- In recent years, a person couldn’t attend an event promoting
manufacturing in Waukesha County or discussing the issues facing
the industry without seeing Mary Baer.
retiring from a career at Cooper Power, Baer took a part-time
job at the Waukesha County Business Alliance and eventually
became its full-time vice president of community engagement as
the organization grew. She decided to retire at the end of
November due to some family health issues.
her views on manufacturing, Baer said she wanted to emphasize
two things about manufacturing: “making stuff is cool” and
“manufacturing is safer today than it has ever been.”
you make a finished product like an Eaton transformer, a
computer embedded in exercise equipment like EmbedTek, a high
tolerance fixture for another manufacturer like Stanek Tool or
specialty candy like Allo! Chocolat, you can take pride in being
part of creating something tangible. It is a rewarding
feeling,” she said via email.
She also said manufacturing is no longer dark, dirty and
dangerous. Baer said there is a misconception about
manufacturing among many people, and in fact, it is clean, safe
and high tech.
FREEMAN: What do you think the status of manufacturing in
Waukesha County and southeastern Wisconsin is as we start 2016?
The answer to this question depends on what market(s) you
participate in. If you are heavily dependent on mining or oil
and gas, you have most likely been negatively impacted by the
downturn in these markets. However, the remaining markets seem
strong and growing — especially if you are willing to look to
overseas markets, new domestic markets that support product
diversification, and R&D.
Where do you think manufacturing is headed this year?
I think the last quarter of 2015 was difficult, but 2016 is
already showing tremendous potential for manufacturing in this
region. The economic development survey that was recently
published showed that over 70 percent of Waukesha County
manufacturers anticipate capital expansion in the next couple of
years AND the need for more employees. Both are positive signs
of the future of manufacturing in 2016 and beyond.
What do you think needs to be done to guarantee a successful
manufacturing environment for the area?
I think that the county-led collaborative effort to create an
economic development organization that
focuses on growing existing business is key. A manufacturer who
wants to expand or diversify would be helped by a one-stop
organization that could help them through the process. This is a
great county for a manufacturer already. This new proposed
organization will make it even better — from permitting to
workforce to access to financial resources. The future is bright
for existing AND new Waukesha County manufacturers.
What are some of the biggest lessons you learned while working
in manufacturing and at the Business Alliance? What words of
wisdom would you have to pass along?
With almost 30 years in manufacturing and over six years at the
Waukesha County Business Alliance I have learned that the most
important element for a successful business is their people. If
organizations invest in, listen to and learn from all levels in
their organization (and they have a good product) they will be
far as words of wisdom, I would recommend that every business
provide the best customer service in their markets and build
positive, collaborative relations with their customers,
suppliers and employees. Also, get involved in the communities
where you work and live — you will be paid back over and over
by investing time, talent and/or treasure in local nonprofits
and community organizations.
What are some of your favorite stories from your years at the
My favorite stories from the Business Alliance focus on our
efforts with manufacturing and education. When Suzanne Kelley
became president of the organization, she spoke to me about the
lack of manufacturers in the organization. We visited six new
manufacturing CEOs in the county and found out they did not even
know each other. We invited them and several other CEOs to a
meeting at the WCBA and the Waukesha County Manufacturing
Alliance was born! Here is what has evolved with direction from
where almost 2,000 students, parents and educators have toured
three manufacturing facilities and (Waukesha County Technical
College) to see and learn about careers in manufacturing and the
Faces of Manufacturing just completed its 7th annual celebration
of all things manufacturing.
past year a Manufacturing Human Resource group started which
allowed for best practices sharing and focus on ways to attract
talent, manage health care costs and implement retention
involvement connecting manufacturers to local school districts.
Examples in include the Waukesha MADE Action Committee (a career
fair was held in 2015 and over 700 students learned about potential
careers in manufacturing, automotive, design and engineering);
and Kettle Moraine’s STEM Advisory Committee, which helps
promote STEM careers and education from kindergarten through
high school in the district.
to civic groups, school boards, parent groups, and educators
that “Manufacturing is Alive & Well in Wisconsin.” This
is a collaborative effort between the Manufacturing Alliance and
WCBA’s Education Advocacy Committee.
focus on the need for the next generation of talent in two key
areas — engineering and skilled trades. I wish we could get
every parent of local students to tour a manufacturing facility
to see the tremendous potential that exists for their children
in manufacturing. This involvement included committee work with
(Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce), M7 and
involvement with local school districts career fairs.
success of the Manufacturing Alliance is my favorite “story”
from my work with the great team at WCBA and the incredible
manufacturers in this region.
Are there any mistakes you saw made by a company that you feel
should be shared to help another company?
That is a difficult question to answer and I won’t name any
companies. I would only reiterate that employees are the key to
a company’s success. Mistakes will be made and can be
recovered from if you have employee respect and involvement.