamber continue down new paths and this publication, “The EC Life” is another new path we’ve set out on. This publication will help us tell OUR story to those who live here but also to those who are thinking about calling Eau Claire home.

David Minor Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce President & CEO


The EC Life Magazine

© 2022 Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including a photocopy, recording or any information retrieval system without written permission from the publisher. Every effort was made to ensure the accuracy of this publication. The Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information presented here or be held accountable for omissions or errors. Please report any changes to the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce for inclusion in subsequent editions. Main articles and spotlight stories written by: Doug Mell Cover & back photos: Tim Abraham Photography Published by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce 101 North Farwell St., Suite 101 Eau Claire WI 54703 Phone: 715-834-1204 • Fax: 715-834-1956

Table of


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Table of Contents photos by Tim Abraham Photography


To learn more contact our VP Investor Relations, Phillip Swiler! 4

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Staff consists of nine community oriented thinkers.

The Eau Claire Chamber celebrated 100 years in 2015.

1,100 investor businesses on annual basis. The Chamber website has over 2,670 views with 1,237 visits per month.

40 Ambassadors with over 400+ years of combined business experience.

Our weekly video series the Monday Morning Minute has over 250 views every week.

Developed the Chippewa Valley Alliance (CVA). A collaboration between the Chippewa Falls and Menomonie Chamber.

Four pillar value system that consists of Advocacy, Workforce, Education and Investor Engagement.

Investor dues structure transitioned from traditional structure to new five level tiered program in March 2019.

Our mission is to be the ADVOCATE of business.



On Tuesday, Jan. 8, 1991, the employees on the day shift at the massive Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. plant on Galloway Street near Eau Claire’s downtown already were hard at work producing radial and bias-ply tires, part of an annual production of 6 million tires a year.

“We had heard rumors for years” that the plant would close, said Michael Schatz, retired city economic development administrator. When the announcement came, he said, the foreboding changed to “we finally have to deal with it, and it’s not going to be easy.”

That work ground to a halt at mid-morning when plant officials hung signs around the plant saying that the plant would be closing. The final day of the plant’s operation was 30 years ago on June 26, 1992.

Not easy was an understatement. Few of the employees had marketable skills beyond making tires. Even if these employees could find alternative employment, the new positions probably wouldn’t have the high pay and generous benefits their union jobs provided.

At the time of the announcement, 1,358 men and women worked at the plant, which had been a fixture in Eau Claire since 1917 when it was the Gillette Safety Tire Co. (The plant would go through numerous name changes as the tire industry evolved). The effect of the announcement was nothing short of cataclysmic. “You worried about what will now be the financial viability of our city,” said Kerry Kincaid, former president of the Eau Claire City Council who was on the Washington Town Board when the announcement hit. 6

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“Uniroyal was the employer of choice for young men and women who didn’t want to go on to higher education,” said Mark Bugher, a former Eau Claire Realtor and County Board member who fortuitously was state revenue secretary at the time of the closure. “The pay was extraordinary, as were the benefits for a city like Eau Claire.” “It was pretty gloom and doom for the community,” Schatz said.

Photo by Tim Abraham Photography, Haymarket Landing construction


“The whole thing was, what were you going to do with 1,400 people and a 1.9 million square foot building?” said Bob McCoy, who came to Eau Claire two years after the closing as president of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. Back then, McCoy said, “nobody was preaching retirement savings” because of the ample pensions available to tire plant retirees.

affected the whole “ ThisChippewa Valley. “

“There was a lot of pain,” Kincaid said. “People just had a sense of losing a steady job.” It fell to people like Schatz, others in local government, as well as education and business leaders, to work with state and federal officials to come up with a strategy to help Eau Claire and the entire Chippewa Valley rebound from the monumental job loss.

Photo provided by Visit Eau Claire, S Bridge

Job retraining efforts were aided by federal and state assistance, which in the end totaled a reported $7.3 million. By one estimate, with the aid of a federal Economic Development Administration grant, four out of 10 tire plant workers accessed retraining. An employee assistance center was set up at the plant, which allowed employees to get help on familiar ground. Bugher and the state’s involvement in the retraining efforts is detailed in an accompanying article.

There were economic development grants to apply for, job retraining to arrange and a huge building to find a new owner for. Schatz said it was important to pull as many people together as possible from every sector, including the non-profits, to parcel out the duties and begin working on a recovery plan.

The recovery efforts caught a break when two local developers, William Cigan and his son Jack Kaiser, stepped up and bought the entire Uniroyal Goodrich plant, signing the purchase agreement shortly after the plant closed for good in 1992. It is now a thriving mixed-use facility as detailed in an accompanying article.

“Everyone seemed to be pulling together to see what we could do,” Schatz said of what would become the plant-closing task force. “It was one of the first times we used a regional approach” to economic development. “It was the biggest collaboration I have ever seen. It was just awesome.”

But what would the Chippewa Valley’s economy look like after the tire plant closed? At the time, Eau Claire had a manufacturing-based economy, and finding one large manufacturer to fill the void left by the tire plant closing was highly unlikely, officials said.

Photo provided by Visit Eau Claire, Banbury Place

Background photo provided by Visit Eau Claire

Thomas Kemp, chairman of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Economics Department and former City Council member, said that even in 2002, “the city still saw itself as a manufacturing town and all that comes with that. There was still a little bit of a sting about Uniroyal leaving, hurt feelings and a certain amount of defeatism as a result of that.”


Perhaps one of the major developments for the future of the area’s economy was the 1992 announcement that Luther Hospital and Midelfort Clinic would merge with Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minn. Healthcare employment now exceeds more than 12,000 in Eau Claire County alone.

Photo provided by Leader Telegram, Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co.

So how did Eau Claire move forward? “It’s a complicated story,” Kemp said. “We had a real good combination of folks who had a vision for how things might be … and how to revitalize this community.” Schatz said it became clear early on that the best recovery approach was to diversify the economy by breaking away from the manufacturing-or-bust mentality that prevailed at the time of the closing. “After Uniroyal we knew we had to diversify the economy,” Schatz said. “This was a prime example of (what happens when) your economy is tied to one industry.” Looking back on the diversification efforts, which took years to accomplish, Schatz said: “We did a fantastic job at that.” It’s clear that today, with the Chippewa Valley’s rich mix of healthcare, retail, education, manufacturing and technology sectors, the overall economy is more diversified and able to withstand a downturn in one sector. “The economy in Eau Claire is pretty clearly in a better place,” than when the tire plant closed, Kemp said. “We have a more diversified set of industries.” The recovery began almost immediately after the plant closed. Even though there were other rough spots economically – Cray Research in Chippewa Falls laid off 300 workers and the former Supercomputer Systems Inc. idled 320 highly skilled workers – employment actually grew by 3,000 jobs in 1992, and unemployment actually fell. There were a number of announcements about businesses moving to Eau Claire and current businesses adding workers. 8

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Despite the diversification, economic development officials also continued to work on attracting major employers that could make an immediate employment difference. That breakthrough came when Hutchinson Technology Inc., which made intricate computer parts, announced in 1995 it was expanding to Eau Claire, with a commitment of 1,400 jobs. At the time, Schatz said, it was the largest single recruitment of jobs in the state’s history. Schatz and others had worked with HTI – which was acquired by TDK in 2015 – for a number of years before officials said they were interested. A package was put together with former Gov. Thompson’s help that would lure the business to Eau Claire’s west side. Now retired, Mark Bugher – whose son is the newly named president of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. – says he often returns to Eau Claire and continues to be amazed at the city’s economic transformation. “I couldn’t be prouder of the way the Eau Claire business community pulled together and created an entrepreneurial and innovative business community,” he said. “I was quite worried for a while, but they have transformed it with the help of a forward-looking City Council and the county.”

