WED AM News: Survey finds fewer manufacturers expect higher revenues, profits and spending; Evers announces $1M to support rural entrepreneurs

— Fewer manufacturers in the state expect their revenues, profits and spending to rise this year, according to a recent survey. 

The 2022 Wisconsin Manufacturing Report was commissioned by the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity in collaboration with WMEP Manufacturing Solutions and the UW-Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center. The organizations held a presentation yesterday in Brookfield to announce their findings. 

“Across gross revenues, profitability and capital expenditures, the percentage who expect to see increases this year are down from where it was a year ago,” Rob Autry, a pollster with research group Meeting Street Insights, said during yesterday’s event. This group presented the survey results on behalf of the WCMP. 

For gross revenues, the percentage of survey respondents expecting an increase fell from 44 percent in the 2021 survey to 38 percent in this year’s survey. For profitability, the percentage fell from 38 percent to 28 percent. And capital expenditures saw the largest drop, from 54 percent last year to 41 percent. 

Autry added manufacturers with lower revenues saw a much larger decline in expectations for revenue. He noted 28 percent of those with less than $1 million in annual revenue expect their revenue to rise this year, versus 46 percent in the 2021 survey. 

For manufacturers with revenue between $1 million and $5 million, the percentage expecting an increase fell from 52 percent to 34 percent. And for those with revenue above $5 million, the percentage only fell from 70 percent to 64 percent. 

For each of these categories, expectations for profitability were also lower this year, the survey found. 

Along with these changes, manufacturers tapped for the survey were also asked about the trajectory of the state’s economy. In the previous survey, 40 percent said it’s growing, 34 percent said it’s mostly flat, 14 percent said it’s slowing down and 8 percent said a recession was occurring. 

By comparison, 20 percent of this year’s respondents said the state economy is growing, 28 percent said it’s mostly flat, 22 percent said it’s slowing down and 28 percent said a recession is occurring. But despite those concerns, manufacturing executives’ confidence in their own companies was unshaken. 

In the 2021 survey, 86 percent expressed confidence in their company’s financial future, including 39 percent who were very confident. Thirteen percent said they were not confident. And in this year’s survey, 86 percent again said they’re confident — including 41 percent who said they’re very confident. Once again, 13 percent said they’re not confident. 

“Maybe the state’s business direction is not as solid as it was a year ago, the economy is not as great,” Autry said. “But manufacturers are certainly just as confident about the future of their firm as they were a year ago.” 

The survey also asked respondents about their top concerns this year. While the cost of materials and workforce challenges were both major concerns both this year and the last, energy costs saw the largest jump in concern. More respondents also said they’re worried about inflation. 

Buckley Brinkman, the executive director and CEO of the WCMP, told attendees that manufacturers should be employing an “all the above” strategy for attracting talent while making technology a “key part” of their growth strategy. 

“We’re consistently finding 15 to 25 percent of companies that are under some pretty severe stress,” he said yesterday. “And in this particular study, we saw these measurements where that was coming out … We’re not sure yet what that means — whether that’s just the normal turnover of businesses, or whether we really have a systemic problem in manufacturing in Wisconsin. We’ll be looking to explore that more as we go forward.” 

The second annual survey was conducted by phone with 400 manufacturing executives between July 29 and Aug. 23, and study authors also held five focus groups in September. Four were held in-person in Menomonie, Green Bay, Madison and Brookfield and another was held virtually. 

See the full report: 

— State officials have announced a new $1 million initiative aimed at supporting entrepreneurs in rural parts of Wisconsin. 

In a release yesterday, Gov. Tony Evers said the UW-Madison Division of Extension and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will lead the effort. It will include programs providing training, technical assistance and legal and financial advice for entrepreneurs in underserved areas. 

WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes notes rural startups often struggle with a lack of access to capital and more limited entrepreneur networks. 

“Our aim is to make sure everyone in our state has the chance to turn their great ideas into reality,” she said in the release. 

Earlier this year, a report from the Wisconsin Startup Coalition found the number of startups in rural Wisconsin had fallen by 50 percent between 1978 and 2018. The group called for greater investments in support for such businesses. 

See Evers’ release: 

See the WSC report: 

— An African company called Niche Cocoa is developing its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Franklin, according to a release from WEDC. 

WEDC says the $30 million facility will be the largest food and beverage investment by an Africa-based company in U.S. history, and the state’s largest foreign direct investment from Ghana, where Niche Cocoa is headquartered. 

The new facility is located in the Franklin Business Park, where the company is leasing over 44,000 square feet of space. WEDC says Niche Cocoa will use the facility to produce cocoa powder for distribution and manufacture finished chocolate products. The company will also partner with a Milwaukee chocolate business called The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, according to the release. 

A WEDC spokesperson said the agency isn’t providing any financial assistance for the project, but helped the company with site selection and technical assistance on global trade issues. 

Niche Cocoa will be employing more than 24 workers at the facility, per the release. 

See the release: 

— A microbiologist and professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin says gut bacteria represent “the next best therapeutic target” for addressing the obesity epidemic. 

John Kirby, the chair of microbiology and immunology at MCW, discussed related research during a recent meeting of the Milwaukee Rotary Club. After discovering the role of certain bacteria in metabolism and body weight regulation, he launched a company called Rose Biosciences that aims to develop new obesity treatments. 

He explained bacteria “have so much more diversity in what they can do” than most people give them credit for. 

“Bacteria can do things like clean up contaminated wastewater sites, they can degrade toxic pollutants,” he said. “In the case of our gut … bacteria burn calories and release energy as heat. And if they don’t burn those calories, you will absorb them and convert it into adipose tissue, or body fat.” 

Kirby’s research began by focusing on why a common antipsychotic drug called risperidone resulted in weight gain as a side effect. After sequencing the gut bacteria of people treated with this drug, he and fellow researchers found their “gut microbiome” was changed and proceeded to studies in mice to learn more. 

They found that mice consuming this medication gained more weight and displayed a “distinct shift” in their gut microbiome. By identifying which bacterium was depleted after consumption of the risperidone, they determined a specific strain of a microorganism called Lactobacillus reuteri likely plays a role in maintaining body weight. This strain produces a chemical called reutericyclin, which the scientists used to test their hypothesis. 

Among mice that were fed the antipsychotic drug, the ones that also received a synthetic form of reutericyclin or bacteria that can make the chemical gained less weight, Kirby said. He added this chemical changed their resting metabolic rate. 

“It might actually end up being a weight-loss drug,” he said. “We haven’t tried to market it that way, or patent it that way, but that’s what the data’s looking like. So that’s kind of exciting.” 

Watch the video here: 

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