UP FRONT: A rising tide

Posted on Apr 2, 2013 :: Up Front
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The Lakeshore Industry Cluster Initiative is still in its infant stage, but it’s already taking some tentative steps at drawing attention around the region.

Last August, the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County led the launch of the initiative, bringing together Calumet County, the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation, the Door County Economic Development Corporation, the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation, Lakeshore Technical College, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and New North, Inc. The initiative’s goal is to strengthen the region’s economy by building on local strengths while looking for growth opportunities.

The initiative held value-chain mapping sessions in January for four key industries: tourism, manufacturing, energy and agriculture-food production. The next step is to put together action plans, which will be released later this month, says Connie Loden, executive director of the Economic Development Corporation of Manitowoc County.

“Once the action plans are in place, we will begin implementing them and then come back together in six to nine months to measure what we’ve done and see what has worked,” she says.

The initiative is attracting attention from outside the region, including organizations in the Fox Cities and Oshkosh looking to grow their economies.

“People are really interested in what we’re doing and how we’re moving forward,” says Loden, who shared the initiative’s story at the InDevelopment Conference in mid-February. “The final goal is to bring forward new business opportunities that retain wealth and create new jobs in the region. We hope by identifying new business-to-business connections, it will increase competitiveness for our businesses and build a stronger community.”

The value mapping sessions were eye-opening, with businesses getting together to talk about their needs, how those needs are now being met and any gaps in the supply chain, says Tim Reis of the Manitowoc Company and co-chair of the manufacturing cluster. The manufacturing group focuses heavily on plastics and metal supply, given that the two industries have a strong presence in the cluster’s footprint, he says.

While the action plans are being developed, Loden says one idea from the tourism group is already being launched – a “stay-an-extra-day” initiative. The idea is to promote events and local attractions across the region to entice people who travel, for example, to Manitowoc for an event to stay an extra day, then visit an attraction or event in Door County.

“If the initiative is successful, it has the potential to bring in an extra $7 million to the economy,” Loden says.

Since its launch, Loden says the Lakeshore Industry Cluster Initiative has been embraced well by local communities and businesses. She’s been pleased with the participation of the 25 to 50 businesses showing up at the mapping sessions to share thoughts.

“The mapping sessions were wonderful. Someone might say, ‘We need X’ and a representative from another business would raise his hand and say ‘We do that.’ It is a great way for businesses to learn about the capabilities of other local businesses,” Loden says.

Loden says the program works in concert with the New North, but pointed out that various areas of the county have specific clusters. For example, the Lakeshore group is looking at energy, because it has so many companies involved in that industry.

“That’s not something that would work across the entire New North, but it works for us,” she says. “But there are things we have learned that we can pass up to them. It’s really an initiative that grows from the ground up.”

While the initiative is up and running, there’s still plenty of time for other businesses and organizations to get involved, Loden says. At any point in the process, new people are welcome to get involved since that helps grow the knowledge pool.

A CLOSER LOOK

The Lakeshore Industry Cluster Initiative, led by the Manitowoc County Economic Development Corporation, is a partnership with the following organizations:

» New North, Inc.

» Calumet County

» Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation

» Lakeshore Technical College

» Northeast Wisconsin Technical College

» Door County Economic Development Corporation

» Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation

Additional fund contributors are Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, NextEra Energy Point Beach Nuclear Plant, Alliant Energy, Keller Inc., Two Rivers Water and Light, Sturgeon Bay Utilities, Dominion Kewaunee Nuclear Plant and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

For more information, visit lakeshoreinitiative.webs.com.