Chamber photo, Eco Minded Ribbon Cutting

Spotlight Story: Mark Bugher

The announcement that the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. would close in June 1992 reverberated well beyond the Chippewa Valley. Soon officials in both Washington, D.C., and Madison weighed in and extended offers of assistance to help retrain the plant’s workers and help revitalize the local economy. Few state officials felt the gut-punch of the closing announcement and the eventual closing more than Mark Bugher, an Eau Claire native, Realtor and former County Board member who was recruited in 1988 by then Gov. Tommy Thompson to lead the state Department of Revenue. Bugher – who retired in 2013 as director of the University Research Park in Madison – said he was aware of frequent rumors the plant may close. “When it finally happened, it was a shock,” Bugher said of the closing announcement, “yet it was not completely unexpected.” But he added: “It was a dark day when that news came out.” Thompson and his aides swung into action, Bugher said, with the governor at first trying to talk the plant’s owners into reversing that decision. At the same time, Bugher said, “He (Thompson) basically threw down the gauntlet and said, ‘We are going to do whatever we can as the state to be helpful to the people of Eau Claire to ease the pain.’ … We put our shoulder to the wheel to be helpful.” Worker retraining emerged as a major need, Bugher said, since many of the Uniroyal employees started there right after high school and didn’t have skills that easily translate to other occupations. “Uniroyal was the employer of choice for young men and women who didn’t want to go on to higher education,” Bugher said. Thompson worked with the Legislature to transfer $250,000 initially to the state’s Dislocated Worker program administered by the former Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations for retraining. This was in addition to millions of dollars in aid that eventually came from the federal government; estimates of total aid in the wake of the closing exceed $7 million. Those funds were important to help educational institutions like Chippewa Valley Technical College and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire help bring the skill levels of laid-off Uniroyal employees to where they could land another decent paying job. By midJune 1991, a year before the actual closing, 123 workers were CVTC students, with 81 on a waiting list. CVTC even brought classes to the workers in the plant itself. “We sort of moved into Uniroyal,” said Norbert Wurtzel, CVTC’s president from 1974 to 1994, in a 2012 interview with the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. “We were down there in the building with those people.” Also important, Bugher said, was the absolute commitment of local elected officials and the business community to work closely with the state and federal governments to help laid-off workers.“We have learned to work together as a community in a regional approach versus an island approach,” Bugher said. In the end, according to one estimate, about four in 10 of the former Uniroyal workers received assistance to train for another occupation. While the closing was incredibly disruptive for the workers and many others in the Chippewa Valley, Bugher said, “this will go down in history as one of those very positive stories of economic revitalization and the development of a region.” Photos provided by Leader Telegram, Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co.


ROYAL CREDIT UNION IS HIRING NOW! Positivity-Focused Culture Development Opportunities See openings and apply at Equal opportunity employer.



If you would like a presentation at your business about the Young Professionals program.


Casey Schumacher

Young Professionals and Educational Director

Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce 101 N. Farwell St. Suite 101 Eau Claire WI, 54703 715-834-1204


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Baseball legend, Hank Aaron, played at Carson Park for the Eau Claire Bears in 1952. Fans continue to watch upcoming baseball players at Eau Claire Express games.


Silver Spring Foods, Inc. is the world’s largest grower and processor of horseradish. The family business has called Eau Claire home for more than 85 years.






The U.S. National Kubb Tournament is held in Eau Claire.


Justin Vernon, Grammy award winning lead of the group Bon Iver, grew up in rural Eau Claire and still calls it home.


In 2016, the City of Eau Claire received a Playful City USA designation, which was awarded by the nonprofit organization, Kaboom..


In 2014, Eau Claire was selected as one of ten All-America City Award winners, the country’s most prestigious award for outstanding, community based civic accomplishments.


The June 1992 closing of the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. changed Eau Claire in myriad ways. Besides the devastating effects on the lives of the plant’s employees and the local economy – discussed in an accompanying story – the ramifications went much deeper and still may be felt today. Officials involved in the recovery from the closing said the loss of 1,358 good paying jobs probably sparked a re-evaluation of priorities in the public and private sectors and more importantly spurred local leaders to embark on community improvement projects that they might not have had the stomach for previously.

Kemp and others said, for example, that the closing of the tire plant may have planted the seeds that led to developing the downtown Phoenix Park area, constructing the Pablo Center at the Confluence entertainment facility, installing about 30 miles of city bicycle trails, pursuing the U.S. 53 bypass and the Highway 312 North Crossing highway projects, and bringing additional housing, retail and hospitality businesses downtown, etc.

