Manufacturing and mining are so last century.
That seems to be the opinion of many in Madison -- that WMC advances a policy agenda "from the 1950s" by favoring the "old" industrial economy over the so-called knowledge economy ("Tech Leaders Get Little Help from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce," 9/18/2014).
As I recently told someone who holds this belief, WMC is pretty good at multitasking. We preserve and expand the best of the old while pursuing the promise and opportunities of the new.
But people who dismiss manufacturing and mining are as shortsighted as they accuse WMC of being. So we won't need steel in the economy of the future? What will wind turbines and Priuses, two symbols of the so-called green economy, be made of? Not to mention high-tech electronics are made with various semi-precious, precious and rare earth minerals.
Clearly old doesn't mean obsolete.
We would be fools not to recognize the importance and economic multiplying power of manufacturing or how it overlaps with other sectors, including technology.
After all, manufacturing drives innovation and vice versa.
That's not to say Wisconsin shouldn't work to grow science and technology sectors. In order to do so, you need innovation, highly skilled people and capital. With major research universities we arguably have the first two and are working on the third.
But that formula is overly simplistic. It's tough to commercialize innovations because most scientists/researchers are not entrepreneurs and the practical application for discoveries isn't always clear.
You also need to attract and keep quality professionals. That means paying competitive salaries and offering a quality of life that appeals to them.
Even with a new state-assisted venture capital fund, Wisconsin doesn't have the overall wealth other states enjoy. In fact, high-net-worth Wisconsinites are attracted to low-tax and warm-weather states like Arizona and Florida when they retire, creating a "wealth drain" that compounds the "brain drain."
These challenges are why it's often easier to grow traditional or what some deride as "old" sectors than to build new ones. Wisconsin's large manufacturers rely on smaller metal fabricators, machine shops and tool and die makers to produce parts, which is a major reason the sector is so strong. A prime example is Milwaukee-based Joy Global, which has vendors, subcontractors and suppliers in 38 Wisconsin counties.
We have similar examples of how success begets success in the tech sector. Spin-off companies founded by former employees of Epic, the medical records software company in Verona, have created at least 600 jobs.
Growing the science and tech sector clearly requires some targeted policies. But just as a rising tide lifts all boats, continuing to improve Wisconsin's overall business climate by reducing costs and bureaucratic obstacles helps all sectors.
Kurt R. Bauer president/CEO Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce