I LIVED IN THE HURLEY AREA for about 26 years and was a business owner of both a resort and a coffee shop. I also did the economic development for Iron County for about 10 years. I worked with Jerry Murphy (New North Inc.’s executive director), who was at that time the Gogebic County, Mich., economic development director, so I’ve known Jerry for a long time. I moved to Wisconsin Rapids and was the president of the Heart of Wisconsin Business & Economic Alliance. When the job opened up at Progress Lakeshore (formerly the Manitowoc County Economic Development Corporation), I thought, ‘There’s an opportunity to live on the lake.’ I worked there a little more than four years, and got involved in New North as a board member. That broader perspective of working on a regional basis, I found pretty attractive.
We’re seeing a recovery from the downturn of the defense contracts to Oshkosh Corp. But one of the
challenges in defense contracting that this experience has made us remember is there are ups and downs. When there aren’t a lot of government contracts, then it hurts the suppliers to that particular industry. The interest and purpose of the defense industry supply chain initiative is to take those suppliers and help them diversify their customer base so that they become stronger in those ups and downs. It spreads the risk out with the diversification of customers.
We had an advisory group of businesses that met and devised an intake form to collect profiles on the businesses— what the capabilities are, what certifications they have — and determined those elements that are going to be most important to a business looking for a new supplier. We’re developing a portal for capturing those company profiles and we’ve also been working on designing a web tool for what will become the supply chain marketplace. That profile has the ability to connect businesses to multiple industry supply chains that are different than the defense industry. As companies identify their capabilities, and we’ve identified what capabilities are needed in other industries, this marketplace will be searchable by keywords or by industry sector supply chains.
We expect to have the portal open mid-June and demonstrate it to businesses that attend an educational event on Aug. 25. The event will include some workshops on managing your supply chain and how you might fit into other supply chains. We’ll also offer a shortened version of the session at the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference in October, more or less explaining how participating will benefit the businesses and how they can get involved.
We’ve also worked on developing target industry partners to take those suppliers to potential customers, for instance working with the Water Council and the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium. Both of those are based out of Milwaukee, but the membership extends beyond Milwaukee.
We’re also working closely with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership to provide technical assistance to those businesses that have been affected by the supply chain, helping them with Lean manufacturing or ISO certifications.
Looking to grow our internal businesses also helps us with attraction marketing. You can communicate easily to a business looking at the area that here’s a supply chain that’s all ready for you, and you won’t have challenges with acquiring what you need to do business.
I think continuing to work along the lines of understanding supply chains and how those fit across industries is going to be one of the values that we have, leading above many other places in the country.