We’ve told you several times before about how Wisconsin is pushing lean manufacturing.
Mary Burke, the Secretary of the Commerce Department, is the champion behind much of the effort. Although she has a Harvard MBA, she does have real manufacturing experience from working for Trek Bicycle since 1986. And that experience convinced her that lean is the way to go for all of Wisconsin’s manufacturers.
She’s putting the state’s money to work to help out, and she’s also driving lean methods within her own government operations. The programs are now igniting some regional fever. An editorial earlier this week in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel applauds the efforts of the "Milwaukee 7 Group" to leverage lean to grow companies in that region.
The plan’s first phase leans heavily on companies that are creating the most wealth now – "export drivers" that create goods and services here and sell outside the region. They employ 300,000 workers and are responsible for another 300,000 jobs at suppliers. By far the largest category is manufacturing, which is where the M-7 plan begins.
The focus becomes the smaller, faster-growing companies that can create even more high-paying jobs.
The region’s best bet for growth – its "strike zone" – is these smaller, innovative companies. Fully half of all employment in the region comes from them. Consider Modine Manufacturing Co. It makes a classic metal-bending product. But the company’s radiators are highly engineered. Out of 700 Racine employees, nearly half are engineers. The company has 55 employees with doctorates, nearly half in Racine.
The plan does need support.
The state Legislature should boost funding for the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which provides technical know-how for small and midsize companies. Lawmakers should fund the "Get Lean" initiative, which will award grants to help companies adopt lean manufacturing principles. Business must hoist its share of the burden, especially in work force training. The M-7 is helping to lead by establishing a Next Generation Manufacturing Council made up of business leaders. It also plans a Web-based portal of resources for manufacturers.
There’s a lot of promise in these programs, but what’s also remarkable is that common folk beyond knuckle-dragging manufacturing types, even people like newspaper editorial writers, are beginning to understand the power and magic of lean.
There is power in this new way of thinking, and that is not something to be underestimated.
So where do you want to locate your new plant? Shenzhen or Milwaukee?