Manufacturing Awareness for Door County’s Largest Industry

Wisconsin celebrates October as Manufacturing Month, and what that looks like in Door County is roughly 300 students touring a dozen companies up and down the peninsula to learn about career opportunities that are available right here at home. 

Hosting the Oct. 27 Manufacturing Tour is the Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC). 

“Our biggest thing is to raise awareness,” said Korey Mallien, DCEDC’s marketing and communications director. “Most of our businesses have a challenge attracting and retaining their workforce. A big part of it is giving our school districts and the people here the opportunity to know there are many interesting, decent-paying jobs they can make a nice career out of and stay right here in Door County.”

Manufacturing Month isn’t intended to elevate one industry over another – “the whole ecosystem is important,” said Michelle Lawrie, DCEDC’s executive director – but the manufacturing sector, despite its size, chugs along more quietly and less visibly than some others. The tour is intended to pull back the curtain and expose youth to the industry’s wide range of career paths, whether it’s working on the floor or in marketing, sales, accounting or human resources. 

The DCEDC began these tours in 2017. COVID-19 shut them down in 2020, and this year is the first when they’re back in full force.

“This year we’re excited because it’s not just the four mainland schools, but Washington Island is bringing their high school students,” Mallien said. “And Algoma found out what we were doing, and so they’re bringing about 50 students from their sophomore class.”

In all, about 300 students are expected to participate by touring at least 12 businesses – and more may yet sign on. 

The goal is to showcase the diversity in size and type of manufacturer existing within Door County – from small to large, and from wineries and coffee roasters to industrial plastics and shipbuilding.

“Even a microbrew is considered a manufacturer,” Mallien said.

Washington Island is sending 10th- and 11th-graders because the district is trying to prepare students for career paths, and those students are at an age when they’re beginning to think about their futures, said Timothy Verboomen, Washington Island principal and curriculum director. 

In addition to the local manufacturing tour day, the island’s students have participated in an educational fair at St. Norbert College and will visit a Kaukauna company to learn about careers in architecture, engineering and general construction.

“Our hope is that some of our students can see their futures in these opportunities and will learn more about the training or schooling needed to pursue them,” Verboomen said.

The manufacturing tour will take place Oct. 27. Get more details by calling the DCEDC at 920.743.3113.

Manufacturing’s Contribution to Local GDP

A “manufacturer” is a person or company that makes goods for sale. That accounts for the diversity in the types of manufacturers, whether it’s making cheese or building ships. 

There are 65 manufacturers throughout Door County, according to the industry snapshot provided by JobsEQ, a software tool the DCEDC uses to get timely data on the local workforce and employers. Together, the peninsula’s manufacturers employed 2,206 people as of the first quarter of this year, or 14.7% of total employment within the county.

That number has declined by 50 jobs over the last year, but it’s not because the jobs aren’t available, Lawrie said.

“They definitely can’t hire the people they need,” she said. 

The number of people that the manufacturing sector employs is significant – only Door County’s service industry has a slightly higher number of employees. But the average wage for a manufacturing employee is 25% higher than the average wage for all other employees: $54,989 annually versus $40,484. 

Manufacturing also contributes the highest amount of all industry sectors to Door County’s $1.392 billion gross domestic product (GDP): $246 million, or 17.7% of the total. GDP is the total value of goods produced and services provided, and it’s an important indicator of industry strength. For that reason alone, Manufacturing Month is worth celebrating, Lawrie said.

“It’s a huge part of the GDP, and if it were to decline in a big way, it would bring so much of the GDP down with it,” she said.

A Manufacturing Tour for Manufacturing Month

About 300 students from six area school districts – Algoma, Gibraltar, Sevastopol, Sturgeon Bay, Southern Door and Washington Island – will tour 12 manufacturers Oct. 27 as part of Manufacturing Month in Door County. Grouped into clusters, students will tour from 8 am until 12 pm a small, medium and large company from among the following: Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, WireTech, Key Industrial Plastics, Hatco, Therma-Tron-X, Cadence, N.E.W. Industries, Pro Products, Door County Candle Company, Marine Travelift, ExacTech and Door County Coffee & Tea.

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