Grants can help manufacturers get ready for recovery

    We’re not out of the woods yet, but the economy is starting to show signs of stabilization and recovery.

    The nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a 3.5-percent annual pace in the third quarter, higher than anticipated. Consumers are getting back in the game, with retail sales showing strength in October after a year of decline.

    The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reports that the nation’s manufacturing sector grew for the third consecutive month in October.  The ISM’s barometer PMI index rose 3.1 – from 52.6 percent to 55.7 percent, fueled by strength in new orders. Any reading over 50 percent indicates expansion.

    These developments are hopeful signs for Wisconsin manufacturers who have endured a long and painful recession. But it’s not time to break out the champagne yet. In addition to the lingering problems of tight credit, unemployment and economic uncertainty, 2010 will present new challenges – and opportunities – as the economy continues to improve.

    The post-recession reality is that markets, customers and competitors have changed.  Increased volatility, spikes in demand and hyper-competition are here to stay. The customer that once wanted your quote in 24 hours now wants it in half the time – and may not even bother to tell you until it’s too late. To thrive in this environment, manufacturers must be highly innovative, lean and agile. They need to create products that customers want and get them to market quickly.

    Change on this scale can be daunting for manufacturers, especially smaller firms. That’s why it’s important for manufacturers to know there is assistance available to help them implement lean transformation and growth strategies.

    Authorized by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, the Next Generation Manufacturing grants are targeted to small and midsize manufacturers with less than 500 employees. Grants pay up to 50 percent of project costs for services delivered by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) with the remaining project costs paid by the company. Eligible projects are:

    Lean Transformation – Up to $5,000 per company is available for Enterprise Business Transformation projects, which include a comprehensive assessment of a company’s operations, identification of key competitive priorities and an action plan to achieve them.  This lean transformation approach improves performance across all facets of the business enterprise and generates significant financial results.
    Business Growth – Up to $6,500 per company is available to help manufacturers implement Eureka! Winning Ways, a nationally recognized system for rapidly generating and testing new product ideas.  Many Wisconsin manufacturers have successfully launched new products as a result of the Eureka! system.

    Funding is limited, so manufacturers should act quickly if they want to take advantage of this opportunity to get ready for recovery and build a strong foundation for future growth and profitability. 

    Mike Klonsinski is the executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP), which helps small and midsize manufacturers grow and succeed.  For more information on the grants, contact WMEP at 1-877-856-8588 or

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