Monday, April 20, 2015
Johnson Controls begins Start-Stop vehicle battery production in China
April 20, 2015 09:18 AM
Johnson Controls is expanding its manufacturing operations in China by beginning production of advanced lead-acid batteries for Start-Stop vehicles. The technology is said to help automakers meet increasingly strict fuel economy and emission regulations.

The Start-Stop system automatically shuts off the engine when the car is idle and restarts it when the driver’s foot leaves the brake pedal. During this time, the vehicle’s electrical systems – from entertainment to lights – use energy from an advanced lead-acid battery rather than the gas-powered engine, thus saving fuel.

“We’re excited to announce the delivery of our first batch of locally-manufactured batteries to power Start-Stop vehicles for local and global automakers in China,” said Kenneth Yeng, vice president and general manager, Johnson Controls Power Solutions China.

The global Start-Stop market for new vehicles could reach 49 million annually by 2020. In China, the company predicts 40 percent of all new vehicles will be Start-Stop in this time frame.

“Start-Stop is the best technology to help automakers meet increasingly strict environmental regulations while saving consumers money, as it requires minimal changes to the vehicle and costs significantly less than hybrid or electric vehicles,” said Lisa Bahash, group vice president and general manager Original Equipment, Johnson Controls Power Solutions.

Regulators in China, Europe, Japan and the United States are putting aggressive fuel economy and carbon emission reduction targets in place for the 2015-2021 time period. Johnson Controls said Start-Stop has emerged as one of the preferred technologies for meeting these targets by enabling 5 percent fuel economy savings over a conventional vehicle.  

“Johnson Controls is the world’s leading provider of batteries for Start-Stop vehicles, and we plan to continue to invest in bringing advanced technologies, technical capabilities and capacity to the country in collaboration with our customers,” Yeng said.

The company recently began making Enhanced Flooded Batteries (EFB) at its facility in Changxing, China, for use in Start-Stop vehicles. Johnson Controls also has plans to localize production of Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries to support demand for fuel-efficient Start-Stop technology as part of the company’s complete portfolio of energy storage products.

In addition, the company debuted its 12V Lithium-ion battery for Advanced Start-Stop vehicles at the 16th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition going on this week. The 12V Lithium-ion battery can increase fuel economy efficiency by up to 8 percent.

China represents a major growth market for Johnson Controls. The company is committed to growing its business in China, and is building a second global headquarters in Shanghai scheduled to open in 2017.

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Briggs & Stratton hosting Earth Day workshop, awards ceremony
April 20, 2015 09:24 AM
Wauwatosa-based Briggs & Stratton Corp. is scheduled to host an Earth Day sustainable business workshop and awards ceremony on Wednesday, April 29.

The morning workshop will focus on the development and use of sustainability metrics. Presentations will include topics on the collection of data, the transformation of data into information, and the use of sustainability information to shape the behavior of business.

Confirmed speakers are Jon Raymond, EHS coordinator at Kikkoman Foods Inc., which has a production facility in Walworth; Amanda Goetsch, sustainability manager at Muskego-based Inpro Corp.; Dolores Corcoran, productivity systems manager at Sussex-based Lauterbach Group; and Pam Barker, formerly the general counsel and chief sustainability officer at Appleton-based Appvion Inc.

The workshop is presented by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council in partnership with Cool Choices and the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The Earth Day event will also feature a ceremony recognizing winners of the second annual Earth Day Business Sustainability Awards from the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council. The three awards are for Sustainable Leadership, Sustainable Product of the Year and Sustainable Process of the Year.

The awards are designed to honor Wisconsin businesses making significant sustainable business decisions that demonstrate that saving money and improving an organization’s environmental/social performance can go hand-in-hand.

Registration for the event is required. For more information, click here.

