CLUSTERS — AND THE ROLE they can play in strengthening the region’s economy – played a starring role during the annual New North Summit, which was held Dec. 7 in Green Bay.
Keynote speaker Rebecca Bagley, president and CEO of NorTech in northeast Ohio, shared with the 769 attendees how her economic development organization successfully formed industry clusters. She says clusters have proven to be a successful tool in growing economies.
“Industry clusters help businesses of all sizes – from major corporations to small businesses,” she says. “Everyone benefits.”
The New North is already home to several industry clusters, including wind energy, ship building and paper/printing/converting. Bagley says, however, it’s essential to always keep an eye on what’s coming next as a way to make a region stand out from the crowd.
“We’re always trying to think about new technologies and what’s happening in emerging industries,” she says. “I think the national economy will only rebound through the efforts we’re making on a local level.”
Clusters and how area businesses can benefit from them was the focus of a panel discussion with John Davis, president and CEO of Great Northern Corp.; David Lisle, president and CEO of Wausaukee Composites Inc.; and Duane Roehm, vice president
of manufacturing at Marinette Marine Corp.
Roehm says Marinette Marine’s success is tied directly to who the company partners with for parts and services. That being said, working with a local company – within about 60 miles of the shipyards in Marinette, is always more preferable than working with one thousands of miles away.
“We would much rather work with a company in our area than one on the East or West Coast. We get better service and faster turnaround,” he says. “There’s also a lower cost since the product doesn’t need to travel as far.”
Being a part of a cluster makes good business sense since it opens up a lot of doors – even if some of those doors involve competitors, Lisle says. “We all collectively elevate each other. You have to accept you are going to win some and lose some,” he says.
The summit’s afternoon sessions provided a number of breakout options, including the sharing of the results of the 2012 Manufacturing Vitality Index, which was sponsored by the Northeastern Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Business Success Center surveyed a number of manufacturers on several topics in late November. Those results were then compared to the 2011 index, which was compiled in November 2010.
The overall results are positive, Davis says. The manufacturing sector accounts for 23 percent of the region’s employment base.
Sixty-three percent of respondents expect increased sales and growth in 2012 and 43 percent plan to hire more workers in the first quarter of 2012. While Davis is excited so many employers want to hire, he adds that many companies say they have trouble finding workers with the right sets of skills.
“Companies have jobs, but there’s a disconnect out there between the jobs that are available and the skill set of people looking for jobs,” he says. “There’s a lot of work going on to help bridge the gap and work to attract students to these careers and provide training to displaced workers.”
Selling the region
The New North also rolled out a new website at the summit. The site is redesigned with individual landing pages for the six initiatives that have updated information. The site’s new content management system allows community chairs to update information and images.
New North co-chair Bob DeKoch, president and chief operating officer of the Boldt Company, says the New North’s Branding and Marketing Committee also is putting together a business locator guide. The guide pulls together compelling facts and information about why businesses from outside of the New North should consider making a move.
“It’s a companion piece of the talent recruitment booklet and will really talk up all the advantages we have here in the New North – a skilled workforce, a high quality of life, access to power sources and reliable transportation,” he says.