Focus on the future of manufacturing, workforce and housing during Washington County 2035

The tool room at MGS’s Germantown campus.
The tool room at MGS’s Germantown campus.

When preparing for the uncertainty that lies ahead, your plan doesn’t matter as much as your philosophy, said futurist David Zach, the keynote speaker at BizTimes Media’s Washington County 2035 virtual event on June 30.

At the event, Zach will share insights on what the next 15 years and beyond will look like for Washington County, and will present business owners and executives with a “toolkit” of practical ideas about thinking and moving forward.

Registration is available here.

“In this day in age, we may need to be much more diversely curious — to truly be less focused on a single task or a single goal, and to sit back and think, ‘What else is going on here? What else can I learn?’” said Zach.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country and kept people inside, there may have been more down time to think, reflect and, in turn, tap into curiosity. But the problem, Zach said, is people have gotten so busy that they don’t know how to slow down. He’s also concerned that attention is being “weaponized” by a never-ending news cycle and overload of digital content.

Zach suggests reading more books and fewer articles, and connecting with those of different backgrounds over conversation.

“It’s getting away from the singular focus on work and letting people be people,” he said.

A panel of local business leaders at the event also weighed in on how upheavals like COVID-19, technology trends and innovation are changing their industries and the face of Washington County.

“Washington County is not immune to the changes coming, the accelerated pace of change and the need to implement agile business practices in an effort to be able to shift, pivot and keep up,” said Debbie Seeger, advisor at Brookfield-based management consulting firm Patina Solutions.

Planning and forecasting future trends is more difficult than ever, Seeger said, but a movement is afoot that will change the way companies across all industries balance employee needs, environmental sustainability and profit generation for shareholders.

For Germantown-based MGS Manufacturing, attracting and retaining talent will remain key to the company’s success going forward — even if it means making some internal adjustments.

“We are lucky in that we have an exceptional culture already that is quite technical, entrepreneurial and likes winning,” said president Paul Manley. “These attributes are attractive to the younger workforce, too, but so are things like flexibility at work and social consciousness. Evolving our culture to continue to embrace these attributes will ensure long-term success and allow us to fully utilize the area’s rich talent pool.”

The company’s location allows access not only to Washington County’s “high-quality and technically diverse workforce,” but that of surrounding areas such as Milwaukee, which Manley said is underutilized.

Kent Lorenz, retired chairman and CEO of Lakeside Consulting LLC, said southeastern Wisconsin companies have a strong educational system to thank for the region’s talent pipeline, including the University of Wisconsin System, Wisconsin Technical College System and private universities.

“The difficulty will be attracting and retaining this talent as the demand exceeds the supply,” said Lorenz.

He considers the region’s education system a national leader in technology curriculum.

That’s good news for Washington County, he said, especially as the industry at large continues to integrate automation and artificial intelligence to improve production and customer interface.

Manufacturing isn’t the only industry expecting to move forward with advancements in technology.

“We are keeping an eye on emerging new technologies, like 3D printed housing,” said David Decker, president of Brookfield-based Decker Properties Inc.

In the next 15 years, he said, the rising cost of construction will make single family homes priced out of reach for some families and apartments will also become more expensive. The company plans to pursue government incentives to help mitigate the cost of development.

Decker raised concerns about a lack of housing in Washington County, which makes jobs harder to fill.

“Expensive housing puts pressure on wages,” he said.

Due to the rise of remote work, Zach said, the age-old rule of real estate – “location, location, location’ – has shifted to “location, amenities, access,” he said. That could be promising for Washington County, where the ability to attract talent in the future may come down to improving amenities and access.

“We’ve forced ourselves to figure out that we are not tied to physical locations,” he said.

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Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe Meyer started as an intern reporter at BizTimes in summer 2015. She currently covers entertainment, sports, tourism and restaurants. In May 2017, she graduated with a journalism degree from Marquette University where she worked as an in-depth projects reporter for the Marquette Wire and Marquette Tribune.

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