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Transforming Manufacturing in Wisconsin

Clearly, that rings true today, as manufacturers emerge from the recession and survey the economic landscape. What they see can be startling. Customers, competitors and markets are changing faster than ever. Sustainability is moving from a social movement to a business imperative. International demand for manufactured goods is rising. For many businesses, going global is no longer an option; it's essential for long-term growth and profitability.

This wave of change creates new opportunities for business growth and expansion but is also a threat to companies unable to adapt.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership provides guidance and expertise to help the state's small and midsize manufacturers overcome these challenges through the adoption of strategies to drive performance excellence and competitiveness. Our ultimate goal is to strengthen Wisconsin's $49 billion manufacturing industry so it can continue to create wealth, good jobs and maintain a high standard of living for citizens.

Though the industry was hit hard in the recession, we believe that a revitalized and transformed manufacturing sector is the best avenue to economic growth. At a time when state unemployment is hovering near 9%, no other sector of our economy has more of an impact on jobs, ranging from high-wage manufacturing jobs to employment in related industries such as professional services, transportation, logistics and finance.

On April 20, several hundred manufacturing leaders will gather for WMEP's 13th annual Manufacturing Matters! Conference at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee. This year's conference highlights strategies to win in a volatile global economy and brings nearly 20 innovative and award-winning manufacturers together to share insights and best practices.

Their stories are inspiring, but, more important, they underscore what can be achieved when companies unleash the forces of innovation throughout their business enterprises. Among this year's panelists are several 2009 Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year award winners. These forward-thinking companies show us what is possible, even in a tough economy and during a period of intense global competition.

• Oconomowoc-based Sentry Equipment Corp. is a global leader in the design and manufacture of sampling systems and products for the power and process industries. Sentry attributes its success to solving customer problems through technology and a focus on continuous improvement and employee development. During the past five years, sales have nearly doubled.

• Over the past decade, sales at Northwoods Paper Converting Inc. have increased an average of 100% a year, and the number of employees has grown from 7 to 88. Beaver Dam-based NPC utilizes state-of-the-art equipment to convert fine paper, vinyl and paper board into sheets for products such as CD holders, cereal boxes and magazines.

• Mayville Engineering Co. Inc. embraces lean manufacturing to improve quality and efficiency and to help customers reduce costs. MEC provides prototyping, manufacturing, fabrication, coating and assembly services. In the past four years, employment has risen 40%, revenues have tripled and MEC will open a new 303,000-square-foot facility in Beaver Dam this year.

• Technology, marketing and automation power the growth and success of Germantown-based Plastics Components Inc., a globally competitive low-cost producer of plastic injection molded parts. Since 2005, PCI has gained 21 new customers in 15 markets.

The leadership, vision and passion of these firms and many others too numerous to mention offer compelling evidence that a transformed manufacturing sector is within our reach. The path is not without obstacles and will not happen overnight. The state's efforts to promote exports, sustainability and Next Generation Manufacturing are an excellent start. Forward or back, the choice is ours.

Michael Klonsinski is executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. For more information on Manufacturing Matters! visit or call (877) 856-8588.

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