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Mequon manufacturer makes political push

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch talks with employees of Telsmith, Inc. in Mequon during the I Make America Harley Tour on Thursday, July 31.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch talks with employees of Telsmith, Inc. in Mequon during the I Make America Harley Tour on Thursday, July 31. Photo By submitted photo

Aug. 5, 2014

Mequon — A Mequon manufacturer is part of a political push advocating for the construction of roads and manufacturing training programs.

Telsmith, located at 10910 N. Industrial Drive, manufactures equipment that processes aggregate to produce material that is used to make asphalt and concrete. Their machinery is also used in the mining of minerals, such as gold. Telsmith is part of Astec Industries, which does about $1 billion in sales annually and employs 4,000 people.

Telsmith President Matt Haven said the company does about half of its business globally, so infrastructure is of great importance.

"We're a domestic company trying to work globally so the infrastructure in the U.S. is extremely important to us because we source globally," he said. "We bring raw materials in from all over the world so we have to get the materials here in the most cost-effective way possible so that we add value to it when we ship it back overseas."

Telsmith is a member of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, which is organizing a nationwide "I Make America" campaign advocating for pro-manufacturing policies.

The company's 273 employees gathered in the company parking lot Thursday afternoon for the "I Make America" event, which in addition to featuring speeches from Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), and Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), gave employees the opportunity to enter a raffle for a custom-painted 2014 Harley-Davidson Road King incribed with the industry association's "I Make America" mantra.

Of top concern for Telsmith and others in their industry is the passage of a long-term highway bill. With road construction a central part of Telsmith's business, Haven said it is important for manufacturers to have the confidence that infrastructure will receive sustainable funding — whether it's from raising the gas tax, charging usage fees or through other financing strategies.

"We just need a long-term bill for the confidence level to go up," he said. "We've got the largest economy in the world, but as far as infrastructure goes, we're ranked 23rd."

Haven said the average age of his shop workers is 47, so it is important to have a steady supply of young people to fill those jobs in the future. He said Telsmith tours local high schools to promote the value of manufacturing jobs, and the company also educates technical colleges about skills that are most in-demand.

Darling said Telsmith in Mequon is part of a larger manufacturing corridor in her district.

"We are told that the belt between Mequon, Germantown and Menomonee Falls is one of the biggest manufacturing belts in the state but also one of the biggest manufacturing belts in the country and one of the biggest manufacturing belts in the world ," she said.

Kleefisch said Wisconsin is one of the top states in the nation for manufacturing jobs per capita. Before giving her speech, she mingled among the employees gathered for the event. She talked to a welder, which she said was "one of the finest careers in Wisconsin." She said the state has made grants available for technical colleges to provide more welding training programs.

"Manufacturing in Wisconsin is an industry of our history, but it's also an industry of Wisconsin's future," she said. "It's one of the twin driving forces of our economy."

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