For better or worse, Wisconsin’s brand identity is well-established. Everyone knows we’re “America’s Dairyland,” a tourist haven and the home of the Green Bay Packers.
The problem with state brands is they’re really hard to change — especially those that proved effective over time.
That’s where Wisconsin finds itself when it comes to its technology “brand.” Most people outside our borders have been trained to think of Wisconsin as a place defined by cows, cheese, beer, lakes and the Lambeau Leap. There’s not much room in their collective subconscious — yet — to think Wisconsin may also lay claim to a well-rounded, 21st century economy.
But here are some examples of excellence beyond our historic brands:
■ A report released last week by Battelle, a national research and development group, noted that Wisconsin’s bioscience industry is “sizable and growing.” Wisconsin was one of only 12 states to gain at least 1,000 jobs in the biotech and life sciences field in the five years ending in 2012, the report noted. Battelle counted 31,800 jobs and nearly 1,400 businesses in Wisconsin’s bioscience sectors, which span agricultural feedstock and chemicals; bioscience distribution; drug development; medical devices and equipment; and research, testing and medical labs. Madison is one of only nine metro regions nationwide to have a job concentration in four or more bioscience specialties, according to Battelle.
Read this commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.
■ Health information technology in Wisconsin is defined by companies ranging from Epic Systems in Verona, which has grown to 6,800 employees and nearly $1.5 billion in revenue, to a host of emerging companies often launched by former Epic workers. It is estimated that roughly half of the people in the United States will soon have their health records stored in Epic software systems.
■ Digital technology has long been the foundation of California’s Silicon Valley brand, but it’s also a growing part of the Wisconsin economy. Forbes magazine recently ranked the Madison area fifth on its list of “Cities Creating the Most Information Technology Jobs,” in part an Epic phenomenon but also due to a host of start-ups and emerging companies working on everything from gaming to digital music to new ways to order food and buy groceries. At a June 24 meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network in Madison, a Brookfield-bred partner in New York-based Great Oaks Venture Capital described why his firm already has 15 investments in Wisconsin companies. Take a walk around Milwaukee’s Third Ward and you’ll see more evidence of the rise of Wisconsin’s digital entrepreneurs.
■ The late Gov. Lee Dreyfus predicted Wisconsin would someday become to water what OPEC had become to oil. His prediction is beginning to come true through about 200 companies and research efforts aimed at cleaning, conserving and effectively using one of the world’s most precious resources. The Water Council in Milwaukee is a leading example, with the Global Water Center serving as an accelerator for ideas that can produce young companies and new technologies.
■ Wisconsin’s manufacturing base hasn’t gone away — but it has changed, and in ways that will make it more competitive. Technology is driving much of the manufacturing sector in Wisconsin today, especially in electronics, robotics, automation, sustainable processes, logistics and precision instruments, to name a few. As the “Internet of Things” grows, so will those businesses that combine expertise in manufacturing with digital technologies that help end users and other businesses.