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Wisconsin economy strugging to stay competitive

By Pauleen Le, ple@wkbt.com
Published On: Jun 18 2013 05:43:52 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 18 2013 06:13:16 PM CDT
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Wisconsin's economy is having a tough time staying competitive with other states.

That's according to a new study from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

One of the things Wisconsin is known for is manufacturing.

When the economic recession hit, manufacturing was one of the job sectors hardest hit.

But it's not just about working to rebound. Investing in technology and innovation also play a big role.

Pacal Industries has been in business for more than 120 years.

“(We) had divisions all over the country at one point,” said Jeff Kroes, vice president of the company’s manufacturing division in La Crosse. “We're now the last manufacturing division of the company.”

Kroes said things haven't necessarily changed for the better.

“The economy has been in trouble for a long time, and we thought it was coming back,” said Kroes. “Last year was a much better year than the previous three, but it came up and now it's going down again.”

The study from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation said for the past century, the state's leading industries have always been manufacturing and paper companies. Those industries, however, are having a tough time keeping up with advancing technology.

Mike Behan is an assistant professor of business at Viterbo University. He said the lack of innovation isn't helping the state's economy either.

“It's finding that competitive advantage that the world market place is looking for, and trying to capture that,” said Behan. “If we only try to sell to Wisconsinites through the Wisconsin model, we're probably going to get beat because everybody else is looking at it in the broader sense and a global sense.”

Kroes said staying competitive and innovative with the latest equipment is tough when business is slow, but he said you need something more to be successful.

“It's the customer service really, more so than the technology,” said Kroes. “Not to belittle technology, (but) if the customer needs something right now and you can't do it, it doesn't help them.”

Kroes said the company has invested in four welding robots and a computerized scheduling system to reduce housing costs for materials.

He also said more people who have sent their business overseas are now bringing it back to the states.

While some manufacturing businesses are struggling, the study also reports dairy product manufacturing and electrical equipment manufacturing have both grown by 30 percent from 2008-2011.

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