As the co-chair of an industrial real estate practice, Jeff Hoffman advises on billions of dollars in transactions for companies and developers. More importantly, he’s a lifelong Wisconsin resident and a key player in the Wisconsin business landscape. In his new book, Industrial is What We Do, Jeff gets to the point; Wisconsin is on the precipice of major change, and a new era of prosperity awaits companies and communities that embrace it.
Today on Author Hour, he joins me to talk about the solutions Wisconsin needs to win in the era of industry 4.0. I’m your host, Meghan McCracken.
Jeff, welcome to Author Hour.
Jeff Hoffman: Glad to be here.
Meghan McCracken: So I’m so happy to have you join us today and we’re going to just talk through your author journey. My first question for you is, what was the trigger that made you decide it was time to write and publish a book?
Jeff Hoffman: That’s an excellent question because what I’ve learned is, it’s no small undertaking to publish a book and on top of a career in family obligations, just trying to carve out the time was very, very difficult to do, but to get to the genesis of how this started, I lead our industrial real estate services practice for one of Wisconsin’s oldest firms. I’ve been involved in a lot of business trade associations, specifically on the real estate side of it.
So one of my passions outside of my business is public policy, most specifically, how does policy shape economic development, and I really latched on to that earlier on in my career and with some of the business association I participate in, I was kind of the go-to person on understanding what proposed economic development policies, whether it’s taxation regulations and other incentives that could help promote economic development, how it would impact industry.
I would write position papers for these trade associations, I’ve always liked to write but in smaller format, more white paper format, and I got to a point I was enrolled, am enrolled in strategic coach and Dan Sullivan is a big client of Scribe Media. He’s a prolific author and Dan put together a Zoom call with Tucker Max on, “If you were interested in potentially authoring a book, these are what the steps you would take.”
So I set in on that, I’m like, “Okay, I see a path here,” and I just started journaling, and it evolved over time and again, the guidelines that Scribe provided upfront of how do you create the framework and the structure were very, very important for me. I worked on journaling for probably a period of four and a half months till I felt like I had a critical mass, and then I signed up with Scribe who has been a tremendous partner throughout this, top-notch professionals.
The Writing Journey
Meghan McCracken: So when you sat down to really do the thinking and do the writing, where did you start? I know that you’re coming to this like you said, you’ve done some shorter form writing, you’ve done white papers, but writing a book is really a whole different endeavor, and like you said, finding the time, carving out the time required around all of your other personal obligations, professional obligations, it can really be tough. First of all, how did you find that time and what was your plan going into this endeavor?
Jeff Hoffman: Yeah, so the plan, and I will go back to working with Scribe as a partner, and they really point you in a direction of you need to chart the core objectives of what you want to write about upfront. Whether it’s three big points, five, or seven, you have to start with, here are the pillars of what I’m going to build everything around. If you don’t have that, I could see how you could get lost in the process, confused, and it just goes on and on.
So once you identified those pillars — and for me, it was going to be very specific to how I see Wisconsin adapting over the next decade economically and how my real estate practice, my industrial real estate practice really compliments that, and what I see and hear from a lot of my clients and businesses that I’ve served onboard with and some of their pressing challenges and what some of those solutions are, but once I had those core pillars out, what I did is I dedicated time.
Whether it be 30 minutes to an hour, no more than an hour, I did it every day though as I went along the process, and that process took me a good nine months before I got to the completion of the rough draft, so it was a daily commitment. I’m an early riser, so I did it first thing in the morning. I actually — if you want a tip, and I’ll give it to you, for the listeners here, I cut out my social media.
I like to tune in to Twitter for the news, I like to read the Wall Street Journal, I like to read other papers, I actually cut that out of my calendar because I needed to free up the time somewhere and frankly, I’ve been a much happier person since getting off Twitter — that’s a whole other story — but I had to dedicate that time block, and I had to put it in my calendar, otherwise it won’t happen.
Meghan McCracken: I’m so amazed and impressed about cutting out the social media. It’s such a huge time set that people don’t consider. It’s so many hours in your day that we spend on various platforms.
Jeff Hoffman: Yeah, and I will tell you, I am much happier as a person because it’s amazing what kind of rabbit holes you can go down when you follow too closely.
Meghan McCracken: Oh yeah, absolutely. So when you sat down to really develop what we call the north star for the book, did it come very quickly? Did you know exactly the reader you were trying to reach, the primary message you wanted them to take away, the north star that was going to be guiding the book or did that take a little bit of time to develop?
