Alternative Energy & Fuels

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New North Looks to Future for Advanced Manufacturing Growth

29 Jun, 2010

By: Trade & Industry Development

For the New North, the 18-county region in Northeast Wisconsin, a strong, growing manufacturing industry has always been the backbone of the regional economy.

Nearly a quarter of the 750,000 workers in the New North are employed by manufacturers including Kohler Co., Manitowoc Company Inc., Oshkosh Corp., Ariens Corp., Marquis Yachts and other companies recognized as some of the best and most successful manufacturers in the world in their respective fields.

And the New North Inc., the regional economic development group supporting the region, is working to retain those jobs and foster an environment in which the industry can continue to thrive.

As part of its efforts, the New North Inc. has worked with technical colleges in the area to help ensure ample worker training resources are available in key industries. Particularly in areas where skilled workers are in short supply – like welding – the organization has worked to bridge the gap between employers and technical colleges to make sure that students are being trained with the skills necessary to fill available manufacturing jobs in the region.

The New North has also partnered with the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, a group of manufacturers working with educational institutions, workforce development boards, chambers of commerce, and other state organizations to strengthen Northeast Wisconsin’s position as a world leader in advanced manufacturing opportunities. The organization presents a unique opportunity for manufacturers to work directly with economic development and educational institutions to promote workforce development and advance collaboration efforts to ensure the health of the regional manufacturing industry.

Wind Energy

The wind energy industry in particular has been targeted by the New North for its advanced manufacturing potential. The region has a number of resources that make it the ideal location for companies looking to manufacture components used in wind turbines throughout the country – and throughout the world.

Currently, the New North is home to over 200 vendor-suppliers with the production capacity to produce components involved in wind energy generation.

Area technical colleges also provide ideal training opportunities for workers in the industry. Lakeshore Technical College, located in Cleveland, Wisconsin, has a specific Electro-Mechanical Wind System Technical Program that has already begun providing students with expertise about wind energy systems and components, and other technical colleges throughout the region consistently have high enrollment in various manufacturing programs.

In addition, once components are completed, great infrastructure and the proximity of Lake Michigan make the transportation of large components particularly efficient to sites across the country.

To further the goal of wind energy development, the New North Inc. has formed a statewide coalition called Wisconsin Wind Works, a consortium of manufacturers and other companies involved in the wind manufacturing supply chain in Wisconsin. These companies represent a wide array of specialties, including assembly, construction, die castings, engineering, education and training, machining, transportation and others.

The group has been active in promoting the resources of Wisconsin to audiences across the country. For the past several years, the New North has assembled a coalition of businesses from across Northeast Wisconsin – and across the state – to participate in the annual American Wind Energy Association conference to promote Wisconsin’s assets to the industry.

Among the organizations in attendance at past conferences have been Aarowcast, Badger Transport, Bassett Mechanical, Lakeshore Technical College, Boldt Construction and Wausaukee Composites, representing a number of the industries involved in wind energy component production and distribution.

Advanced Biofuel

Another renewable energy industry targeted by the New North for potential growth is advanced biofuel production.

In late 2009, the New North Inc. received a $100,000 regional marketing grant from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to help the organization support cellulosic ethanol and other renewable energy industries in the region.

That funding in part helped pay for a study – conducted by Resource Analytics – to examine the potential development opportunities for cellulosic ethanol in Northeast Wisconsin. In particular, the study was done in response to inquiries into the former New Page paper mill in Niagara, near the Michigan border.

The study was broken into two phases. Phase one studied whether there were sufficient biomass resources within the surrounding area to support a cellulosic ethanol productivity facility at the New Page site, and ultimately found that – with nearly half a million green tons of fiber from logging residue available within a 65 mile radius – woody biomass in particular was a feasible option as a feedstock for a potential facility. Phase two examined the logistics of a cellulosic supply chain, again finding that there were sufficient resources to support a cellulosic ethanol facility, as well as significant interest from potential companies in supplying resources for the industry.

Ultimately, the New North Inc. hopes to use this information to promote the benefits of the region to companies examining cellulosic ethanol production and attract such a plant to Niagara. But the organization is also examining other methods to not only attract new companies to the region, but make the existing pulp and paper industry more competitive as well.

Greenwood Fuels, which is based in Green Bay, has already started converting waste from label and packaging manufacturers into fuel pellets, which can be burned by coal power plants in place of their traditional fuel source. The process is a win-win for everyone involved: Greenwood employs approximately 25 people to perform its process, New North companies like WS Packaging and Heartland Label Printers are able to save money and be more competitive by redirecting waste to Greenwood instead of landfills, and the environmental impact of power generation and the packaging production process is significantly reduced.

In addition, the paper and pulp industry is examining other ways to streamline their operations and become more efficient, including implementing energy efficiency initiatives and combined heat and power, which allows the facility to use byproducts of the production process to heat and power the building in which the operations take place.

As the New North continues to build upon the rich manufacturing tradition of the region and looks to foster development of the next generation of advancements for the industry, there are a wealth of resources and assets to build upon in Northeast Wisconsin. From top-notch worker training to a great location to an abundance of successful, established manufacturers, the future looks bright for industry in the New North.

To learn more about the New North, please visit www.thenewnorth.com.

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