Dawn Equipment, a manufacturer of conservation tillage attachments and tillage implements, has begun moving into its new factory in South Milwaukee, Wis. The facility is a former Caterpillar manufacturing plant, which Caterpillar moved out of in 2017.
“This is a magnificent, old manufacturing space with overhead cranes and a long area where we are going to manufacture our full-size implements,” says Joe Bassett, CEO of Dawn Equipment. He says the market for facilities that are ready to accommodate the production of 40-60-foot implements, like Dawn’s full-size strip-till bar the Black Dawn One, is fairly limited, making the Milwaukee location all the more special.
“The interesting thing about Milwaukee is there’s such a legacy of heavy equipment manufacturing,” he says. “You have all the pieces you need right here, in terms of steel, heat treating and the labor pool. It’s a really amazing ecosystem of manufacturers.
“I’m in awe of the scale of the location we’re moving into” he says. “The shovels that dug the Panama Canal were built right on that same floor. You have that legacy of American manufacturing that we can bring back to life by building something big again in these historic plants.” Bassett plans to run a research and development site on the premises as well, allowing Dawn to run tractors and validate equipment.
The facility has 75,000 square feet, with Bassett planning to have 25 employees at the plant by 2022. He says it will be a challenge finding welding talent.
“There aren’t enough young people going into the skilled trades anymore,” he says. “So we’re going to have to bring in some senior, high-skill people while building a pool of more junior welding talent at the same time.”
Bassett gives credit to the Milwaukee 7 Economy Development Group for helping get Dawn settled in southeast Wisconsin. “The Milwaukee 7 Economy Development Group has been super helpful, in terms of connecting us with different suppliers and people who are helping with recruiting and interfacing with Milwaukee and Wisconsin economic development groups,” he says.
Bassett is keeping an ear to the ground concerning the plant owner’s other development plans, including the possibility of a restaurant on the premises.
“There’s a beautiful, historic building on the premises that they’re talking with the City of South Milwaukee about potentially turning into a brewery or restaurant,” he says. “I think that would be amazing to have farmers come in, check out the plant, see the equipment being built, then grab a beer and a burger.”
He says the new facility is part of the company’s broader strategy to transition away from aftermarket attachments and “more into the OEM space.” Bassett says Dawn’s row unit production will remain at its Sycamore, Ill., facilities, with those row units to be mated to the frames produced at the Milwaukee plant.
“Over the next 5 years, you’ll see us sell more complete wholegoods as opposed to attachments,” he says. “Dawn Equipment has been defined as an ‘attachment manufacturer’ for a long time.” He says the company aims to produce 10 units of the Black Dawn One in 2021, followed by 20 units in 2022.
The move toward full-size implements is part of Dawn Equipment’s 5-year plan to double the size of the company, which will also include introducing planter row units and eventually its own high-speed planter.