By Evan Casey
A new report from the Urban Manufacturing Alliance was presented to Milwaukee manufacturers and entrepreneurs Monday night. The report, titled State of Urban Manufacturing: Milwaukee Snapshot, showed the importance of manufacturing in Wisconsin, as manufacturing jobs were the second-largest employer in the city in 2015. However, the report focused on smaller manufacturing firms, highlighting the fact that 94 percent of over 100 local manufacturing firms that were interviewed for the report said they planned to expand within the next two years.
The report was presented at the Gathering Place Brewing and over 20 area manufacturing entrepreneurs attended.
Nearly 61 percent of firms surveyed for the Milwaukee Snapshot had fewer than 10 employees, according to the report. The report also found that about half of the firms with less than 10 employees are already selling their products nationally or internationally.
Representatives from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation were also present.
Marcus White, Vice President of Civic Engagement for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, said the report made him excited to see where the future of manufacturing will go in Milwaukee.
“What’s most exciting to us is that as we move further and further into the 21st century, we know the economy is going to look different,” said White. “We are excited about the new economy that is forming…the maker economy.”
The maker economy was discussed by the report’s author, Mark Foggin. Foggin is Principal Researcher for Foggin Strategies. A maker is defined by the National League of Cities as, “one who creates (either by design or fabrication) a tangible item.” Foggin said that although makers are expanding across Milwaukee, the market is smaller here, leading some small-scale manufacturers to sell their products nationally.
Ryan Laessig is a maker in Milwaukee. He is the 2018 Milwaukee Makers Market Coordinator, a market that runs every month across Milwaukee.
“It was nice to see manufacturers and philanthropists get a close look at how the maker movement in Milwaukee is starting to bloom,” he said about the report.
Lamont Smith, a Greater Milwaukee Foundation Senior Analyst, said that the report shows that there are opportunities for manufacturers to expand here in Milwaukee.
“I think there’s a broad array of things that have to be made and there’s an opportunity to see how small businesses fit into the economy,” Smith said.
The three biggest impediments to small firms that were interviewed for the report were “reaching new customers, finding qualified employees, and access to capital,” according to a press release.
“Smaller firms and bigger legacy manufacturers alike are what fortify Milwaukee’s economy, and we hope this report helps policymakers and other local stakeholders plot out new programs to help these businesses prosper,” said Katy Stanton, Program Director at the Urban Manufacturing Alliance.