From “Steering their own course – Innovation drives Mercury Marine’s growth” — Sitting back and relaxing on the water this summer, chances are you’ll see the name “Mercury Marine” zip by.

Headquartered in Fond du Lac, Mercury Marine is the world’s largest developer and manufacturer of marine propulsion systems – the technical name for the motors powering the fishing boats, speed boats and pontoons seen on bodies around the world.

While Mercury Marine is now moving in the right direction, the company – Fond du Lac County’s largest employer with more than 2,000 workers – was admittedly hit hard by the recession. “What’s more discretionary spending than a boat?” says Mercury Marine President Mark Schwabero.

But today, as Mercury Marine engines power boats everywhere from Lake Winnebago and the Great Lakes to the Amazon River and expanding markets in China, its sales are increasing and the company is in expansion mode, building a $20 million testing facility visible to people driving by its massive manufacturing facility along U.S. 41. The new facility will allow the company to test a wider variety of engines, allowing it to develop new products more quickly.

“The expansion going on now is directly related from overall market growth,” Schwabero says. “In the U.S. market, we are seeing a recovery in some segments, such as engines for fishing boats and pontoons.”

With nearly $2 billion in sales, Mercury Marine is not only Fond du Lac’s largest manufacturer with more than 1 million square feet of space, it’s also a global manufacturing powerhouse.

“Their presence in our community is almost immeasurable,” says Joe Reitemeier, president of the Fond du Lac Association of Commerce. “Not only do they have a large employment base, there are several hundred companies that provide services or supplies to Mercury. They’re also active in the community and looking for ways to make a difference.”

Innovation drives growth

Although Mercury Marine plans to celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, there was a time not so long ago that some wondered if the engine maker would maintain its significant Wisconsin footprint.

In 2009 as sales fell, the company decided to consolidate its engine making in either Fond du Lac or Stillwater, Okla., to help save money and right the company’s financial ship. Stillwater leaders brought considerable incentives to the table. It wasn’t until the company’s union agreed to concessions and the city, county and state brought their own incentives to the table that Mercury Marine decided to stay in Fond du Lac. Mercury Marine’s financial package included $70 million from the state in refundable tax credits, a $50 million loan from the county paid for by a 0.5 percent sales tax, and $3 million in financial aid from the city.

At the time, the saga dominated state headlines, especially after union workers voted initially to reject any changes. There was a lot of intensive negotiation before the second vote and the company reversed its decision to consolidate operations in Oklahoma.

Schwabero admits it was a difficult time, “but just as when you have emotional decisions in your personal life, they bring you closer to those around you. The experience left us with closer relationships with the city, county and state. I can’t forget about our employees either. Their hard work has allowed us to get where we are today. They are really great and have a passion for what we’re all about.”

Today, that difficult time is past and the company is adding jobs.

In the past three years, Mercury Marine officials estimate the company has brought an additional 950 jobs to the community – many of them by bringing work from Stillwater to the Fond du Lac plants. Other hiring has come from company growth. Most of the positions created and filled are related to engineering and product development.

“Innovation is an essential component to our company’s growth,” says Schwabero, who has been Mercury’s president since 2008. “We have a lot of technical capabilities that set us apart. Innovation is a fundamental strength.”

In the past few years, Mercury Marine’s greatest success was with its 150-horsepower engine. “It’s been a home run for us. There’s been a lot of acceptance for it in the market,” Schwabero says. “The downturn allowed us to put some focus on it so it hit the market just at the right time as things were starting to come back.”

The new $20 million testing facility will be finished by the end of the year, but engineers and technicians will start some testing this summer, says David Foulkes, vice president of engineering. The facility complements existing on site testing facilities as well as outdoor sites in Oshkosh along the Fox River and in Florida.

“There are several testing stages you go through when developing a new product and this new facility will allow us to do a wider variety of testing, which will help us increase our product development,” he says.

Foulkes says the company needs to keep innovating and developing new products to stay ahead of its competition, namely Yamaha in Asia and Volvo in Europe. “We offer such a broad range of products, including diesel and gasoline engines as well as outboards and stern drives. We need to keep up in all of those areas,” he says. “Engines are also getting more powerful.”

Construction on the 16,000-square-foot facility began last year and includes two 18,000-gallon tanks where engines can be tested, says Dave Kahlow, who is heading up the engineering construction project. “They’re very imposing,” he says.
The building also includes special air exchange systems since the engines emit exhaust during the testing process.

Mercury Marine’s engineering and product development center has about 450 engineers on staff. With so many high-tech employees, Mercury Marine is active with other Fond du Lac County businesses seeking to attract and retain talent in the area. The company has robust co-op programs in place with engineering programs and is a strong supporter of programs at Moraine Park Technical College.

