With the exception of Lakes Region EMS and a county Public Health Department building, the North Branch Interstate Business Park is vacant, which is why the city has been so excited to welcome a major pontoon manufacturer to the area.
When or if that will happen is now uncertain, as Premier Marine, which was looking to move from its multiple buildings in Wyoming and build a single facility in North Branch, has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The filing was made in United States Bankruptcy Court June 19.
According to information from the United States Courts website: Chapter 11 “generally provides for reorganization, usually involving a corporation or partnership. A Chapter 11 debtor usually proposes a plan of reorganization to keep its business alive and pay creditors over time. People in business or individuals can also seek relief in Chapter 11.”
According to court records and Trade Only Today, an online source for news about the marine industry, Premier listed liabilities between $10 million and $50 million, owed to between 200 and 999 creditors.
“The debtor suffered substantial losses in 2014, 2015 and 2016 attributable to the purchase and manufacture of the Palm Beach and Weeres brands in New Ulm, termination of manufacturing in New Ulm and the transition to manufacturing of the brands at the debtor’s Wyoming facilities,” the court documents noted.
The documents go on to say that the Palm Beach and Weeres brands were discontinued in 2017 and that the acquisition losses left Premier with “inadequate cash to operate efficiently and profitably, as it had for more than 20 years.”
The Trade Only Today article noted Premier was formed in 1992 by Robert Menne and Eugene Hallberg. The Menne family controls about 73 percent of the business, with Hallberg controlling about 27 percent. Hallberg also acts at Premier’s landlord and has evicted Premier for nonpayment of rent, the article noted.
North Branch City Administrator Renae Fry said since the city had learned of the Chapter 11 filing, it had not heard from Premier. On Jan. 24, the City Council approved a tax increment financing district for Premier. A TIF district is financing to capture increased taxes from a project and then redirect that money to a portion of the costs related to the construction of a new facility. TIF districts work as incentives to draw businesses to areas.
“In the time leading up to the bankruptcy filing, Premier was in contact with our building official to discuss building requirements, and our community development director was exchanging emails with them,” Fry wrote in an email. “So we don’t know for sure their intentions with regard to the land in the industrial park, but staff remains hopeful that their reorganization efforts will be successful and they will move forward with a move to North Branch.”
A call to Premier inquiring about the future of the proposed North Branch facility was not returned.