Carron Net Co., Inc. in Two Rivers makes nets for sports, industrial and safety uses. To do that, Bill Kiel sources parts from all over the country, but it wasn’t until he attended a Progress Lakeshore event bringing together area manufacturers that he discovered a Manitowoc company that could replace an out-of-state supplier.
“I had no idea they were here and did that,” Kiel said. “Getting to meet other manufacturers and connecting with them has been a huge positive. It’s also ideal to meet with other companies who may need safety nets and not know about us.”
That’s music to Peter Wills’ ears. The executive director of Progress Lakeshore is the driving force behind an initiative to better connect area manufacturers.
“By connecting manufacturers, we can grow the local economy,” Wills said. “Commerce doesn’t stop at the county line. If something happens in Kewaunee County, it affects Manitowoc County.”
The initiative began after several major manufacturing employers closed their doors in Manitowoc County and Dominion shuttered its nuclear power plant in neighboring Kewaunee County. Progress Lakeshore – Manitowoc County’s economic department corporation — partnered with four other nearby counties – Kewaunee, Door, Calumet and Sheboygan – to look at ways to boost local manufacturers.
“It was all about strengthening the local supply chain,” Wills said. “If Company A needs a part and uses a local company instead of going out of the area, it helps the region overall. The problem was that there wasn’t a place where companies could go to find out who did what.”
A grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) funded a survey that uncovered 880 manufacturers and information about what they do.
The next step was taking that information and putting it online where anyone could access it. The result is the Lakeshore Manufacturing Directory, where users can search either by company name or by industry category to find local vendors and manufacturing partners. Participants can enter their own information.
“Putting the directory together required collaboration, and we were able to draw on the resources of the New North,” Wills said, adding that the regional economic organization previously put online directories together for other industries and supply chains.
Beyond the directory, Progress Lakeshore holds events where manufacturers can gather together. That’s how Kiel discovered the local supplier.
“More than 30 percent of Manitowoc County workers are in the manufacturing industry. We are experts in manufacturing and want to build on that as a way to bring in more companies,” Wills said. “We have the skilled workforce and the know-how to get it done. The directory also shows people outside the area what we have here, and maybe there’s a company who could benefit from these local suppliers.”