“I think you need to lose some things before you are able to move on to the next steps,” said Thomas Kemp, a former Eau Claire City Council member and chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Photo provided by Leader Telegram, Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co.


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Photo by Tim Abraham Photography, Updated aerial shot of Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co.

Our Vitality

“I think it (the plant closing) was a wakeup call in many ways,” said Michael Schatz, former city economic development administrator and a recovery leader. The effects of that wakeup call, Schatz said, did not emerge right away: “It took several years after that where we could dream up big things like the Confluence (Project).” Hard as it is to believe today, Schatz said, there was significant opposition at first to initiatives like developing the bike trail that runs along the Chippewa River behind the businesses on Water Street. The Eau Claire area now draws tourists to its more than 70 miles of interconnected trails for road, fat-tire and mountain biking, according to the tourism agency Visit Eau Claire

happened, “andSomething we reacted positively,

said Kerry Kincaid, former president of the Eau Claire City Council who was on the Washington Town Board at the time of the closing. “I still think Eau Claire is a big small town, but I agree that the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. closing changed our sense of ourselves and made us look up and be a part of the world.” As much as you hate to see a large employer close, “I think it was kind of an eye-opener for Eau Claire,” said Bob McCoy, former president of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce who came to Eau Claire shortly after the closing.

Photo by DECI, Pablo Center at the Confluence

“It forces the community to re-evaluate itself and say, ‘How can we make this work?’ “ But, McCoy added, “It takes some rough years to get through that.” Mark Bugher, a former member of the Eau Claire County Board and a former Realtor, said from his perspective the closing of the tire company plant allowed local leaders to take chances that they may have eschewed if the plant had remained open.

Photo provided by Leader Telegram, Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co.

Photo by Visit Eau Claire

“I think it would have been harder to make those tough decisions,” Bugher said, referring to developments that followed the closing that required taxpayer investments. The plant, Bugher said, “was a caretaker of the local economy” and the plant closing “created an urgency for action that may not have happened” if the tire plant has remained open.


The immediate step in moving forward from the Uniroyal closing was the 1992 sale of the 1.9 million square foot plant to two local developers who eventually turned it into a successful mixeduse venture. That transformation is explored in an accompanying article. Then in 1994 the city worked with the state Department of Natural Resources to clean up 15 acres near the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers in downtown Eau Claire that had become heavily contaminated with lead as a site for a manufactured gas plant and a foundry/ sawmill. Shortly after, Royal Credit Union, which started as the tire plant’s credit union, announced its decision to build a 100,000 square foot headquarters in what became known as Phoenix Park. Public improvements in the area were funded through a city Tax Incremental Financing District. Charles Grossklaus, RCU’s former president and CEO, said making his dream of a downtown headquarters for the credit union didn’t come easily. “I had some people on the (RCU) board and in top management that didn’t support it,” he said of the four-story headquarters. “I had calls at home that said, ‘You are benefiting financially personally from this.’ ”

Photo provided by Royal Credit Union, Charles Grossklaus

Grossklaus said he will be eternally grateful that people like former City Manager Don Norrell and Schatz kept pushing for the Phoenix Park project and RCU’s role in the development. “I stood my ground, and thank God we had great people” who supported it, he said.

The RCU building was just the start of downtown development. Other projects eventually followed, such as the JAMF Software office building and the numerous housing projects that continue to this day. 14

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“We at RCU were hoping that we could help redevelop the downtown area, and people would follow,” Grossklaus said. “And they did.” “RCU was the catalyst” for the downtown resurgence, McCoy said. “Charlie (Grossklaus) wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. … It was the springboard for the downtown.” After the dust settled on the Phoenix Park development, officials turned their attention to the south side of the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers for another gamechanging project, which would become known as the Pablo Center at the Confluence. The Pablo Center opened in September 2018 after many years of planning, raising the necessary capital and construction. The downtown arts center, with two theaters, art galleries, rooms for rehearsals, dance and the community, among other spaces, was built with funding from the state, the city and the county, as well as private donations. The Pablo Center at the Confluence is now in its fourth season, and performers are being announced for its fifth season. Some of the other downtown projects include the renovation of a dilapidated hotel into the Oxbow Hotel and The Lakely restaurant, and the redevelopment of the former Ramada Inn into the Lismore Hotel. Two of the more recent downtown projects are the construction of a new Children’s Museum in Eau Claire at the corner of Barstow and Galloway streets and the announcement of a new grocery store owned by Menomonie Market across the street from the museum at the corner of Wisconsin Street and North Barstow streets. Kemp, the UW-Eau Claire economics professor, said all this public investment downtown is paying off by bringing people downtown to visit and to live. “It’s all about creating places where people want to live,” Kemp said. “It’s really a joy to see people in Eau Claire take pride in their spaces and take pride in their community.” Background photo by Tim Abraham Photography, Barstow Street

