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Friday, October 10, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Wisconsin manufacturers bullish on future


By MaryBeth Matzek
It's a good time to be in manufacturing.

That's the conclusion of Buckley Brinkman, executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, based on the data and what he's hearing from manufacturers. Not only are manufacturers seeing a continued increase in sales, they are also adding workers, space and new equipment.

According to the 2015 Wisconsin Manufacturers Register, state manufacturers added 5,796 jobs from July 2013 to July 2014, a 1 percent increase. It's the third straight year that manufacturers added jobs. Meanwhile the September Marquette-ISM Report on Manufacturing reported that 60 percent of manufacturers in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois expect continued growth and positive conditions over the next six months. That's up from the 40 percent who felt that way in August.

"The people I talk to are very positive about manufacturing and the numbers are positive," Brinkman says. "We're far enough away from the Great Recession that it's no longer hanging over people's heads and they are moving forward."

Since 2009, 40,000 manufacturing jobs have been created in Wisconsin, Brinkman says. "We're obviously still not back to where we were in the past, but we have made big strides."

With manufacturers in expansion mode – for example earlier this month Bemis Co. announced a $25 million expansion at one of its Oshkosh facilities that has the potential to create 160 new jobs – Brinkman does have one worry.

"We're going to go over a demographic cliff in about six years as a lot of our current manufacturing workforce begins to retire. The next step to keep the growth going is make sure there are skilled workers to take their place," he says.

Across Wisconsin, October is celebrated as Manufacturing Month with multiple events designed to raise awareness about the industry and available career opportunities. And there are plenty of them. Ann Franz, alliance director of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, says the organization's online job board is very active. The Alliance brings together Northeast Wisconsin businesses, educational institutions, workforce development boards and other organizations with the goal of promoting and growing manufacturing in the region.

"It's amazing how many companies are looking for workers. This has to be one of the top times we've ever had for the job board," she says.

As for why businesses are in a hiring mode, Franz says many owners are confident about the marketplace. "Many companies have seen growth, but using temporary workers and using overtime to meet the demand," she says. "But now they are hiring because they are bullish about the future and not worried about bringing on additional workers."

Global recognition

The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) received the 2014 Emerging Center Award this week from the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers.

The award is given to entrepreneurship centers less than five years old, but have achieved significant milestones and accomplishments. The last winner was the Kansas State University entrepreneurship center in 2012. Award judges were impressed with what the Alta Resources CEI was able to accomplish in its region, and in such a short amount of time since the UW Oshkosh-based center's launch.

With less than one year under its belt, the Alta Resources CEI has helped dozens of UW Oshkosh students start their own businesses. It also provides students with business consulting services, hosts several business idea contests throughout the year, and offers a 12-week accelerator program that helps students turn their ideas into companies.

"We're beginning to create global partnerships and initiatives with some of the highest ranked universities in the world," says executive director Colleen Merrill. "They are impressed by what our students are doing and want to link arms."

-- 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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