MON AM News: Manufacturing jobs expected to reach pre-pandemic levels soon; Generac teams in Florida in wake of Hurricane Ian

— DWD Chief Economist Dennis Winters expects manufacturing employment in Wisconsin to exceed pre-pandemic levels in the near future. 

In an interview Friday, Winters said it “might be a couple months” before that occurs. 

“The outstanding thing that we don’t know about yet is what the general economy is going to be doing, and the Fed action that they’re using to combat inflation,” he told, referring to higher interest rates.

Manufacturing employment in the state has reached 99.2 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to figures provided by the state Department of Workforce Development. The number of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin was around 479,000 in February 2020 before dropping to about 440,000 in April 2020. Since then, that number has recovered to just under 475,000. 

At the same time, U.S. manufacturing employment has rebounded slightly above pre-pandemic levels. 

But even before the pandemic, Winters explained, much of the manufacturing job gains at the national level have occurred in the southeastern and western United States. Going back to the 1990s and early 2000s, he said many car manufacturers began moving production to states like Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas rather than traditional industrial hubs in the Midwest like Michigan and Ohio. 

He noted billions of dollars in government incentives helped pull those plants to the South. Some of the companies — such as foreign automakers — were looking to avoid using union labor in their operations and saw the region as more favorable on that front, he said. 

Meanwhile, manufacturing growth in the southwestern states has centered around information technology such as computers, Winters said. He also highlighted the investments Tesla is making in battery plants in the region. 

Manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin peaked in early 2000, when the industry employed around 600,000 jobs in 2000, according to Winters. 

“It just kind of ratcheted down through some of the recessions, as you saw in the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession … but it’s been climbing since the end of the Great Recession,” he said, noting the only major dip since then was seen during the pandemic. 

Aside from the regional changes, Winters pointed to companies moving production jobs overseas as a major factor in the manufacturing decline, as well as “reclassification” of certain positions. 

“If a manufacturer is doing its own HR and its own accounting work, those were considered manufacturing jobs because they were with manufacturing companies,” he said. “And as the service things went, you third-partied a lot of that out. Your payroll, some of your back-office accounting, things like that. So that’s part of the contribution to the declining manufacturing jobs.” 

Looking ahead, Winters highlighted a recent trend of companies “reshoring” certain operations, though he added “time will tell how much that happens.” 

See the latest DWD report on employment trends in the state: 

— Generac Power Systems CEO Aaron Jagdfeld says the company’s hurricane response teams will be in Florida for at least the next two weeks working to fix and maintain backup generators after Hurricane Ian.

“It can be anything from a data center to a hospital to a wastewater treatment plant,” Jagdfeld said on WISN’s “UPFRONT,” which is produced in partnership with “Our teams are down there on the ground really helping our distribution and getting those machines up and running.”

The Waukesha-based company is also in the midst of expansions in Wisconsin and South Carolina, including adding a $20 million research and development center to its Wisconsin headquarters and a new plant in South Carolina with some 500 employees.

“We felt like we needed to expand kind of beyond the Wisconsin borders,” Jagdfeld said. “A lot of our growing markets are in the Southeast as you can [imagine] where you do get hurricanes and some of these weather disturbances in particular. We wanted to be closer to our customers.”

Jagdfeld said the company continues to battle a global labor shortage, adding it may be one of the biggest long-term hindrances to growth.

“I’m worried about it being a problem for us in the long-term,” he said. “And it’s not just our employees, but it’s our distribution’s employees.”

In the short term, Jagdfeld said record-high inflation has impacted the company’s costs on everything from labor to raw materials but said it appears to be leveling off at least for the moment.

“We’ve had to pass that along with [price] increases to our customers and that’s painful,” Jagdfeld said. “But it’s part of being a viable business.”

— Jagdfeld will be the featured speaker during an upcoming “Power Breakfast” being held Oct. 12 by the Capital Times in Madison. 

The event will be held at the Edgewater Hotel with doors opening at 7 a.m. and the hour-long discussion starting at 8 a.m. 

Free tickets are available for subscribers. Contact [email protected] to learn more. 

See event details:

— Gov. Tony Evers and the chairman of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community have signed an agreement that would enable event wagering at locations within the tribe’s reservation. 

This amendment to the community’s gaming compact with the state has been sent to the U.S. Department of Interior for a 45-day review, according to a release from the guv’s office. 

Chairman Robert VanZile Jr. says the agreement will improve economic opportunities for the tribe and nearby communities in northern Wisconsin. 

“This historic agreement is a win for all parties involved and will mean great things for the Tribe, our enterprises, and the Mole Lake and Crandon areas,” he said in the release. 

Evers has signed similar agreements with the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, the Oneida Nation, the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, and the Forest County Potawatomi. 

See the release: 

— The UW-Madison Prevention Research Center has launched a new project aimed at improving detection of ovarian cancers. 

Dr. Ellen Hartenbach, a cancer specialist with the UW Carbone Cancer Center and UW School of Medicine and Public Health, says ovarian cancer causes the most deaths among cancers of the female reproductive system. In a release from UW Health, she explains that’s because it’s often difficult to diagnose. 

“Symptoms can be generic like feeling full or bloated, pelvic or back pain, or issues with urination, and these are symptoms of many other medical conditions, so it is not often caught as early as it needs to be for the best outcomes,” she said.

Using electronic health records from health systems in the Midwest, researchers aim to develop new tools for identifying ovarian cancer earlier. According to UW Health, they will employ machine learning to see if factors like demographics, social determinants of health, genetics and others can improve early detection. 

The CDC-funded effort will be led by Irene Ong, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and of biostatistics and medical informatics, and Manish Patankar, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology. Both are with the UW SMPH. 

Ong says if their work could “make an incredible difference” for patients if it leads to an effective test for ovarian cancer, “whether it is through imaging, molecular testing, or risk prediction and screening through electronic health records.” 

See the release: 

— DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake says a behavioral health training grant program will reduce disparities in the state’s mental health and substance abuse services. 

The Department of Health Services is taking grant applications through Nov. 7 for the program. The agency will provide 10 grants of up to $100,000 to groups in Wisconsin that work with populations who experience barriers to care. 

The workforce training efforts funded with the grant must increase capacity for mental health and substance abuse services that “respect and respond to the beliefs, practices, and needs of diverse communities,” according to DHS. Timberlake says culturally appropriate services are more effective and welcoming. 

“This grant program seeks to ensure that when it comes to mental health and substance use disorder services, being treated with dignity and respect, and receiving care that is high quality and accessible, are things all Wisconsinites have the right to expect and are not the privileges of a few,” she said in a release. 

Funding for the grants comes from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

See the release: 

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