Spotlight Story: Royal Credit Union

When Charles Grossklaus started working for Royal Credit Union in 1971, the Eau Claire native’s office was right in the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. plant. That made sense since RCU got its start to serve tire plant employees exclusively. “We were near the shipping area of the plant, right in there,” the retired RCU CEO and president said. “We had five employees, and we served the Uniroyal employees and family members.” It became clear, even before the announcement came in 1991 that the plant would close a year later, Grossklaus said, that the credit Chamber photo, Royal Credit Union building downtown union would have to broaden its membership beyond tire plant employees and their families if it were to thrive.“We had heard rumors of a possible plant closing,” Grossklaus said. “We knew what that would have meant” for the future of the credit union. “We went out and met with other employee groups,” he said, “to offer the benefits of the credit union to their employees.” Grossklaus said he personally met with over 100 employee groups over several years. “That broadened the base” of the credit union’s membership, he said. “When Uniroyal did make the announcement of the closure, we were prepared for it. “We started building branches in other communities, allowing us to expand,” Grossklaus added. “We also merged with other credit unions.” Those early preparations for a post-Uniroyal future continue to pay dividends today as the federally insured credit union, which began in 1964, now has about a quarter-million members in Wisconsin and Minnesota and has continued to expand through mergers with other financial entities. The RCU 2021 annual report showed total assets exceeding $4 billion. Grossklaus said he remembers well the “hollow feeling” that accompanied the news the tire plant would close in June 1992, wondering, “What are these people doing to do? They are in their 50s and 60s and have been there for years.” One thing the credit union could do, he said, would be to help its members soften the financial blow in any way possible.“I can’t remember a loan loss that we had because of the fact that we worked with them, and they worked with us,” Grossklaus said.

Photo by Tim Abraham Photography, Sounds Like Summer, Phoenix Park

“You could imagine (the fear) if your employer will be gone, and you have a family and you have to support them. We shared their pain. We told them we would work with them. In 2003, under Grossklaus’ leadership, RCU decided to locate its downtown headquarters near the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers. Tremendous downtown growth and development, which continues today, followed. “I still get a little warm spot in my heart when I drive downtown,” Grossklaus said of the development in the Phoenix Park/Confluence area, spurred in large part by RCU’s decision to locate its headquarters downtown. Although RCU today little resembles the scrappy credit union that started in the Uniroyal plant, Grossklaus said it is important for the institution to remember where and how it started. There’s a room in the headquarters dedicated to that history, he said, adding, “We kept stuff that we had over the years.” Charles Grossklaus was honored by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce for his work on behalf of RCU and the greater Chippewa Valley by being elected in 2016 to the Eau Claire Business Hall of Fame.


ROYAL CREDIT UNION’S ROOTS RUN DEEP IN THE CHIPPEWA VALLEY “It's Royal’s relationship between the people that really make a difference.”

We’ve served business Members here since 1964 We’ll continue to be here for Members in the long term

Trust our business experts to help you build


BUSINESS MEMBER, NORTHERN CROSSARM Business Insured by NCUA. Loans subject to credit approval.



reasons why the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce

is a GOOD investment

1. New business contacts 6. Professional Development 2. Publicity and Exposure 7. Workforce Development 3. Referrals 8. Leadership Training 4. Legislative Action 9. Young Professionals 5. Community Connections 10. No time commitment required 16

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Think Eau Claire is a project of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, in collaboration with Volume One, an Eau Claire-based media, event, retail, and production company.

how eau claire stacks up PUBLIC SAFETY



96% of Eau Claire residents report feeling safe in their neighborhood.