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E.R. Wagner receives $2 million loan for new equipment
April 20, 2015 09:30 AM
Milwaukee-based E.R. Wagner Manufacturing Co. recently received approval for a $2 million loan from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp. The loan is to help finance the company’s plans to purchase $5 million in new equipment.

The primary lender is BMO Harris Bank.

E.R. Wagner is a designer, developer and manufacturer of custom hinges, casters, and precision machined tubes and spacers serving the automotive, agriculture and medical industries. It also operates Continuous Hinges, a business in Brookfield, Ill.

E.R. Wagner has 135 full-time employees and one part-time employee, according to the MEDC. It expects to hire an additional eight full-time employees within two years.

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Modine plans to close Iowa manufacturing facility
April 20, 2015 09:39 AM
Racine-based thermal management product manufacturer Modine Manufacturing Co. announced conditional plans to close its manufacturing plant in Washington, Iowa. The company said the decision is dependent upon the conclusion of bargaining with the union at the Washington facility. The closure would impact approximately 245 full-time employees.

The Washington plant makes liquid charge air coolers, plate oil coolers and fuel coolers for the automotive, commercial vehicle and off-highway markets. Modine plans to transfer the Washington production to other facilities in North America, including those in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; Joplin, Mo.; and Jefferson City, Mo.  Plans call for the plant to close over an approximate 24-month period.

"Closing operations is never easy," said Scott Wollenberg, regional vice president – Americas. "However, our analysis of Modine's global product lines and North American manufacturing strategy led us to conclude that the best long-term solution for Modine and its shareholders is to consolidate all the Washington products into other North American facilities. Closing the Washington plant will help us rationalize production, maintain the scale we need in our manufacturing operations and improve our overall competitiveness and profitability.  We are committed to making the transition as seamless as possible for our customers and to assisting our affected employees during the transition."

In connection with the upcoming closure, Modine expects to incur a charge of approximately $2 million in the first quarter of its 2016 fiscal year, primarily related to anticipated severance payments.  In addition to temporary inefficiencies, the company anticipates to incur total closure costs of approximately $3 million over the entire closure period.  

Modine forecasts it will generate annual savings of at least $9 million once the closure is completed in fiscal 2018. In addition to achieving savings, it predicts the consolidation will result in additional revenue opportunities and growth in vehicular markets due to the more competitive cost structure.

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U-Haul buys former Harley plant in Wauwatosa for $5.25 million
April 20, 2015 09:42 AM
An affiliate of Phoenix-based U-Haul International Inc. purchased the 395,000-square-foot former Harley-Davidson plant in Wauwatosa, which the company shut down in 2011, for $5.25 million, according to state records.

The building sits on a 21.6-acre site northwest of U.S. Highway 45 and Capitol Drive. The property, which has an address of 11700 W. Capitol Dr., sold for less than its assessed value of $6.7 million, according to Milwaukee County records.

The building was built in 1946 and has been vacant since Harley consolidated local manufacturing operations at its Menomonee Falls plant.

The property was listed for sale by James T. Barry III, Kevin Barry and David Buckley of Milwaukee-based DTZ Barry. James T. Barry III declined to comment on the deal.

A representative for U-Haul could not be reached for comment.

The deal is one of the largest recent industrial real estate deals to occur in the region, and it eliminates one of the few large industrial spaces that were available in the market.

Southeastern Wisconsin had a 4.86 percent industrial space vacancy rate in the first quarter, according to Xceligent data, and Milwaukee County had a first quarter industrial space vacancy rate of 7.56 percent.

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ZBB forms partnership with Solar Power Inc.
April 20, 2015 09:48 AM
Menomonee Falls-based ZBB Energy Corp. announced on Friday its intention to enter into a supply agreement with Solar Power Inc. for energy storage systems with total combined power output of 40 megawatts over a period of four years.

The value of the initial supply agreement is estimated at $80 million to $120 million, depending on the mix of storage applications and installation requirements.

