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Manufacturing partnership will move into biotech and biomedical spaces

Madison, Wis. - Since its inception, the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership has been focused on helping large and mid-size manufacturers get lean and mean. Now, the organization intends to expand its business services to help small manufacturers grow, and that includes businesses in the biotechnology and biomedical spaces.

WMEP, a state-funded organization that recently won the Wisconsin's top economic development award, is basing this decision on a recent survey. The survey revealed that 44 percent of Wisconsin's small manufacturers said they lack the internal resources to implement new product development, market expansion, sales growth, and other growth strategies.

According to Mike Klonsinski, executive director for WMEP, the partnership's services will extend to companies in biotechnology, information technology, and medical devices. “Many of these companies in these sectors manufacture a product and are subject to the same issues facing so-called traditional manufacturers,” he said. “As such, they are a manufacturer eligible for WMEP services.”

The organization provides technical expertise and business assistance to help manufacturers improve growth through strategic business and supplier development. It also lends advice on improving profitability through “lean manufacturing” practices that are designed to lower costs.

Since 2001, WMEP claims to have helped 1,200 Wisconsin businesses achieve an overall economic impact of $849 million, including $589 million in higher sales, $117 million in cost savings, and $143 million in new plant and equipment investment. It calculates that these improvements have helped the affected businesses create or retain more than 8,000 jobs.
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Recent accolades

The partnership is not the only one touting its benefits. Jim Haney, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and a WMEP board member, says he doesn't know of another state-supported organization that gets as much bang for the buck as WMEP.

Last week, the partnership was named the state's top economic development organization by the Wisconsin Economic Development Association. The award, presented at the 2007 Governor's Conference on Economic Development, is given once every two years to the organization that has had the most impact on economic development in Wisconsin.

WMEP's track record has allowed it to survive a 2004 attempt to reduce federal funding support, and it continues to land federal grants. The partnership has secured $21 million to help Wisconsin manufacturers improve competitiveness, including recent grants of $3.2 million from the U.S. Department of Defense and nearly $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Advising TomoTherapy

WMEP already has gained a foothold in the Wisconsin medical technology sector. One of the companies WMEP has worked with is the Madison-based TomoTherapy, Inc., a growing medical device manufacturer that state and industry officials frequently point to as a Wisconsin high tech success story.

TomoTherapy manufactures an image-guided radiotherapy device called the Hi-Art, which is capable of selectively imaging and delivering radiation to cancerous tumors while limiting damage to peripheral tissue. TomoTherapy has surpassed the $100 million mark in annual revenue and is venturing into potentially lucrative markets, including cancer-treatment centers in two of the most populous nations in the world, India and China.

For example, the company is partnering with Kirloskar Theratronics, Ltd. to distribute the Hi-Art throughout India and surrounding countries.

It has taken steps to make sure its growth is coupled with operational efficiency, seeking WMEP's help in implementing lean manufacturing techniques throughout its new product manufacturing facility and test center, which handles assembly and testing of the Hi-Art system.

Klonsinski, with an eye on Wisconsin's emerging technology sectors, looks forward to doing more of the same. “We are very interested in expanding our services in the biomed space,” Klonsinski said. “We know that Wisconsin won't realize the full benefits of its technology innovation if it doesn't turn the invention into production.

“That's where the money is to be made.”

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