Automation and exporting: Two trends manufacturers can’t ignore if they aim to grow

By Katy Sinnott
Vice President of Global Trade and Investment, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)

Augmented reality for industry concept. Robotic and Automation system control application on automate robot arm in smart manufacturing background.

Automation and exporting are two trends Wisconsin manufacturers cannot afford to ignore if they seek a path of continued growth. Because of our state’s strong collaboration among private industry, the public sector, and academia, robust support exists for helping manufacturers implement automation and grow their exports. To leverage this support, all companies need to do is get connected.

Automation drives higher-skilled, safer manufacturing jobs

Ever-Green-View, a world-leading exporter of bovine embryos, used an International Market Access Grant to help expand international sales into African markets.

As WMEP often notes, productivity is the engine of economic growth and prosperity—and when manufacturers seek to improve their productivity, automation is often a key factor to help them do that. Automation can help manufacturers leave behind the repetitive, low-skilled jobs that once defined the sector, resulting in a modern manufacturing operation that is not only more efficient but also safer and more rewarding for employees.

Manufacturers can work with WMEP to complete an automation assessment, which will guide them in selecting the appropriate technology and planning effective implementation. Once that assessment is complete, companies can pursue a Wisconsin Automation Implementation Grant to help offset the costs involved.

Road Widener company executives used a grant to help cover the cost of attending a trade show in Germany.

Toward our mission of building an Economy for All, WEDC is supporting these grants with a $1 million investment in the current fiscal year, helping to make advanced technologies accessible even for small companies—and thus to allow employers to focus their workforce on the high-value side of the manufacturing process.

International sales key to growth, resiliency

BrainXell used a grant to expand advertising for its products—customized nervous system cells derived from adult stem cell lines—in European markets.

With more than 95% of the world’s consumers living outside of the U.S., Wisconsin companies that ignore international sales are missing out on a huge target audience for their products and services. The research shows that companies that export achieve faster growth; in addition, by selling into multiple markets, those companies insulate themselves against the impact of economic fluctuations in any one market. WEDC and its partners offer a variety of support opportunities to help manufacturers begin exporting or expand their exports in overseas markets.

As the world’s economy continues to rebuild from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, business travel has fully resumed, and it’s as important as ever to visit foreign markets in person to understand market conditions and build connections with in-country partners and distributors. WEDC offers a full schedule of global trade missions, which Wisconsin manufacturers can join at a highly subsidized rate and benefit from the expertise of Wisconsin’s authorized trade representatives in markets around the world. The schedule of upcoming trade missions includes:

  • United Kingdom (Farnborough Air Show), July 21-26, 2024
  • Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), Nov. 1-9, 2024
  • United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Jan. 25-Feb. 1, 2025
  • Mexico (Guadalajara and Mexico City), Feb. 23-28, 2025
  • China (Shanghai), March 2025 (exact dates TBD)
  • Canada (Vancouver and Calgary), April 6-11, 2025
  • Switzerland and Germany (Zurich and Stuttgart), April 19-26, 2025

In addition, WEDC supports several ways companies can grow their exports from their home base in Wisconsin. Through our Global Network, we represent the interests of Wisconsin companies in 116 countries around the world, and also have broad and deep global business expertise among our staff in the Division of Global Trade and Investment. Companies can find relevant information in the Exporting 101 and Market Intelligence sections of WEDC’s website and can find contact forms there to reach out for technical assistance customized to their business needs.

The ExporTech™ Program, offered in collaboration with the WMEP and the UW-Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center, assists companies in selecting export markets to focus on and strategically developing thoughtful and well-informed strategies for their offerings in those markets. The next cohort will begin May 16, with additional cohorts expected to be offered later this year.

DSG Outerwear used grant funds to create French-language marketing materials for use in Quebec.

For the first time this year, International Market Access Grant funds can be used to cover the cost of product modification for export—for example, to tailor product features to the specific tastes of consumers in a foreign market or to adapt a product’s technical specifications to a foreign market’s standards. These grants—available in amounts up to $25,000 for companies that have completed ExporTech, or up to $10,000 for companies that have not—can also cover the cost of trade show attendance, export education, marketing and promotion, or consulting services to support exporting. The next round of grants will open for applications July 1 and close Oct. 31.

When companies grow their exports and therefore their revenue, they are able to create more jobs and bolster the state’s economy as a whole. Thus, these export growth initiatives also support WEDC’s core mission of building an Economy for All. We look forward to engaging with an increasing number of Wisconsin manufacturers as they work to adopt automation and expand their export sales.

Contact us for a free consultation!