Briggs & Stratton Corp. and CEO Todd Teske are foiling two widely held contemporary memes involving American manufacturing:

(1)  U.S. companies are shifting jobs overseas.

(2)  U.S. manufacturing jobs are being replaced by robotics and automation.

Instead, the Wauwatosa-based company is moving jobs back to the United States from overseas.



Furthermore, Briggs is using robotics and automation in advanced manufacturing to reduce the hours needed to manufacture its products — thereby negating the costs of the higher hourly wages paid to American workers and reducing the need to shift jobs to countries with lower wages.

“It’s the U.S. workforce. If you give them the tools, the amount of labor (hours) in the product goes down,” Teske said.

Briggs will expand its production of Vanguard commercial lawn cutting engines at its plants in Statesboro, Ga., and Auburn, Ala. The production — and a yet-to-be-specified number of new jobs — will be shifted to the U.S. plants from southeast Asia.

Among other applications, the Vanguard engines will be installed in the company’s Ferris line of commercial mowers. As a result of the company’s commercial market growth, Briggs will move production of its Ferris and Snapper Pro brand mowers from its plant in Munnsville, N.Y., down the road to a newly leased plant that is twice as big in Sherrill, N.Y., initially resulting in approximately 50 new production jobs.

The Briggs & Stratton plan to use robotics and automation to bring jobs back to the U.S. makes sense to Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret, who spoke about that seemingly counter intuitive trend in a C-Level column this year.

What’s in a name?

As Teske prepared to file his company’s most recent quarterly report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he realized he needed to account for a plethora of moving parts.

“We just said, ‘Wow! This is a lot of cool stuff we’ve got going. But we need a name for it,’” Teske said.

Teske needed a name to package the changes that are in motion for Briggs — a name to bring clarity for the company’s management team, employees and shareholders, as well as the media and the public.

Enter Mark Schwertfeger, chief financial officer.

“He suggested we call it our ‘Business Optimization Program,’” Teske said.

And so it is.

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