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Let's Get Serious About Manufacturing!

On July 17th John Byrnes made the following statements in his guest column that appeared on The Wisconsin Technology Network: “It’s time to get serious. It is time to stop obsessing about the continual decline in traditional manufacturing jobs – there is nothing we can do about it.” These comments surprised the manufacturing community. It is hard to read that article and not come away with the impression that (1) our manufacturing industry is not worth saving; (2) we have a choice between manufacturing and technology, and (3) our leadership resources are disproportionately directed to manufacturing. We should challenge all of these assumptions.

First, manufacturing – and largely “traditional” manufacturing – employs over 550,000 people across the state, pays higher average wages and benefits, and is responsible for almost 25% of our Gross State Product. These numbers are reason enough to pay attention to the industry and fight for it in Wisconsin. It is true that manufacturing is facing tremendous challenges from foreign competitors, but there are policy and practice steps that Wisconsin and our federal government can take to help this industry. At a minimum, we should not write off this sector.

Second, manufacturing and technology are two sides of the same economic coin and not competing entities. Manufacturing firms fund 70% of the private research and development in this country. New technology companies need to manufacture their goods here if Wisconsin is going to realize the full economic benefits of a new industry. I am sure that Mr. Byrnes agrees that we are best served by having an economic strategy that supports technology integration into existing firms and develops a strong production capability for our emerging technology industries.

Finally, as I travel around the state meeting with manufacturers, “obsession” is not the word I hear when manufacturing CEOs describe our attitude toward manufacturing. “Neglect,” “indifference,” “ignorance” and even “hostility” are terms often used… but certainly not “obsessed.” In the recently passed state budget, support for manufacturing extension – a service that helps small and mid-sized Wisconsin manufacturers adopt new technologies and techniques - was cut 93%! If this is what happens when our leadership gets “obsessed” with manufacturing, I’d hate to see what happens when they really get serious about helping the industry.

I’m sure Mr. Byrnes understands these issues because he invests in many traditional manufacturing firms as part of his job as a venture capitalist. I think he could make his very worthwhile case for stronger support of emerging industry development without suggesting that manufacturing is holding us back.
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Mike Klonsinski is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. (WEMP) Prior to joining WMEP, Mike developed the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center, the Texas equivalent of WMEP. Mike has been nationally recognized for his leadership and performance as Executive Director of the Texas program. Mike also held prior positions in both manufacturing engineering for Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas and as the director of Advanced Technology for the Texas Department of Commerce. Mike can be reached at klonsinski@wmep.org.
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Let's Get Serious, by John Byrnes
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