For many company leaders, the chance to start with a clean slate may sound like a dream. But that’s what Tom Buske had when he helped build ACE Marine from an empty warehouse to a manufacturing plant that has been turning out 18 boats a year for the Coast Guard.
The activity level is so high at ACE, located on the Fox River in Green Bay just a block off the Broadway shopping district, that it’s hard to believe the company was started just three years ago. Sixty employees work on the 45-foot Response Boat-Medium ships under contract with Marinette Marine, owned by Fincantieri. I had heard about the work at ACE through the North Coast Marine Alliance, which formed in 2011 as a resource for ship builders and educators to share information and build on the ship building cluster.
Buske gave me a tour of ACE and a ship under construction, explaining that these vessels are designed to withstand dangerous waters during search-and-rescue missions – they can flip over in huge swells, then bob back up and right themselves. Before the first boat was built at ACE, Buske explained, they spent about a year refining the boat’s design and engineering every detail of the production process. They incorporated lean manufacturing techniques into every step to ensure the utmost efficiency. What was the best part about starting from scratch? Buske said it was the opportunity to build a company culture, in which everyone is on the same page right from the start.
I won’t give away the whole story – check out my interview with Buske in “Face Time,” on page 17.
There’s something about a “fresh start” story and turning the calendar over to a new year that inspires ideas of opportunity. What would you do if you could start from scratch? It helps to have a vision of what you want to strive for. It also helps to gather information that can help you make good decisions.
Peer surveys can be helpful. In the fall, businesspeople in Northeast Wisconsin were surveyed by the QTI Group on employment issues, by the NEW Manufacturing Alliance on the needs of manufacturers, and by First Business Bank-Northeast on economic issues. Here’s a sampling of results:
» QTI Group 2012 Human Resources Planning: A majority of respondents statewide said their organization’s productivity and financial performance in 2011 was better than 2010. An even greater percentage of organizations expect their productivity and financial performance will improve in 2012. Nearly 40 percent plan to add full-time employees. See the report at www.qtigroup.com.
» 2012 NEW Manufacturing Alliance Vitality Index: 63 percent reported increased sales in 2011; 94 percent said they expect their company’s financial health in the next six to 12 months to be healthy or quite healthy. While 43 percent said they plan to hire in the first quarter and another third plan to add staff this year, 45 percent report difficulty filling positions for the highly skilled workers they need. Find the full report at www.newmfgalliance.org.
» First Business Bank-Northeast Economic Survey: 56 percent reported higher sales revenue in 2011, up from 51 percent in 2010. However, 62 percent reported an increase in operating expenses and expect costs to continue increasing. Almost six in 10 employers are hiring, but again, many report challenges finding workers with the technical skills they need. See the full report at www.FirstBusiness.com.
Networking with peers is another great way to gather information. In early February, Insight Publications will host the third annual InDevelopment Conference. Check out our special section on the event, starting on page 33. Or, go to our website, www.insightonbusiness.com, and click on the InDevelopment logo. Whether you’re involved in economic development or simply interested in trends related to growth in Wisconsin, you’re sure to find something of interest. I hope to see you there!