Headquartered in Shanghai, China, Solar Power is a global leader in enabling photovoltaic solutions for business, residential, government and utility customers and investors. ZBB is a developer of energy management systems solutions serving the utility, commercial and industrial building markets.

ZBB said the strategic partnership creates a solar industry powerhouse that will combine solar photovoltaic (PV) systems with energy storage and systems management solutions for utility, commercial and residential applications.

"In a short period of time, SPI has become a major global player in providing PV systems solutions and innovative renewable energy financing models,” said Paul Koeppe, ZBB Energy chairman. “SPI has a strong, worldwide presence in the highest growth markets for our products. This agreement gives us immediate access to regions and countries where we lack a presence today, providing a major opportunity for ZBB to become a global leader in energy storage and energy management systems. In addition, we expect this partnership to completely change the paradigm at ZBB from development stage to a high growth manufacturing company."

The supply agreement will be entered into at the closing of a Securities Purchase Agreement between SPI and ZBB that was executed on Friday and is valued at $33.4 million, consisting of a combination of newly issued common stock and convertible preferred stock of ZBB.

Under the terms of the SPA, SPI will purchase 8 million shares of ZBB common stock for approximately $5.3 million at a price per share of $0.6678 and 28,048 shares of ZBB Series C Convertible Preferred Stock for approximately $28 million. The aggregate purchase price of the purchased preferred shares was determined based on a price of $0.6678 per common equivalent. The Purchased Preferred Shares are only convertible upon the completion of specific procurement milestones detailed in the Supply Agreement. With this infusion of capital, ZBB will have in excess of $45 million of cash on its balance sheet.

In addition to the initial $33.4 million investment into ZBB Energy, the Securities Purchase Agreement contemplates that ZBB will issue to SPI a warrant to purchase 50 million shares of ZBB common stock for an aggregate purchase price of $36.7 million and a per share exercise price equal to $0.7346.

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Gehl family gives $3 million in gifts to employees
April 20, 2015 09:51 AM
After they sold their company in Germantown in March, members of the Gehl family gave generous cash gifts of gratitude to the employees at Gehl Foods Inc.

Each full-time employee received a gift of $10,000, including a $5,000 donation to their 401(k) plan and $5,000 in their next paycheck. Each part-time employee received a gift of $5,000, including a $2,500 donation to their 401(k) plan and $2,500 in their next paycheck.

All told, the company’s 370 employees received more than $3 million.

“It was just a great act of appreciation and generosity on the family’s part and meant so much to everyone here,” said John Slawny, vice president of business development at Gehl Foods.

The Gehl family sold the company to Wind Point Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm, for an undisclosed sum.

Gehl Foods has three Germantown facilities and a West Bend bottle-making operation. Gehl Foods, which manufactures aseptic dairy products including nacho cheese, pudding and smoothies, reported $250 million in sales in 2014. It was founded in 1896 by J.P. Gehl as a three-room creamery that made “renovated” butter. In the 1960s, it shifted to non-refrigerated, sterile dairy products.

Katherine Gehl rejoined the family company in 2007 and led it as president and chief executive officer since 2011, succeeding her father, John, and her brother, Andy. Gehl has been succeeded by Eric Beringause, a food industry veteran who most recently served as CEO of Sturm Foods in Manawa. Gehl continues as a member of the company’s board of directors.

Gehl Foods has increased sales by 80 percent and added more than 100 jobs since 2007. During that time, the company has invested more than $100 million in new technologies and has increased product innovation and new business. More than 1 million people nationally consume Gehl cheese sauces each day in more than 200,000 movie theaters, concession stands, convenience stores and restaurants.

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Erik Buell Racing closes, affecting 126 employees
April 20, 2015 09:56 AM
East Troy-based Erik Buell Racing LLC permanently ceased operations on Wednesday at noon. The racing motorcycle manufacturer, located at 2799 Buell Drive, had 126 employees.

