Reflecting Forward

The time between the holidays is always a good time for me to pause and reflect. This year my reflections turned from the past to the future. Looking forward, I grew more and more excited about the possibilities for 2018. It’s a terrific time to be a manufacturer – especially in Wisconsin. Industry trends have rarely been clearer, the resources to harness those trends are ready and coordinated, and Foxconn’s arrival adds an energy and urgency not found elsewhere. The New Year will reward those who move confidently and take advantage of conditions that will not happen again in our lifetime.

The more time I invest learning about manufacturing trends, the more it becomes clear that four will affect ALL operations – both alone and collectively:

• The Body Gap is real and will affect everyone’s ability to grow because workers will be harder and harder to find for the next decade.
• Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) can make anyone, anywhere a manufacturer for a very small investment.
• Automation/Robotic costs continue to plummet while capabilities skyrocket, making this technology practical for almost every operation.
• Connected Devices (Industrial Internet of Things) will revolutionize the way we use data and run operations.

These four trends will transform how manufacturing charges into the future and people who move boldly will reap the greatest benefits.

Fortunately, we live in Wisconsin – a state that celebrates manufacturing and knows how to coordinate and engage available resources in productive ways to build a bright future. Wisconsin possesses some of the best manufacturing expertise in the world to make manufacturers capable and competitive. Much of that expertise takes root because of effective alliances between industry, education, government, and other talented organizations. We know how to focus on critical issues and align our efforts to make real impact in the face of transformational trends and accelerating change.

These alliances make a difference on multiple fronts. Here are some examples. Every community in the state feels pressure from the Body Gap, and most created workforce initiatives to address the issue. What’s exciting is watching these initiatives align and build on each other’s success. That’s also reflected in the team approach we use to make exporting easier for state companies, as a core group of organizations assist local efforts across Wisconsin. We’re also pushing the frontiers in technology, as groups like the Manufacturing Outreach Center and the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership move innovation out of pilots and laboratories into practical applications for manufacturers.

Foxconn accelerates these changes. They bring an entirely new industry – not just a new company – to North America. None of us know how this will change Wisconsin. We do know this addition will generate new opportunities in recruiting workers and new markets for our companies. Manufacturing eyes from across the country will be on Wisconsin. Foxconn will accelerate and accentuate all of the key manufacturing trends. We will either take advantage of the situation or be left behind.

It’s time to take action. Make sure you have a narrative about how these forces will affect you and your organization. Know when you need to move boldly and what you will do. This is not the year to be a spectator and watch events unfold. It’s time to step on the field and play your role.

The New Year holds great promise for Wisconsin. Our strong manufacturing base will only improve, as our great alliances make more progress on the issues facing the state. In addition, Foxconn’s impact will begin to take hold and up everyone’s game. It will be a wild ride.

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