WisBusiness: Expert says Wisconsin’s manufacturing economy poised for success

By Rebecca Kontowicz

Wisconsin’s industrial economy is well-positioned to become a 21st century
leader in manufacturing, according to John Brandt, founder of the MPI Group. He spoke to about 60 business leaders today at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center on the future
of manufacturing.

Brandt, who is based in Ohio, said the Badger State’s assets include proximity to a vast
consumer population, excellent transportation infrastructure and a highly skilled workforce.

Drawbacks, however, include higher taxes than other states with which Wisconsin is competing, he said.

Brandt was invited to speak by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension
Partnership, a private, nonprofit organization that works with small and
midsized companies on lean manufacturing, growth services and
strategic business planning.

Brandt said he believes manufacturing remains vital to the state’s economic health.

“Smart regions are strategic in the help they offer,” Brandt said. He said he believes successful regions create supportive environments for manufacturers.

When asked what successful states have done to lure manufacturing to their
area, Brandt stated that he’s seen one or two things done well but he hasn’t
seen a picture perfect package. He referred to Alabama and the training the
state will provide for companies in order to convince manufacturers to
locate there.

Brandt also focused on what it will take for individual manufacturers to
succeed in the future. Customer intimacy, disciplined processes, educating
employees and a focus on strong marketing will lead to success, he believes.
He also added that successful manufacturers generally do not track more than
seven to ten key metrics.

Brandt urged company executive to double their worker training.

The single factor that correlates with improved performance is hours of training, per person, per year he stated. World-class manufacturers generally average more than 40 hours.

Employees also need to be educated on a company and its finances. Federal
Warehouse Co. was noted for its success in tripling overall profitability by
using open book management, adding an incentive program, conducting monthly
finance meetings and increasing training.

“We have to be intensely focused on what we can do to create greatness,”
Brandt explained.

Using Microsoft as an example, he said he believes that hiring right from the start is vital to a manufacturer’s success. Potential employees are given a series of three exams on technical knowledge, problem solving skills and interaction with potential team members.

Know-how and problem solving on their own does not result in successful business, Brandt said.

Value now extends far beyond physical or service quality characteristics,
Brandt said. He added that aspects such as delivery have now become just as
or more important than the quality of a product being sold.

Data and information, business expertise and brand experience are also
important. Customers are expecting manufacturers to provide consulting and
integration services, according to Brandt.

Successful manufacturers analyze and innovate through an entire process of marketing and moving forward, he said.

There needs to be a “focus on how we’re going to get better,” said Brandt, noting that an improvement takes a long term commitment.

He referred to lean manufacturing, which gets rid of waste in production, and the success of top manufacturers in decreasing 47 percent of manufacturing costs.

Brandt also emphasized the importance of globalization.

“You will have to be globally oriented regardless of how small or large you are,” Brandt said, adding that lower trade barriers make global sourcing imperative for
commoditized products.