Eyeing Foxconn, Manufacturing Gig Platform FactoryFix Expands in WI

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Foxconn’s planned $10 billion electronic display factory in southeastern Wisconsin could be a boon for local workers vying for the potential 13,000 jobs. The facility could also be a headache for other area manufacturers, possibly sparking a heated competition for engineers, electricians, machinists, and other skilled laborers.

The talent war could also spell opportunity for organizations that help employers find and hire such professionals. Patrick O’Rahilly, founder and CEO of FactoryFix, believes his company could be well positioned to capitalize on the Foxconn effect, if and when it materializes.

FactoryFix is a Chicago-based startup that has developed software to connect manufacturing companies with skilled workers—welders, robot programmers, and maintenance technicians, to name a few examples. The company’s technology is geared toward helping employers fill their short-term staffing needs, though in some cases temporary assignments can lead to full-time job offers.

O’Rahilly says he believes Foxconn’s arrival in Wisconsin will be an overall positive thing for manufacturing in the state. However, he says he expects the company’s expanding presence will “put pressure on small and medium-sized manufacturers” in Mount Pleasant, WI, where the campus is being built, and beyond.

“Foxconn is going to need so much talent, and they’re going to be able to offer higher pay” than other manufacturers, he says. “We’re really going to be focused on helping those small and medium-sized companies in the area find people to hire. There’s lots more demand coming to an area where there’s already a huge shortage of skilled workers.”

FactoryFix currently has 13 employees, seven of whom are based in Wisconsin, O’Rahilly says. Last year, FactoryFix participated in a startup accelerator program organized by Milwaukee-based Gener8tor.

About 300 manufacturing businesses and 1,000 skilled workers have signed up to use FactoryFix’s Web-based platform, O’Rahilly says. (The startup plans to release a mobile version later this year.) For now, FactoryFix’s user base is concentrated in Illinois, but O’Rahilly says he and his team want to get the software on the radar of more employers and workers in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and elsewhere.

The one-year-old company has raised $500,000 in outside investment, and monthly revenue is about $150,000, he says.

Previously, O’Rahilly co-founded Compass Automation. The Elgin, IL-based company designs and builds robots and other automation systems, and installs them in factories. During his time at Compass, he says demand for the company’s services came in waves.

“Our biggest struggle with that business was how to staff for it,” O’Rahilly says. “We’d have all these quotes out to customers. They’d all land at the same time, of course, so we’d be scrambling to hire people.”

During these busy times, Compass sometimes engaged outside staffing agencies to help the company find workers to assign to projects. But O’Rahilly says he came away with the impression that the staffing firms his company worked with didn’t understand the manufacturing and automation sectors well, compared to other industries.

The experience “sparked this idea to create a vetted network of skilled manufacturing workers that you could bring in on-demand,” he says.

FactoryFix is seeking to gain a foothold in the increasingly crowded field of on-demand staffing platforms, which fit into the broader “gig” economy trend. Some of the other companies that dot the landscape are BlueCrew, Shiftgig, and Wonolo. None of those three focus narrowly on manufacturing and automation like FactoryFix does, however.

FactoryFix and some of the other startups it competes against use a similar business model as traditional staffing agencies. It is FactoryFix, rather than the employer, that handles most of the paperwork and pays workers. The startup earns a commission on the hourly wage of professionals that employers find using the service.

Beyond staffing firms—both the virtual and brick-and-mortar varieties—FactoryFix’s competitors include everything from Craigslist to “help wanted” signs at industrial parks, O’Rahilly says.

Several of the Illinois-based employers FactoryFix works with are considering relocating to Wisconsin or establishing an outpost there, O’Rahilly says. They likewise see opportunity in the Foxconn project and its ripple effects, he says.

It’s only been four months since Foxconn broke ground on its new campus in Wisconsin. While it’s too early to know what type of impact the project will have on nearby employers, companies like FactoryFix are trying to put themselves in a position to take advantage.

“If we were able to land Foxconn as a customer, that’s great,” O’Rahilly says. “But really there’s a lot more companies in that area that are going to need us more than ever.”