Andy Jorgensen: Marketing Wisconsin's manufacturers holds great potential for economic growth
We in Wisconsin are known for our cheese, polka and Friday night fish fries.
But, of course, that's not all there is to our state.
We make things here—and we make them well. Manufacturing contributes more than $50 billion in economic impact in Wisconsin and employs nearly 450,000 people.
We are home to industry leaders such as Harley-Davidson, John Deere and Briggs & Stratton.
But, again, that's not all there is.
Wisconsin has one of the richest supply chains of small and mid-sized manufacturers in the world. Tucked away in industrial parks and tiny towns, these hidden gems specialize in making everything from medical equipment to aircraft parts.
In 2010, I represented one such business: Aztalan Engineering in Lake Mills. In the midst of our recession, this family-owned company doubled its capacity with a building expansion and new employees. On a tour, I asked the owner for the secret to his success. His answer was simple: marketing.
Since then, I've made it my mission to promote Wisconsin's manufacturing businesses—large and small—in the same ways we promote agriculture and tourism. I created the Marketing Manufacturers and Keeping Employees, or MMAKE, package of bills. These proposals direct the state to develop brochures, videos and web-based materials highlighting our manufacturers and explaining what they offer. The plan would have Wisconsin host a trade show for manufacturing, and send representatives to trade shows across the country and around the world. With each new contract signed, we'd see more jobs and more revenue.
Despite bipartisan support and my willingness to compromise, after two sessions, the MMAKE bills are not law.
But I've learned the legislative process isn't the only way to get something done—and I wasn't about to stop there.
Meeting with executive staff from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), I pointed out the economic potential of our small and mid-sized manufacturers. WEDC officials acknowledged that these machine shops hadn't been their focus but agreed that these businesses deserve promotion. I'm proud to report that, because of our talks, WEDC has developed sleek marketing materials that publicize our entire supply chain at industry trade shows.
At the first event, the AmCon/Wisconsin Manufacturing and Technology Show in Milwaukee last October, WEDC saw high traffic at its booth and collected a few business leads.
Next week, WEDC will host another booth at the IndustryWeek Best Plants Conference in Milwaukee. I will be at that show, too, supporting the state's efforts to promote Wisconsin's unmatched manufacturing capabilities to a national audience of industry leaders.
Only time will tell if our efforts are successful, but I'm proud we've gotten to this point, and I'm truly grateful to business owners I've served for sharing their legislative ideas and for WEDC officials' openness to working with me on this issue.
Wisconsin is a leader in manufacturing and should be known for its outstanding workforce and products. With a little marketing, we can develop our reputation—and develop real economic growth.
Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, serves the 43rd Assembly District, including parts of Dane, Jefferson, Rock and Walworth counties. He also serves as the Assembly Democratic Caucus chairman. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708; phone 888-534-0043; email Rep.Jorgensen@legis.Wisconsin.gov.