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Gov. Walker visits Croix Gear & Machining in Hudson

Gov. Scott Walker addresses workers at Croix Gear & Machining in Hudson at midday Friday, Feb. 28. He highlighted programs to boost technical education in Wisconsin schools and promised no property tax increases in the state through 2018 if he is elected to another term next November. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)1 / 8
Gov. Scott Walker talks about what he said is an improving business climate in Wisconsin during a stop at Croix Gear & Machining in Hudson on Friday, Feb. 28. The company started in 1965 by James T. Johnston was known for many years as Marine Associates. Johnston's son, Mark, later ran the company. When Mark Johnston died in 2010, his wife, Ruth, took over. The name was changed a couple of years ago to reflect the company's expanded product line. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)2 / 8
Gov. Scott Walker, lower right, visits with Croix Gear & Machining’s management team before touring the Hudson factory. Clockwise from the governor are Sales Manager John Wright, General Manager Jeff Schutts, Facility Manager Matt Johnston, Owner Ruthie Johnston, System Administrator Tom Klatt, Purchasing and Sales Manager Tony Bevers and Human Resources and Office Manager Trudy Timm. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)3 / 8
State Senator Sheila Harsdorf and Gov. Scott Walker, from left, visit with Croix Gear & Machining General Manager Jeff Schutts and first shift Supervisor Ken Bechel. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)4 / 8
Following his speech, Gov. Scott Walker poses for a photograph with Croix Gear & Machining employees, from left, Tony Bevers, Trudy Timm, (Walker) and Carol Wiskerchen. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)5 / 8
Owner Ruthie Johnson welcomes Gov. Scott Walker to Croix Gear & Machining. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)6 / 8
Gov. Scott Walker extends a hand to Mark Olson, a CNC machinist at Croix Gear & Machining. Olson is a graduate of Hudson High School. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)7 / 8
Machine operator John Schullo shares a laugh with Gov. Scott Walker, while Croix Gear employees Roger Keniston, back left, and Tim Hackbarth listen in on the conversation. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)8 / 8

Gov. Scott Walker came to Hudson last Friday to tour Croix Gear & Machining and talk about efforts to boost Wisconsin manufacturing.

The governor arrived at the facility on Hanley Road shortly after 11 a.m. After a brief meeting with the company’s management team, he was given a tour of the 36,000-square-foot facility, and then addressed the company’s 61 workers and invited guests on the shop floor.

Walker began his remarks by joking that he was on a “heavy metal” tour.

Croix Gear & Machining makes custom marine drive systems and underwater hardware for freshwater and saltwater boats -- large and small.

Until 2010, the company was known as Marine Associates. The name was changed to reflect the fact that it now makes gears and other parts for a variety of products -- food processing equipment, elevators, forklifts and more.

Calling attention to the symbol on the Wisconsin flag of an arm and hammer, representing manufacturing, Walker said manufacturing is an important part of our state’s heritage.

“But more importantly, it is a large part of our future,” he said.

He said the percentage of Wisconsin’s workforce employed in manufacturing is larger than in any other state in the nation. In 2013, a reported 16.8 percent of the state’s total workforce was involved in manufacturing.

The governor also touted recent gains in manufacturing employment, and credited steps by his administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature for helping make it happen.

He said 13,100 new manufacturing jobs were created in Wisconsin from December of 2012 to December of 2013. The state ranked behind only Michigan, and just barely, in the number of new manufacturing jobs, he said.

In 2013, the Legislature adopted a manufacturing and agricultural tax credit that by 2016 will virtually eliminate the tax on income from manufacturing and agricultural property.

Walker said that during his tour of Croix Gear, General Manager Jeff Schutts had shown him a new machine that reduced to less than three minutes a manufacturing operation that used to take 24 minutes.

“You have to have the money to invest in that,” he said.

“We know that employers don’t have a magic wand to say, OK, I’m going to create 50 more jobs today. The way you do it is by investing in equipment like that to be more competitive, to take on more work,” he said. “…When you invest in more equipment and new technologies and new innovations, that opens the door to hiring even more people, bringing more jobs back from other places around the world to right here in the United States -- particularly right here in the state of Wisconsin.”