Jeff Hoffman: No, I — and this was based on the zoom call that Tucker and Dan had — it was very clear that you need to know who you’re writing towards before you start the process, and I knew right away, it was going to be a niche book. I’m writing to business executives, management, owners, and then I would say, legislative leaders and economic development leaders as well.
That is a very small niche within this and specific to the State of Wisconsin, mind you. So I knew it was a very targeted message but I think what I learned from that Zoom call with Dan and Tucker is, in the world we live in, with how much information is out there and how much content is being published, if you don’t know who you’re targeting and how you’re going to target them, you’re just going to blend in with everything else and it’s going to be very hard to get attention.
So yes, the intentionality was definitely there. I knew right away when I started creating the pillars as I discussed exactly how I wanted to create the message.
Meghan McCracken: I like that you are super aware of the niche nature of your book. When we talk about writing a great book, we talk about this concept of, you want to go an inch wide, a mile deep, rather than most people want to hit as many people as possible with their book, so they go a mile wide and inch deep, and your book was maybe a centimeter wide and 10 miles deep.
It’s really, really niche, and I’m wondering about how you approached the tone of that, knowing that you were speaking to such a specific audience and such a niche issue and topic. How did you go about choosing the tone? I was especially struck in reading that your tone is very direct. You are not pulling punches, there is a section right at the beginning of the introduction where you write, “We need to create specific goals and educate our local and state policy leaders on how we can collectively get the job done.”
“This is not a job to hand off. The private sector has just as much responsibility as the public sector in delivering the solutions we need to move the state forward.” There’s really no mistaking your intention, your tone is very direct. So I’m wondering if that came naturally or did you experiment at all with the directness of your tone?
Jeff Hoffman: Well in full disclosure, I played rugby ‘till I was 33 years old and was a flanker for anybody that’s familiar with the game. So direct — it’s just that, it’s hardwired in me. So as I mentioned, in addition to what I do for my career, which is industrial real estate, and brokerage, I’m working with developers and users, manufacturers, and distributors that use industrial real estate.
So I derive a lot of insights from just talking to these companies and what is driving them for investments but additionally, I’ve served on several boards, business associations and one of the frustrations, yet I think really the opportunity, and we’re starting to see some changes and I hope this book helps push forward the conversation and the messaging is that business owners by nature, they’re a busy group of people, right?
So you have how many hours a week you’re putting into your business, let’s just say, it’s 50 hours a week, you’ve got family commitments and then you have what I’d say what are your community commitments. Whether you’re volunteering with a trade group and association and people come together with good intentions, talk about what’s working, what’s not, and where do we have to collectively work together to move the state forward from a business community.
And you’re dealing with people that are born problem solvers, but the challenge is, once you leave that room of conversation with all these business leaders, everybody gets back to their own day-to-day struggles, challenges, and opportunities that are confronting them in their business, which is enough.
What the frustration that I had over time was that you kept hearing — and this is just pattern recognition — kind of the same top challenges being recited over and over and over again, and I highlight, I had an interview with Suzanne Kelley in the book who is the president and CEO of Waukesha County Business Alliance. Suzanne Kelley recognized that a few years ago when she’s really put in place to really be that trade association that is driving the message forward, and it doesn’t happen fast.
It’s not like you can just reverse course overnight but really defining the key issues, the key challenges that I think a lot of our businesses are going to be facing, not only right now but over the next decade and say, “All right, what are the ones that we know everybody seems to be saying the same thing about, this is a universal challenge for everybody” and how do we create an agenda to move it forward and get them talking to some of the leaders that I did in just the pattern recognition.
I think it was very clear to me how to frame the message, and my opinion in how it was crafted was, “Listen, if we can solve these four to five primary challenges, that opens us up to go after some of the secondary challenges that we hear about.” So I really wanted to be very intentional with what this book covered.
Appreciating the Industrial Midwest
Meghan McCracken: The book is so, you’re so rooted in the geographical location of Wisconsin and the community and the state, and there are so many misconceptions I feel about the future of industry in the Midwest, and I’m wondering if that was on your mind as you went into laying out this new, you know, the opportunities on the table for the industrial Midwest and Wisconsin as a state.
Was any part of you looking to battle any misconceptions about maybe the death of industry or the death of that kind of work in the Midwest?