90% of Eau Claire residents said the city is an excellent place to raise children.

$170,000 median home sale price for Eau Claire County.

The National Citizen Survey (2016)

The National Citizen Survey (2016)



Mean travel time to work in the city of Eau Claire.

Eau Claire ranks as the 13th safest of 371 metro areas in the nation.

Realtors Associations of WI, IL, and MN (2017)


What costs $1 in EC will cost $1.10 in Minneapolis and $1.30 Think Eau Claire is a project of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, collaboration in in Chicago. U.S. Census Bureau’s American Crime Rate Rankings, SAGE Stats,

with Volume One, Community Survey (2010)

an Eau Claire-based media, CQ Press (2015) event, retail, and production company. Council for Community and Economic Research (2018)

thriving, working, playing. find more here:

how eau claire stacks up


Of the many aftershocks of the 1991 announcement that the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Plant would close, a top tier one concerned the future of the behemoth plant itself, occupying 1.9 million square feet over multiple stories hard on the Eau Claire River within sight of the city’s downtown.

, We didn t want it (the plant) to sit there vacant and deteriorating,

said Michael Schatz, retired city economic development administrator who played a critical role in directing the local response to the January 1991 closing announcement. “It would have been a constant reminder” of the demise of the plant, Schatz added, and the loss “of the lifestyle of the people who worked there.” 18

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Therefore, it was a tremendous relief to everyone involved in fashioning an economic recovery strategy when shortly after the plant closed in June 1992, two local developers – who had experience in redeveloping old buildings -- negotiated a purchase agreement with the plant’s owner, Michelin Group of France. Developers William Cigan and his son, Jack Kaiser, took the leap into what many people believed would be an economic abyss. “In 1992 the economy wasn’t very good,” Kaiser said during an interview in the plant. “People weren’t interested in taking old buildings and fixing them up.” That was certainly the case with the plant, which was built in 1917, Kaiser said, adding, “Bill and I were the only ones nibbling at that hook.” The duo at first wanted to buy just part of the plant, but the owner resisted. Eventually, the pair bought the entire plant – including, importantly, the tire production equipment.

Photo by Tim Abraham Photography, Haymarket Bridge

Home is Here

“After we took a tour (of the buildings) we felt maybe we could do it,” Kaiser said of those early days. “Nobody really wanted it because of the unknown.” In fact, one major local developer told Cigan that if he paid a penny or more for the plant, he got ripped off, Kaiser said. The key to making the investment work financially, Kaiser said, was the owners including the bulk of the tire-producing equipment in the sale. The pair hired an equipment broker out of Akron, Ohio, who found a Chinese tire manufacturer who wanted to buy 75 percent of the equipment, Kaiser said. “They paid us quite a bit of money” for the tire plant equipment, he said. “That allowed us to proceed with the development… It raised the capital so we could get going.” Schatz, the former city economic development official, said the decision by Cigan and Kaiser to proceed with the development was an important turning point in the effort to recover from the plant closing. “Eau Claire did not need having the plant sit there vacant with broken windows,” Schatz said. “That (plant sale) was very, very key to our recovery.”

Photo provided by Leader Telegram, Jack and Patty Kaiser

Progress in the development did not come easily or early, Kaiser said. “It took a long time,” for the project to become successful, Kaiser said. “We had years that weren’t so good. We had a lot of sleepless nights.” One of the early successes, though, was the interest by a fledgling company named American Phoenix that wanted to get into the rubber mixing business. Rubber must be mixed to exact specifications before it can be fashioned into tires or other rubber products. Kaiser said American Phoenix paid rent for the first time on Aug. 1, 1992, one day after the developers bought the plant. “They bought quite a bit of our equipment,” Kaiser said, including the Banbury rubber mixers, which is where the redeveloped tire plant got its name. Kaiser saw the name on a door during an early tour of the building and thought it would work for the new business. Kaiser said the redevelopment of the plant necessarily had to take place in stages. “We had a vision of what every building would turn it out to be,” he said. “We had to identify pretty much what the uses of these buildings would be.”

