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Madison Region Forges Strong Advanced Manufacturing Sector

The Madison region is built on highly sophisticated advanced manufacturing that is driven by technology and innovation.

By Kevin Litwin on May 5, 2014

Madison, WI
Madison / Courtesy of Teel Plastics

If you’re searching for manufacturers in the Madison Region, don’t look for smokestacks. Instead, look for solar panels, glass-walled R&D facilities, energy conserving lighting systems and commuters who have parked their car and started pedaling a bicycle.

The Madison Region is built on highly sophisticated advanced manufacturing that is driven by technology and innovation. While the sector is in decline in many places, manufacturing accounts for more than 36,700 jobs, and 9 percent of the all nonfarm jobs, in the region.  

“Wisconsin is the hub in the Great Lakes region for manufacturing. We out-produce GDP (gross domestic product) anywhere else in the country,” says Denise Reimer, interim dean of the School of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology at Madison College.

It Takes Ingenuity

The college’s new Ingenuity Center provides 62,000-square-feet of space outfitted with the state-of-the-art tools and equipment students need to learn the latest advanced manufacturing skills.

“It is the foundation of what the technical college is all about. We need to respond to our industries. We have to be a partner. We are their training source and the pipeline for our students to go right into those industries,” Reimer says.

The region boasts a diverse list of advanced manufacturers. Cardinal Industries, a manufacturer of glass for residential windows and doors, produces coated and insulated glass products at its facility in Sauk County, where it also has its solar technologies center and an R&D center where the company pushes the boundaries of applied glass science.

Spacesaver, based in Jefferson County, manufactures a variety of storage, shelving and locker equipment. Spectrum Brands, the former Rayovac, is a diversified company that produces batteries, small appliances, personal grooming products, hardware and other products.The company moved its world headquarters to Dane County in 2010, where it also has an R&D facility.

Trek Bicycle Corp. designs and manufactures high-performance bicycles and related products in Jefferson County. Trek became the first manufacturer in Wisconsin to ditch fossil fuels and switch entirely to renewable electric power. The company used to burn more than 10 million pounds of coal a year.

Trek also uses only energy-conserving lighting at its Waterloo facility and encourages employees to ride their bikes to work. The company even provides loaner bikes for employees to use for errands or lunch runs.

What else would you expect from a company whose CEO, John Burke, rode his bike more than 6,000 miles in one year, many of them on the 22.4-mile trip from his home in Madison to Waterloo?

Quality of Life

Teel Plastics, which manufactures custom extruded plastic tubing and plastic profiles in Sauk County, is investing heavily in new technologies and preparing to offer new services, CEO Jay Smith says.

The company has purchased a new compounding line to create plastic materials and plastics with improved properties. Teel has also expanded its Analytical Lab to perform internal testing on raw materials and finished goods products to make improvements in its manufacturing process, Smith says. 

The company is now performing analytical testing for external customers, primarily other plastics companies, to support their manufacturing and development efforts. Teel will soon begin to offer its compounding services to external customers as well.

The Madison Region’s many resources help innovative companies like Teel prosper, Smith says.

Teel works closely with Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) and has completed several projects with the organization over the years.

“And the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s engineering school is a resource that is utilized on a routine basis,” Smith says. “We have completed many projects performing testing, building equipment and completing detailed material analysis in conjunction with the UW-Madison. We have also done work with the UW Business School to do advance planning to support growth initiatives.”

The region’s quality of life is a significant advantage for the company when it comes to recruiting and keeping talented employees.

“Sauk County offers a mix of high skilled, dedicated and hard-working employees along with an outstanding environment, school systems and natural resources, which make it a great place to raise a family. The proximity to Madison, also allows Sauk County to attract highly skilled employees and give the amenities of living in a large city but the comfort of a small town,” Smith says.

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