Plexus has been on our list of great stories for some time. It’s common knowledge in our region that the Neenah-based company is taking on high-profile, high-tech projects, exemplary of the sort we need to take our New North workforce into the future. The company’s move into its new headquarters in June will be a boon to downtown Neenah.
So, what exactly does Plexus do? That’s what I asked Insight News Editor MaryBeth Matzek after her interview with CEO Dean Foate and CFO Ginger Jones for this month’s cover story. Not mincing words, she said:
“They make the stuff that goes into other companies’ stuff that makes it work.”
It all made sense when we toured the company’s Neenah operations with Scott Kettler, general manager, and Eric Holtz, manufacturing manager. The assembly areas were neat and clean; the outdoor air pumped in and kept at a steady temperature was refreshing. Dave Klevesah, Focus Factory manager, explained how workers at Plexus operate the robotic machines that assemble electronic components on the circuit boards that go into the GE Healthcare Ultrasounds built at Plexus. Then in the Juniper Networks assembly area, Focus Factory Manager Tim Brown described the work taking place in the clean room. Employees in white suits and caps were magnifying the details of the circuit boards and blowing traces of dust off the electronic components. (They were all good sports when our photographer did a few Oompa Loompa dance moves after putting on a white suit and joining them behind the window.)
Many of the jobs at Plexus are highly skilled. The Plexus building off Hwy. 41 in Jewelers Park, which has been occupied by management and administration, will house engineers and designers once the company’s global headquarters moves to downtown Neenah. The older building will also continue to host courses offered by the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) to Plexus employees and professionals from other companies in the region, including GE Healthcare, Harley-Davidson, Rockwell International, Husco Inc. and Oshkosh Corp.
MSOE’s Fox Valley Outreach program offers weekly night courses to working professionals that lead to bachelor’s of science degrees in six different areas involving business and engineering management.
We were in the midst of the Plexus story when Steven Bialek, associate professor and chair of the Rader School of Business at MSOE, dropped by for a visit to Insight to talk about what a great, little-known asset we in Northeast Wisconsin have with the MSOE-Plexus partnership. Steve Frisch, Plexus’ senior vice president of global engineering services and a MSOE graduate, joined Bialek on that visit. He pointed out that it was CEO Dean Foate’s encouragement that helped forge that partnership.
It’s not what you would call a research institution, but it does provide a venue for technically-trained workers to hone their skills in management and business. It’s a step in the direction toward the higher-level education that our region needs to build our economy for the future.
A full-fledged “knowledge center” is key to keeping the New North vital, says Meir Russ, featured as this month’s Face Time interview. As chairman of the master’s in management program at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Russ has done international research on what it takes to attract and keep high-quality jobs in a region. He says a research center would not only draw highly-talented workers, but also federal research grant money – and in turn, private investment.
What else will it take to boost the profile of Northeast Wisconsin as a great place for business investment? A group of C-level executives from throughout the region are working on a short list they plan to bring to candidates in this fall’s race for governor. We at Insight will keep you abreast of this conversation. I invite you to share your ideas. Send them to me at [email protected]. We’ll share the best ideas in upcoming issues and on our Insight blog at www.insightonbusiness.com.