Jeff Hoffman: That’s a great question. I think, and this is one of those areas that, as I progress through the book. I think I developed a much greater appreciation for not only a lot of the industrial companies we had in Wisconsin but throughout the Midwest, and I think that the optimistic view that I have over the next coming decade for the upper Midwest, and it’s really been accelerated in the last two years both based on the pandemic challenge with supply chain and just geopolitical unrest right now that you’re seeing, specifically with the Russian-Ukrainian war that’s creating substantial problems with Europe.
There is a resurgence in the industrial economy in North America, specifically in the United States, and what I’ve learned over the last year because a lot of states, and I would say and I observed this firsthand in Wisconsin over the past decade, have taken a position of, “Well, that old manufacturing, that’s kind of behind us. We need to be looking to become a tech cluster, a tech club, we see money, we want social media, we want biotech, we want cutting edge,” and there’s nothing wrong with that, but in my estimation, there are some areas that do that very, very well.
Silicon Valley’s an example, I think Austin is a great hub right now, and Miami. These communities that have developed these hubs, it just doesn’t happen overnight, and so I felt that a lot of the economic development policy at the state level was chasing that shiny object, and I touch base upon the Fox Con development, which I know was national news and it was a substantial reach for the state to go after that.
In the book, I state, it was the right thing at the right time, but we can see the follies in the way in pursuing that, but as I was going through the research, talking to the companies and what I mentioned with more of the longer term, macro trends with bringing industry back to the United States, we have a lot of companies here that are already located here, they have history here, they have substantial investments here.
And there is a lot of technological advancement going on with these manufacturers in particular, and there’s no reason why Wisconsin, Michigan, and any of these upper Midwest states can’t lead the way because all that industry is already here.
Meghan McCracken: Right. What are the key takeaways from everything you talk about in your book, that you would hope that readers, if they just takeaway these three to five concepts, you hope they really both take away and then disseminate, talk about with other readers?
Jeff Hoffman: Yeah, primary challenge number open is more on the demographic front facing your traditional, I would say, blue collar in general. So whether it’s somebody that’s in manufacturing and runs a CNC machine, somebody that drives a truck, somebody that is a carpenter or electrician, there are certainly demographic challenges that are going to be coming over the next decade.
I know in Wisconsin, the average age of somebody in that type of field, I want to say is in excess of 55 years right now. So there will be a substantial gap of people that are drawing to those fields. I do cover a big chunk of the book about how society over the past three decades has pushed many of the K12 students into the four-year college system.
Which again, I’m certainly not demeaning the value of a four-year education, very important to develop economically, but it is not for everybody, and what you have seen in the last couple of years, the technical colleges in particular, the labor rates for people that are going to those traditional blue collar jobs has escalated significantly.
So a lot of 19, 20-year-olds can start life without substantial debt making 50, 60, or $70,000 a year, which for the upper Midwest is a nice middle-class lifestyle without the debt. So I think that was the big takeaway. Number two is, the labor rates are going to drive, in my opinion, a lot more candidates in, say Gen Z into the traditional blue-collar fields, and then I would say the last piece of it that that was really surprising to me is this concept of automation.
Even if we have more labor coming into the field, it is not going to be enough to replace the coming wave of baby boomer retirements that will probably be sun-setting by the end of this decade. So the ability to invest in automation, whether it’s robotics, cells, or anything you can do to streamline your processes, you’re going to have to figure out a way as a business owner to eliminate labor, and I am not talking about eliminating jobs.
I just don’t believe that there is going to be enough people to sustain the amount of jobs you traditionally had in your operations, and a big point that I make on that, this isn’t just Wisconsin, but I think in general, economic development traditionally has been focused on the job creation. Every elected official wants that big ribbon cutting that says we just brought a couple thousand jobs.
I think based on demographic trends with a lot of these industrial companies and the states have to view it as the investment, the capital expenditure into the automation, the equipment, the process lines is just as important, if not more important than how many jobs are being created because there is a disconnect and it is only going to get worst over the next decade, I think, of the available workforce supply.
The Future of Wisconsin
Meghan McCracken: Yeah, and everything that you are talking about in the book, it has a massive impact and implication into the future of the State of Wisconsin, its economy, its workforce, and I’m wondering how much of that future focus really went into your thinking as you’re writing the book? What are you bringing into the future with the concepts you present in this book?
