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Wisconsin town awaits word if train manufacturing plant will set up base in city

(The following story by Steve Wideman appeared on the Post-Crescent website on August 26, 2009.)

APPLETON, Wisc. Two weeks after sending letters to Gov. Jim Doyle and Spanish train builder Talgo Inc., Appleton officials are waiting to hear about their efforts to attract a train manufacturing plant.

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"All indications are, and they (Talgo officials) previously said point blank, they are looking at sites in Milwaukee and Janesville," Community Development Director Karen Harkness said Tuesday.

Doyle announced in July an agreement with Talgo in a no-bid, $47.5 million deal, to buy two sets of train cars to replace cars currently being used on Amtrak's Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago.

The deal gives Wisconsin the option to buy two additional train sets if the state gets some of the $8 billion in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds set aside for high-speed rail development.

The state wants to establish high-speed rail service between Milwaukee and Madison.

The deal also includes an agreement by Talgo to build a rail car assembly plant and maintenance facility in Wisconsin.

On Aug. 17, Harkness sent letters to Doyle and Talgo president and chief executive officer Antonio Perez noting Appleton can provide a centrally located site with a skilled work force.

Talgo officials previously said it could be early 2010 before the company, which has North American operations in Seattle, Wash., makes a final decision on a site.

"We are in the due diligence process of trying to make sure we are going in the right direction," said Jeff Hart, a project engineer for Talgo in Seattle.

Hart said he was unaware of any letter sent from Appleton to Talgo and referred additional questions to Nora Friend, Talgo's vice president of public affairs. Friend could not be reached for comment.

Harkness said if she doesn't hear from Talgo or Doyle's office by Friday, "I will give the governor's office a call."

In her Aug. 17 letters to the state and Talgo, Harkness said the city "has a great deal of experience and expertise in packaging complex economic development projects and fostering public-private partnerships that produce results."

"I see a public-private partnership as something the city can offer. If you take a look at many successful projects in this area over the past few years they all have an element of public-private partnerships," Harkness said Tuesday.

Officials from Milwaukee and Janesville also are making economic pitches to Talgo, although details are not available.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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