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City takes over management of WeTEC

It's been less than a year since New Richmond has taken over the operation of the city-owned industrial building a block from Knowles Avenue.

In that time, with the help of property manager Tom Elbert, more than 40 percent of the available space has been rented out to incubator businesses seeking an economical place to set up shop.

Officials working with the WeTEC building, which previously was leased by Bosch as a manufacturing facility, are making another push to find additional tenants.

Elbert has decided to end his management position with the city. A number of city staff members will co-manage the property instead.

Building Inspector John Frisco will take care of maintenance and improvement issues at the building. Robert Barbian, director or planning and community development, will be in charge of recruiting new tenants. City Clerk Joe Bjelland will pay the bills and work with existing tenants.

Barbian said the city is working on a couple possible leads to fill up the remaining 16,000-17,000 square feet of space in the building. City officials hope the building will eventually reach an occupancy level where the WeTEC complex is contributing money to the community's general fund.

To celebrate the incubator's success so far, an open house is planned in the coming weeks.

The New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors will conduct a ribbon cutting ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, at Wisconsin Lighting Inc.

The ceremony will be part of a week-long schedule of events at WeTEC.

The community's Vision 20/20 group will hold its weekly meeting at the building from 7:15-8:30 a.m. Tours of the building will be offered at the conclusion of the meeting.

Wisconsin Lighting's grand opening event will run from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Nov. 10; noon to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11; noon to 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12; and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 13.

The custom lampshade manufacturer is offering a $10 per lampshade recovering service throughout the week (limit two per customer). Anyone with an old lampshade at home can bring it in and Wisconsin Lighting will make it look like new, no matter how tattered and torn it is. The company has about 100 different fabric coverings to choose from.

Additionally, during the entire event, visitors are invited to tour the factory to see how lampshades are made. It is not necessary to call ahead to schedule a tour. Free snacks and beverages will be served.

Wisconsin Lighting's President Todd Loehr said the company's move to New Richmond has gone very well. They are settled into their new space and looking forward to a long tenure locally.

"We hired 15 new employees," he said. "None of them knew anything about making a lamp shade, but they caught on very quickly. We placed high priority on making sure our customers were not impacted by the move, and that was successful."

He said the employees are excited about showing off what they do for the community.

"Most people are fascinated to see how many lampshades we make on a daily basis," Loehr said. "Even kids will find the manufacturing process interesting. Our staff of 15 makes each one by hand. Nearly every shade we make is one-of-a-kind -- exactly the size, shape and color specified by our customers."

Loehr said he's thrilled to be back in New Richmond, providing jobs and working with the community. He grew up in New Richmond, but moved away in 1990.

"It's amazing to see how the town has grown and changed in that time," he said. "New Richmond has come a long way, and I'm proud to be contributing to the growth of the town I know so well."