Ed Byrne, The Brillion News, 11/21/19
A six-letter word tells the story of Sargento Foods in Hilbert: growth.
Last week, at the November 12 village board meeting, Hilbert Village Administrator Dennis DuPrey delivered the latest news to the village board. Sargento Foods, Inc., pulled a building permit for a $4,472,274 project that includes a 15,165 square foot addition to its production plant at 460 South Eighth Street, remodeling of an additional 5,620 square feet, and expansion of on-site surface parking.
The Plymouth-based food products company, which is privately owned by the Gentine family, has a site in Hilbert that includes over 24 acres of land. The new addition is planned as a two-story facility – a ground floor and mezzanine. Construction is already beginning with Joseph Schmitt Construction of Fond du Lac as the general contractor. The work is expected to be completed by next summer.
The facilities at the plant on the Hilbert property include two separate production areas called Hilbert South and Hilbert North. The Director of Corporate Communications for Sargento, Portia Young, said the addition is substantial and will house offices for plant management as well as amenities for the plant’s employees, which number around 500.
“It’s really going to enhance the employee amenities we have in Hilbert,” Young said. “They’re going to have a new health and wellness center on-site and an updated company store.”
Similar facilities grace the company’s other locations. Sargento has operations in Plymouth, Kiel, and Elkhart Lake. The Hilbert plant’s output includes products for food service – such as restaurants – and products for sale to retail consumers.
Louis Gentine, the company CEO, is the third generation head of the family‐owned company. In the six years he has headed the company, its payroll had grown from 1,600 employees to 2,300.
The firm has very little turnover and has a solid reputation as an employer. Young said many employees have been with the company for 40 or more years.
“They really see the ‘Sargento family’ as an extension of the Gentine family,” Young said. “We are all about hiring good people and treating them like family ... You find the right people you treat them well, and together you will do amazing things.”
Retirees, for example, are included in company employee events – like the company picnic and holiday get‐togethers.
Young said the ties between the company and the village are very strong. “We really see it as this symbiotic relationship. We have to both be winning in order to succeed,” Young said. “We have great partnerships ... we always try to reach that mutual ground.” Hilbert Village Administrator Dennis DuPrey said that’s not an exaggeration.
The original plant was owned by Hernke Cheese, which Sargento purchased and first expanded it in 2008. Hilbert created its Tax Increment Financing District No. 2 to help Sargento expand. In the first years, Sargento made the debt payments so the taxpayers would not be on the hook for them.
Sargento paid over a million dollars to cover the shortfalls in the early years of the TIF District (TIFD). “It had to be a private‐public partnership to make this thing work,” DuPrey said. The TIFD was created in 2007 and matures in 2027. That’s when all of the property in the TIFD goes completely onto the tax rolls.
Once Sargento’s expansions started to cover the TIF payments, then the village began paying back the company for covering those early shortfalls. In 2016, the village had an opportunity to thank Sargento for the company’s investment in Hilbert.
The original bond issue was a lease‐revenue bond, with interest rates varying between 3.25 and 6.85 percent. In 2016, the village had an opportunity to make a dramatic cut in the interest rate by converting to tax‐exempt general obligation bonds with interest rates ranging between 1.0 and 3.2 percent. That refinancing saved Sargento a significant amount of money.
“We didn’t save any money as a village, because we just refinanced the debt ... but it was an opportunity to work with our biggest industry, our largest employer ... and say ‘Here’s a thank you for investing in our community. We’re going to save you some money’ ... so the total interest costs were reduced,” DuPrey said. “Sargento is ... a great company and they invest in the community ... We wanted to say ‘We appreciate your investment in our community and we want to continue this partnership for many years to come.’”