An impediment to Port Washington in replacing lost jobs is that it is located in Wisconsin, which is mired in the bottom third of the states in job creation
Ouch! That hurts. The City of Port Washington got a kick in its economy around Christmas time that it didn’t see coming. A letter arrived among the tax payments and other city hall mail informing the city that Manitowoc Cranes will shut down its Port Washington plant this year with a loss of 80 jobs.
When the city’s economic development committee visited Manitowoc’s Port Washington operation several months ago, everything was upbeat and there wasn’t a hint that anything was amiss.
It’s not that the lack of notice matters much. The city couldn’t have done anything to save the jobs. The Port Washington plant is a tiny outpost in Manitowoc Cranes’ manufacturing empire that includes plants in Manitowoc, Wis., Pennsylvania, Indiana, Arkansas, Mexico and South America and generates billions in annual revenue. Eighty jobs don’t mean much to the company, but they certainly do to Port Washington.
These are manufacturing jobs with good pay and benefits held by employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union. They are the kind of jobs that for many years were the backbone of Port Washington’s economy and contributed a strong blue-collar-worker component to its diverse society.
Hundreds of such jobs have been lost in the last 20 years, of which the still mostly empty plants of Bolens, Simplicity and other departed companies are sobering reminders.
By rights, Port Washington, well located for transportation of materials and products and offering first-rate municipal services, should be attractive to manufacturing companies. The community’s good schools and a still reasonably-priced real estate market help employers attract workers.
Unfortunately, one of the main impediments to restoring a strong manufacturing base is beyond the city’s control. The impediment is that Port Washington is located in Wisconsin, which is mired in the bottom third of the states in job creation. In the last five years, while private jobs increased by 11.2% in the country, they grew by only 7.6% in Wisconsin. That was less than in the neighboring states of Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa, as well as Ohio.
We were promised so much more. The Walker administration, frequently repeating the slogan “Wisconsin is open for business,” touted its successful campaigns to curtail the influence of public and private worker unions, weaken business regulations, reduce business taxes, soften environmental restrictions on business and spend taxpayer dollars on loans to businesses through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) as surefire job builders.
The jobs data confirm they weren’t, and it has been suggested that the consequences of the Walker agenda—including a bitterly polarized state population, education at all levels strained by reduced funding, highway maintenance and construction deferred owing to the failure to raise revenue for infrastructure—have created an environment that is a turn-off for investment in Wisconsin.
WEDC offers a telling measure of the state’s job-creation cluelessness. The corporation, created to replace the state Department of Commerce, has been plagued by mismanagement and accurately accused of throwing away taxpayer money in low-interest loans to failing businesses and to existing businesses that had ample resources for commercial credit, all with little, if anything, to show in new jobs.
None of that helps Port Washington replace its lost jobs, of course, but the city does have a good story to tell prospective employers as a progressive community that would be a fine home for their operations and for their workers—and the city’s economic development advocates should keep telling it.
They can also mention that there will soon be an enormous building available in the industrial park that would be ideal for manufacturing very large construction cranes.