Critics of the tax credit have said it amounts to a gift to some of the state’s wealthiest people. They say average citizens will have to make up for the estimated $360 million of lost revenue in the first four years of the law, and $130 million each following year.

Walker said his administration and the Legislature also have made Wisconsin more attractive to manufacturers and other businesses by reining in property and income taxes.

He said that after his latest property tax proposal is adopted by the Legislature in the coming weeks, total state taxes will have been cut by $2 billion since he took office at the start of 2011. Meanwhile, Minnesota has raised its taxes by $2 billion, he said.

Walker said the typical Wisconsin homeowner paid no more in property taxes for 2014 than they did for 2010.

Speaking to the Wisconsin Realtors Association earlier in the week, the governor promised that property taxes wouldn’t increase through 2018 if he is re-elected next fall.

“I’d like the property tax for 2018 to be less than it will be this December, which means it will be less than it was in 2010,” Walker told the Croix Gear workers and guests. “Because I think that for people who want to own their own home or purchase a new home or purchase property, one of the biggest barriers in the past has been high property taxes.”

Job training

Walker also highlighted the $100 million in the 2013-15 state budget earmarked for worker training.

“One of the things I hear time and time again is, we have got jobs, we’ve got great employees, we’ve got new openings, be we don’t have enough people with the skills to fill those jobs,” he said.

Indeed, in the meeting with Croix Gear’s management team, Schutts told the governor that it’s the top obstacle to growth that his company faces.

Schutts later said that he showed the governor the new technology Croix Gear has added recently that requires higher skills to operate. That, in turn, has made it more difficult to find qualified employees.

Company owner Ruthie Johnston told Walker that Croix Gear has invested in training current employees to operate the increasingly complex machines.

Croix Gear’s human resources manager, Trudy Timm, sits on the board of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College.

Walker said that he has proposed adding another $35 million to the budget to allow more high school students to take classes at technical colleges at the same time they are going to high schools.

He said he also wants to provide more money for a program called Wisconsin Fast Forward, which provides grants for employer-led programs to train high-skilled welders, machinists, fabricators and CNC (computer numerical control) machine operators.

He said those positions “are not only great jobs, they are great careers. … We need to have more young people doing them.”

Walker said the state will provide money for schools to do academic and career planning for students as early as the sixth grade, beginning next fall.

He said that in his State of the State speech in January, he challenged educators to put more emphasis on preparing students for jobs in manufacturing and other technical fields.

“We need to show that we value our sons and daughters who choose to be high-skilled welders and machinists and CNC operators just as much as we support our sons and daughters who choose to be doctors and lawyers,” he said.

2014 election

Walker is facing Democrat Mary Burke in his bid for re-election next fall.

Burke is a former executive with Trek Bicycle, a company started by her father Richard Burke in Waterloo, Wis., when she was 17 years old. She has a master’s of business administration degree from Harvard Business School and served as commerce secretary in the administration of former Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle.

The Democrats have a far different opinion of Walker’s and the Republican Legislature’s success at reviving Wisconsin’s economy.

Burke’s campaign website says that under Walker the state has dropped to 37th in the nation in overall job creation, 45th in the nation in job growth prospects and 48th in new business start-ups.

Wisconsin now has 84,000 fewer jobs than in 2007, when Burke was the commerce secretary, her campaign says.

Croix Gear & Machining

The late James T. Johnston (1922-2004) of Hudson started the former Marine Associates in 1965. The company started out making and repairing marine systems, and later expanded to a full job shop.

When James died, his son Mark, a 1971 Hudson High School graduate, took over the company. Mark died in 2010, thrusting his wife Ruthie into the role of company owner.

Ruthie Johnston said it has been quite a learning experience, but she is settling into the role. Her son Matt Johnston is the current facility manager.

Matt’s siblings, Andy and Joanne, were also in attendance for the visit by Gov. Walker.

Croix Gear & Machining currently has 54 permanent employees and seven temporary workers.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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