By Tom Still
MADISON – An interactive map posted online this week by the
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms what you probably already knew about
Wisconsin’s economy: Manufacturing and the jobs it produces are vital to
The map reveals that while many state economies have shifted
away from manufacturing, Wisconsin and most of its Midwest neighbors have
remained somewhat reliant on that sector. The state is home to about 9,400
manufacturers who collectively employ about 450,000 people, or nearly 17
percent of the state’s workforce. It was fifth among the 50 states in
manufacturing job growth from 2009 through 2012.
That’s simultaneously encouraging and challenging:
Encouraging because Wisconsin has retained much of its core expertise in an era
of global competition – and challenging because several bedrock industries,
such as paper, plastic and printing, remain under pressure.
Innovation in manufacturing across a mix of sectors is
essential for Wisconsin to retain its manufacturing “market share.” Two recent
announcements demonstrate that commitment.
In Madison earlier this summer, the UW-Madison College of
Engineering announced creation of a $25-million “Grainger Institute of
Engineering” to attract clusters of top engineering faculty to define new
research directions. Researchers in the new institute will initially focus on
advanced materials discovery, material sustainability and manufacturing, two
areas that can drive innovation in energy, consumer goods, health care and
It will be a multi-disciplinary institute within a college
that is already highly ranked in nuclear engineering (ranked third nationally),
chemical engineering (third) civil engineering (sixth) and industrial and
manufacturing engineering (10th). A grant from the Grainger
Foundation will draw additional support from the UW-Madison and another private
In Milwaukee this month, a combination of state, academic
and industry supporters announced the launch of an Energy Innovation Center.
The $900,000 center – to be built beginning in September on Milwaukee’s north
side – will be housed with the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium. The
consortium works with industry and engineering schools in Milwaukee, Madison
and beyond on energy, power and control innovation.
The proposed center and the regional partnership behind it
were highlighted by the White House earlier this year when it singled out the
Milwaukee area as an “advanced manufacturing center of excellence,” which gives
the region an edge when competing for support from a mix of federal agencies.
The Energy Innovation Center will help tap into a global clean
energy market that is predicted to grow by nearly $2 trillion in coming years.
It will accelerate research around distributed generation
and microgrids, energy storage and energy efficiency, all of which are linked
to the growing issue of energy security. It would also find ways to more
seamlessly transfer that research to industry, and help build a workforce that
can sustain the sector in Wisconsin amid a coming wave of “baby boomer”
The list of industry partners represent a “who’s who” of the
energy, power and controls sector in Wisconsin, with companies such as ABB, DRS
Technologies, Eaton, GE Healthcare, Johnson Controls, Odyne, Rockwell
Automation and WE Energies.
The Mid-West Energy Research Consortium has identified
900-plus energy sector companies in Wisconsin that collectively employ more
than 100,000 people and generate more than $38 billion in annual revenues. The
consortium has helped draw in other partners in fields such as workforce
development and security research.
What’s the size of the opportunity? Electrical equipment is
already the single-largest manufacturing sector in Wisconsin, accounting for
more than $2.7 billion in gross state product in 2011. The Advanced Energy
Economy Institute predicted in 2012 that world clean energy markets will grow
by $1.9 trillion over five years, and a separate report by the political
Economy Research Institute predicted Wisconsin could see a net increase of $2.8
billion in investment revenue and 35,000 new jobs through clean energy growth.
Wisconsin has lost 150,000 manufacturing jobs since the peak
of 600,000 in 2000, but collaboration that involves industry, technologists,
academia and government will help stabilize and eventually expand the state’s
foundation. Manufacturing isn’t dead in Wisconsin. It’s just changing… and