Dropping its focus a bit younger, Mercury Marine is also a sponsor of the Fond du Lac STEM Academy, which currently serves students in grades 3 to 5 this year, but will expand next fall to grades 3 to 8. The students study a full range of subjects, but there’s an extra focus on science and technology. In addition, students do a lot of hands-on, project-based assignments.

Mercury Marine provides the school with technical expertise and technological resources as well as having employees serve as role models, who can talk about real-world science applications of what they’re learning in school.

“We employ a lot of engineers and people with technical expertise, so it’s great we can share some of that knowledge with the community,” Schwabero says.

Students also have access to some of the company’s technical equipment. For example, they were able to use an expensive electron microscope that few schools can afford.

“We really helped the local school district bring that program to reality,” Schwabero says. “We have such a significant product development presence here and anything we can do to help students realize the career opportunities related to the sciences, the better.”

Before the recession hit and Mercury Marine was posting big sales numbers, Schwabero says it was common to “just write a check, but now it’s not as easy to do that. Instead, we’ve become more personally involved with various community organizations and programs through our employees’ time and talent. Today, we have a much more personal relationship with the community.”

That’s something that Reitemeier from the Association of Commerce echoes. “They have senior leader executives involved and active in multiple organizations. They are in there and getting involved with an organization, whether it’s the United Way or the local Red Cross, he says.

Schwabero says that one of the company’s pillars of success outlined in its sustainability report is its relationship with the community. Twenty-five percent of the company’s employees in Fond du Lac volunteer 20 hours or more each year with a local organization, whether it’s a business organization, a non-profit like the United Way or local schools.

Global scale, local impact

Mercury Marine, a division of Illinois-based Brunswick Corp., is truly a global company. With 43 percent of its sales coming from outside of the United States, Schwabero jokes he puts on too many miles to count each year visiting the company’s facilities around the world as well as meeting with salespeople and distributors.

The company is the world’s largest developer and manufacturer of marine propulsion systems for both commercial and residential activities. While Mercury’s main business in the United States is related to engines built for recreational boats, in other places the engines are more focused on the commercial sector, such as engines for water taxis.

While Mercury Marine’s overall market share in Asia is small compared to other regions, that segment is growing, Schwabero says. With people and plants around the world, the company can react more quickly to what’s happening in local markets, he adds. “Those locations help us better meet the needs of our customers.”

In addition to the manufacturing facilities in Fond du Lac, there are facilities in St. Cloud, Fla.; Juarez, Mexico; Belgium; and China. The company has a joint venture in Komagane, Japan.

At all of its locations around the world, sustainability remains a core value – not only being a responsible consumer of energy and caring for the environment, but also quality of life and product stewardship initiatives.

“Much of our marine-engine business is reliant on clean water and a healthy environment,” Schwabero says. “Mercury Marine has been and will remain a leader in the development of marine technologies that minimize the effects on the environment. Sustainable growth is our mission.”

And with Mercury engines powering boats around the globe, it’s something the company is committed to.

“We are cautiously optimistic about Mercury Marine’s future growth,” Schwabero says. “For so many people, being on the water – whether it’s fishing or other recreational activities – is a part of their life and you want to get out there and enjoy it, no matter what.”


A boat engine is a boat engine, right? Wrong. Just as there are multiple engine types for vehicles, the same goes for marine vessels. The two main categories are outboards and stern drives – both of which are made by Mercury Marine.

Outboard engines are the most common way to power small watercraft vessels such as pontoon boats and fishing boats. Outboard engines consist of a self-contained unit that includes the engine, gear box and propeller and is affixed to the outside of the vessel.

Stern drives consist of an engine and drive connected to one another through the transom, or the flat area at the back of a boat. Stern drives are designed so that the engine is inside and enclosed by the boat, while the propulsion system (out drive) is outside of the boat and in the water.

Mercury designs and manufactures engines that run on gas and diesel. The engines also vary in speed from 2 horsepower to 300 horsepower.




From “Oshkosh Corp. cuts, linked to military spending decline” — About 535 employees at Oshkosh Corp.’s defense division are scheduled to lose their jobs June 14, fewer than an earlier estimate of 700, as some people have found other jobs or have taken early retirements, the company said Tuesday.

On Thursday, the 535 employees will get a chance to find other employment through a career fair exclusively for them at the Oshkosh Convention Center.

“This is for Oshkosh defense division production employees only,” said company spokesman John Daggett.

The all-day event, sponsored by the company, is expected to attract 14 area companies that have a total of 542 job openings — most of them in manufacturing.

The list includes Mercury Marine Inc., which is seeking to hire about 50 people in Fond du Lac.

Mercury has openings for maintenance mechanics and maintenance electricians. The company has a unique “sixth shift,” where employees work 36 hours Friday, Saturday and Sunday and get paid for 40 hours.

