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Friday, July 18, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Initiative looks to help Oshkosh suppliers weather defense cuts


By MaryBeth Matzek
Defense spending cuts didn't just cost approximately 1,000 Oshkosh Truck employees their jobs during the past two years; the ripple effects are affecting dozens of Wisconsin companies who are part of the manufacturer's vast supply chain. The recently formed Oshkosh Region Defense Industry Diversification Initiative is doing what it can to mitigate the hurt.

The Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment awarded an $837,316 Defense Industry Adjustment Grant to the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, along with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the City of Oshkosh as sub grant recipients to develop a plan to help dislocated workers and businesses who are a part of Oshkosh's supply chain find new opportunities. In addition, the project includes a 10.7 percent local match from the planning commission and local partners.

"The expected layoffs announced in October 2012 and April 2013 represent a negative economic impact of $91 million in earnings and account for a loss of 1,437 total jobs – that includes not just Oshkosh workers affected by the businesses who worked with Oshkosh who are now seeing less work," says Katherine Ahlquist, an economic development planner with the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Barb LaMue, sector development manager for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) predicts, that about 40 manufacturers in eastern Wisconsin will step forward and identify themselves as being affected by defense spending cuts. With the grant in hand, a slew of partners from local counties and economic development organizations such as New North to chambers of commerce and technical colleges, are now working on a plan to realign regional economic and workforce development strategies to respond to Oshkosh Truck's decreased output and help businesses affected by the cuts to diversify and retool themselves for other manufacturing segments.

One sector garnering attention is the aerospace industry. With the City of Oshkosh and Winnebago County teaming up on a new aviation business park next to Wittman Field and Experimental Aviation Association (EAA), that's one area showing promise, Ahlquist says.

"There are already a number of local companies involved in aviation so it seems like a good market to take a closer look at," she says.

But before getting to that step, New North is working on a supply chain map to identify companies who work with Oshkosh Truck and encourage businesses affected by the cuts at the OEM to reach out to the consortium. "We're trying to identify businesses affected and will come in and do an analysis," she says.

After that, the business can work with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) on a plan to target new markets and clients or perhaps get the necessary certifications to work in the aviation or healthcare sector. "The main goal of this initiative is to keep people on the payrolls at these supplier companies," LaMue says.

Depending on how the program works out, Ahlquist says it could serve as a model for other regions hit when a major employer cuts jobs and those effects ripple through the supply chain. "What we're doing is a pilot program – bringing all these different organizations together to help businesses retool themselves," she says.

Click here for more information on the initiative

New tenant for former Associated Bank headquarters

West Corp., a business-to-business consumer sales provider, is moving into Associated Banc-Corp.'s former headquarters in Ashwaubenon. Associated vacated the spot last year and moved its headquarters to downtown Green Bay.

West Corp., which employs about 1,000 in Appleton at two sites, plans to start with about a dozen employees, but eventually plans to have more than 200 employees in Ashwaubenon. West Corp. also has offices in Middleton and Wausau.

Health firms named 'Most Wired'

Eleven state hospitals and health systems were named among the nation's "Most Wired."

Hospitals & Health Networks annually analyze healthcare organizations on their IT initiatives and how technology is used to improve patient care and communication. Wisconsin organizations to make the 2014 list include: Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee; Fort HealthCare, Fort Atkinson; Gundersen Health System, La Crosse; Holy Family Memorial, Manitowoc; Meriter Hospital, Madison; Ministry St. Clare's Hospital, Weston; Osceola Medical Center; Spooner Health System; ThedaCare, Appleton; University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Madison; and UWHP-Watertown Regional Medical Center.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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