According to the WARN notice, Erik Buell Racing failed to acquire a capital investment and subsequently filed for receivership in Walworth County Court. The company anticipates that its assets will be sold.

"To say this setback is a disappointment does not begin to express what I feel right now," said founder and chief executive officer Erik Buell. "The turn we recently took, after we thought we were moving forward, was unexpected. We thought we had secured funding, but in the end, we were not able to get that funding in place. Therefore we need to do the best we can under the circumstances for all parties in interest."

He continued, "EBR is closed for now, but the dream and the vision still exist. I understand that Henry Ford's initial efforts at an automobile company failed and yet Ford still made his vision a reality that exists today. I am personally grateful for the support of our outstanding workers, customers and vendors. While this is a sad ending, I personally hope for a new and better beginning."

Erik Buell Racing, a spinoff from Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. founded in 2009, opened an office in the Netherlands in 2014 to help expand distribution and overall brand awareness in Europe.

Also in 2014, Buell was a recipient of the BizTimes Media Bravo! Entrepreneur Award. The award honors business leaders who best exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit with bold leadership.

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FirsTime Design reports jump in profits
April 20, 2015 09:58 AM
New Berlin-based clock manufacturer and distributor FirsTime Design Ltd. has reported first quarter net income of $218,000, or 14 cents per share, up 57 percent from net income of $139,000, or 9 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2014.

The company, which is an over-the-counter stock, distributes its decorative timepieces, thermometers and other home décor products through subsidiary FirsTime Manufactory Inc. to major national retailers including Menomonee Falls-based Kohl’s Corp.

Net revenue for the first quarter was $2.3 million, up 12 percent from the same period a year ago.

“Our ability to curate and integrate new categories and businesses, then test and rapidly scale them across our multi-channel platform, is at the core of our ability to gain share in the home furnishings marketplace,” said Christopher Bering, president and chief executive officer. “Our accelerated revenue and net income growth in the quarter clearly demonstrates the earning power of our business model, and our team’s drive to deliver industry-leading results.”

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Wisconsin Safety Hall of Fame to induct Johnsonville Sausage president
April 20, 2015 10:03 AM
Bill Morgan, president of Sheboygan Falls-based Johnsonville Sausage LLC, will be honored as the 14th inductee into the Wisconsin Safety Hall of Fame.

The 73rd annual Wisconsin Safety & Health Conference and Exposition is scheduled to take place Tuesday and Wednesday in the Wisconsin Dells at the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center.

"The safety culture at Johnsonville Sausage is second to none," Morgan said. "And while we're proud of the strong safety culture we've established, our challenge is not to be complacent with our safety results. We'll continue to challenge every aspect of the business to achieve zero injuries.  We have a moral obligation to provide a safe work environment for all of our members and a cultural expectation that every member has personal accountability for quality and safety."

The Wisconsin Safety Council is the state's leading provider of workplace safety training and programming. Established in 1923, it is an educational division of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and is the state chapter of the National Safety Council.

The Wisconsin Safety Council and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development announced that 14 companies will receive Wisconsin Corporate Safety Awards.

The winners are:
* Agropur Inc., Luxemburg
* Alliant Energy Corp.- WPL, Madison
* The Boldt Company, Appleton
* Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee
* Colony Brands Inc., Monroe
* Energis High Voltage Resources Inc. , Green Bay
* ITU AbsorbTech Inc., New Berlin
* Lakehead Painting Company Inc., Superior
* Northeast Asphalt Inc., Greenville
* Phillips-Medisize - Design Development Center, Hudson
* Phillips-Medisize - Phillips Medical, Menomonie
* Teel Plastics Inc., Baraboo
* Tyco Fire Protection Products, Marinette
* USG Structural Technologies LLC, Delavan

The applications were judged by an independent panel of 33 safety, health and human resource professionals.

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Groundbreaking ceremony to be held for Oberlin Filter HQ facility
April 20, 2015 10:06 AM
A groundbreaking ceremony will be held on Wednesday to celebrate the start of construction of a new headquarters facility for Oberlin Filter Company in Waukesha.

