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No progress made yet on Amlat
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MONROE - A company in the works since June of 2013 has yet to begin building along the 21-acre parcel of land owners purchased in the north industrial park for just under $450,000 three years ago.

City Administrator Phil Rath said according to news from Amlat LLC owner Dong Han and consultant for the company Jim Cisler, the plans to build a baby formula processing plant at the cost of $40 million are still active. Rath said he had spoken to planners about two weeks ago, and the company was "working on financing at the moment" and it is "still hoping to follow through."

Han, a native of Beijing, China, established Amlat to export powdered infant formula created with Wisconsin milk supplies to her home country. At the time of its introduction, Pam Christopher, former director of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, said the plant was meant to add up to 200 jobs to the Monroe area. Christopher had assured the city council that building would commence despite hurdles such as the language barrier and different regulations in different countries.

Originally, the agreement between Amlat and the city called for construction to begin within 12 months of the purchase date at the end of June 2013. A year passed with no development in the industrial park. In October of 2014, Amlat announced the facility groundbreaking was scheduled for Nov. 25 of that year while the city Plan Commission received preliminary drafts of the building. The building plans proposed were of a 48,450-square-foot outline with a four-story dryer tower roughly 10,500 additional square feet. It was a promising $20 million infant formula production company which remains unrealized.

Assistant City Administrator Martin Shanks was told by Amlat in January of last year that the schedule was pushed back to March. Again, no construction moved forward. However, the city agreed to extend the allowable start date of construction from 12 months to within 24 months of the purchase date and completion to 33 months following instead of the 24 months originally agreed upon. After hopes were raised in March by the announcement of a June groundbreaking, the city once again saw no development at the site.

Alderman Michael Boyce has voiced opposition of the plans in the past. He said the agreement between Chinese investors and Han to acquire an EB-5 Visa is a major reason the company has not been able to gain enough capital to build the facility. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department grants visas through the Immigrant Investor Program EB-5 as a way to bring economic growth to the states via investors from foreign countries. In rural area development, the USCIS requires a minimum qualifying investment of $500,000. The Amlat project construction is an estimated $5 million to $7. This type of visa is an incentive for investors. Boyce claimed after progress had been stalled more than once, that the priority for Amlat was always visas over development.

Because it has now been three years since the company purchased the land across from the water tower in the north industrial park, non-performance penalties, fees accrued by the company for not meeting its expected tax value, kicked in. The fees totaled just over $16,000.

In December, council members agreed to postpone the penalty fees for Han after she wrote a letter outlining three reasons the circumstances were "beyond reasonable control" for Amlat. Stipulations of the contract between Han and the city allowed for an extension if such issues arose. The letter said increased FDA regulations, a higher expense than anticipated and delays in the availability of the construction company all conspired toward the need for an extension. Penalty fees will be held off until April 22.

In December, the city Plan Commission agreed to allow Amlat an extension. During their presentation, Cisler said at the time that roughly 95 percent of necessary engineering had been completed, and that plans to break ground were scheduled for March or April of this year. Rath said though plans to build the facility are still active and Amlat had talked to the city roughly two weeks ago with promises of progress, he admitted that the anticipated completion date for the facility, late April 2017, will likely not be met.