Guest Blog by Kelly Armstrong, Sector Development Director; Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

Productivity is the engine of economic growth and prosperity. In its simplest form, productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory or system, among other factors. The correlation between productivity growth and gross domestic product growth is nearly one-to-one—which is why it’s so important for companies to begin focusing on improving productivity, for the sake of both the overall health of the economy and their own bottom line.

From robust growth averaging 4 percent annually in the 1950s and 1960s, growth of the U.S. GDP has slowed down to about 2 percent. Similarly, the annual growth rate of U.S. manufacturing productivity now averages around 1.7 percent—well below the long-term annual average of 3.2 percent.

Lagging productivity growth hampers economic expansion. Lifting Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector out of this slump is the mission of the Transformational Productivity Initiative (TPI), a public-private partnership assembled to provide leadership for Wisconsin manufacturers on the challenges they face in achieving productivity growth.

A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute, a private sector think tank, found that nearly 75 percent of the productivity growth required to reignite the economy can be achieved by closing the gap between best-in-class companies and those that lag behind—and that companies at the top are nearly twice as productive as those at the bottom. This means we have all the leadership we need right here in Wisconsin, and companies that wish to improve their productivity can learn from the practices of their peers.

Productivity depends in part on the efficiency of workers, but a larger influence is technological advancement. With Industry 4.0, also called the fourth industrial revolution, companies are utilizing sensors and “smart” machinery to make their manufacturing processes ever more efficient. As the planning phase ends and we move into implementation, TPI is working with Wisconsin manufacturers to implement the groundbreaking productivity-boosting practices already in use by their peers, while facilitating a creative process that allows companies with already high productivity to improve further with the help of innovative new ideas. In this way, TPI aims to assist all Wisconsin companies in boosting their productivity and buoying the state’s economy. It is our goal to help companies identify and close performance gaps relative to other companies in their NAICS code, and to support best-in-class firms in expanding the frontier through technology, operational and  business innovation that will define the best practices of tomorrow.

TPI focuses on five key factors relating to manufacturing productivity:

  • Leadership and strategy
  • Enterprise excellence
  • Human capital management
  • Technology
  • Growth and innovation

Throughout human economic history, technological innovation has always been a driving force that propelled some companies forward, with their peers forced to adapt or become obsolete. These cycles of innovation are becoming shorter and shorter in length, requiring companies and workers to stay abreast of the latest technologies or get left behind. With the help of TPI, our state’s manufacturing sector can be a leader in pioneering productivity enhancements, giving Wisconsin companies a competitive edge in the global marketplace while raising living standards here at home.

TPI’s pilot phase is currently wrapping up, and Manufacturing Matters 2018 attendees can check out the Productivity track to get program updates and hear about Wisconsin companies’ lessons learned on improving productivity.


Kelly Armstrong is director of sector strategy development for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), with responsibility for sectors including manufacturing; energy, power and controls; and supply chain management.

She has more than 10 years’ experience in economic development, building strong, long-lasting professional relationships, collaborating with all levels of government and spearheading corporate partnerships with a focused approach to regional economic vitality and community betterment.

Prior to joining WEDC, Kelly was economic development director for Greater Louisville Inc., where she successfully launched a new health care cluster strategy, resulting in $20 million of investment in the first 18 months. While heading business attraction efforts, she also designed and implemented a new cluster strategy and strategic plan for the craft distilling industry.

Earlier in her career, she served as executive director of the Community Main Street organization in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and as communications director for Waverly Light and Power in Waverly, Iowa.