As his customers’ needs grew, James Merlo’s needs grew as well.
But the founder and chief executive officer of Trifinity Specialized Distribution found himself trapped in the company’s Waukegan, Ill., facility.
Rising Illinois taxes, limited space for facility expansion and little support from state, county of local government and economic development agencies were just some of the reasons why Merlo began pining for greener pastures in Wisconsin more than five years ago.
“We had not been able to grow; we needed space,” he said. “We had been limited for so long, and our customers were growing.”
Established in Waukegan 25 years ago, the company distributes cosmetics, vitamins, deodorants, detergents, vegetables and personal care products to major retailers such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Target and drug store chains.
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As the year draws to a close, the Kenosha News is taking a look back on 2019 and sharing the favorite five stories that each of our reporters has written this year.
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Merlo connected with the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, the Wisconsin Economic Development and with Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian. The Milwaukee 7, another economic development agency, also joined the partnership.
Last spring, his relocation plan became more urgent: His building was damaged when the roof was blown from the May 3 explosion at the AB Specialty Silicones plant that killed four workers.
That’s when Merlo said he knew he had to go; employee safety was his concern, and he wanted to ensure it.
As it turned out, the Zilber Property Group had just what Trifinity needed — a 250,048-square-foot facility it had built on speculation in the Business Park of Kenosha.
For him, the grass across the Illinois border is definitely greener. He would be the sole occupant of a new facility with technical, safety and utility advancements. Moreover, it had plenty of space to grow and could handle automation to provide allow for quick delivery schedules.
Starting Monday, Trifinity and its 61 employees will be doing business at 5312 104th Ave., adjacent to Kenall Manufacturing and across the road from the Kenosha regional Airport.
Close proximity to the airport is important for future plans, as the airport offers an opportunity for customs warehousing for other companies.
The relocation has already netted Trifinity some big savings. Merlo estimated his workers’ compensation cost will be reduced by 50 percent. Other insurance costs will be 16.5 percent less, he said.
There’s also a big savings on utilities. And taxes will be lower than what they were in Illinois.
Merlo said the move will benefit his employees as well, some of whom already live here. He cited a lower sales tax and lower-priced gasoline, food and other goods.
While the competition for employees has been cited by some local employers as a concern, he feels he will be able to attract the people he needs. The company already pays at least $16 an hour. Merlo noted that the company has a good benefits package, and that some of his employees have been with the company for 12 years or more.
“We will try to do things locally with local suppliers,” he said, noting the company has already purchased furnishings and signs from local companies.
Merlo said the decision to move has already produced a boost in business.
“We’ve already gotten some inquiries,” he said. With that prospect, he expects business will grow significantly.
“We’ll double our business in 15 months,” he predicted.
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