Made in Dane: 25 Surprising Products Made Right Here!

Dane County may not be Wisconsin's manufacturing hub, but companies here still make some unique and cutting-edge things. Here are 25 brilliant examples.

The resurgence of manufacturing is one of the prime reasons the American economy remains above sea level, and no state relies more on manufacturing jobs than Wisconsin. Dane County, the state’s second-largest in terms of population, boasts of internationally known brands but is not really known as a manufacturing hub. However, in 2011, Greater Madison was home to nearly 600 manufacturing businesses employing more than 23,000 people with an average wage of $54,983, noted the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Lee Swindall, vice president of business and industry for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., said Dane County does not come close to the sheer density of manufacturing in the Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha corridor, the area around Waukesha, or the Green Bay-Fox Valley area, but the resiliency of the Dane County manufacturing sector was demonstrated during the 2008-09 recession. Swindall, formerly with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, characterized manufacturing as a “very vibrant” sector of the economy here.

“It’s a very healthy and stable sector with strong representation in metal fabrication, plastics fabrication and extrusion, and a very significant footprint in dairy process and production,” he noted. “It is one that I would say has been conspicuously healthy as a whole.” The state's manufacturing sector is the primary reason Wisconsin exported a record $23.1 billion worth of goods in 2012, good for 18th place nationally, with industrial machinery exports leading the way. These goods accounted for 31.6% of all state exports, followed by agricultural products, which made up 12.5% of total state exports.

Another encouraging trend is that Wisconsin manufacturers are bringing work back home. According to the Madison International Trade Association, some Wisconsin manufacturers are beginning to reverse the trend of sending manufacturing work abroad and are re-establishing their production base in Wisconsin. In this story, IB introduces readers to 25 examples of locally produced items from the sector that “makes things.” 

1. Purely Fracking

Water purification is an imperative for the oil and gas industry, especially with hydraulic fracturing consuming more water as it aims to increase U.S. energy production. AquaMost has developed a solution: Its PECO (photoelectrocatalytic oxidation) device uses technology developed at UW-Madison to purify water without chemicals and maximize water recycling. It’s done by using electricity to power a nanotechnology-based catalytic reaction in the water stream. The company was founded in Madison in 2010 and provides bacterial and polymer remediation for the oil and gas industry.

2. Breath and Depth

Asthmatics sometimes forget or neglect to use their inhaled medications with the prescribed frequency. Madison-based Asthmapolis has developed a sensor to monitor asthmatic events and patient use, producing data to report whether patients are adhering to prescribed regimens. Now the subject of clinical trials, the sensor might also help public health officials map out asthma hot spots in their respective communities. Athmapolis has gained worldwide attention, spotlighting the area's biomedical expertise.

3. Pestering Pests

The rat is one member of the animal kingdom that only PETA could love, so Bell Laboratories’ TOMCAT rodent control products have a receptive market. Whether it’s the company’s mouse or rat bait, or its mechanical and adhesive traps, satisfied customers like Orkin and individual homeowners are the reason Bell Labs was named Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce’s 2012 “Manufacturer of the Year.” The business was founded in 1974 in Madison by entrepreneur Malcolm Stack with one product, and it remains true to its mission today.

4. Underground Movement

Berntsen is known for making products that mark the world’s infrastructure assets (monuments, utility equipment, and trails), but now it wants to help people find things underground. The company’s new InfraMarker Mobile RFID reader is many things: portable, battery-powered (and self-charging), and specifically designed for wireless connection to a variety of Bluetooth-enabled field computers. As such, it can identify the geographic position of “buried assets” like utilities. Madison-based Berntsen was founded in 1946.

5. Turning Up the Heat

Bock Water Heaters operate on any fuel (including solar and geothermal), but the company’s newest unit, optiTHERM, runs on natural gas. But it’s not just about heating water for home use, it’s also about doing it in an energy-efficient way. Thanks to advances in components like modulating flame burners, this model operates at up to 97% efficiency.  Madison-based Bock was founded in 1929 and grew to become North America's largest manufacturer of oil-fired water heaters..


6. Making the Case

DeForest’s EVCO Plastics makes the injection-molded cases for DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, and video games that need to hold up well while promoting the Redbox brand. Redbox came to EVCO in 2011 for a higher-quality case, and the EVCO team designed and molded an improved DVD case with a reduced cycle time and a lower price. With almost 50 years of custom injection molding experience, Evco is a global leader in custom plastic molding manufacturing.

