It’s well known that manufacturing is a significant piece of the economy for New North, the 18-county region of Northeast Wisconsin.
With October being Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin, it’s a great time to examine exactly what manufacturing means to our region.
In a nutshell, manufacturing dominates the regional economy of the New North. Of our $62.1 billion gross regional product in 2016, manufacturing was responsible for 24 percent of this total ($15.1 billion).
The breadth and scope of regional manufacturing is truly amazing. There are the familiar, more traditional manufacturing sectors of paper, food production and agriculture, machinery and equipment, and the like.
Within paper alone, you have converting, packaging, printing and labels, among others. The food and agriculture sector encompasses the equally familiar milk, cheese and meat packing/production, but also includes a strong food-packaging presence.
The metal products cluster includes fabrication, foundries, and tooling and machinery, among other industries. In 2016, this cluster was 492 percent above the national average in terms of the jobs it produced within the New North.
And we can’t forget the robust defense industry, with international powerhouse manufacturers such as Oshkosh Corp. and Fincantieri Marinette Marine, which have several billions of dollars in current contract work and thousands of employees right in our backyard.
It’s cliché, but the true dominance of the paper and packaging cluster of our region cannot be understated. An amazing 62.5 percent of the demand for paper and packaging is manufactured in the New North. There were 17,620 jobs in this sector in 2016 — over 1,000 percent more than the national average (1,017).
With several really strong, diverse manufacturing markets within the New North, the beauty of our regional economy is that it can take some level of disruption in any one of those independent market areas and still be OK. Having such a diverse economy is a real advantage for the regional economy.
The last great economic recession proved that the paper and food production industries are resilient in tough national/international economies.
Even better, many of these New North manufacturers serve national and international markets. In other words, money consistently is brought back into our regional economy.
We’re also lucky to have developed a strong, supporting infrastructure over time around the manufacturing ecosystem in New North. This includes transportation, public and private utilities, supplier networks, and education and training resources — all designed and built to support the manufacturing sector.
Educators at our two- and four-year institutions continue to work overtime to provide the next generation of talent to manufacturers in the region. We’re even seeing cutting-edge programs at the high school level, including the use of fab labs to demonstrate to students how dynamic today’s modern manufacturing is.
Further aiding is the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, a group of manufacturers that comes together for the greater good. This collaboration with educators, workforce development officials, chambers of commerce and state organizations successfully promotes manufacturing in the region with the ultimate goal of fulfilling talent needs.
The Manufacturing First Expo and Conference, Oct. 25-26 at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay, is a great culmination of Manufacturing Month in the state. Manufacturers in the region assemble to share the latest industry advances, highlight successes and hear from thought leaders in manufacturing.
While the demise of manufacturing has been prognosticated in some quarters, I can say without equivocation that it is stronger than ever in the New North. Working together, manufacturing will continue to thrive and be a centerpiece of our regional economy.
Jerry Murphy is executive director of New North Inc., a nonprofit regional marketing and economic development organization serving the 18 counties of Northeast Wisconsin. For more information on New North, visit www.thenewnorth.com.