Company’s arrival highlights need for manufacturers to invest in supply chains

By Dave Fidlin - Special to Conley News Service

Sept. 21, 2018

PEWAUKEE — Set amid the backdrop of Foxconn’s arrival in Southeastern Wisconsin, a consortium of economic development experts are calling on local manufacturers to make investments to supply chain technology — and do so at lightning speed.

The need to make the upgrades was underscored Wednesday during a workshop at Waukesha County Technical College. About a hundred representatives from a cross-section of manufacturers attended the event, which the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation initiated.

WEDC has announced plans of holding the workshops in different areas of the state, spurred by a desire to help manufacturers prepare for Foxconn’s opening. But speakers said the call to invest in next-generation technology extends beyond Foxconn.

Attendees heard from several Foxconn representatives, including Bill Mitchell, CEO of Aguila, which is a subsidiary within the Taiwanese-based electronics manufacturer.

“We are building the airplane while we are flying it,” Mitchell said of Foxconn’s development in Mount Pleasant. “We move at a speed called ’Foxconn fast.’ Things are moving very, very fast.”

Mitchell emphasized Foxconn did not become a global giant in a vacuum.

“We can’t do this by ourselves,” Mitchell said. “We have a strong desire to localize everything that we can. But obviously, we’re a business. We’re in business to make money. What’s important is we have suppliers who can keep pace with what we want to do.”

Mitchell said there are no specifics on Foxconn’s planned partnership with the local manufacturing community.

“We don’t have any hard dates,” he said. “But we have a commitment to keep you as informed as we are.”

During a question-andanswer session, Mitchell was peppered with queries, including one about Foxconn’s willingness to acquire existing companies.

“The politically correct answer is we’re willing to do that if it makes business sense,” Mitchell said.

In a broader context, attendees heard from representatives of several other manufacturing groups about the need to innovate.

“Whether you work with Foxconn or not, the bar is going up,” said Buckley Brinkman, executive director and CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity. “You’re going to have to change the way you do business — and you’re going to have to do it sooner, rather than later.”

Brinkman and other attendees touched on the need to integrate Internet of Things advancements, which pertains to smart, connected devices. Robotics and automation also were overarching themes discussed with local manufacturers.

Throughout the call for change, speakers emphasized the benefits of making investments and tweaking current business practices in the name of efficiency.

“Don’t be afraid,” Mitchell said. “I don’t like change. But the world is continuing to change.”