Jeff Hoffman: Yeah, the whole goal of the book is really, and I conclude at the end, Wisconsin 2030 and a side note. As I got through the process, I really strongly believed in this, I knew I wasn’t going to get wealthy authoring this book. So I’ve made a pledge to contribute all proceeds above the cost of distribution to a new scholarship fund at Waukesha County Technical College.
It is called Wisconsin 2030, that’s the last name of the last chapter of the book, Wisconsin 2030. So the whole goal of the book is the vision eight years out when 2030 arrives, what does the vision of the state look like, and I think what I would summarize it as, we would look back and say Wisconsin in particular has transitioned the baby boomer workforce, that drove most of our industry, has retired, and if they’re still in the workforce it’s because they love what they do and they want to keep working.
But we have transitioned to a point where our employers are very comfortable with placing large investments into the State of Wisconsin because it is not as if I don’t believe Wisconsin is all of a sudden going to become like a Texas or a Florida where the population is just going to grow. There are certain limitations to being in the upper Midwest for population growth, but if we can figure out the technical side, training our workers that are here and combining that with leading-edge technology, that to me is really what will differentiate the state.
When you look back, in 2030, that is the goal, that when these companies, some globally recognized, can go and expand anywhere that they are going to be comfortable making the investment in Wisconsin because they know they’re going to have the resources, the support and the technical side of it, and the talent of the people, not necessarily the volume but the quality of the people to make sure that those investments pay off.
Meghan McCracken: Excellent. So let’s go back to your journey of entering into authorship and writing a book, which is something I think that a lot of people think about, but very few people actually sit down and do. Were there any moments along the writing of the book that surprised you where something was easier than you thought it was going to be, or maybe harder than you thought it was going to be?
Jeff Hoffman: Great question. There were a couple of turning points, I think throughout the process, and I’ll highlight them. One, when I started journaling, it was May 4th of 2021. I was on a consistent clip throughout the summer. It was getting to the end of August so I am three months in, and it felt like I was hitting a wall. I had not yet committed to Scribe, it was that, “All right, do I have enough here to keep going?” because it is a commitment of time and resources to sign up with a publisher.
At the end of August within the book, I have been able to interview five thought leaders in different industry verticals that really I believe pulled the book together, but I started with Suzanne Kelley at the Waukesha County Business Alliance. I reached out and said, “Suzanne, I am writing a book, don’t think I’m crazy, but I am writing a book. I’d like to sit down with you and talk about some of your ideas or what you’re seeing, so we could create some storylines around,” she agreed.
From that point forward, that was the next spring board that I knew I had something here if I stuck with it. So I started reaching out to my network, had another interview with a gentleman that I think is a leading manufacturing automation to mind, Kent Lawrence, and at that point, it was the jump-off point that, “All right, I know who my preferred publisher would be, Scribe. I know what their proposed offering is, are you ready to commit?”
Once I made the commitment, I knew I was all in, and that happened probably October-ish of last year. I was about close to six months into the writing, and from there on out, it was just that daily chip away, chip away, chip away, and what I would tell you — and I have heard this, and I don’t dispute that one bit — it is a mentally taxing process. I’ve ran a marathon, and a marathon, it’s done in three to four months of physical and mental component to it.
This was a pure mental component and multiple times where you just question yourself and, “Am I crazy? What are people going to think? Why am I doing this?” and the real crushing moment and I knew people told me it was coming, I submitted my rough draft I want to say in February of 2022. I felt about 98% there, feeling really good. I know there is going to be some critiques coming back, I am feeling really, really good though. I think it is probably two weeks later, I get the full critique back, and I’m devastated, just devastated.
Meghan McCracken: Oh no.
Jeff Hoffman: No, it was all great. It was absolutely what the book needed because up until that moment, I mentioned that I was very specific about who I wanted to write this to, but up until that moment, I was writing it to that group but only through my eyes. Only through my eyes, right? So when the editor took the book, they started to pull it apart, and after I got through the initial rejection and like, “I put in all these work, and I feel like I got another 10 miles to go,” made the determination to buckle down and get it done but it made the product so much better.
I am so grateful that they were able to critique in a very instructive way with the understanding that they know that people have put a lot of time and emotion into this but without that, I would have had a subpar product. So that whole process of getting the feedback back, processing it, not having an emotional attachment to what you wrote and taking the critique constructively, and then coming back with a better product, that was the defining moment.