The long-weekend shift is sought by people who want to do other things during the week, such as attend school or pursue another career.

Other companies expected at Thursday’s career fair include defense contractor Oldenburg Group, Quad/Graphics, Schneider National, The Manitowoc Co., Bemis Co., Alliance Laundry and Pioneer Metal Finishing.

Oldenburg Group’s plant in Rhinelander has openings for welders, machinists, a weld-shop supervisor and a production manager. Among other things, the plant works on material-handling equipment for the U.S. Navy.

“If we spend the day in Oshkosh and hire a couple of people, it’s worth it,” said Gayle Rutlin, a human resources generalist for the company.

Tuesday, Fox Valley Technical College staff met with Oshkosh Corp. employees to offer career guidance and job training options.

A couple of employees said they wanted to get out of manufacturing and pursue careers such as physical therapy, said Denise Martinez, the college’s director of counseling services.

“Probably a bigger share of people stay in manufacturing of some type, but they want additional skills for greater job security,” Martinez said.

The Oshkosh Corp. job cuts were announced in April, ending a four-year hiring spree in the company’s defense division and slowing what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates once said was one of the most impressive military-vehicle production runs in decades.

Only two years ago, 2,500 people attended a two-day job fair for the company, with some waiting more than nine hours to be interviewed for roughly 750 job openings.

Including those who applied online and at other times, more than 5,000 people sought jobs as the specialty vehicle-maker added staff to fulfill a $3 billion defense contract.

Now, the people losing their jobs from a slowdown in defense spending are entering an improved job market in the Fox Valley and Northeast Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

There are more than 1,000 job orders posted for production occupations in northeast Wisconsin, including orders with multiple positions, Workforce Development records show.

“The bottom line is the job market is pretty healthy right now. And the Oshkosh employees have been in the defense industry, so their certifications are top notch,” said Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board in Green Bay.

Replacing the defense contractor’s wages, including some of the highest pay in the area for manufacturing jobs, could be more difficult for many people.

“You may have to take two steps back before you start moving ahead again,” Golembeski said.

“I suspect we are going to see the same thing with the Kewaunee power plant employees, in that these men and women also are at the top of the pay scale, so they may not be able to maintain the wage level they’ve been at,” he added.

A dozen of the Oshkosh employees subject to the cutback took early retirements. About 150 other people won’t be included in the layoffs at the end of next week because they’ve already found other work or they were contract employees.

The employees losing their jobs, represented by United Auto Workers Local 578, will have hiring recall rights for up to three years. They will receive severance pay based on their unused or accrued vacation time, according to the company.

After the layoffs, the company will still have about 2,800 employees in its defense division in Oshkosh and 5,500 employees companywide in Wisconsin. But military vehicle production will drop 30%, and jobs tied to the lost work aren’t expected to come back anytime soon.

The pullback in military spending, largely from the war in Afghanistan winding down, is certain to ripple through the Fox Valley where the military-vehicle boom has supported dozens of businesses, including parts suppliers, metal fabricators, foundries and machine shops.


From “MPTC renovations improve library, cafeteria and more” — The latest addition at Moraine Park Technical College has been completed offering a new library, cafeteria and computer lab on the west side of the building.

The new library is 6,800-square-feet, replacing a 2,700-square-foot facility.

Campus and community partner Karen Coley said the former library will be the last major project on campus. Remodeling there will include adding another Mercury Marine Lab to meet demand.

“We will also be adding one general classroom and IT rooms to the campus,” Coley said.

To create the student life area of the campus, Coley said they gutted the former cafeteria. A classroom was replaced with a student area with two big screen televisions, a gaming system and seating.

Brightly colored chairs were placed around the tables in the new cafeteria and special energy efficient lighting was added to go with the school’s green initiative.

One of the big pluses was adding a kitchen.

“We did not have any kitchen before the remodeling,” Coley said.

Campus Café and Catering won the bid to provide the food service at the school.

“It’s made a real difference in students staying on campus for meals,” Coley said.

A patio was also added off of the cafeteria and will have tables for use during warm weather.

A career center was added that is much larger than the former space and there are double the computers in the room for students to use for career assessments.

See MPTC/Page 2

An open computer lab will be staffed part-time and is adjacent to the new library.

Librarian Susan Bentz said the big difference is the windows. The former space had none and the new library is full of light.

The library has the same number of books although it looks like fewer in the expanded space. More computers were addedas well.

“The books are no longer the focal point,” Bentz said. “It is much more student centered”

A periodical reading center was added as were study rooms.

The project cost $1.2 million and took about six months to complete.

The addition is the second project to follow the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. In 2010, the district completed a 6,800-square-foot addition to house the reception, administration, student services, conference room, security and maintenance areas. Parking stalls were added as well.

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