The mobile livestock scale being built is just one of thousands of products produced.
Ryan Urban Chronotype staff
An iconic local business is continuing to expand. Rice Lake Weighing Systems Inc., not only carrying the city's name but employing more people than any other business in the city, is adding another 57 jobs and building on to its facility in the Rice Lake industrial park in the next 2 years. A press release from the office of Gov. Scott Walker announced the expansion last week, noting it would also help preserve more than 400 existing positions in Rice Lake. "We're out of space," said company president Mark Johnson Jr. in a phone interview on Monday. An international leader in weight-related products and process-control equipment, Rice Lake Weighing Systems will build and equip a new manufacturing and distribution center. The addition will cover a parking area, but new parking space is being created across Shield Avenue on land purchased from the UW-Barron County campus. "We're perpetually adding new products. We have new products coming in through acquisitions and ones we develop ourselves. All that needs space," said Pat Ranfranz, company marketing director. Rice Lake Weighing Systems now offers more than 35,000 weighing, control, data collection and communication products through more than 3,000 distributors. That includes manufacturing replacement parts for competitors' scales no longer made by those companies, said Ranfranz. "Special, custom work is a big part of our business," he said, adding that the company keeps a large inventory on hand to serve customers. Rice Lake Weighing Systems is recognized for its big products: bright red Survivor truck scales, RailBoss rail scales and livestock scales. But the product line extends well beyond those. "We're in every industry, literally," said Ranfranz. "There isn't an industry that doesn't have to weigh." The company has specialized subdivisions, too, including Rice Lake Retail Solutions, Measurement Systems International, Condec, Rice Lake Custom Machining, Mattson Spray Equipment and Intruder outdoor equipment. The land west of Rice Lake Weighing Systems' site was acquired in 2011. UW-Barron County was given another parcel south of the campus in exchange. Johnson said the company plans to have a walking trail on the west side of the new property. The company will also work with the campus to keep part of the college disc golf course intact on the land, he said.
More jobs To assist with the expansion project, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has authorized up to $575,000 in Jobs Tax Credits over 3 years. The tax credits are contingent upon the company retaining its existing number of jobs in Rice Lake and adding 57 jobs by mid-2017, according to the press release from Walker's office. Johnson said the hiring will be spread over 2 years for a variety of positions, including engineers, software engineers, machinists, welders and support staff. Johnson said he is confident the company can fill the positions by 2017. "It's always a challenge, but we've been successful finding good candidates in the past," he said. Ranfranz said the fact that Rice Lake Weighing Systems is a privately owned family company helps it attract and retain employees, especially ones who-like himself-worked for public corporations in the past.
Rice Lake roots Recognizing a growing need for scale service from creameries and cheese processing enterprises, Donald B. Johnson and Warren Thomas founded the company in Rice Lake in 1946. "My grandfather originally came to Rice Lake because he recognized the strong work ethic of the people of northwestern Wisconsin," said Johnson in the press release. "Our continued success is largely based on the fact that we are able to find a workforce with a broad range of talents and skills. "We remain committed to Wisconsin and are very excited to continue our growth here in Rice Lake. We appreciate the support of the state and its commitment to providing the tools necessary for us to remain competitive in today's global marketplace." But being a global company has also required the business to branch out. Rice Lake Weighing Systems has cut down on shipping costs by opening plants closer to clients. The company owns or partners with operations in Jasper, Ala.; Fernley, Nev.; Seattle, Wash.; Monterrey, Mexico; Heteren, Netherlands; Chennai, India; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Yet nearly 500 of the company's 600 employees work in Rice Lake. "Rice Lake Weighing Systems is a true Wisconsin success story, and I congratulate the company on its new facility," said Walker in his press release. "This three-generation, family owned business opened its doors in Rice Lake nearly 70 years ago, and has grown to become a multinational industry leader. That it continues to call Wisconsin home is a testament to the state's strong workforce and pro-business climate." Ranfranz said the Johnson family has had opportunity to sell the company or move it, but is committed to keeping things where they started. "They are here because they want to be here. They don't want to be anywhere else," he said.