Wilson Tool: What 21st Century Manufacturing Looks Like

The tool manufacturer celebrates National Manufacturing Day by highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy and drawing attention – especially that of its younger visitors – to the many rewarding high-skill jobs that are now available in manufacturing fields.

The tool manufacturer celebrates National Manufacturing Day by highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy and drawing attention – especially that of its younger visitors – to the many rewarding high-skill jobs that are now available in manufacturing fields.

As the presidential election approaches, much apprehension still remains about our country’s sluggish recovery from the Great Recession. But that nervous atmosphere was nowhere to be found among the 160 employees, politicians, students and local residents that gathered at Wilson Tool International, Inc. (White Bear Lake, MN) to celebrate the first ever National Manufacturing Day on Friday, October 5.

The festivities were part of a nationwide “coming out party” sponsored by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA; Rockford, IL), the U.S. Commerce Department’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP; Washington, DC) and other organizations to highlight the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. economy and draw attention – especially that of our younger generation – to the many rewarding high-skill jobs that are available in manufacturing fields.

Wilson Tool had its own coming out party on the Thursday evening before the event, when it held a career exploration night for those interested in a career in manufacturing that featured presentations by employees in various areas of the company explaining their positions and the path they took to get there, as well as a tour of the facility.

Formal ceremonies opened Friday morning with Jeff Paulson, the marketing manager, explaining to the audience that “manufacturing today does not fit the stereotype it once had 50 years ago. Today you’ll have the opportunity to see what 21st century manufacturing looks like … this is pretty high-tech stuff.”

That high-tech profile was evident during the plant tours later on, when visitors were shown much of the 350,000 sq ft of operating facilities and offices at White Bear Lake. While over 450 people are employed on this local campus, the company has a total of 900 employees in seven plants across the world that manufacture tooling systems for punch presses, press brakes and punch and die components that are used to stamp, punch or bend parts out of sheet metal for the stamping industry.

Chris Lawless, the vice president of operations, presented a brief history of the company’s growth from its beginning by Ken and Ruth Wilson in a warehouse basement in 1966 into the largest independent manufacturer of industrial tooling systems.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar – the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion – pointed out that Wilson Tool products were used to manufacture the Olympic torch and are heavily involved in the production of military parts. She reflected on the financial crisis that launched the Great Recession and caused so many job losses across the country, but noted how Wilson Tool had bucked the trend through innovation and hard work.

The senator reviewed the “Export Promotion Act” she helped pass through Congress that included legislation to improve workforce training and remove governmental red tape to boost exports for small to mid-size businesses. She also introduced the “Innovate America Act” to promote innovation and boost U.S. competitiveness in the global economy by establishing more training partnerships between factories and technical colleges, as well as more programs that let high school students take manufacturing classes in technical colleges.

After Lawless noted in his talk how the company needs help with technical skills to fill specific job openings that are available, Klobuchar followed up by emphasizing the importance of instilling in kids the idea that manufacturing is “hot” and that it offers good paying jobs for people with a high school degree in high school.

Attracting kids to high-tech manufacturing is absolutely crucial to the future of the industry and the security of the nation, because recent studies by the nonprofit Manufacturing Institute (Washington, DC) and others show that while almost 80 percent of Americans believe manufacturing is important to our economic prosperity, standard of living and national security, only 30 percent would encourage their children to go into manufacturing as a career.

With the gap growing each year between the skills students learn in school and those they will need on the job, it is increasingly difficult for manufacturers to find and hire qualified employees. The focus of National Manufacturing Day was to remove some of the myths surrounding manufacturing and show how it is a solid, long-term career choice for qualified candidates – including the young people who will form the workforce of tomorrow, and it is a vital part of our economy. www.wilsontool.com

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