Wisconsin is open for business. Manufacturers are welcome.
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College hosted over 150 people, including Gov. Scott Walker, during a Manufacturing Month event Monday morning, Oct. 21.
“I think manufacturing matters,” Walker told his receptive audience, which included area dignitaries and high school students. “I think it has been a proud part of our state’s history, but more importantly I think it is going to be an even more dynamic part of our state’s future.
“We just got to make sure we have people ready to fill those positions.”
The event was made possible in part due to the efforts of the Southwest Wisconsin Chamber Alliance, a new collaboration of six Chamber of Commerce groups (Dodgeville, Fennimore, Lancaster, Mineral Point, Platteville and Prairie du Chien).
“As an advocate for all of our businesses and communities, we endorse southwest Wisconsin as an economically feasible region to start or relocate a business,” said Southwest Wisconsin Chamber Alliance co-chair Robert Moses. “Our goal for today is to bring a higher level of awareness for the manufacturing opportunities in southwest Wisconsin.”
In his opening remarks, Southwest Tech President Dr. Duane Ford noted several successes the College has enjoyed relating to manufacturing since 2011.
Southwest Tech has increased the number of workers it trains per year by more than 63 percent since 2009. In addition, the College has developed two new programs.
One program assists maintenance technicians to understand how the machines they utilize network with computer systems. The second helps electricians work in specialized environments of dairy and food manufacturing plants.
Ford noted Southwest Tech has benefited from more than $3.93 million in support from 27 different private, state and federal grants.
“What ensures our success is when employers, economies and state governments work in partnership,” he said. “So thank you, manufacturers, and thank you Governor Walker and Secretary [Reggie] Newson, as well as members of the legislature.”
Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) of the 51st Assembly District and Lee Nersion (R-Westby) of the 96th Assembly District were among those in attendance. Jeff Curry attended on behalf of Rep. Travis Tranel, who is currently traveling abroad in Taiwan.
Walker has toured other Wisconsin Technical College System schools this month, where Ford believes the governor has heard similar success stories.
“Southwest Tech’s story is not at all unique,” he said. “All 16 of Wisconsin’s technical colleges are at the heart of workforce, economic and community development within their local districts.
“All 16 listen and respond. All 16 succeed via productive partnerships with numerous private and public stakeholders. And all 16 are this month celebrating successes similar to what you see in southwest Wisconsin.”
Walker proclaimed October as Manufacturing Month to recognize the contributions of the state’s manufacturing employers and workers and to highlight manufacturing as a valuable career pathway.
“Our focus in October is on manufacturing, but really our focus needs to be all year around,” he said Monday morning.
“There are two key industries that drive this state’s economy: one is manufacturing and the other is agriculture.
“There are some great opportunities to grow and expand in that regard.”
Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector contributes nearly $50 billion a year to Wisconsin’s economy and ranks second in the country in the relative size of its manufacturing sector, which employed more than 450,000 workers as of July 2013.
Walker told the audience when it comes to manufacturing in Wisconsin, there are many key areas the state government can help.
“One is lowering the cost of doing business in Wisconsin,” he said. “More often than not, it is just getting out of the way.
Walker noted he signed into law Sunday a property tax relief bill. The two-year, $100 million increase in state school aid is projected to save $13 for the typical homeowner this December.
He also mentioned the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit, which is available for income derived from manufacturing or agricultural property in the state. It will offset a share of Wisconsin income taxes.
In 2016, the credit will increase to 7.5 percent.
“When you lower the cost of doing business, you put money into the hands of people, as consumers, and into the hands of employers,” Walker said. “That makes tremendous business.
“The time is right for us for us, particularly when it comes to manufacturing, to make a case that we have a pretty compelling argument to be in the state of Wisconsin.”
Walker also explained the state aims to become a better partner in the role of education.
“When it comes to manufacturing, one of the things we did, in particular in this budget, is we put funding in so we in the future can start as early as sixth grade, doing academic and career planning,” he said.
The state’s technical colleges will also be counted on to play a role.
“We want to stress when it comes to manufacturing, how important it is to have good technical colleges focused on advanced manufacturing, healthcare and IT, those are the areas with the biggest work shortages in Wisconsin,” he said. “We think filling those positions, and putting more resources in our technical colleges and worker training programs are key to economic growth and ultimately more jobs in the state.”
Walker said some members of his generation are in need of a “wake up call” in regards to the changes in manufacturing.
“If you look in the state of Wisconsin, the average manufacturing job will pay $52,000 a year,” he said. “That’s 25 percent higher than all jobs out there.
“It’s not just a higher salary, 87 percent of all manufacturing jobs have benefits, compared to 72 percent of jobs statewide.”
The turnover rate in manufacturing careers is 4.7 percent, compared to 8.1 percent across all jobs, Walker pointed out.
“Manufacturing is the place, and we need to do a better job of selling that, particularly to schools,” he said. “There is a tremendous need and opportunity out there, and it is only going to get bigger.”
The third and final area Walker indicated the state could assist manufacturing is in infrastructure.
“You need a good transportation system to get product from market,” he said. “That is why we invested $6.4 billion in the state’s transportation system this year.
“Whether you are a manufacturer, whether you are a cheese maker, or a dairy farmer, or anything else, you have got to have a good transportation system. And it has to be in all parts of the state of Wisconsin, not just around the big cities.”
In closing, Walker referenced jobcenterofwisconsin.com, a voluntary portal for employers to list job openings. Many of the 30,000 to 40,000 jobs listed weekly are manufacturing jobs.
“Consistently, we hear from manufacturers that one of the challenges is not that they don’t have jobs open, they do, the challenge is not having enough training to fill those jobs,” Walker said. “So we got people looking for work over here, and we got jobs over here.
"We need to do more to connect the dots, to make that connection.”
Following his remarks, Walker told the media gathered it is an exciting time to be a young person in Wisconsin, but also an exciting time as Governor, as he tours the state and learns success stories.
“Today is a good example, you have a great crowd here. You have some young people, you have some businesses,” he said. “It is similar to when I was earlier in the year was over at Cabela’s and we saw some of the students involved in the Gold Collar program, and saw the partnerships not just with Cabela’s but other businesses that were partnering with that as well.
“What I like about what you see at Southwest Tech, and you see it at other great technical colleges around the state, is a very real connection between the technical college and employers in that region. And I think that is the key to success.
“We can’t just have people going through courses, whether it is in our technical colleges or for that matter our University of Wisconsin system. We have got to have a focus on, what are the needs, what kind of perspective employees are employers looking for and how do we help make sure there are more?”