Buzz words like “advanced manufacturing” and “next generation manufacturing” often find their way into the lexicon of economic development professionals as they try to differentiate their region, or their organization, in hopes of expanding an existing business or attracting a new business to the area.
In an 18-county region in Northeast Wisconsin, generally known for the Green Bay Packers and cheese production, a regional economic development group called New North, Inc. is working to develop market opportunities surrounding manufacturing while establishing a brand identity with which to market and promote the region.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
The New North, as the region is now known, is best known for manufacturing and agriculture. “Manufacturing is certainly the lifeblood of our economy,” said Ann Franz of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and the NEW Manufacturing Alliance. “Nearly one out of every four jobs in our region is tied to some type of manufacturing,” compared to the national average of 12 percent. The NEW Manufacturing Alliance works with educational institutions, workforce development boards, chambers of commerce, and state organizations to promote manufacturing in the region.
In the New North region, there are over 2,000 manufacturers, employing over 141,000 people. Many of the manufacturing companies in the region employ fewer than 100 people, while still being able to compete nationally or even internationally in the market.
One of the differentiating factors about manufacturing here is the wide representation of industries and sectors that fall under the umbrella of manufacturing. When you look at other regions of the country, they often have all their eggs in one basket and are heavily tied to one specific manufacturing sector. Detroit is a great example with its focus on the automotive industry.
WINDS OF PROGRESS
New North, Inc. has focused on promoting the region as a central supply chain cluster supporting the growing wind energy industry. This effort essentially re-defines the region’s diverse range of manufacturing capacities to meet the production needs of wind turbine manufacturers. This market is growing rapidly in North America and is currently constrained in that growth by a lack of several critical production components. Given the extensive range of manufacturing capacities that are in the New North, our supply chain cluster has been positioned to support nearly 100 percent of the component-production needs of the wind turbine market in North America. It’s a strong response to a market demand that highlights the diversity of the region’s manufacturing prowess.
Local market knowledge also allows for strong connectivity between wind developers, equipment manufacturers, and distributors. In addition to the manufacturing ability of the region, nearly all of Wisconsin’s existing wind projects are located in the New North. The state’s largest wind power plant – the Blue Sky Green Field Project, which will consist of 88 turbines and produce an estimated 200 MW of power – is being planned for construction in the New North county of Fond du Lac.
The region also has a strong transport network. Characteristic of the region’s resource base is an historic strength in logistics and attending investments in transportation infrastructure including: the Lake Michigan Port-St. Lawrence Seaway, a strong rail and highway network. The New North’s road infrastructure affords easy access to the west, and is very minimally limited by seasonal weight restrictions. However, due to difficulty in transporting increasingly large wind turbines over roads, Great Lakes transport is quickly becoming a differentiating advantage of the New North’s transportation profile.
Though the Port of Green Bay has experienced a slight downturn in shipping volume in recent months, it has a strong long term history of commercial activity. Posting a dramatic increase in international tonnage has earned the Port of Green Bay and its K&K Warehousing Inc. terminal the prestigious Robert J. Lewis Pacesetter Award, given by the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. “Waterway transportation is a unique complement to industry sectors like the wind energy component market,” said Murphy.
One of the keys to the growth of the New North – and specifically the growth of the wind energy sector – is the role that two-year, four-year, and technical colleges play.
Workforce training is a focal point of the region’s four technical colleges. All are actively engaged in developing partnerships with business and industry in designing and executing customized labor solutions tied specifically to targeted industry clusters.
Lakeshore Technical College’s Electro-Mechanical Wind System Technician Program, along with the college’s commitment to creating innovative approaches to meeting the labor needs of the wind energy industry, resulted in the Interstate Renewable Energy Commission recognizing the Program in 2005 with its Innovation Award.
The University of Wisconsin also offers Engineering and Technology R & D Services to businesses in a number of disciplines that use wind turbine technology. Examples of services include powertrain control, mechanical design, experimental mechanics and mechanical control, structural dynamic, and wind tunnel testing.
With all of this activity the New North has become a vital, economic region, ready to become even more important as the 21st century progresses.
Jerry Murphy is Executive Director of New North, Inc. For information visit www.thenewnorth.com.