Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership

The WMEP opens Milwaukee office to great fanfare

National, state and local officials laud the WMEP

The Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership recently opened its new office in downtown Milwaukee in grand fashion, with national, state and local officials participating in a ceremony marking the event.

“We are just ecstatic to be here in Milwaukee,” Buckley Brinkman, executive director of the WMEP told a large crowd of business leaders, manufacturers and educators that gathered August 15 in the spacious lobby of the historic CityCenter building at 735 N. Water St., in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. The WMEP’s new space is situated on the 12th floor of the building.

The WMEP has been serving Milwaukee area manufacturers since 1996. The opening of a Milwaukee office drew praise from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Brinkman introduced as a “great friend” to the WMEP.

“I guarantee you that you will not regret this move,” Barrett said. “This is the heart of the heart of the metropolitan area and you will be glad that you made this move. You will always have a partner at City Hall.”

Manufacturing remains a core driver of the economies of the Milwaukee area, the region and the state, Barrett said.

“Even with the downturn in the economy and the loss of manufacturing jobs, if you look at the states throughout the country, Indiana and Wisconsin are always jockeying back and forth as to which state has the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs as part of their economy.”

Barrett said he’d like to see the manufacturing sector grow even more in Wisconsin.

Jobs in manufacturing tend to pay more than in other industries, creating a clear economic incentive to expand the employment base in the industrial sector, Barrett said.

Mary Isbister, chairwoman of the WMEP board of directors and president of GenMet Corp., a Mequon metal fabricating firm, spoke enthusiastically about the programs and services offered by the WMEP and about the decision by the organization to open an office in heart of Milwaukee.

“Part of why I love this area so much is because my husband and I were lucky enough to buy a small business and, with the help of WMEP, grow it into a very thriving concern,” Isbister said. “Had it not been for our relationship with WMEP, we would not be the company we are today. So, I’m absolutely WMEP’s number one fan.”

Paul Jadin, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. cited the WMEP’s Profitable Sustainability Initiative for ground-breaking results that position Wisconsin as the most advanced state in America for driving profitable manufacturing sustainability.

Brinkman noted that over its history, the WMEP has assisted thousands of companies and generated more than $2 billion worth of economic impact for the state, while creating and saving about 14,000 jobs.

“And the trend continues,” Brinkman said. “We are very proud to be serious stewards of public funding.”

Brinkman pointed out that for every dollar that the state of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. invests in the WMEP, $10 is returned to the public. 

“Any project that can get 10 to 1 return, we think is a pretty good investment,” Brinkman said.

The celebration was capped off with Brinkman offering heart-felt words for retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin for his ongoing efforts in fighting for funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program.

“He’s been a tireless supporter of the whole MEP system and also the WMEP,” Brinkman said.

He got emotional in speaking about Kohl’s contributions.

“For me, it’s a little bit personal. I grow up with senators like Senator (William) Proxmire and now Senator Kohl. It’s going to be hard to say good-bye,” Brinkman said.

Brinkman presented Kohl with a geological surveying marker produced by Berntsen International and set in sunset flagstone as a token for serving as a “manufacturing champion.”

“The opening of this office in Milwaukee is something that is very near and dear to my heart,” said Kohl, who received a lengthy ovation from the crowd. He noted that the MEP program, which works to make manufacturers more competitive and efficient, began about 20 years ago. 

“As we have tried every year since then to keep it alive, the principle was that we were going to fund it three equal ways – equal federal money, equal state money and, maybe most importantly, equal money from those companies that use the service.” 

Federal funding for MEP programs across the country stood at $128 million, a figure that has remained steady in recent years, Kohl said. 

“No company uses this program unless it convinced that this program has value,” Kohl said. “It increases their ability to be successful, to grow, to make profits, to hire more people and to make an impact to be more successful. It’s been a great program all of these years.”

Kohl vowed to “watch very carefully” to see who takes over his responsibility in Washington, D.C., in fighting for the MEP program. 

“There’s nothing I want more than to see WMEP continue to thrive,” Kohl said. “We’re very glad you are here to celebrate what is a very important part of our landscape here and all across the country.”


Senator Herb Kohl accepts a medallion made by Wisconsin manufacturer Berntsen International, from Buckley Brinkman, WMEP CEO
Mary Isbister, president of GenMet of Mequon, and Chair of WMEP's Board of Directors, and the WMEP's number one fan
Mayor Tom Barrett welcomes the WMEP to downtown Milwaukee
WEDC CEO Paul Jadin addresses the crowd at the Grand Opening
The lobby at 735CityCenter was the site for the Grand Opening Celebration
WMEP's office on the 12th floor of the CityCenter building.