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Lunch & Learn Recap: The State of Manufacturing in Wisconsin

On Monday, June 11, Kurt Bauer, President and CEO for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce spoke with CARW members at the Miller Inn at MillerCoors in Milwaukee.  WMC represents 3,800 businesses in Wisconsin and serves as an advocate for business issues at the capitol.  The organization also manages and serves as the State’s safety council.  Kurt spoke at length about the results of the biennial WMC member survey that gathers a pulse on the business climate in Wisconsin.

Businesses are bullish on the current administration.  The economy is very strong right now as a result of tax and regulatory reform and historical low unemployment at 2.8% in Wisconsin. New tax rates are now lower than the international average making US companies competitive on a global scale. While members are optimistic, they do acknowledge a significant workforce issue.  Between 2010 and 2040, the population in Wisconsin will grow by .4% which in Kurt’s observation, with the growing need for workers, was equivalent to a “contraction” rather than measurable growth.  In Wisconsin, there are 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day; Wisconsin is one of 12 states in the US where there are more ‘boomers’ than there are millennials.  This equates to what Kurt coined as a ‘demographic induced malaise’, that will require expedited immigration reform in order to support the number of workers needed for companies in our State.  In addition to an overall workforce shortage, the disbursement of the population is a concern for Wisconsin companies.  A majority of Wisconsin residents reside in rural Wisconsin, not necessarily where the jobs and opportunity are.  The Manufacturing sector contributes 20% of Wisconsin’s jobs and also pay more, on average, than other sectors.  Wisconsin is in need of more workers.  Colleges and universities are collaborating to solve for this need by working with businesses to provide training that support workforce needs.  There are potential workers in Wisconsin who have mismatched skills – so training and preparedness are critical.

Foxconn presents a real opportunity for Wisconsin to create a new economy in the State while also bolstering many existing companies.  Kurt discussed the upcoming mid-term elections citing that there will be many important races to watch, especially in Wisconsin. When the economy is good, voters don’t always engage like they would when the economy is not good.  The current political environment in Wisconsin is very supportive of business, and has been successful competing with neighboring States for businesses, including Foxconn. He encouraged members to engage in the process, and to reach out for more information.  www.wmc.org

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