When you say Wisconsin…

New statewide branding program enables manufacturers to wear state pride on their product

Story by Sean Fitzgerald, New North B2B publisher

Wisconsin’s proud manufacturing tradition may very well be a brand of its own, some might say. But there’s been little effort to package that brand in a uniform format that says as much about the product itself as it does about the people and the state that brought that product to life. That’s about to change.

In late February, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. unveiled its Made In Wisconsin program, which enables qualifying companies in the state to label their products with a standardized logo. The initiative is aimed at perpetuating the longstanding reputation of top-notch manufacturing and craftsmanship in the state.

“When we say a product is made in Wisconsin, that’s saying more than just where it was produced,” said Kelly Lietz, vice president of marketing for Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. “It speaks to the attributes of the product itself. It’s a reflection of the quality of our natural resources and the honesty, hard work and innovative minds of our people.”

The Made In Wisconsin program complements the Something Special From Wisconsin program from the state Agriculture department, the noticeable red sticker seen on cheese curds, cherries, honey and sausages, among other examples, at food stores and gift shops across the state.

Lietz said WEDC developed the program in recent months because manufacturers and other goods producers across the state had been requesting such an opportunity.

“We’ve been repeatedly contacted by companies, somewhat unprompted,” Lietz said. “There’s clearly a benefit to this, and people are asking us for it.”

In the week after the program was rolled out publicly in late February, WEDC received more than 40 applications from state companies to use the logo, Lietz said.

The program is available to state companies at no cost, other than any costs the company may choose to incur by creating labels or stickers, for example. However, companies wishing to participate in the program are required to complete an application explaining how they will use the logo and certifying the product on which they seek to use the mark fulfills program requirements.

Put into use

One company that jumped at the opportunity to participate shortly after the launch of the program is De Pere-based Gas Trailer, a manufacturer of portable fuel equipment. The 4-year-old company with just six employees operates lean, but has been doubling its revenues each year and sells most of its product outside of the state and even internationally, said Gas Trailer President Keith Kittoe.

Gas Trailer’s largest market segments are aviation, industrial and marine. While many of its competitors compete solely on the basis of price, Gas Trailer offers a higher-end product that appeals to its customers because of the quality and innovation invested into its production. Kittoe feels the use of the branding program will help complement the strong reputation for quality the company has already achieved on its own.

“There’s a credibility and an honesty (that customers associate) with a company coming from the Midwest,” Kittoe said.

Gas Trailer is using the “Built In Wisconsin” logo, according to sales manager Doug Wallner. While many of the component parts of its fuel transportation products are fabricated and produced by other nearby vendors in Wisconsin, certain parts – such as tires – have proven just too difficult to source locally, Wallner said, and as a result the supply chain for its product isn’t entirely in Wisconsin.

Wallner explained Gas Trailer will initially use the Built In Wisconsin logo on its social media pages, and then post the logo to its web site as well. It will also be placed prominently within the owner’s manual that accompanies each of its trailers – alongside the “Built in the U.S.A.” brand it already promotes. Lastly, Gas Trailer is planning to etch the logo into the metal DOT compliance tags that are mounted on to each of its products.

WEDC encourages variations on the “Made In” logo – such as Gas Trailer’s use of Built In Wisconsin – and has developed several adaptations of the logo to reflect companies’ production processes. Options include:

K MADE IN WISCONSIN

K MANUFACTURED IN WISCONSIN

K PRODUCED IN WISCONSIN

K BUILT IN WISCONSIN

K GROWN IN WISCONSIN

K INVENTED IN WISCONSIN

K DESIGNED IN WISCONSIN

K ENGINEERED IN WISCONSIN

K BREWED IN WISCONSIN

Conveying meaning

Logistically Inc. of Green Bay participated in the pilot program for Made In Wisconsin. Mark Thomson, vice president of knowledge solutions for the transportation software developer, said the firm has always supported businesses in Wisconsin and wanted to be a part of this program to raise awareness of the high quality products representative of the state’s culture, values and work ethic.

“The work ethic, quality and pride in the products produced in Wisconsin is second to none,” Thomson said. “We believe in that mantra, and know of others that do, too.”

Logistically Inc. is using the Made In Wisconsin logo in its presentations with current and perspective clients, according to Thomson.

“We highlight the purpose and meaning, and typically receive a favorable response,” he said. The software company also placed the logo prominently on its website to let site visitors know where the company comes from.

While the program is still in its infancy, WEDC officials believe the more state companies that promote the use of the certification mark in a prideful manner, the more recognizable the logo will become and a more consistent reputation will evolve around what the phrase “Made In Wisconsin” means, both inside and outside of the state.

“Manufacturers in (northeast Wisconsin) have so much pride in what they do, and this program was really built for them,” Lietz said. “When you say something is made in Wisconsin, you’re saying something pretty profound in these companies’ minds.”

Wisconsin businesses interested in applying to use some variation of the Made In Wisconsin logo can find more information about the program as well as an application by going online to Made.Inwisconsin.com. The application approval process takes just a few weeks once the application is submitted to WEDC.