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After 107 Years, Harley-Davidson Could Leave Milwaukee

Wed, 08/04/2010 - 4:17am

MILWAUKEE (AP) — It's the roar that made Milwaukee famous — the distinctive throaty rumble of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. But that much-loved racket could be rumbling away to another state if the company cannot bring down its labor costs.

Harley-Davidson warned employees in April that it will move its Wisconsin manufacturing operations elsewhere if it cannot cut millions of dollars at the factories that build the bikes known as "Milwaukee Iron."

Harley's corporate headquarters would remain here, but that's small consolation to a community that has already endured repeated blows to its civic identity.

"When you think of Milwaukee you think of beer, brats and Harley-Davidson," said Steve Daily, a researcher at the Milwaukee County Historical Society. "Right or wrong, that's what it is."

But that's been changing. For example, beer giant Miller Brewing Co. moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2008 after merging with Molson Coors Brewing Co. Then there was Schlitz, which billed itself as "the beer that made Milwaukee famous" until financial and labor problems forced it to sell out to a Detroit company in the 1980s.

That leaves Harley-Davidson Inc. as the city's lone signature brand. It's also a magnet for tourists, many of whom want to visit the factories where Harley engines are made.

"We get asked frequently where the plants are," said Paul Upchurch, the president of the VISIT Milwaukee tourism bureau. "A lot of people around the world associate Milwaukee with the home of Harley."

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