Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker executed a $28 million deal Thursday to save nearly 400 jobs at a Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant, using powers that his Democratic successor would no longer have under legislation approved last week during a lame-duck session.
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The deal means that the consumer-products giant will close a plant in Conway, Arkansas, that employs 344 people no later than 2021, Kimberly-Clark spokesman Terry Balluck. Employees at the Arkansas plant were told of the pending closure Thursday, he said.
Walker, in his final month as governor, announced the deal at the consumer products company's plant in northeastern Wisconsin, the same day that he called for bills passed during the lame-duck session. That starts the six-day clock for him to sign or veto the measures.
Walker, who was defeated in last month's election by Democrat Tony Evers, praised the deal reached after a larger incentive package originally worth up to $100 million failed to win support in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
"If there is any talk about a legacy, I want this to be my legacy," Walker said.
He's facing bipartisan pressure to veto the lame-duck bills weakening powers of Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, with opponents saying the measures are a GOP power grab and would be a stain on Walker's legacy.
One provision approved in the lame-duck session would require a legislative committee to approve the creation of enterprise zones like the one Walker approved to save the Kimberly-Clark plant.
Under the deal, Kimberly-Clark will have to retain 388 jobs through 2023 and invest at least $200 million at the plant over that time to qualify for the full $28 million. It could also earn tax credits based on how much it buys from Wisconsin companies.
"This is a pretty good Christmas going forward," Walker said at the announcement attended by plant workers. "We didn't just save your jobs for the short term, this is about a long-term commitment."
Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark originally asked for resolution by the end of September but agreed to wait to make a final decision about the plant until after the Legislature acted. Republicans failed to muster enough votes in the Senate for the original bill, which was not voted upon during the lame-duck session last week.
Opponents cast the original $100 million measure as a corporate giveaway and said the government shouldn't be picking winners and losers. But supporters said it was worth the cost to save the jobs and increased economic activity that keeping it open would generate.
After the bill died, Walker pledged to reach another deal to save the plant before he leaves office next month.
Evers renewed his call for Walker to veto the lame-duck bill that requires legislative approval for deals like this one, saying in a statement that "the governor of our state shouldn't be hamstrung when it comes to economic development."
Kimberly-Clark, which makes Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and other paper products, said in January that it planned to close both the Fox Crossing and smaller Neenah plants in Wisconsin as part of the company's plan to cut up to 5,500 jobs and close or sell 10 plants worldwide. Its North American consumer business is headquartered in Neenah, Wisconsin, where the company was founded in 1872. Wisconsin is home to about 3,000 Kimberly-Clark employees.
The Wisconsin plant is the only one in North America that makes Depend adult incontinence products.
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