UP FRONT: Blueprint for success

Posted on Oct 1, 2013 :: Up Front
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

If you speak with economic development officials, they will tell you that what is good for Oshkosh is good for Northeast Wisconsin as a whole. The same is true that any city will leave an impact on a region-wide scale. With that in mind, the Oshkosh Area Economic Development Marketing Group sent out a Request for Proposal to consulting firms for an Oshkosh Business and Industry Cluster Analysis on Winnebago County last year and came back with plenty of recommendations and strategies.

The study was designed to analyze the economic markets of Winnebago, Brown, Waupaca, Waushara, Green Lake, Fond du Lac, Calumet and Outagamie counties. The research was compiled and shared with county leaders.

Rob Kleman, Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president of economic development, says the study is a blueprint for success.

“The bottom line was who should we be targeting, where should we be spending our time and resources and how we were going to do that,” he says.

The group hired two consultants, Mike Mathews, president of Economic Growth Advisors, and David J. Ward, CEO of Northstar Consulting Group LLC.

“What happens is that sometimes you get in the forest and you get too close to the trees and you can’t see what’s happening,” Ward says. And that’s when Winnebago County sought consulting expertise.

The consultants collected and analyzed data by conducting community-wide interviews and online surveys with businesses and organizations with an interest in economic and business development to establish an understanding of the workforce, employment and economic trends in the area, Mathews says.

The main goal in using the data is to further develop business and industry clusters in Winnebago County and the New North region that look to increase private investment, enhance job retention success, and increase job creation and regional business area relationships, Kleman says.

The report, completed June 27, had 15 recommendations for the county. Five of them are listed as priorities, including a closer focus on developing particular sectors including information technology, manufacturing, aviation, talent/workforce development and second-stage companies.

The county is currently working to implement the recommendations and strategies by assigning leaders and groups to each area, Kleman says.

“Winnebago County and Northeast Wisconsin have a number of unique assets that exist today and can certainly be built upon going forward,” Mathews says.

One of those areas, he says, is the manufacturing sector, where a unique cluster of manufacturing specialization exists in Northeast Wisconsin.

“When we looked at Northeast Wisconsin, not only within the state of Wisconsin but across the entire country, that kind of concentration of manufacturing specialization is very unique,” Mathews says. “And if an area (is) experiencing a resurgence, that means that Northeast Wisconsin has some substantial opportunities for growth in the manufacturing sector.”

Kleman also says manufacturing accounts for 27 percent of total employment and 36 percent of total payroll in Winnebago County.

But IT was the number one priority, surprising both consulting companies as well as their client, Ward says.

“One of the goals is to create sustainable high-wage jobs, and what we’ve seen in Oshkosh is a rapidly growing IT center,” Kleman says. At least four local IT companies have grown tremendously over the years, including ImproMed, Oracular, Dealer Fire and Accu-Com Security Services.

“We also believe the presence of UW-Oshkosh, their student base and their degree programs, will help to drive the growth of that sector in the region,” Mathews says.

This leads into talent-based strategies in which it is recommended that Oshkosh focuses on nurturing those being educated in the area for job creation and expansion by recruiting, retaining and developing the workforce.

Ward says the extent to which there are IT skills, companies and operations embedded in the Oshkosh/Winnebago County area gave talent strategies a high position.

“Almost every single one of their recommendations requires a skilled, talented workforce to be successful,” Kleman says. “That was why the group … said we needed to develop a separate group to focus on developing our workforce, whether it’s training and upgrading skills of current employees or taking dislocated workers and upgrading their skills.”

The other top priority areas, such as aviation and focusing on second-stage companies – which are emerging companies that employ nine to 100 people – are equally as important. Kleman says even the areas not selected as top priorities are still being implemented.

“The key is that all the various partners that have individual work programs collectively work together … to implement these strategies,” he says. “We are in this together.”