Really when I was done with that one, I knew I was not going to go for perfection here, but I knew it was okay. That was what this needed, and it all came together very, very well.
Meghan McCracken: That is great to hear, and I have heard that same moment of, “Oh no” from so many authors when they do put all of this work into what is incredibly personal, and it requires a lot of discipline. Like you said, it is a hard thing to do writing a book and then you get back that evaluation and there is so many more miles to go. You think you’re at the point two of 26.2 and no, you’re at 19 and it can be a little deflating.
Now that you’ve been through the entire process of writing, editing, all of the production steps, all of the decisions that you needed to make with regards to the marketing copy that is going to sell the book and the design and the aesthetic of the book, was there any moment where you felt like, “Wow, I’m a little in over my head” or did it feel like this decisions came naturally to you?
Jeff Hoffman: A little bit of both, and I’ll explain that. So where I had a benefit and where I think a lot of authors will have a benefit, especially for your first book, you’re likely hopping into a first book. It is likely something that you’re an expert on or have a passion about. So there will be a natural feel within you to try to see that through. Now, I am not going to say that I am ready to hop on book number two.
I am not quite there yet but that first book, it was like all right, you had all these energy, ideas, and all of that that goes with that fuel that helped you get through to the other side. So a lot of the decision makings on how I wanted to write it, artwork, et cetera, I had thoughts. I will go back again, and whether it’s Scribe or whatever publisher you choose, without that partner, this doesn’t get done. And it is what they do day in and day out and again, compliments to Scribe.
They really kept me on track, they listened to what I wanted to accomplish, gave me the ideas and gave me the timeline and the objectives to stay on that. Without that, I could see how a project like this could go on for years. So that would be the recommendation I would have, if you really want to get a book project done, you need to sign up with a publishing partner that does this day in and day out that can hold you accountable.
Meghan McCracken: Yeah, I completely agree, especially when so many authors are coming into that first journey of authorship with deep expert knowledge in their field, in their experience and their background, but writing a book and publishing a book is its own deep expert knowledge that it’s pretty tough to DIY, so I completely agree. Before we wrap up, what is the advice actually that you would give to anyone who is looking to start to either tell their story or share their knowledge and their thinking now might be the time to start thinking about writing a book?
Jeff Hoffman: So one of the biggest surprises I believe, and I am not a person that has a lot of self-doubt, but I doubted myself or the message that I wanted to create to put out there, I had a concern that people are going to look at me like, “You’re out of your mind, what are you doing?” and the support that I’ve gotten actually since I publicly announce this is coming is unbelievable.
So it is one of those things if you believe you have a strong message or a strong story, people really appreciate and respect people that take the time to author a book. There is a prestige about it. So don’t let self-doubt or concern about what people may think about you limit your aspirations, because I think in the end, whether they agree with the message or not, there is ultimately a level of respect that you will get from people if you go through the process and put out a good product.
Meghan McCracken: A hundred percent, there is a wait to publishing a book and I truly believe it’s because people understand just how much work it is. They intrinsically understand just how much of a commitment you need to make to truly not just write a book, any book, but to write a good book and really write and produce a great book. It does take a lot of commitment and time and sometimes sacrifices.
So congratulations again on achieving that goal. Any thoughts and feelings as you move toward the journey of becoming an actual published author, what have you got planned for your launch?
Jeff Hoffman: So in the month of October in Wisconsin, it’s known as manufacturing month, which it was just how the stars align with the launch. So I actually have, I don’t have a formal launch party per se on October 4th but there are three primary events that I’ve been able to sponsor and be part of, one being the Waukesha County Business Alliance, which I have done a lot of excerpt of this board chair there.
For their annual meeting, they’re going to allow me to do a handout for cards, and they’re going to give a shoutout at the event. So I’ve got some of my partners that I have developed relationships with through the years that are going to really help promote this in October’s month of manufacturing. The book ties in a lot to manufacturing, so I would say October will be the month of getting it out to who I believe is the primary audience and who I think can most benefit from this, and that’s a great month to celebrate manufacturing in Wisconsin.
Meghan McCracken: Oh, that’s amazing. That dovetailed so perfectly, I love that. So Jeff, thank you so much again for joining me, and besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Meghan McCracken: Incredible. Congratulations again, Jeff, and thanks for joining me today.
Jeff Hoffman: You’re very welcome.