7. Spotlight on LED

In introducing its Source Four LED last year, Electronic Theatre Controls, a Middleton entertainment technology company, took on a global industry demand for a high-quality LED-based spotlight. The LED spotlight produces up to 40 lumens per watt and was described by international designer Peter Mumford as “the true beginning of the LED revolution as far as theater is concerned.” It also has been in the limelight, winning a triple crown of international awards, including one for green technology. ETC is, in fact, the global leader for lighting products.

8. Foodie Showcase

Federal Industries tempts our taste buds as an industry leader in the design and manufacture of display merchandisers that offer visual evidence of the freshness and quality of food. Whether the displays are refrigerated, non-refrigerated, or are hot cases, the company’s engineers have shaped signature looks for food lovers, including bakery, deli, and confectionery customers. For more than 90 years, the Belleville, Wis. brand has stood for precision craftmanship and industry-leading innovation for food merchandising.

9. Burn Rate

Training is vital for effective, safe firefighting. From mobile units to high-rise towers, Fire Facilities, a subsidiary of Trachte Building Systems, manufactures pre-engineered steel fire training towers, but they are not just burn and churn. Each tower contains at least one live burn room, lined with the Westec Insulation System, to allow for repeated fires at high temperatures. Though their towers can be spotted all across the U.S., the business is located in Sun Prairie.

10. Home Team

Football fans wanting life-size reproductions of their favorite players or team logos turn to Fathead wall posters, big heads, ground graphics, and standees. The latter two are produced locally by Imagination Trends, a DeForest manufacturer of the ground graphic (pictured) that’s part of a San Antonio Spurs fan’s “man cave.” Imagination Trends makes royalty-based graphic products under exclusive license for clients such as Disney, Marvel, and the NFL – and for inventors.


11. Equipping the Equippers

You won’t find Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing’s products in a catalog. The worker-owned cooperative, founded in 1980 in Madison, designs and manufactures custom automation equipment, which companies use to manufacture their own products. A prime local example is the Refrigerator Cabinet Assembly Line that Isthmus made to help Sub-Zero make its own high-end appliances. IEM has experience in custom assembly, robotic integration, system integration, material handling, web handling, vision inspection, and a variety of custom processes.

12. Cheese Mold

Dedicated to serving the dairy industry, Johnson Industries International’s Rotary Molder Chiller is used to mold cheese into blocks or cylinders. About 70% of Johnson’s sales are exports; its food-processing machinery serves mozzarella/pizza cheese-making and cheese-processing facilities ranging from small artisan plants to the world’s largest factories. The Windsor-based company was formed in 1999 through the merger of Johnson Cheese Equipment and SMS Nelles Corp.

13. Racked With Bikes

Madrax, a division of Graber Manufacturing (founded in 1989), is located in Waunakee and makes bicycle racks – commercial and custom – that are both heavy-duty and aesthetically pleasing, and they (along with the company’s bike storage lockers) have been sold on the global market. The company is committed to “green”; the new plant uses an oxygen furnace process with recycled steel and employs sustainable processes throughout.

14. Business Booster

ORBITEC develops, fabricates, and tests VORTEX rocket engines in Dane County. The Madison-based company has to go elsewhere to launch and operate these smaller and lighter-weight rocket engines, as it did last October when the latest VORTEX rocket engine flew over the Mojave Desert. Someday, the company – which has employed a unique method to cool the engines – not only wants to launch large booster engines but would also like to launch from Wisconsin.

15. Fencing Fancy

Fences and gates don’t have to be cold and forbidding. They can be elegant and graceful and ornamental, and there are many examples of all three in the custom products made by Qual Line Fence Corp. in Waunakee. The family-owned business designs and builds a variety of custom fences, plus gates, kennels, flagpoles, and railings. To show how they take on any challenge, they even have a “cat fence” that prevents the little rascals from climbing over the top.


16. Carving Cravings

Quarra Stone, Madison, has provided just about every sort of cut stone for governmental, institutional, and restoration projects here and worldwide, from the Chazen Museum of Art to the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery, and from the U.S. Capitol to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yale University (left) adorned so much of its campus with Quarra’s stonework that Harvard has decided its new business school could benefit from the same Dane County craftsmanship. Quarra Stone was founded in 1989.

