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Manufacturing making a comeback in county
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Manufacturing making a comeback in county

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Charlie Tomlin, a CNC machine operator, moves a cast-iron pipe manifold from the CNC machine to a cart for transport on Friday afternoon. Pioneer Products, 1917 S. Memorial Drive, in Racine, is in the process of hiring new employees to use perform CNC machining.

RACINE COUNTY — Manufacturing in Racine County appears to be making a comeback.

The number of manufacturing jobs in the county increased by 15.2 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to labor statistics provided by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

In 2010, there were an estimated 16,500 manufacturing jobs in the county, according to the DWD. By the end of 2014 there were 19,000. Those same statistics show that overall goods production positions in the county grew by 2.4 percent in the last year.

“The big point here is that total (non-farm jobs are) going up, and most of that is due to goods producing,” said Ethan Schuh, a DWD program and policy analyst. “Manufacturing is actually coming back statewide. I don’t know if it fully recovered in every county, but obviously it has in Racine (County).”

For Jim Ladwig, president of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce and former Racine County executive, the statistics from the DWD just provide further proof for what he has already seen in his work with local manufacturers.

“I believe manufacturing jobs in our county consist of about 28 percent of all jobs in our county,” Ladwig said. “So, when you see (that growth), it just goes to show that manufacturing is really strong in our community and is really a driver for our employment.”

The jobs

While the state doesn’t provide data about which companies have added jobs or the job sector growth within individual municipalities, two local firms, one in the heart of the city and another a stone’s throw from Interstate 94, have both seen growth in the last two years.

Pioneer Products, 1917 S. Memorial Drive, a machining job shop that employs about 267 people and makes parts for companies like Caterpillar, GE Healthcare and CNH, has hired 34 people since Sept. 1, said Bob Sheppard, the company’s plant manager, and is still adding to its workforce.

The addition of the new employees — most of them hired as CNC machinists — was prompted by a new contract with Tesla Motors, Sheppard said.

“That was a big part of it, the rest of it (was) growth with our other customers,” he said, adding that much of the growth can be attributed to the mix of parts the company produces.

Six miles away, at 1733 90th St., Sturtevant — the headquarters for Putzmeister America Inc. — production also is up.

The manufacturing plant, which makes specialized concrete pumps and placement equipment and currently employs around 350 people, has more than doubled its workforce in the last two years, President and CEO Dave Adams said.

“We went from about 150 employees to about 350 employees,” Adams said, adding that the growth was primarily due to the recovery of the construction market.

“It is true that the general construction market was quite depressed during the financial crisis of 2009, 2010, 2011, but the recovery has been fairly quick in the last two years. Construction has picked up, and therefore the demand for equipment has picked up,” he said.

Adams estimates that about 90 percent of Putzmeister Amerca’s employees live in Racine County. Sheppard puts the number for Pioneer Products at between 85 and 90 percent.

Keeping it going

Asked if they think the growth in manufacturing jobs here will continue, Adams and Sheppard said that they couldn’t speak for the entire sector, but didn’t expect any slow-down in their companies or subsectors.

“Our outlook is positive for the next five years. It is hard predict beyond that, but it looks stable and positive,” Adams said of Putzmeister.

Sheppard was equally confident, stating that in addition to snaring new work, Pioneer Products has started to see some work come back from China. Companies want to operate more leanly, he said, and don’t want to wait three to four weeks for parts to arrive.

To keep the manufacturing sector growing here both emphasized the need for the continued support of training programs for skilled trades. Adams said the state also needs to keep incentivizing companies to expand locally.

“This is a manufacturing area,” Sheppard said. “The whole country knows it.”

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