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Wisconsin Sensors and Controls Strategy Targets $1.4 Trillion Advanced Energy Sector

By Mary Collins, Gary Radloff Co-Authors, The Wisconsin Jobs Project

Wisconsin could capitalize on its strengths in sensors and controls to drive economic growth and support over 44,000 jobs annually in the advanced energy industry. That’s the conclusion of a report from “The Wisconsin Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Sensors and Controls for Advanced Energy.”  The report, created by the American Jobs Project in partnership with the Wisconsin Energy Institute and Midwest Energy Research Consortium, outlines a strategy of targeted investments and forward-looking policies the state should follow.

Workforce development is an important component of Wisconsin’s strategy.

“Advanced energy is already producing $1.4 trillion in annual private-sector revenues around the world and Wisconsin is well-placed to take advantage of that growing market through advanced energy sensors and controls,” said Gary Radloff, director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis at the Wisconsin Energy Institute. “The report offers a practical roadmap for creating good-paying jobs and growing the economy.”

“Taking practical steps to grow Wisconsin’s advanced energy sensors and controls sector while strengthening recruitment and retention efforts would put a lot of people to work, while growing the economy in communities across the state,” said Mary Collins, director of the American Jobs Project and co-author of the report.

The sensors and controls industry is projected to grow almost 7% annually through 2022. Sensors and controls are hardware solutions that enable advanced energy technologies to be nimble and responsive to changing system-level conditions, such as weather patterns, available input resources, and energy demand. Advanced energy systems require extensive monitoring and operational controls to optimize production, minimize energy use, and leverage storage.

Wisconsin, the report continues, is well-positioned to tap into this market growth given its base of at least 209 sensors and controls manufacturers, its skilled workforce, and focus on technical training and engaged university research community. These state assets are bolstered by anchor companies including Johnson Controls and Rockwell Automation and by clustering efforts in the energy, power, and control (EPC) sector and the energy-water nexus by the Midwest Energy Research Consortium, and The Water Council.

Advanced energy is a $1.4 trillion global sector.

Wisconsin also has the potential to build a strong local market for Wisconsin-made sensor and control-embedded technologies in the biogas, efficiency, grid, and solar industries. In-state deployment of sensors and controls for safer and more efficiency technologies could not only bolster Wisconsin’s energy economy, but also help to divert back into Wisconsin communities some of the estimated $14 billion currently spent on energy imports.

The report suggests state-specific strategies focused on workforce development, access to capital, and encouraging entrepreneurship. They include providing tax credits for student loan payments to retain college graduates and recruit out-of-state talent, increasing corporate engagement in startup venture capital, facilitating mentorships for entrepreneurs, developing testbeds for large-scale energy systems, and expanding the Focus on Energy program to include energy-water nexus projects.

The strategies outlined in the report are seen as a way to reverse the effects of the recession during which Wisconsin suffered a blow to its legacy manufacturing industry and many of its jobs. In addition, Wisconsin faces a growing need for skilled talent due to an aging workforce, out-migration, and a significant number of underemployed and long-term unemployed residents.

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