Not long ago, a VOA colleague of ours was building a cabinet, and he wanted to put wheels on it so it could be moved easily about the room.
This got us thinking. We hear a lot about the struggles of America’s manufacturing sector - automobiles, appliances, textiles, electronics.
What we don’t hear much about are the LITTLE businesses that build those casters, the knobs on washing machines, the buttons on blouses, and so on.
Toothpick manufacturing is not a big part of the nation's gross national product. But several companies - including some in Wisconsin, in or close to its many lumber plants - make them.
Even though it’s a northern state, close to those that have lost jobs to the southern and southwestern "Sun Belt," Wisconsin routinely leads the nation in creating new manufacturing jobs.
Not in heavy industry, or even in its famous cheese factories - rather in an endless assortment of products made in little plants you see tucked among Wisconsin’s green, manicured farms. Riding past them, you might catch the name on a sign, but have no clue what they make.
Well, Curt Manufacturing in Eau Claire makes metal ball hitches for trailers. Great White Dental Lab in Lodi fashions enamel teeth called "crowns." Universal Die & Stampings in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, makes battery caps and other shaped metal parts. And K & B Innovations in Oconomowac creates "Shrinky Dinks," which are little plastic thingies that kids can color and then shrink in the oven.
And somebody, somewhere, builds the vats and forms, big stirring paddles and conveyor belts without which there’d be no Wisconsin cheese. Americans don’t pay much attention when one of these companies wins an award, or loses a contract and closes, or relocates to Mexico or Thailand - unless it’s the little plant that’s the economic engine of our town.