WMEP helps Wiscraft create a roadmap for future growth and success

Strategic business planning project donated

to manufacturing firm that employs blind individuals


MILWAUKEE, Wis. – The days of running a manufacturing firm on autopilot are over. 


With global competition forcing manufacturers to rethink the way they do business, many firms are reinventing themselves to stay competitive now and in the future.  Strategic business planning often is the first step in this process.  Sound ho hum?  Hardly.  A dynamic, well thought-out plan is a powerful catalyst to innovate products, services and business models.


One Milwaukee firm embarking on this path is Wiscraft, Inc., a nonprofit manufacturer that provides contract assembly, packaging, machining and order fulfillment services.   What makes Wiscraft truly unique is that 86% of its employees are legally blind.


“Our top priority is providing employment for people who are blind, but in order to do that we need to run a world class manufacturing operation,” said Jim Kerlin, Wiscraft president. 


Kerlin believes a good strategic plan will guide the firm to future growth and success.  He is also grateful for the efforts of Thyre Yousif, an employee of Illinois-based Abbott, and the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) to bring the consulting project, valued at thousands of dollars, to Wiscraft.  Yousif had won the project at WMEP’s Manufacturing Matters! Conference in Milwaukee earlier this year, and later donated the project to Wiscraft.


“This is a terrific opportunity for our company and our employees.  Like any other manufacturer, we’re not immune to the China syndrome and other challenges facing our industry,” Kerlin said.


Today Wiscraft, which is more than 100 years old, is in the initial stages of creating a roadmap for its future.  WMEP, a non-profit consulting firm that specializes in lean and growth strategies, is lending its expertise and facilitating the planning process.  The endgame is to identify new customers, markets, products and services. 


 “We know there are a lot of opportunities out there, the question is which ones make sense for us to pursue?” Kerlin said.  For Wiscraft, opportunities run the gamut from work for large OEMs to projects for state and federal agencies.


Tom Ziech, a 35-year manufacturing veteran and WMEP manufacturing specialist who is working with Wiscraft, said the need for business planning is more critical than ever given the challenges of globalization.


“A strategic business plan focused on growth is essential today, and it’s astounding how many small businesses do not have them,” Ziech said.   A good strategic plan aligns the mission, vision and values of the firm, he said.  It identifies what a manufacturer does well and finds new avenues to deploy those core strengths; and builds a culture around innovation, market intelligence and market focus.



Wiscraft employs 32 individuals, some who have been at the firm for 20 to 30+ years.  Kerlin said that visitors to Wiscraft are often amazed by the capabilities of its workers, especially in the machine shop.  “They can’t believe they’re seeing someone who is blind walking up to CNC milling machine or turning center to machine a part.”




Wiscraft, Inc. is a non-profit manufacturing company.  Wiscraft’s vision is to further enrich the lives of people who are legally blind through the power of work valued by customers and the community.  Wiscraft is dedicated to helping its employees maintain employment, an independent lifestyle and self-worth through meaningful jobs.  Eighty-six percent of its direct labor employees are legally blind.  Wiscraft does not receive tax support subsidies from the local, state or federal levels of government.  Wiscraft does participate in a City Block Grant for training.  For more information, visit or call 414-778-5800.




WMEP provides technical expertise and business assistance to help small and mid-size manufacturers adopt advanced manufacturing technologies and business practices.  WMEP is a leader in lean manufacturing, growth services, strategic business development, quality systems and supplier development.  During the past five years, WMEP-assisted manufacturers reported impact of $839 million with more than 8,000 jobs created/retained.  WMEP receives financial support from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, and partners with many public and private organizations to serve Wisconsin manufacturers. For more information, visit or call 1-877-856-8588.