FROM THE EDITOR – Weather – or not – we're poised for growth

Posted on Feb 1, 2012 :: Editor
Margaret LeBrun
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

BUSINESS HAS BEEN BOOMING for Ariens. Since the Brillion manufacturer is well known nationally and beyond for its snow throwers – especially its trademarked Sno-Thro brand – we planned the story to run in the thick of winter. Dan Ariens, president and CEO, says the last few severe winters have been a factor in the company’s growth.

When almost no snow had fallen from the skies as we were about to go to press mid-January (talk about extreme weather!) we wondered if we might have to shovel our way out of our “perfect” plans for this issue.

But as it happens, whether Sno-Thro sales were affected this season would not change our story – by mid-January, Ariens expected to switch its focus to its line of lawn-care equipment for the spring. Insight News Editor MaryBeth Matzek explains in her story that the company’s ability to efficiently switch gears from one product line to another has also contributed to success. Such agility was made possible with Ariens’ commitment to lean manufacturing principles, instilled at the company through the last decade – and a source of inspiration to others in the New North, including ThedaCare.

Ariens is also in a position to influence manufacturers statewide, since his appointment to the board of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. All signs indicate that manufacturing is leading the way to a stronger regional economy. When the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance surveyed its members last fall, 71 percent indicated they expect sales to increase this year. Check out our story on page 12 for details.

Of great concern among manufacturers, however, is that the supply of skilled workers cannot keep up with the demand. Joe Reitemeier, president and CEO of the Fond du Lac Association of Commerce, is among those well aware of this concern. Four years ago, a consortium of his chamber and other Fond du Lac organizations polled business leaders about their employment projections in the next two decades. The

initial results – which revealed an enormous gap is widening between business needs and available workers – set off alarm bells in Fond du Lac and beyond. In this month’s Face Time feature (page 19), Reitemeier reflects on a recent update to that study, which shows the problem is even bigger than earlier anticipated. He talks about how business and community leaders are collaborating to try and head off a workforce crisis.

A leading economic indicator regionally is activity at the Port of Green Bay. In this month’s economic development report on Brown County (page 42), you’ll read that more tonnage of cargo passed through the port last year than Titletown has seen since 2008. Shipments of coal, limestone and other commodities important to industry exceeded 2 million tons in 2011, an indicator of strong growth ahead.

The mild weather in the first part of this winter is no doubt a factor in increased productivity. Perhaps no other industry than construction is so directly affected by the weather. Associate Editor Nikki Kallio spoke to several construction leaders who affirm they’ve been able to gain a head start for spring (page 36).

One of those projects that has gained yardage is the Lambeau Field expansion (page 43). A winning season for the Packers hasn’t hurt the local economy, either. Just think: Each home game generated an estimated $12.3 million locally.

Countless small businesses benefit from the Packers. I think you’ll get a kick out of the story by Online Editor and Reporter Kate Baer on page 24, about a Sheboygan ad agency owner who partnered with a Milwaukee radio announcer to trademark the slogan “And there is your dagger!”

Good weather, good luck, great ideas – add a dose of hard work, a bit of collaboration and what do you get?

Serendipity.

Margaret LeBrun

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →