Opinion: Milwaukee needs manufacturing renaissance

February 15, 2012

From jsonline.com: “Milwaukee needs manufacturing renaissance” — By Reggie Newson  

Recently, I joined Milwaukee Gear and our local workforce development partners in congratulating 15 graduates of an advanced manufacturing training program in Milwaukee.

The graduates completed 10 weeks of training as CNC machinists through a program developed in collaboration with the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/Big Step, Waukesha County Technical College and Milwaukee Gear, where they soon will begin their new careers.

Twelve of the 15 graduates are black males, which is heartening given the recent study by Marc Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that indicates only 44.7% of metro Milwaukee’s working-age black men were employed in 2010. The study reaffirms the seriousness of a longstanding problem in metro Milwaukee that we must work together to overcome.

Make no mistake: Our state’s economy overall is moving in the right direction. We added thousands of private-sector jobs over the past year. Our unemployment rate remains below the national average and is at its lowest point since 2008. Yet we are still climbing our way out of the worst national recession since the Great Depression.

Our manufacturing sector was hit especially hard, and that directly affected Milwaukee’s economy. This has exacerbated the issue of high unemployment among black Milwaukeeans, particularly men.

For decades, many black men have faced barriers to employment. Those who have been unable to find work are sometimes regarded by employers as lacking the education or technical skills to do the job, the soft skills so vital to keeping a job and basic necessities, such as transportation to and from jobs in neighboring communities.

As Department of Workforce Development secretary and a member of Gov. Scott Walker’s cabinet, I know this administration is committed to doing everything possible to leverage resources in support of advancing economic growth in Milwaukee and getting local residents – including unemployed black males – into good-paying jobs.

One possible area is entrepreneurship. If you’re interested in starting a small business, there are local resources available to help you move in the right direction. For example, SCORE SE Wisconsin offers free counseling and mentoring in the region. The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. provides a variety of assistance to entrepreneurs, women and men.

In addition to supporting entrepreneurship in southeastern Wisconsin, one thing we can do at the state level is to support a manufacturing “renaissance” of sorts in central Milwaukee, in part by developing a local pool of skilled workers not unlike the graduates I recently met. We know job creators tend to locate where they can find the skilled workers they need to do business.

We also know that manufacturing is the backbone of Wisconsin’s economy, and we need to do more to encourage manufacturers that have taken jobs to other countries to bring them back to the United States, to Wisconsin and to Milwaukee.

By focusing training resources on key areas of the central city, including the areas highlighted by Levine’s study, and by training more welders, CNC machinists, tool-and-die makers and other workers that today’s manufacturers need, we will encourage businesses to locate in the city, bringing with them job opportunities.

This truly is a call to action for units of government, community-based organizations and other stakeholders to come together and collaborate on a workforce strategy that invests in manufacturing-based training programs that we know are successful based on data-driven, evidence-based outcomes.

A 2008 Public Policy Forum study identified almost $340 million in federal and state funding to be spent in one fiscal year on 36 different workforce development programs in Wisconsin.

Just think of what we could accomplish collectively by joining forces to prioritize this funding on programs that we know yield the best results, ahead of programs that either duplicate services unnecessarily or fund services that don’t demonstrate evidence-based outcomes, no matter how well-intentioned these programs may be.

The governor has directed DWD and the Council on Workforce Investment to recommend funding priorities for our state based on evidence-based outcomes. This includes priorities for growing and strengthening Milwaukee’s workforce. I stand behind the governor’s vision, and I urge all workforce partners serving the Milwaukee area to stand with us.

It is through this shared commitment that we will train workers with marketable skills, bring manufacturing companies back to Milwaukee and grow the economy for the benefit of our entire state

I share this commitment to the community as an appointee of Walker and as a lifelong resident of Milwaukee who is proud to make a home for my family in this community and loves our city through and through.

Reggie Newson is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

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