Madison faces opportunity in manufacturing

While the closing of Oscar Mayer's plant in...
Madison faces opportunity in manufacturing

There is good news and bad news when it comes to the Madison area’s manufacturing outlook. The bad? Job losses from Kraft Heinz’s decision to close the Oscar Mayer plant on the east side. The good? Regionally, manufacturing employment has risen post-recession.

According to Kraft Heinz, the Oscar Mayer plant will be closed sometime in 2017 with about 700 manufacturing positions affected. Nearby, Jefferson County also had a food industry plant closure last year when Tyson Foods ceased operations at a facility there.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, manufacturing employment for the Madison area (which includes Dane, Columbia, Green and Iowa counties) reached 34,300 jobs last December, up from 30,600 jobs in December 2009.

“It’s a pretty vibrant manufacturing region here,” says Tim Wiora, executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a private nonprofit consulting organization. “I think we have opportunities for job growth, especially in sectors such as biotech.”

Some of the area’s larger manufacturers are holding steady or looking for workers. For example, GE Healthcare‘s operation (which makes anesthesia and ventilator equipment) on the far east side has between 550 and 600 employees today, according to company spokesperson Benjamin Fox. That’s comparable to last year when a study was done that showed the plant gave a $342 million annual economic boost to the state.

At Norland at Swissray, a Fort Atkinson-based manufacturer of bone density scanners, new applications for the equipment in sports medicine and fitness analysis have aided growth, says general manager Pam Holler. The site employs eight people in production and quality control, having added one assembler recently as well as a few other positions in customer support, purchasing and regulatory affairs.

“We are growing and we’ll continue to grow here,” Holler says. “The experts–the people that know how to build and support the units–are here in Fort Atkinson.”

Q&A with Tammy Turek-Etienne

Meet Tammy Turek-Etienne, VP of operations for Exact Sciences, maker of Cologuard, the FDA-approved non-invasive colon cancer screening test.

What goes into making Cologuard kits?
We operate and oversee an extraordinarily high-tech manufacturing process to ensure all components in our Cologuard kit reach its growing number of users so that completing the test is as easy as possible. When the kit is returned to our lab in Madison, we ensure the highest quality materials are available to produce consistent and accurate results.

Why is making these kits complex?
There are more than 150 steps necessary to make the final kit that gets sent to the lab. The steps span manufacturing, testing and scheduling, with the need to coordinate across multiple departments, including quality assurance, which has to review and release the final product. Producing the biological materials to the highest quality specifications is necessary to provide the sensitivity needed for the DNA-based testing that is conducted here.

Your company foresees completing more than 240,000 tests in 2016, compared to 104,000 last year. How is this impacting your operations?
The growth is offering an opportunity to attract new talent. Last year the operations team added more than 20 people, and we will continue to grow in 2016. We’ve added team members with a variety of manufacturing and engineering experience.

Why is Madison a good place for the type of manufacturing you do?
Exact Sciences moved from Boston to Madison in 2009 because we recognized the quality of workers we could attract, notably from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the strong work ethic within this community. More than 60 percent of the company’s technical lab and R&D team are graduates of UW-Madison. The early results indicate that Madison is delivering not just for us, but more importantly, is playing a role in helping win the war on cancer through early detection.

What are the key skills you need from your production workers?
Our production workers typically have a life science degree, strong attention to detail with accurate documentation, analytical thought process, trouble-shooting and problem-solving skills, and great teamwork. It takes a team with clear communication to deliver Cologuard on time to the testing lab.

What advice would you have for other businesses trying to manage during a time of growth?
You have to manage for the now, but be nimble enough to accommodate the growth that comes. You don’t want to put in big, huge processes and infrastructure right from the start. You want to be able to phase in capabilities and be fluid, but manage to the here and now.

The Outlook of Wisconsin’s Manufacturing Sector

509 The number of manufacturing establishments in Dane County, according to U.S. Census figures. More than 240 of these sites have 10 or fewer employees, while 110 have 50 or more workers.

34,300 People The number of employees at manufacturers in Dane, Columbia, Green and Iowa counties as of December 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

52% The percentage of industry executives who believe Wisconsin’s economy will experience moderate growth in the next six months, according to a recent (December 2015/January 2016) survey by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, down from 67 percent for this question when surveyed by WMC in mid-2015.

21.3% The percentage of gross state production from manufacturing, making it Wisconsin’s leading economic sector, according to WMC.