Photo provided by Leader Telegram, Aerial shot of Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co.


“We help businesses and artists live their dreams,” Kaiser said, by providing flexible spaces at reasonable rents. Kaiser said he is especially proud of a couple of businesses. One is Steel Toe Shoes, a mail order business focused on selling safety footwear that operates out of Building 2. The other is Goldstar Tech, a reseller of overstock and refurbished consumer products, especially gaming, electronic and technology products. These businesses started in Building 13, which is the incubation center, and grew to where they needed additional space, Kaiser said. “We have created an avenue for people who have that dream” of owning a successful business, Kaiser said. Photo by Max Kaiser, Banbury Place Office space

That vision by and large has come to fruition over the past three decades. It had to happen in stages, Kaiser said, because of the enormity of the project. “We’d get a tenant and then go to that place and clean it up,” he said. Fast forward to now when Banbury Place not only has survived but has become a key piece of the city’s effort to improve downtown Eau Claire.

Mark Bugher, a former Eau Claire Realtor and developer who was state revenue secretary at the time of the closure, said it is hard to exaggerate the impact of Bill Cigan and Jack Kaiser stepping up to take over the tire plant at the time of its closure. “I think they deserve huge credit for their vision and entrepreneurial spirit for taking that property and transforming it,” Bugher said. “That transition helped ease the pain of the job loss and helped Eau Claire to recover.”

One building, the International Harvester building, now is a large apartment building that rarely has a vacancy. There are some 160 businesses in various parts of the plant, with hundreds of self-storage units in other parts of the massive building, and Banbury Place has become known in the local creative community as a welcoming place for artists of all kinds. The Banbury roster of tenants run the gamut from A to Z, from the offices of The Arc Eau Claire, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to Zunker Music Studio, a pianoteaching business, and everything in between. 20

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Photo by Tim Abraham Photography, Banbury Place exterior

Spotlight Story: 30 Years Later

Thirty years later, it is hard to grasp the enormity of the impact of the news that the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire plant just east of Eau Claire’s downtown would close. The LeaderTelegram newspaper, writing in 2017 on the 25th anniversary of the plant’s closing, summed it up this way: “The gigantic plant that had employed generations of workers and been the city’s signature workplace for 75 years was gone, and nobody really knew what would come next.” “Gloom and doom” was a remark heard many times from officials who were responsible for navigating past the closing. Without a doubt, the closing caused major disruptions and hardships for those employees who had not qualified for their pensions in 1992. Some took advantage of retraining assistance and launched new careers.

Photo provided by Max Kaiser, Banbury Place

Chamber photo, River view

Others, however, went to work at Uniroyal plants in Fort Wayne, Ind., and even Opelika, Ala., to preserve their pension and health care benefits. But, by many measures, the gloom and doom scenario did not come true: Eau Claire’s economy did not tank in the way some thought it would. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis issued a series of updates on Eau Claire’s economy following the January 1991 plant closing announcement. The first update, issued on July 1, 1991, noted that the closing would wipe out 13 percent of the 10,500 manufacturing jobs in the Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls area, along with a $43 million annual payroll. On a bright note, the Fed’s update noted that the state Job Service estimated that northwestern Wisconsin could see 5,300 new jobs open up by the end of 1992, with 45 percent in blue collar positions. In another update published on July 1, 1992, after the plant’s doors closed for good, the Federal Reserve recounted the recovery steps that had been taken by local, state and federal officials, including retraining efforts. One Job Service official noted that in a year, 200 workers of the 1,358 employees had transferred to another Uniroyal plant, 300 had enrolled in retraining or education programs, 325 had retired and the rest either were unemployed or found other jobs. Former University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Chancellor Larry Schnack noted in a 1993 Federal Reserve update that “In 1991 the city reinvigorated its economic development efforts by creating a new organization, the Eau Claire Area Industrial Development Corp. (ECAIDC), with the mission ‘to create and maintain quality job opportunities in the Eau Claire area.’ “The city also had $65 million in new construction in 1992, including $12.9 million of industrial development. In 2005, the Federal Reserve looked back on the closing and concluded Eau Claire County “never registered as a ‘shocked’ county in terms of an annual employment decline. In fact, county employment managed an annual increase of almost 3 percent in 1991. Neither did nearby Chippewa and Dunn counties—each with about 20,000 workers—experience an employment decline after the Uniroyal debacle. Part of the reason likely was that the Uniroyal layoff was phased, some 600 workers were released in 1991, and the remainder the following year. “Probably more important in maintaining local employment was the fact that the Uniroyal shutdown happened on the cusp of a hiring boom in the region. From 1990 to 2000, county employment levels escalated every year, rising close to 40 percent in sum. Even manufacturing saw strong growth. Two years after the Uniroyal shutdown, the number of manufacturing jobs in Eau Claire County had dropped to about 3,500. But big expansions by the likes of Hutchinson Technology, a maker of computer hard drive components that hired more than 1,000 workers in the mid-1990s, quickly turned the tables. By 1999, county manufacturing employment hit 6,500.” If real estate prices or foreclosures are a measure of the effect of the closing, there are indications that the housing market weathered the closing as well as could be expected. The biggest impact on the housing market were high interest rates, which exceeded on average 8 percent in 1992. Charles Grossklaus, former president and CEO of Royal Credit Union, said that remarkably, he cannot remember one bad loan emanating from a tire plant employee after the closure.“We worked with them (employees with loans) and they worked with us,” Grossklaus said.


