About 18 years ago, I remember driving along the former Highway 12 West (now known as The North Crossing/Highway 312), and noticed that the Midwest Manufacturing division of Menard Inc. was beginning what appeared to be a major expansion of its complex. As a young investigative reporter, I did not hesitate to call John Menard directly and had the following conversation:
"Mr. Menard. This is Dan Ropa with The Bottom Line business publication. I was hoping we could discuss your expansion plans within your truss division. I see that you're building a number of large structures. Do you care to comment?"
After a pause, Menard explained that he really did not want to talk about his ongoing project and reminded me that he was a privately-owned company and had no responsibility to discuss his personal business with the local media. I asked him another question, but was soon disconnected. I called him back, but the only quote that I was able to use for the story in that week's newsletter was: "Yes, Dan, we are building a lot of big brown buildings".
That conversation has stuck with me for years since there are so many other Chippewa Valley firms that do not wish to discuss their positive news with the media. I understand and respect that philosophy, but I am frustrated by those business owners who do not take advantage of receiving free publicity and therefore have the ability to relay their positive news about how their company is helping the local economy through an expansion, new hires or development of a new product.
For the past four weeks, I have attempted to contact representatives in the communications department at Nestle' USA, which has two manufacturing plants in Eau Claire. The local plant manager is not at liberty to discuss new developments with the media, so I was referred to the corporate headquarters. After about 35 phone calls (I bet they love me), I have not even received a response to my inquiries about the ongoing expansion at the firm's facility along Truax Boulevard or its future plans to undertake a $50-$80 million expansion of its operation in the Gateway Northwest Industrial Park.
Private companies have no obligation to tell the media what their plans are. But why would any business avoid the opportunity to tell its story-especially when it involves job creation and added value to the tax base?
There are at least three other large companies in the Chippewa Valley who have no interest in talking to me about their recent success stories. Eventually, I will find out what is happening and write the story. I just wish those small business owners felt more comfortable calling me and others in the media so the rest of the business community could know what an asset they are to the region. There are not too many things that are free anymore.
IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION ABOUT SOMETHING POSITIVE OCCURRING IN THE CHIPPEWA VALLEY, PLEASE DON'T HESITATE TO CALL ME. ALL TIPS REMAIN CONFIDENTIAL. (715) 834-7337. firstname.lastname@example.org