17. Air of Renewal

RenewAire, Madison, is one of the largest manufacturers of ERV and other ventilation products in North America, and has the broadest line of models. The new EV90 unit is among the ventilation products changing the industry. The company has a unique take on the age-old process of fresh air exchange, as its products recover 50% to 70% of the energy normally lost during the ventilation process. The EV90 raises the bar in energy efficiency through the use of motorized impeller blowers.

18. Setting the Toner

Shadow Fax, Madison, was green before green was ultra-cool. CEO Tim Meixelsperger (below) pioneered the recycling and rebuilding of printer toner cartridges (with OEM quality parts) in the late 1980s, providing options for companies wondering what to do with empty printer toner cartridges. The company has kept tons of waste out of the landfill. For its efforts, Shadow Fax has been honored by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Dane County, and the state of Wisconsin.

19. Fashioning Windows

Springs Window Fashions manufactures various window treatments under the brand names of Bali and Graber, and for private-label accounts, but more recently its products have taken on a green hue. Among the Middleton-based company’s coolest new offerings are solar shades and sliding panels, which moderate interior temperatures, block out damaging UV rays, and minimize glare while maintaining exterior views.

20. Phantom Leap 

Standard Imaging’s Lucy 3D QA Phantom is a quality-assurance device for stereotactic radiosurgery, a form of radiation therapy used to treat tumors or abnormalities of the brain and other organs. Successful SRS treatment often is determined by fractions of a millimeter and requires tools that meet these exacting standards. Lucy has measurement tolerances of 0.1mm accuracy, allowing medical physics to simulate SRS planning and treatment with a high degree of precision. The Dane County company, founded in 1989, moved to a new headquarters in Middleton in 2007. It has become a leading supplier of radiation calibration and quality assurance instruments for health care.


21. Tough Duty

You can tell when the economy makes a comeback because Stoughton Trailers gets busy making truck components used to haul goods. The company has a newly designed Tough Plate (trailer bottom) to better withstand forklift damage during loading and unloading. The Tough Plate comes with a lower tare weight, which allows a higher volume of freight to be transported while remaining under state-regulated weight limits. The company, based in Stoughton, is one of the most modern and automated container facilities in North America.

22. Taking Inventory

For Madison-based Terso Solutions, the TS030 RFID Cabinet is the latest in a line of products that integrates RFID-enabled cabinets, refrigerators, and freezers with inventory-visibility software to help medical and scientific professionals effectively manage their inventories. Terso, which was formed in 2005 as a subsidiary of Promega Corp., was initially developed as an on-site inventory supplier for Promega. Its current products, using RFID tags, are typically used in cath labs, emergency rooms, and hospital supply rooms.

23. Sustainable Slabs

The Wood Cycle’s slab conference/dining tables are made from locally harvested and milled trees. Dane County is home to a lot of big trees, with a number of them lost to storms, disease, construction, or old age. The Wood Cycle, a family-owned enterprise, was formed in 2001 to recycle those trees. It expanded in 2008 and moved to the village of Oregon. Now it produces finished cabinetry and furniture products, and envisions someday manufacturing a functional bicycle made only of wood.

24. Family Tree

The enduring desire to capture family memories in a decorative way can result in a viable business. Waunakee’s Uniek, Inc. makes wall displays like WallVerbs, a decorative wall collection exclusively sold at Bed Bath & Beyond. Founded in 1988, the Waunakee company has won vendor awards from Wal-Mart, Target, and industry peers (the SPARC award). Closer to home, United Way gave it a Bronze Award for giving back to the Greater Madison community.

25. Building Boom

As a manufacturer of architectural woodwork and restaurant/retail store fixtures, Deerfield's Wisconsin Built makes products sold in the U.S., Canada and, to a modest degree, the Middle East – to clients like Duluth Trading Co. (Mount Horeb store pictured), Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks, Buffalo Wild Wings, Culver’s, Sprint, and Kohler. Its specialty is casework and fixtures, including hotel lobby and casino fixtures. The privately held business was founded in 1988.

Editor's note: A special thank-you to Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (, our research partner on this feature.

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