A new flag flying over the landscape of Northeast Wisconsin declares what many have known to be true for some time: We are a world-class manufacturing center.
It’s a symbol both of the region’s pride in its manufacturing heritage as well as a positive statement about the future. In Northeast Wisconsin, 23 percent of the economy is tied to manufacturing, compared to 17 percent of the state as a whole and 10 percent of the nation’s economy.
“These are not just jobs, these are careers,” says Jeffrey Rafn, president of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, where the first flag was raised in late October. “Someone has to grow the food and make the tools we want.”
The flag raising was part of the ribbon cutting for the expanded CNC lab at NWTC, as machinists are a hot job in the region’s manufacturing sector. The college has doubled the number of CNC (computer numerical control) graduates from its program since 2011, graduating 123 last year.
“It’s one of the toughest jobs to fill,” says Jim Golembeski, director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board. “We are working to become the best nationally” at producing them.
It wasn’t always such a rosy picture. Faced with a critical talent shortage, the manufacturing and education segments partnered to create the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance to improve the perception of, and participation in, manufacturing careers. Since 2007, NWTC has graduated the largest number of students in manufacturing-related fields, an increase of 162 percent, from 153 to 401.
Plans are in the works to fly the flag at other locations, including all of the region’s technical colleges.