Manufacturing still drives area, state economy

January 31, 2014

From chippewa.com: “Manufacturing still drives area, state economy” —  by Ross Evavold – This question was once posed to me: Where would Wisconsin be without manufacturing?

It’s basically a rhetorical one, since the answer is quite obvious. Consider these facts:

  • Wisconsin leads the entire U.S. in manufacturing jobs per capita.
  • Ten percent of the state’s pool of workers 16 and over are employed in manufacturing. That’s twice the national average.
  • Manufacturing is the state’s single largest employment sector.
  • We have more than 9,000 manufacturers in the state, and more than 400,000 workers in that area.
  • All but one of Wisconsin’s 37 largest industries are in manufacturing.
  • It provides jobs for a majority of Wisconsin workers who do not have a college degree.

So as you can see, manufacturing is still the driver of the Badger state’s economy, for now and the foreseeable future.

Manufacturing is responsible for about 20 percent of the gross state product, and that figure translates to roughly the same percentage in the Chippewa Valley.

Our heavy reliance on manufacturing also comes with some risks. Wisconsin has many fewer manufacturing jobs than it did in 2000, but it has also retained more jobs than other manufacturing-heavy states, while manufacturing has also weathered the Great Recession of our lifetimes better than other job sectors.

Not that there won’t be challenges. Charlie Walker, director of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation, said that in trying to stay ahead of the curve, this area has been very proactive in identifying long-range issues that will impact growth.

He cited three major criteria for this area’s manufacturing success: the talent level of the workforce; accessibility to the marketplace through rail and highway infrastructure; and reliability of power. Walker says we stack up well in all three categories.

The Chippewa Valley also ranks well when it comes to advanced manufacturing, encompassing the high-tech assembly industry like the one we feature on the cover.

SGI has roots here dating back to when Silicon Graphics bought Cray Research in the mid-’90s. And now Jabil Circuits will become the latest worldwide player to land here, with its purchase of SGI’s manufacturing facility.

Jabil’s success story is impressive: Since its start nearly 50 years ago in Detroit, the company has expanded relentlessly through acquisitions and by evolving to serve numerous industries. In 2012 it ranked 157th in Fortune magazine’s list of the 500 most admired companies.

Oh, and SGI is very much sticking around here, as so many other related businesses have also done once they come to the area. TTM Technologies still produces circuit boards with about 1,000 workers in Chippewa Falls, and Cray, Inc., just installed and filled more supercomputer orders than any quarter in its history, sending its stock price soaring.

They have all found workers in this area to be among the best in the nation, which supports Walker’s contention as to the talent level.

Helping produce those workers with specific skill sets for our manufacturing companies are UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College, which have forged relationships with many area firms. The schools have been so successful that some graduates have actually had to turn down job offers.

Our winter issue also takes a look at why Five Star Plastics in Eau Claire’s Sky Park Industrial Center is undertaking its second large expansion in five years, and Nanospark, a young spinoff company in Altoona with a bright future.

A key area with manufacturers is often exports, and Momentum West, an economic development group representing 10 area counties, is expanding its horizons this year by going beyond our borders. It is targeting two international trade shows with hopes of landing businesses for this area.

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