Explore Eau Claire

You sell your company. We sell the community. Through the new “Explore Eau Claire” program, a personal concierge acts as a connection to your job candidates and new hires as they make the choice to call Eau Claire home and begin the process of relocation. We ask what’s important to them in a community, then research, communicate, and make connections for them in areas such as: • •

Schools Housing Places of worship Community involvement

Childcare Diversity Pet care Restaurants

Shopping Hobbies/interests Outdoor and indoor recreation Any additonal areasimportant of interestto them Anything else that’s

Our Explore Eau Claire program will save you time and money. Our concierge is knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated to serving candidates who are relocating. Whether you have a general employee, manager, or executive, our program helps decrease turnover and increase employee satisfaction.

Individual Attention to your Job Candidates: The family your recruit brings with them are often the deciding factor in whether your candidate accepts the job. Our concierge asks personal questions about the most important areas of your candidate’s life (marital status, children, hobbies, etc.) to understand the needs of those all moving to the area. We then provide a customized tour and access/links to area resources as reassurance that the Chippewa Valley has assets that can meet their needs and interests.

Sponsored by:


The EC Life Magazine

Personal Acclimation for your New Hires: If your new hire and his/her family feel connected to the community, it will increase the likelihood that they stay in the Chippewa Valley. Our concierge will learn more about your new hire and their family and connect them to our community in the early stages of relocation. From arranging a tour of a dance studio, pointing out the best fly-fishing streams, or connection with a youth hockey team, we can act as the link between newcomers and their needs and interests.

Focus on Accompanying Partner An accompanying spouse/partner securing employment is another vital factor in a family choosing to stay in the area. We can distribute a spouse/partner’s resume to all our Chamber members and other propective employers. This is a win-win for all, as we know area employers are looking for quality candidates.

Coordinated by:

Menu of Services

Services are available to job candidates and new hires. Contact our Community Concierge for pricing.

Customized Tour: Let us show your candidate or new hire the many resasons the Chippewa Valley is the ideal place to call home! The customized Chippewa Valley tour includes: • Introductory questionaire to assess the needs of the individual or family • Customized community tour with introductions to many of the unique communities that make up the Chippewa Valley area, including schools, local businesses and community resources • Welcome packet with customized resources • Detailed post-tour survey • One month follow-up to identify needs or services

Settle-In Service: With the settle-in service, your employee will receive a questionaire to assess the needs of the individual or family, a personalized welcome packet and quarterly check-ins with updates about community events.

Partner Career Support Includes connecting with partner to assess most desired position, circulation of resume to Chamber investors, and/or personal emails/calls to relevant company contacts.

Welcome Basket Includes basket of local products delivered to the individuals/family’s home.

To learn more or submit a referral to the Explore Eau Claire Program, please visit


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