Jim Golembeski, Envision Board Member

It was 2006 when Paul Rauscher met Ann Franz. Ann had recently started as Business Liaison for Bay Area Workforce Development Board (WDB), and  Paul owned EMT International, a manufacturer of large, high-speed printers in Green Bay. Watching trends in manufacturing, Paul had observed:

  • An aging manufacturing workforce in one of the most heavily concentrated manufacturing regions in the country
  • A public image of manufacturing as dirty, dumb, dead-end, and headed for China
  • A K-12 and university education system that actively promoted four-year university degrees and discouraged training in the skilled trades
  • An economic opportunity to build on regional strength and experience

Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance (NEWMA) was born with 12 founding members, covering 18 counties in NE Wisconsin. Its mission: to ensure that every Northeast Wisconsin manufacturer will find the talent it needs.

Ann Franz was the right person for the task. She had a background in working with companies to set up trade shows. NWTC was her employer for record through the contract with Bay Area WDB, providing direct access to training programs. Most importantly, she brought enthusiasm and positive energy to the effort. That has paid off wonderfully.

The top priority for NEWMA was changing the image of manufacturing to better reflect the reality of good paying jobs in high-tech environments offering solid, sustainable careers.  In fact, manufacturing employs over half the workforce in New North in a variety of sectors with a wide range of career opportunities.

Working with educators was key to overcoming the growing communication gulf between business and education. The Manufacturing All-Stars publication went out to all school districts, featuring area young people in successful manufacturing careers, accompanied by YouTube videos of the annual awardees from member companies. “Get Real Math” videos filmed in area companies were developed in partnership with middle and high school teachers to demonstrate the practical application of math in manufacturing.  Those videos, accompanied by lesson plans, are aligned with Common Core standards.  An annual awards banquet with monetary prizes for innovative K-12 educators followed.  Plant tours, work experience, and career expos multiplied as did donations of equipment from businesses to schools as more trades programs were implemented.  SeaPerch implemented a popular annual middle school competition to build underwater robots.  

The results of these efforts were significant. The number of welding students in the region increased fourfold in ten years. Machinist students tripled in that time as well. The return of trade classes to area schools has exceeded everyone’s expectations. NEWMA now has over 300 member companies working together to develop the talent they need now and for the future.

New partnerships between technical colleges and universities also developed, resulting in the creation of five new engineering degree programs at University of Wisconsin Green Bay. The annual “Internship Draft Day” brings college students from throughout the Midwest to Lambeau Field to compete for paid internship positions in area companies.  

And NEWMA has not stopped looking to the future.  In 2019, the Industry 4-0 Taskforce was established to study the impact of AI, robotics, IOT, and other new technologies and to assist companies in their adoption. Ms. Franz has facilitated member companies’ extensive use of new Microsoft training opportunities, especially in data analysis and project management.  NEWMA also developed training in supervisory skills for front line workers. Currently eight task forces with more than 150 volunteers work on creating new strategies and implementation plans to address the talent needs 0f member companies.

Through it all, Ann Franz has provided skilled leadership for the organization, and NEWMA has been recognized nationally and internationally for best practice in public/private partnerships. Ann has spoken nationally and internationally on developing sector alliances, and she has been quoted extensively in state and national publications including Forbes, the Washington Post, and Industry Week.  In 2022, Ann Franz received Insight’s “Women of Influence Lifetime Achievement Award.”  NEWMA has received state, national, and international awards including Frost & Sullivan’s Manufacturing Leadership Council “Talent Management Award.”  It offers a real example of identifying and successfully responding to trends and has demonstrated what a small group of trend watchers can achieve through leadership and partnership building.