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Wonder Milk coming to Monroe
MONROE - The City of Monroe is to become the site of a new $20 million infant formula production company, Wonder Milk.

The Common Council passed a resolution Tuesday, June 17, approving the purchase of 21 acres in the north industrial park, and an accompanying agreement between the city and Wonder Milk, LLC.

Wonder Milk's principal investor is Mrs. Dong Han of Beijing, China. The infant formula will be shipped to China.

Monroe Mayor Bill Ross and Pam Christopher, who oversees a majority of the city's economic development, as well as a host of attorneys for the city, the company and Han, have been working on the deal since October.

"They settled on Monroe because of the city, its quality of life," and its work force, Ross said.

"Green County is known for its dairy, and that was a draw too," Christopher added. "Key to the investment was meeting the city's mayor."

The company will buy the tract of land outright for $420,000, rather than go through the city's $1 per acre conditional sale. Part of the reason for the full purchase is to meet the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidelines and the requirements of the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as "EB-5," created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors.

The purchase has to be closed in two weeks to meet the federal guidelines. The money will also act as protection for the city in the event the project fails, according to Rex Ewald, city attorney. But, he added, he is "comfortable" with the deal and the project.

"It also tells immigration that they are serious about the project," Christopher noted.

A total investment of $20 to $60 million will go into the project, in addition to the land purchase.

The production facility is expected to be up and running within 30 months, and Christopher said more than 250 people will probably be hired. Most of those hired will be local people, with some upper management positions filled by employees from Beijing or experienced in infant formula production.

The facility will have to meet "stricter than pharmaceutical" standards for sterilization, Christopher added, and new hires will be custom-trained to work with the high-tech equipment.

"They are going to be paying pretty well," Ross said.

"Not the going rate in our area, but the rate found in infant formula (production) across the U.S." Christopher added.

Specialized equipment and ingredients needed to manufacture the formula will be purchased in the United States, and 100 percent of the formula will be exported to China.

Christopher said parents in China have become reluctant to buy infant formula since a 2008 food safety incident involving milk, formula and other food materials and components adulterated with melamine. The incident damaged the reputation of China's food exports, and many countries stopped all imports of Chinese dairy products.

The formula produced in the U.S. must follow U.S. food regulations and undergo inspections.