A 92,340-square-foot headquarters facility for Oberlin Filter will be built on a 9.5-acre site at 827 Silvernail Road in Waukesha. The building will be designed and built by Brookfield-based Briohn Building Corp., which sold the property to Oberlin Filter last year for $1.8 million.

The site has room for a future 56,000-square-foot addition, which could be built on the north end of the building.

Oberlin Filter will move to the new facility from its current location in a 56,000-square-foot facility that it owns at 404 Pilot Ct., Waukesha.

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Conveyor company to move from Pewaukee to Milwaukee
April 20, 2015 10:09 AM
Hilmot Corp., a manufacturer and installer of conveyor systems, plans to move its operations from the City of Pewaukee to Milwaukee. The move will allow the company to expand and will more than double its space.

The company, currently located at W227 N764 Westmound Dr. in Pewaukee, has 113 full-time employees and 15 part-time employees, and plans to add about 30 jobs during the next two years.

H K Ventures LLC is seeking a loan from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp. to help finance the purchase and renovation of a 99,050-square-foot building at 11925 W. Carmen Ave. in Milwaukee that will be occupied by Hilmot.

“Hilmot is moving (to the Milwaukee building) to allow for continued growth in its business,” a MEDC report said.

Representatives for the company could not be reached for comment.

H K Ventures is seeking a $1.2 million MEDC loan to help finance the $2.8 million building purchase cost and the cost of $200,000 in planned building improvements.

The building, constructed in 1969, sits on a 5.5-acre site. The property has an assessed value of $3.2 million, according to city records.

An affiliate of Dallas-based Westmount Realty Capital LLC purchased the building in February as part of a portfolio of 10 industrial buildings in the Milwaukee area that it bought from Oak Brook, Ill.-based CenterPoint Properties Trust. Westmount bought the Carmen Avenue building for $1.4 million, according to state records.

Hilmot will occupy 80,000 square feet of space in the building. Another business currently occupies 19,000 square feet of space in the building and will remain there after the sale to H K Ventures, according to the MEDC report.

The move to Milwaukee will more than double Hilmot's space. The company currently leases 33,825 square feet of space in Pewaukee. It moved there from Waukesha in 2011.

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BizTimes announces recipients of Bravo! and I.Q. Awards
April 20, 2015 10:12 AM
BizTimes Media has announced the recipients of the 2015 Bravo! Entrepreneur Awards and I.Q. (Innovation Quotient) Awards.

The Bravo! Entrepreneur Awards salute dynamic and visionary leaders in business. They have demonstrated strong business growth, as well as considerable impact in the community. The nominations were submitted by readers and affirmed by the BizTimes Media editorial team.

The Bravo! Entrepreneur recipients are:
Rick Barrett, president, Barrett Visionary Development, Milwaukee.
Kelly Brown, managing partner, American Deposit Management Co., Delafield.
Matt Cordio, co-founder of Startup Milwaukee, The Commons and Skills Pipeline.
Michelle D’Attilio, CEO, Sosh, Milwaukee.
John Hunzinger, president, Hunzinger Construction Co., Brookfield.
Jerry Jendusa, co-founder, Stuck LLC, Wauwatosa.
Scott Kubicki, president of Skyline of Milwaukee.
Tony Mallinger, president and CEO, Metal-Era, Waukesha.
Lupe Martinez, president and CEO, UMOS, Milwaukee.
Sandra Nix, president and CEO, Connected Technology Solutions, Menomonee Falls.

As previously announced, the Regional Spirit Award will go to Griselda Aldrete, president and CEO of Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee, and the Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Steve Laughlin, executive chairman of Laughlin Constable.

