A high-profile, but empty building is going to be put to use on the south end of Milford.
Members of the Milford City Council on Monday reached an agreement with Polaris Industries for a $1 million incentive package to expand operations in the southern Dickinson County community. Polaris will lease the former Stylecraft-Klaussner Home Furnishings building along U.S. Highway 71.
The building had been vacant since August 2011, when Klaussner officials decided to consolidate furniture manufacturing operations in North Carolina. The decision left 105 employees without work in northwest Iowa.
"The community was certainly very saddened with the departure of Klaussner, but we are very thrilled about Polaris," Milford City Administrator Matt Skaret said. "We want to thank Polaris for their interest and commitment to the city of Milford and the Lakes Region."
Polaris was already leasing a smaller building on the Klaussner campus in Milford. They have a 565,000-squre-foot plant in Spirit Lake, as well. About 700 workers are employed at the Spirit Lake location.
"They're growing and their production is at capacity," said Kathy Evert, President and CEO of the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation. "The Klaussner building gave them the opportunity to meet existing demand and hopefully future growth."
Representatives for the city of Milford began meeting with Polaris officials about the vacant Klaussner building in early August. Pending council approval, the city's incentive package will be phased in over a 10-year period. The city still has to conduct a public hearing before approving Tax Increment Financing. A hearing also is needed to amend the city's urban renewal plan for the location.
Skaret said the public hearing and council vote is expected to take place at a Nov. 12 meeting.
"A year ago, when you add half a million square feet to your inventory to any community, but especially in a smaller community, you know you've got your work cut out for you to find someone to take any space that's going provide good economic activity," Evert said. "Sometimes they get converted to things that don't generate good economic activity, but fill other needs. This is just a huge win for the Milford community, for Dickinson County and all of the Iowa Lakes Corridor."
Milford Mayor Don Lamb also looks forward to fresh activity at the Klaussner building.
"We think it's great," he said. "We were working with the Corridor and we were able to come up with a program that satisfied Polaris. We were competing with some towns, even out of state, and we were pretty happy. We're looking forward to what they'll do there."
Hines expects a few months to pass before the newly-leased building is ready for full use by the company.
"It's not set up today for our style of manufacturing, so there's definitely some modifications we need to make and some investment we need to make in order to assemble and weld down there," he said. "That's kind of what we're targeting at this point."
The Milford expansion is not included in the previously announced $22.5 million expansion as the company adds 79 new employees in Spirit Lake over the next year.
"This is separate from that," Hines said of plans for the Klaussner facility. He said the company isn't ready to talk about specific plans or staffing needs at the Milford location.
"It's still kind of developing," he said. "That's why we're being a little bit tentative about talking about the specifics at that point ... At this point, we know that we're going to need some expanded production capability next year with some of the things going on in our Spirit Lake plant. Having that building down in Milford, sitting there empty, is kind of a nice opportunity for us to expand our capacity a bit."