Local Manufacturing Moves High-Tech

GREEN BAY, Wisc. (WBAY) "Help Wanted" is a common theme among manufacturers in Northeast Wisconsin.

Of the 150 companies recently surveyed by the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, 80-percent report having a hard time finding qualified employees.

That's up from just 29-percent in 2011.

One local company hopes its increasingly high-tech workplace can attract new workers.

At Georgia-Pacific, Mike Kawleski likes to point out that this is no longer your grandfather's paper mill.

"We get the comment and maybe the impression from people that manufacturing is all the bad D words right, dark, dirty, dangerous, dead end, and really it's high-tech, high skill, high pay," Kawleski, Georgia-Pacific Public Affairs Manager.

All you have to do is watch one of the new forklifts to realize times have changed.

"These are called laser guided vehicles, or LGVs for short, so they're programmed and controlled on each of their routes through a laser and a laser antenna. The neat thing about these electrical vehicles is they're so smart that when their battery runs down they can go and change their own battery, so they're ready to roll, they don't take a break, and they don't take a vacation, and they never get sick," says Kawleski.

And according to Kawleski, the LGVs don't take away jobs, they create them.

"It may take the forklift operator job, but really we're creating new jobs because you need skilled people to program these things, to fix them if they break, to operate those."

In the 2017 Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance survey, 68-percent of local manufacturers report plans for some type of modernization this year, whether it be in computerization, robotics or state-of-the-art control systems.

Almost all are hiring.

Nearly two dozens positions are open at Georgia-Pacific right now.

"And the type of skills we're looking for obviously is technical skills, so we need people in manufacturing who are engineers, CNC machinists and electro-mechanical technicians, those types of folks," says Kawleski, adding that it's not uncommon for someone with a two-year degree to start out earning $60,000 a year.