Cheese manufacturing facility employing 100 workers to close in SW Wisconsin

LANCASTER, Wis. — A goat cheese manufacturing facility in southwest Wisconsin is set to close next year.

Saputo, an international dairy processing company, announced on Thursday plans to shutter its Lancaster location, which makes specialty goat cheese. The closure is expected to take place by the end of 2024 and will affect roughly 100 workers.

The closure was announced in a news release Thursday in which company officials cited the recent opening of a state-of-the-art cheese making facility in Reedsburg as the reason for the Lancaster closure.

The release states production from the Lancaster plant will be transitioned to the Reedsburg location to increase efficiency and cost optimization. The company last year announced it would close its Belmont location for the same reason.

“The network optimization initiatives announced today will increase operational efficiency and capacity utilization in our USA Sector, while further improving our cost structure,” Saputo CEO Lino A. Saputo said in the release.

Affected employees will be offered the option to relocate to other Saputo locations, the release states. If no jobs are available, severance support will be awarded.

Reached by email, Saputo officials said they were unable to comment by the Telegraph Herald’s print deadline.

The Montreal, Canada-based company has owned the Lancaster facility at 425 Roosevelt St. since 2015, when it purchased Woolwich Dairy for about $64 million. The 28,000-square-foot facility opened in 2008.

Interim Lancaster City Administrator David Kurihara said the city learned of the planned closure early Thursday, adding that officials were both “surprised” and “saddened” by the news.

“It’s going to be a big loss for Lancaster,” he said. “We thought they’d been a great employer for the city, so we’ll definitely miss them.”

In the wake of the news, both Kurihara and Mayor Stuart Harper reached out to the company, Kurihara said, to inquire about what the city could do to assist with the marketing and sale of the facility moving forward.

He said the city plans to work with other regional and local economic partners to make a plan for what else the city can do to assist affected workers and otherwise bolster area industry.

Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Heather Bontreger said the chamber also plans to assist in that process, though she said the news is too fresh to have an exact plan to share at this time.

She expressed hope the facility would be purchased by another buyer quickly to support the maintenance and growth of the local workforce.

“What exactly could be next is a bit of a question mark,” she said. “But hopefully we find something to replace (Saputo).”

Grant County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Ron Brisbois said he began to worry for the fate of the Lancaster facility in the wake of previously announced plans to close the Belmont location. It wasn’t until this week, however, that he received official confirmation.

The Belmont facility closure also is expected to take place by the end of next year and will affect roughly 200 workers.

“When they decided to close the Belmont plant and started talking about better efficiency and capacity at the (Reedsburg location), that kind of put it on the radar that the Lancaster facility could also be in jeopardy,” he said.

Brisbois said stakeholders now are focused on planning for displaced worker training and placement, as well as identifying potential businesses that could use the Saputo building after its closure.

He stressed there remains a plethora of open manufacturing jobs in the county, so he expects little issue for affected workers to find new jobs. He also plans to work with area colleges and training programs to offer upskill training to workers who desire it.

“I’m thinking the impact will be fairly isolated,” he said. “We still have several dairy processing plants in the region, and even in the county, but we also have opportunities for workers looking to grow their skills.”