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Brinkman: WMEP's new leader optimistic about state's manufacturing sector

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

The new head of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership says the state's industrial sector is rebounding, even if its recovery is still somewhat anemic at this point.

"We're starting to climb out of the foxholes and take new initiatives, make new investments and move forward with projects that may have been on hold for two or three years," said Buckley Brinkman, who became executive director of WMEP on June 6.

Brinkman's predecessor, Mike Klosinski, is now the chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which replaced the Commerce Department.

"People are working very hard, but it's a slow and incremental progress ... not robust," added Brinkman, who called manufacturing "absolutely critical" to the state and national economies.

And he was upbeat on industry's future in Wisconsin.

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"This is an exciting time to be in manufacturing," he said. "The economic hardship of the past couple of years has caused everyone to rethinking how they go about business. And that always opens possibilities to a brighter future."

Brinkman, a Madison native who has spent his career helping turn ailing industries around, said he believes Klosinski's appointment bodes well for manufacturers.

"I think he will have a huge impact on the state and how it approaches commerce," he said.

Brinkman said he hopes the WEDC will continue the Profitable Sustainability Initiative, that was begun during the Doyle administration.

He said the former Commerce Department and WMEP developed a new approach to sustainability that shows how it can save money for small and medium manufacturers.

"What's happened has been cutting edge on how people are approaching sustainability," he said. As a result, companies are reaping financial benefits from improvements including logistics, heat recycling, energy and green products. A recent study showed an economic impact of $54 million, including nearly $27 million in savings, from an initial state investment of less than $2 million.

In the case of AMF Foundry in Waukesha County, the program has helped the firm find a use for sand from the casting processing in road beds and save more than $85,000. The company on its own had found a way to reuse 70 percent of the sand in its own castings. See more: http://www.wisbusiness.com/index.Iml?Article=240372.

He said PSI is "an approach that looks enterprise-wide to figure out how to make the most out of the resources being used," he said. "There have been a variety of improvements across a whole range of activities, whether it's logistics, material reuse or heat recycling and green products."

He said the program makes manufacturers become both greener and more competitive by "helping them do the right thing."

Brinkman said WMEP is now trying to find out what manufacturing sectors in the state will be strongest in coming years and where Wisconsin has an advantage in the marketplace so it can build on industry clusters.

He said that study will help companies "truly exploit corporate markets."

Brinkman said his organization is evolving to meet the needs of manufacturers to offer a broader set of skills and has grown beyond focusing on helping companies become more efficient and have less variation in the quality of products they produce.

"We had a very narrow offering to the marketplace," added Brinkman, who credits WMEP with saving or creating 1,000 manufacturing jobs last year.

"We now have a program called ExporTech that enables companies to go from a standing start to a fully vetted and operational export plan in the course of three months."

WMEP is also helping companies with labor management issues and supply chain techniques, said Brinkman, who said manufacturing has become much more complex in recent years.

"We have looked into the future to say what manufacturers will need to be very good at," said Brinkman.

He said manufacturing currently makes up 17 percent of the state's economy and he hopes that figure will grow.

That translates into hundreds of thousands of jobs in Wisconsin, he said, noting that many of them pay well.

"We have the second highest percentage of non-farm workers working in manufacturing in the country," he said. "And up in the Fox River Valley, we have some of the highest concentrations of manufacturing anywhere in the country. So in terms of driving the economy, manufacturing is absolutely critical."

Brinkman said he believes the move to have manufacturing done overseas countries such as China is waning.

"Twenty or 30 years ago, we ... sent a lot of jobs over there and made a lot of decisions that perhaps we'd like to undo now," he said.

Brinkman said the state budget recently signed by Gov. Scott Walker treated manufacturers well and will move the state's economy forward.

WMEP is non-partisan and "does not have a point of view when it comes to politics," he said. "But we do have a point of view about how we can help small and medium manufacturers. And the state supports us in that."

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