Eric Decker is at the front line of working to make small and mid-size manufacturers in Wisconsin more efficient and competitive in an increasingly challenging marketplace.

Decker is a Business Development Leader for WMEP Manufacturing Solutions, a role in which he has served for nearly five years. In his position, Decker reaches out and works with manufacturers by having initial open-ended conversations about their businesses, where they want to go and what obstacles stand in their way.

“I help them realize where the gaps are and how we can help close those gaps,” Decker said.

Generally, Business Development Leaders are the first WMEP staffers to meet with customers, especially those that are new to working with the organization.

“As a Business Development Leader, it’s our role to educate manufacturers about who we are, our mission and the types of things we can do for them and helping them settle on what are the most important things for their business,” Decker explained. “Then we’ll come back and talk to a number of WMEP’s consultants and service line leads to determine who the appropriate person is to handle the account and help scope it out and have a deeper conversation. If we do our job well, at the end of that conversation, the manufacturer asks us to help them.”

Decker is part of a small and dedicated team of Business Development Leaders at WMEP Manufacturing Solutions. His territory includes Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Sheboygan, Fond du Lac and Dodge counties.

A long-standing interest and passion for manufacturing fuels Decker’s work with WMEP.

“It’s like winning the Super Bowl for someone with a profile like mine,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of manufacturers around the state during my career. At WMEP, our basic mission is to help them. I naturally love and gravitate toward things that help businesses and move them forward. You get to see a lot of different manufacturing environments and meet a lot of people and learn about their issues and help them solve their problems. That’s really exciting for me.”

Prior to joining WMEP, Decker worked as a Business Development Director at Trefoil Group, a Milwaukee communications, marketing and public relations firm that specializes in working with manufacturers.

Decker spent nearly five years as a Partnership Development Manager at GPS Education Partners, a Waukesha-based organization that provides high school students with a one-of-a-kind immersive career exploration experience through relationships with area manufacturers.

Prior to that, Decker worked for nearly seven years as a reporter at BizTimes in Milwaukee, where he covered manufacturing and finance.

“I’m intrigued by manufacturing,” Decker said. “It’s tangible. You get to see real things being made. You go into a shop, and you see all these incredible processes. You can see metal being poured in factories and welding operations in a metal fab shop. It’s visceral and sometimes what I like to refer to as controlled chaos. It’s really exciting to watch and be part of it.”

Among the most challenging issues currently facing manufacturers center around finding and retaining employees and managing their supply chains.

“A lot of it is focused on people, people, people,” Decker said. “We can offer considerable assistance to manufacturers who are dealing with people issues.”

Employee recruitment and retention has been a lingering issue for the state’s manufacturers, Decker said.

“Most manufacturers right now bring up the fact that their business is growing, so dollars are coming in, but they are having a hard time getting stuff out the door because of a lack of employees,” Decker said.

Among the solutions are boosting recruitment efforts, shifting to more automation and technology, and implanting continuous improvement efforts, including Lean Manufacturing and Operational Excellence, he said.

After a brief adjustment period when the covid-19 pandemic first took root, Decker and other Business Development Leaders at WMEP Manufacturing Solutions have been meeting in person with manufacturing leaders inside their plants while abiding by any necessary safety protocols.

“Clients have been asking us to come in,” Decker said. “What makes this job so fun but challenging at the same time is that the engagement with the customer is very intimate. To arrive at solving someone’s problem, you need to have a frank and honest conversation about where they are. It’s tough to get there over the phone or over Zoom. You need to have face-to-face conversations.”

A native of Wausau, Decker earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He and his wife, Nicole, reside in Wauwatosa with their two children, Max, 14, and Scarlett, 10.

Decker is an avid skateboarder, something he took up as a child.

“I learned how to ride a skateboard before I learned how to ride a bike,” Decker said. “Things that I gravitate toward as leisure activities are hard and really challenging. Skateboarding is really hard. I enjoy the constant challenge of it. It’s a combination of chess and gymnastics and a video game all at the same time.”

Skateboarding has helped Decker develop the ability to adapt on the fly.

“You might have your first two or three tricks picked out, but the rest is all situational. It’s constant improvisation,” he said.

Decker also enjoys playing music and had his own band at one time.

He has a collection of musical instruments, including guitars, a ukulele, clarinet, trumpet and five harmonicas.

“It’s one of those things I do between calls,” he said. “I’ll grab one of the instruments and make some noise for a few minutes and then get back to work.”

Decker is also highly involved in his son’s Boy Scout troop and plans to lead a trip to the back country near Yellowstone National Park next year.

Reach Eric Decker at [email protected] or (414) 429-2252