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WisBusiness: Members of the state’s defense industry form new advocacy group

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce recently announced the formation of the Wisconsin Defense Industry Council, created in conjunction with WMC and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Pindel Global Precision CEO and former U.S. Navy SEAL Bill Berrien is the council’s vice chair. The New Berlin company is a contract manufacturer of precision-machined components for various industries. In an interview yesterday, Berrien said Wisconsin’s relatively small contribution to the national defense sector is a “mismatch” to its historically strong manufacturing industry.

WMC’s announcement cited a 2022 Department of Defense report showing Wisconsin ranks 30th in the country for defense contract spending, making up 0.6% of total U.S. defense spending. That’s about $5 billion of the more than $800 billion defense budget, according to the release.

“We realized there’s an opportunity here to both assist those companies that already have direct government contracts, that are larger and more established, but also to help position small, medium-sized manufacturers that might not have any contribution to the defense industrial base at this time, and yet they’re part of this 120-year-old, robust manufacturing ecosystem,” Berrien said.

The council’s advocacy will be more industry-focused rather than on legislation, with WMC and MMAC handling any specific policy issues that may arise, he said. Instead, the new group aims to help “prime” defense contractors such as Boeing and General Dynamics understand Wisconsin’s capabilities and how the state can help address national defense supply chain issues.

“We’re thinking that there’s almost a business development gap in how these small, medium-sized manufacturers across the state aren’t aware of opportunities, don’t have the relationships with larger defense companies in and outside of the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, George Whittier, CEO of Fairbanks Morse Defense and chair for the group, underlines the “critical” role Wisconsin’s manufacturing base already plays in the U.S. defense infrastructure. The Beloit-based company produces marine defense system technologies, including engines, motors, water treatment systems and more.

“Creating a group like WDIC is long overdue in order to give defense contractors and suppliers a unified voice on issues that impact national security,” he said in a statement.

During yesterday’s Newsmaker event in Milwaukee, Kooyenga said the council presents a chance to organize players in the statewide manufacturing ecosystem.

“We have Oshkosh here, we have Marinette Marine, we have DRS Power Systems. I sense that we have tons of, not the primes, but the contractors that serve the primes that already do that work,” he said. “But there’s a real opportunity here to get more organized on that front, and seek more work and more opportunities for Wisconsin businesses.”

Berrien yesterday declined to provide a full list of council members, as the group is still in the process of communicating with interested businesses. He said around a half-dozen have reached out to learn more about the council.

And though the council is still formulating its objectives and related metrics, Berrien added he wants to see Wisconsin’s contribution to the national defense base rise over time.

“Given our manufacturing strength in this state, we should be able to make a much bigger contribution to the defense industrial base,” he said.

The WDIC is planning a kick-off event in February, though details are yet to be determined.