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A conversation with. Aaron Olver, Deputy Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Commerce

"We have seen a trend, increasing pressure, and opportunity to work in bio-based fuels. Wisconsin is well positioned for this - we have very strong agricultural and forestry bases, and many sources for forestry feedstocks. We are a very diverse state for biomass."

Oct/Nov 07
Q. What industries are spurring optimism in Wisconsin?
A.
Manufacturing jobs continue to hold relatively steady after the 2001 recession. We have been able to retain jobs since then, and support for manufacturing is strong. We are the second-most manufacturing intensive state in the nation. Recently, Chrysler was able to decide on a $450 million investment to retool their Kenosha engine plant and maintain a viable presence in the state.

Fabricated metal products companies are assembling parts for companies such as Harley Davidson, General Motors, and Oshkosh Truck. In 2003, we had 68,000 people employed in that sector. Since then it has grown 9.1 percent and we are up to 74,600 people. This is an industry that is often being outsourced, but its growth is a testament to the strength of manufacturing in Wisconsin.

Fox Valley is a fast-growing area. Cities such as Green Bay, Appleton, and Neenah are seeing projects in the professional services and technical sector. Also in this area, there have been some new investments in the paper-making equipment industry.

Bio-science is expanding. The latest figures show that this sector includes approximately 338 companies, over 22,000 employees, and $6.3 billion in annual revenues, growing at 16 percent per year.

An ongoing project with the state and the University of Wisconsin at Madison is the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, an interdisciplinary research in biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology through interdisciplinary studies. These twin institutes, the public Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (part of the university) and the private Morgridge Institute for Research will work collaboratively. Construction is slated for later this year. In this sector, we also want to encourage genome studies. There is a tremendous amount of information in bioinformatics and we need engineers, biologists and chemists to address these matters.

Q. What's happening in alternative energy?
A.
At the state level, the Office of Energy Independence was created this year. We have seen a trend, increasing pressure, and opportunity to work in bio-based fuels. Wisconsin is well positioned for this - we have very strong agricultural and forestry bases, and many sources for forestry feedstocks. We are a very diverse state for biomass. Great research is ongoing at University of Wisconsin at Madison.

The governor's Renewable Energy Grant and Loan Program is now in legislative hands. This is a $30 million fund to target clean technology and bio-based fuels. These grants and loans will commercialize technology in this area.

Northeast Wisconsin, now being called "The New North," is developing a wind-energy industry. Wisconsin ranked 18th among the states for wind-energy potential, fourth for new job creation associated with the wind manufacturing industry, and sixth for potential investment in the wind manufacturing industry. The state's largest wind power plant, the Blue Sky Green Field project, is expected to bring 88 turbines to Fond du Lac.

Q. What's the news on exports?
A.
The governor went on a trade mission to Japan and China in September. This year, we have started holding investment seminars in China to encourage business people there to look at Wisconsin as an investment destination.  The growth of exports is remarkable. In the last four years, exports are up 60 percent, and in the last calendar year, Wisconsin exports increased by 15.7 percent. Exports are now up to $17.2 billion.

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