Report: Wisconsin’s exports at all-time high in 2014
Expert sees untapped potential from state manufacturers

By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman

Feb. 13, 2015

WAUKESHA - A report from Gov. Scott Walker’s office Thursday revealed that the state’s exports increased in 2014 to reach an all-time high; however, one area leader feels there is still a lot of untapped potential in southeastern Wisconsin.

Badger State businesses exported $23.43 billion worth of goods in 2014, the most ever for the state and a 1.4 percent increase compared to 2013. Exports have increased by 18.3 percent in Wisconsin during the past four years, according to the report.

Roxanne Baumann, director of global engagement for Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, said her initial reaction to the report was happiness, but that was tempered by the knowledge that the amount could be much higher if more company executives recognized their own potential.

“That’s wonderful, but there is so much more here. Don’t sit on your laurels; we have so much more work to do,” Baumann said of the report, which indicated the two most significant increases in export shipments were to Canada and Mexico.

Exports to Mexico increased by 12.7 percent to $2.84 billion, primarily because of an increase in the export of vehicle parts, plastics, and dairy products, according to the report. Exports to Canada went up 5.5 percent to $7.94 billion, due primarily to an increase in organic chemicals, ethanol, fur skins and beverage exports, according to the report. Wisconsin’s agricultural exports rose by 13.6 percent in 2014 to a record $3.7 billion. 

“This is great news for Wisconsin farmers, as well as businesses of all sizes and all industries,” Walker said in a statement.

“We are taking the necessary steps to improve our business climate, and help Wisconsin companies improve their position in the global market.  Promoting Wisconsin business and products in helping job creators realize that exporting can open the doors to new markets and new customers. The latest record-breaking numbers are a true indication that our efforts are paying off.”

WMEP is a not-for-profit organization that works with small- to mid-sized Wisconsin manufacturers to make them more profitable and competitive. Baumann said WMEP is aligned with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Department of Commerce to create an export expansion strategy.

“We want to take them from reactive and accidental and turn them into proactive, strategic exporters,” Baumann said.

Executives are asked such questions as what is the company’s value proposition and why is the product special. Market research is also conducted to determine a company’s four or five best country matches for export.

“I want them pushing in a place where it is a low-hanging fruit and it’s pretty good that they are going to get success,” Baumann said.

Some of the companies WMEP has worked with have had $1 million in sales in about nine months after graduating with a plan, she said.

A report from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce at the end of January said data suggested there was no growth in domestic sales in southeastern Wisconsin during the past 10 years, Baumann said, adding the only growth that southeastern Wisconsin has seen is with exports.

To encourage companies to explore exporting, Baumann said, the WEDC is offering $25,000 grants per company to access markets.

“It will never get any easier than it is right now for a company to expand their exports,” she said.

Wisconsin saw increases in other key sectors, including water-technology-related products (up 7.4 percent to $5.03 billion); biotechnology (up 6.8 percent to $3.11 billion); and health care (1 percent increase to $1.89 billion).

The state’s top export category remains industrial machinery with $6.37 billion in goods exported in 2014, accounting for 27 percent of all state exports, according to the report. The second-largest product category is medical and scientific instruments, which accounts for 9 percent of all state exports at $2.17 billion.