What makes an industry “cluster?” Simply put, it’s a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers and associated institutions in a specific field. The idea is that related companies will have a competitive advantage nationally and globally if they collaborate to increase productivity and promote their products.
The economic opportunity study that led to the creation of New North identified the promotion of industry cluster development as a key strategy toward business vitality and job growth. While dairy and paper making have long been recognized as cluster industries in Northeast Wisconsin, economic shifts have led to a realization that new clusters must be identified and nurtured to keep the economy strong.
About five years ago, spin-off companies from the paper industry recognized that the U.S. 41 corridor was the national epicenter of paper converting, and formed a group called Converting Influence. With encouragement from New North, Inc., two years ago several companies recognized that a growing part of their business was manufacturing components for wind towers, and Wisconsin Wind Works was born.
In the past year, the realization that seven shipbuilders in the region could benefit from synergies with each other and the technical colleges in the region led to the formation of the Maritime Alliance. This fall, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is launching a program to introduce students to shipbuilding – which will be especially timely if Marinette Marine wins a major contract to build Littoral Combat Ships for the U.S. Navy. NWTC President Jeff Rafn talks about it in this month’s Face Time interview (page 17).
Is aviation a cluster here? Could be – it depends how you look at it. Cover subject Tom Poberezny, CEO and president of the EAA, says while this area likely won’t attract commercial airplane manufacturers (due to climate requirements for testing), the intense interest in experimental aircraft related to the EAA AirVenture international event held every July in Oshkosh can certainly lead to new opportunities. To that end, a group formed last year, AeroInnovate, is bringing like-minded people together during this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh.
I encourage you to find out more about cluster industries in the New North Mid-Year Report, produced by our staff at Insight and available on our website and at www.thenewnorth.com.
Manufacturing on the whole is still huge in the New North. Rick Berg, managing editor of our sister publication, Insight on Manufacturing, lays it all out in our first State of Manufacturing Report. The story, “Powerhouse,” offers a compelling, comprehensive look at where we stand today: Yes, we’ve lost a lot of jobs in recent years. But did you know that Wisconsin ranked as the No. 1 state for manufacturing in 2009? While the state is now close to even with Indiana, manufacturing still employs about 24 percent of our workforce in Northeast Wisconsin. That’s a lot to be proud of, especially since manufacturing appears to be leading the country out of the economic recession.
About a quarter of our regular Insight subscribers also receive Insight on Manufacturing. I encourage you to check it out at www.insightonmfg.com.