Small manufacturers say WMEP has been vital for business growth

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The Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) estimates its economic impact on small businesses in the last fiscal year at $148 million.
According to manufacturers’ reports to WMEP, consulting by the program provided the leads to $98 million in increased and retained sales; $25 million in investments in new plant and equipment; and $23 million in cost savings.
Many Wisconsin manufacturers consider the WMEP to be an investment in the state’s economy.
Ann Pettibone, chief executive officer of Drewco Corp., Franksville, estimates the impact WMEP has had on her company at more than $500,000 in the last calendar year alone.
That does not include cost savings Drewco realized by working with a WMEP partner firm to reduce health care costs or the sales gains that Pettibone said resulted from a new Web site developed by another partner firm.
The company manufactures work-holding devices used in manufacturing. Products manufactured by Drewco are used by major manufacturers to hold gears and other parts during machining.
Pettibone and Drewco, which employs 25 to 30 people, first worked with WMEP on a strategic plan in 1999.
WMEP is involved with Pettibone on implementing a lean culture program, which involves employees in the process of lean manufacturing.
"We started 18 months ago on a scheduling program," Pettibone said. "We market ourselves as having the shortest lead times in the industry, but if you are going to do that, you have to continually have the shortest lead times. WMEP’s work took our throughput from 23 days to nine days. That is a significant marketing advantage and has helped us enormously."
Pettibone said the company would not have been able to retain a consultant to help it implement lean manufacturing principles without WMEP’s help.
"It is very cost-effective — at least half of what it would have cost to get it somewhere else," Pettibone said. "We looked at other non-state programs and other consulting, and also compared it to other state programs. I was most comfortable and most impressed with WMEP. … Without WMEP, we would have gone ahead and tried to implement these things on our own."
Bill Piernot, president of Wiscraft/Associated Industries for the Blind in Milwaukee, said the lean manufacturing assistance he received from WMEP has helped his business survive in a more competitive environment.
Wiscraft is a 501.c.3. non-profit corporation, which employs legally blind persons in machining, assembly, packaging and order fulfillment.
"In today’s market, we have to be competitive with for-profit businesses," Piernot said. "We have seen a significant amount of work go to China, Mexico and other overseas locations, as well as the southern US."
Piernot worked with WMEP to achieve Wiscraft’s ISO 9001/2000 certification, which Piernot described as "the latest and greatest" of the quality process certifications.
"For ISO, WMEP was about 60% (of the costs) of a for-profit consultant," Piernot said. "The quality was actually better. The personnel we dealt with and the way they implemented it was better than we would have expected elsewhere. We actually wound up getting certified two months ahead of schedule."
Pettibone and Piernot are united in their disapproval of WMEP’s being zeroed out of the state budget.
"I think it is a bad mistake for the Legislature to take this money out," Piernot said. "This is an investment in future jobs in Wisconsin. This is not a program that hands out money. Manufacturing in particular is under duress right now with foreign competition."
"WMEP is a very important program for manufacturers in Wisconsin," Pettibone said. "It would be a great loss to lose this kind of highly-effective organization. I guess I would want to tell them that from the standpoint of a businessperson, WMEP is an economically wise investment that is going to have significant returns for the state’s economy."

April 4, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwauke

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