CEO hopes feds clarify rules
The following Walworth County businesses won awards Thursday at the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance annual meeting:
-- Workforce Investment award—HyPro of Whitewater
-- Capital Investment Award—Golden State Foods of Whitewater
-- Small Business of the Year—Cytophil of East Troy
LAKE GENEVA Aaron Jagdfeld cares less about who won the presidential election and more about what President Obama and Congress will do about the fiscal cliff and future fiscal policies.
Jagdfeld is president and CEO of Generac Power Systems, a publicly held, Waukesha-based manufacturing company specializing in portable generators. He was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance annual meeting at Geneva National.
"We are not so much dependent on who is in the White House as we are on national policies," Jagdfeld said. "If Congress would just decide what the rules are, we will go about the business of playing by those rules."
Generac has seen significant growth in the past 18 months. During that time, it has doubled employment to 2,400. Since its formation in 1959, the company has grown into a Wisconsin-based international company with annual sales of $1.1 billion through the third quarter of this year.
Jagdfeld said he expects growth to continue if he could get a clear indication of what Congress and the president will do short-term about the fiscal cliff and long-term regarding fiscal and monetary policy.
"What are the rules for the next 10 years?" he asked. "We need to know to make decisions regarding capital investment and other strategic plans. At this point, I'd settle for rules for just the next two years."
Business picks up for Generac when calamity strikes such as Hurricane Sandy.
"We are often accused of increasing sales at the expense of those in misery," Jagdfeld said. "That's a difficult issue. We like to point out that we don't cause power outages, but we're there to help people when those power outages occur."
While Generac's plant in Whitewater is just across the county line in Jefferson County, there's a strong Walworth County connection, Jagdfeld said.
"I'm very supportive of economic development in Walworth County," he said. "I'm a UW-Whitewater grad, and our facility in Whitewater employs Walworth County residents and partners with Walworth County suppliers."
Jagdfeld said Generac is "re-shoreing" jobs back to the Whitewater plant, which makes residential portable and permanent standby generators.
"About 10 years ago, we sent some of our production to China to remain competitive," he said. "That resulted in a loss of about 250 jobs here in Wisconsin.
"We have automated that production and brought it back to our Whitewater facility," he said. "Not all 250 jobs are back due to automation, but 30 jobs are back, and future growth will occur here and not in China."
Generac is experiencing firsthand the skills gap several Walworth County manufacturers deal with, Jagdfeld said.
"Manufacturing is no longer the three Ds—dumb, dirty and dangerous," he said. "We provide 2,400 family-supporting, clean and safe jobs, but we are not getting the skilled employees we need, especially in the technical and engineering areas."
Jagdfeld said parents and students should be educated regarding the benefits of manufacturing jobs.
"Parents need to know that manufacturing is a desirable career path for their children," he said.