The recipients of I.Q. Awards for innovation in business are:
Dominion Properties, Milwaukee.
Fiserv Inc., Brookfield.
Foley & Lardner LLP, Milwaukee.
GE Healthcare, Waukesha.
Generac Power Systems Inc., Waukesha.
Mitchell Park Domes, Milwaukee.
Somna Therapeutics LLC, Germantown.
UWM App Brewery, Milwaukee.
Vantage Point Corp., Kenosha.
We Energies, Milwaukee.

The Bravo! Entrepreneur Awards and I.Q. Awards will be presented to the recipients at a luncheon during the 2015 BizExpo, to be held Wednesday, May 20, at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee.  The awards ceremony will be emceed by WISN-Channel 12 News anchor Craig McKee.

To register to attend the awards luncheon, visit

The awards luncheon will follow the previously announced BizTimes Women in Business Breakfast, which will be held on the morning of May 20 at the BizExpo.

Dr. Eve Hall, president and chief executive officer of the newly revived African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, will be the recipient of the 2015 BizTimes Woman Executive of the Year Award.

A panel discussion will precede the presentation of the award to Hall. The panel will discuss “How Business Can Power Change through Leadership and Innovation.”

The panel of accomplished women leaders will include: Abby Andrietsch, co-founder and executive director, Schools That Can Milwaukee; Cynthia LaConte, CEO of Dohmen; Gail Lione, adjunct professor of intellectual property law at Marquette University Law School; and Thelma Sias, vice president of local affairs at We Energies. The discussion will be moderated by Kimberly Kane, president and founder of Kane Communication Group.

To register to attend the Women in Business Breakfast, visit

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Best Practices: ‘Assume nothing: 5 tests every manufacturer should run quarterly’
April 20, 2015 10:16 AM
Spring brings showers, flowers and a fresh round of decluttering at homes and offices all around North America. Others will use the time to perform an annual review of broken work processes. Manufacturers can't wait that long; conditions change too frequently.

Read more.

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From the magazine: 'Exporting Wisconsin: Medical device companies thrive'
April 20, 2015 10:19 AM
Medical device manufacturing is emerging as one of Wisconsin's most dynamic industry sectors and is projected to become a key driver for exports from the state.

The U.S. medical device market size is around $110 billion, and it is expected to reach $133 billion by 2016, according to SelectUSA, a U.S. government effort to facilitate business investment.

Read more in the current issue of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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Hilary Dickinson This exclusive news bulletin is compiled by BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Hilary Dickinson. This bulletin is published every Monday morning. Send manufacturing industry news and tips to or call her at (414) 336-7123.

Manufacturing resources
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» APICS – the Association for Operations Management
» Fabricators and Manufacturers International
» National Fluid Power Association
» Polyeurethane Manufacturers Association
» Precision Metalforming Association, Wisconsin District
» Society of Manufacturing Engineers - Chapter 4
» Society of Plastics Engineers - Greater Wisconsin
» Tool, Die and Machining Association of Wisconsin
» Wisconsin Truss Manufacturers Association
» Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association
» Wisconsin Sign Association
» Wisconsin Electrical Machines and Power Electronics Consortium
» Water Quality Association of Wisconsin
Manufacturing Advocacy, Leadership Training and Continuing Education » Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) at the University of Wisconsin
» Independent Business Association of Wisconsin (IBAW)
» FET - Federation of Environmental Technologists Inc.
» MSOE's Corporate Partner Network
» The Paranet Group
» TEC Midwest
» UW-Milwaukee Center for Continuing Engineering Education
» Waukesha County Business Alliance-Manufacturing Alliance
» Waukesha County Technical College Center for Business Performance Solutions
» Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership
Other resources » American Society for Quality
» Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation
» MATC's Energy Conservation and Advanced Manufacturing (ECAM) facility
» Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
» Milwaukee Export Assistance Center – U.S. Commercial Service
» Milwaukee World Trade Association
» MSOE's Applied Technology Center
» MSOE's Rapid Prototyping Center
» Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
» Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce
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