From Wisconsin’s central location in the Midwest, 40% of U.S. and Canadian manufacturers are reachable within a day’s drive. Wisconsin’s roads, railways and ports provide seamless, convenient access to the world’s busiest multimodal transportation hub, located just 55 miles south of the state’s border. With 13 commercial ports, eight commercial airports and three foreign trade zones within the state’s borders, Wisconsin offers easy access to markets worldwide—a fact that Green Bay-based Schneider, for one, takes advantage of, with the company’s truckload, intermodal and logistics services producing enough mileage to circle the globe 400 times each day. With its prime location and robust infrastructure, Wisconsin provides a foundation for companies’ success—but it has built on that foundation to provide even greater success factors.
Wisconsin is making significant investments in talent and workforce development to help employers deal with a tight labor market by equipping workers with the skills that are needed. It’s what Governor Evers refers to as “connecting the dots.” For example, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) provides grant support for fabrication laboratories in public schools, enabling students to solve real-world problems and the science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) with the skills they are learning in the classroom. Wisconsin’s technical college system has active collaborations and open lines of communication with employers, so program offerings are well aligned with employer needs. And the new Higher Education Regional Alliance brings together two-year and four-year colleges to ensure they are pursuing a unified strategy. In addition to developing the workforce within the state, Wisconsin is also attracting skilled workers from outside the state, including military veterans as they conclude their service.
Wisconsin’s well-developed supply chain means companies that decide to locate here can get up and running quickly—and a new tool makes it easier for companies to tap into that supply chain. The Wisconsin Supplier Network (wisconsinsuppliernetwork.com) connects original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with suppliers via a searchable online database that allows OEMs to filter based on specific criteria and narrow the list to suppliers that meet specific needs.
Wisconsin’s infrastructure strengths benefit businesses of all types, but companies within the logistics sector, in particular, are recognizing this excellence with their decisions to locate here. Amazon opened a $250 million distribution and fulfillment center on Kenosha in 2014; another distribution and fulfillment center, this one with $200 million in capital investment, is being constructed in Oak Creek with a projected 2020 opening date; and the company has received preliminary approvals for a 1 million-square-foot distribution center in Beloit. Uline, a distributor of shipping, packaging and industrial materials, relocated from Illinois to Pleasant Prairie in 2010. In 2019, the company announced expansion plans encompassing more than 1.5 million square feet of new space in two distribution centers in Kenosha. Both of these companies have received tax incentives from the State of Wisconsin in exchange for job creation and capital investment.
Wisconsin is also fertile ground for startups in the logistics sector, as new companies benefit from the presence of talent with relevant skills and larger logistics companies serve as test cases for their technologies. Madison-based SwanLeap, which uses a proprietary artificial intelligence platform to help large manufacturers and other clients optimize their supply chains and save money on shipping, was Inc.’s No. 1 fastest-growing company in the U.S. in 2018. Green Bay-based MatchBack Systems, which reduces costs and environmental impacts by matching shipping containers empty after delivery with nearby goods awaiting shipment, has received local, state and national awards for its innovative software.
Leveraging the latest technologies gives manufacturers a competitive advantage. Recognizing that keeping pace with ever-evolving technology requires an investment of time and resources, Wisconsin has taken steps to help companies stay up to speed. The Transformational Productivity Initiative (transformationalproductivity.org) offers a set of tools and delivery systems to help manufacturers assess and prioritize actions to increase their productivity via basic process improvements and management best practices, as well as the integration of automation and digital technologies. The Connected Systems Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee—a multidisciplinary collaboration with Rockwell Automation, Microsoft, WEDC and other industry leaders—offers physical space for companies and researchers alike to test new concepts, solve problems and share ideas.
Gateway Technical College, which has nine campuses in southeastern Wisconsin, recently broke ground on an $11.5 million expansion of its SC Johnson Integrated Manufacturing and Engineering Technology (iMET) Center, creating a world-class installation of Industry 4.0 to prepare students for the high-tech manufacturing jobs of today and tomorrow. And Wisconsin is one of 10 U.S. states selected to take part in the Policy Academy on Strengthening Your State’s Manufacturers, a year-long program offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Wisconsin’s collaborative approach to cluster development constitutes a different kind of infrastructure. Within these thriving clusters, existing companies and new players alike can connect into a built-in supply chain, workforce and entrepreneurial ecosystem. This virtual infrastructure operates alongside the well-established physical infrastructure to offer well-rounded support for manufacturers of all kinds.