New North Inc. Wins the Mid-America EDC Marketing Award for Developing a Supply Chain Marketplace
Thursday, October 17, 2019
New North Inc. has won the Mid-America EDC Marketing Program award for its role in establishing the Wisconsin Supply Chain Marketplace. The Marketplace was a creative solution to solving a challenge faced by many Wisconsin suppliers – the cyclical nature of the defense industry. As the Department of Defense reduced their contracts, Wisconsin manufacturers needed to diversify their customer base to prevent layoffs. New North came up with a two-part solution. First, identify industries Wisconsin manufacturers could sell to based on their current capabilities. Second, develop a supply chain marketplace where Wisconsin manufacturers could connect with buyers through an RFP system.
“We wanted to protect Wisconsin manufacturers from the ups and downs that occur in the defense industry. While building the website, we looked at ways to map out the supply chain and how to get suppliers into new markets,” said Connie Coley Loden, Sr. Project Manager with New North, Inc.
From a technical standpoint, building the website was the first step. With help from a DOD grant, New North secured the funding to do so. The build took nine months, but that was just the beginning of the project. Building awareness and getting businesses to use the platform was the real mountain to climb. During the first year, they registered 500 companies and at the two-year mark had registered over 2,000. In 2019, over 20,000 people visited the website, many of them for the first time.
Validating the Program
One of the initial challenges they faced was getting the business community to view the Marketplace as a helpful tool. Some were fearful that the site was a for-profit business directory and did not want to register because of it. Those fears were alleviated, in part, by the governor speaking about the Marketplace during a press conference and encouraging businesses to use the platform to bid for contracts. “Businesses needed to hear from an authoritative source that the Marketplace was designed to help them. After the governor spoke, we saw a rapid uptick in businesses registering,” said Loden.
Regional Partnerships Played a Vital Role
“The partnerships we have established have been extremely important in the success of the project. As we looked at how we would match up defense contractors into other industry sectors, we had key partners like The Water Council and the Midwest Energy Research Consortium who helped us to make those connections. We partnered with them in taking the supplier network to events, and for help mapping out value chain information to show where opportunities might be the strongest for companies included in the marketplace. Working with them gave us immediate inroads into new markets that we could introduce current defense suppliers to,” said Loden.
New North also worked with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP). By speaking at each other’s events, they were able to bring greater awareness and validity to the Marketplace. WMEP also helped to educate businesses on how to shift manufacturing into new markets and new product lines – a key driver behind the Marketplace.
Wisconsin Economic Development Organization (WEDC) and regional EDCs were also strong partners and helped to expand the platform to a statewide basis. They were so successful in doing so that WEDC is now managing the Marketplace, changing its name to the Wisconsin Supplier Network, as part of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. “This occurred because of the value the state felt that the Marketplace had in organizing suppliers from across the state and creating a platform that was dynamically useful in helping businesses to find them,” said Loden.
By July of 2019, over 20,000 people visited the Wisconsin Supply Chain Marketplace. They haven’t tracked all the RFPs that have come through the Marketplace, but at least 38 have been issued from organizations that include Foxconn, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, local municipalities, non-profit organizations, manufacturers seeking suppliers and venture funds/incubators seeking projects. The diversity of the RFPs has enabled a wide variety of businesses to gain exposure and bid for new business.
In addition, registering with the Marketplace gave Wisconsin businesses the opportunity to work on the Foxconn project. Foxconn has relied heavily on the Marketplace and made registering the first step in the process for suppliers. As a result, the state has put programming in place to help suppliers become Industry 4.0 ready – something that is necessary for the Foxconn project and a competitive advantage when going after other contracts.
Implications for Other Regions and States
Other regions and states may benefit from developing a similar marketplace as a tool for connecting local suppliers with buyers. During the planning phase, Connie Coley Loden encourages organizations to view the Marketplace as one part of a greater strategy. “The supply chain marketplace is a tool that was designed for marketing and developing markets. It is a dynamic online platform and tool to help make those B2B connections. Companies will still need to do due diligence, but it offers a way to source locally, expand their awareness of local companies and serves as an outreach platform through the RFP posting tool. That being said, it takes a lot of additional marketing efforts and a team approach to raise awareness of the tool and to get people to adopt and utilize it,” said Loden.
When it comes to awareness and adoption, New North’s partnership with WEDC played a critical role. WEDC gave funds to assist with their “Go-To Market” campaign that included attending events, creating Wayfinding-type signage to be used by suppliers at trade shows, and ongoing trade show support that helped to raise the profile of the program and Wisconsin manufacturers in general. As with most economic development projects, a team approach is likely to produce the best results, especially when launching something statewide.
The Wisconsin Supply Chain Marketplace Has Made a Statewide Impact
For their creativity and holistic approach to helping Wisconsin manufacturers diversify, New North Inc. is well deserving of this year’s Mid-America EDC Marketing Award.