Ready for Takeoff!

One of the best parts of my job is being a part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST is responsible for standardizing measurements across the economy and constantly looking into the future to anticipate ways the world will change. They engage over 2,000 of the world’s best scientists to bring the future into focus.

I made another visit to the NIST Labs earlier this month and once again it felt like being with an elite flight crew preparing for a trip into the future. On this trip, I saw technicians developing ways to connect 30-year-old equipment to the infrastructure necessary for Industry 4.0, using WIFI, some wire, and a few well-placed sensors. The crew also showed me the continuing developments in robotics, as improvements in mobility and dexterity make it possible for more and more operations to automate. Finally, there was a bit of old-school measurement – a machine capable of accurately testing stresses of up to a million pounds of force.

Wisconsin is taking advantage of this work and lining up the runway for takeoff. The visit illustrated how well-positioned we are for the future. Growth opportunities exist in multiple industries across the state; the state’s ecosystem provides a broad and fertile platform to develop those opportunities; and recovery from the Great Recession made us more competitive. Finally, overall success depends on our ability to shift our focus from job creation to bringing more people into the workforce and constructively addressing the remaining barriers preventing us from growing our economy with fewer people.

My NIST visit demonstrated opportunities that exist across industries and geography. Sensors, wires, and expertise connect decades-old equipment to manufacturing networks, opening the door for legacy companies to participate in Industry 4.0. The robotics advances in mobility and dexterity makes automation possible in more situations than ever before. Most importantly, these activities demonstrate how cooperation across disciplines and generations leverage capabilities to new performance levels. Communities with cooperative organizations and collaborative people hold a distinct advantage and the first-class seats on this flight to the future.

Wisconsin understands this advantage and supports a vibrant ecosystem. We follow an industry cluster strategy that aligns and organizes resources around multiple industries where we hold a competitive advantage. This strategy supports a diverse portfolio that cooperates across organizations and leverages effective approaches across industries. Major players engage across industry, education, government, and other supporting organizations, which creates a strong foundation for future success.

The Great Recession also made our ecosystem stronger for the future. Manufacturing became much more efficient, as output grew with a more effective workforce. The Wisconsin manufacturing industry finally made it back to 483,000 employees in November – the same level as nine years earlier and up from the trough of 424,000 workers in January 2010. At the same time, output increased by 18%. With unemployment at 3.2% in the state, creating jobs is not an issue, so this productivity improvement is good news.

Future growth depends on our ability to build productivity and bring more people into the workforce. These efforts require broad-based initiatives across many industries – not just a focus on a handful of sectors or companies. Success demands a fresh approach by business leaders, government, social agencies, and communities – really all of us. We all must look forward to create future solutions – not assign blame for the current situation. We need everyone’s efforts and talents to drive forward. The challenges are complicated, so beware of people who provide one or two sentence solutions. The world is more complicated than a sound bite.

Wisconsin is on the runway, poised for a rapid ascent. Growth and success go far beyond job gains. Our diverse economic base, supportive ecosystem, and people throughout the state that understand the value of collaboration put us in a unique position. Our challenge is growing with fewer workers. That will require new approaches to productivity and transforming the ways we get things done. That should be enough to motivate all of us to address the critical issues and create smooth flight plan into the future.

Wisconsin is ready for take-off – positioned for a bright tomorrow! Are you ready to embrace change and engage? If so, grab your shades and let’s go!

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