From chippewa.com: “Manufacturing still drives area, state economy” —  by Ross Evavold – This question was once posed to me: Where would Wisconsin be without manufacturing?

It’s basically a rhetorical one, since the answer is quite obvious. Consider these facts:

  • Wisconsin leads the entire U.S. in manufacturing jobs per capita.
  • Ten percent of the state’s pool of workers 16 and over are employed in manufacturing. That’s twice the national average.
  • Manufacturing is the state’s single largest employment sector.
  • We have more than 9,000 manufacturers in the state, and more than 400,000 workers in that area.
  • All but one of Wisconsin’s 37 largest industries are in manufacturing.
  • It provides jobs for a majority of Wisconsin workers who do not have a college degree.

So as you can see, manufacturing is still the driver of the Badger state’s economy, for now and the foreseeable future.

Manufacturing is responsible for about 20 percent of the gross state product, and that figure translates to roughly the same percentage in the Chippewa Valley.

Our heavy reliance on manufacturing also comes with some risks. Wisconsin has many fewer manufacturing jobs than it did in 2000, but it has also retained more jobs than other manufacturing-heavy states, while manufacturing has also weathered the Great Recession of our lifetimes better than other job sectors.

Not that there won’t be challenges. Charlie Walker, director of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation, said that in trying to stay ahead of the curve, this area has been very proactive in identifying long-range issues that will impact growth.

He cited three major criteria for this area’s manufacturing success: the talent level of the workforce; accessibility to the marketplace through rail and highway infrastructure; and reliability of power. Walker says we stack up well in all three categories.

The Chippewa Valley also ranks well when it comes to advanced manufacturing, encompassing the high-tech assembly industry like the one we feature on the cover.

SGI has roots here dating back to when Silicon Graphics bought Cray Research in the mid-’90s. And now Jabil Circuits will become the latest worldwide player to land here, with its purchase of SGI’s manufacturing facility.

Jabil’s success story is impressive: Since its start nearly 50 years ago in Detroit, the company has expanded relentlessly through acquisitions and by evolving to serve numerous industries. In 2012 it ranked 157th in Fortune magazine’s list of the 500 most admired companies.

Oh, and SGI is very much sticking around here, as so many other related businesses have also done once they come to the area. TTM Technologies still produces circuit boards with about 1,000 workers in Chippewa Falls, and Cray, Inc., just installed and filled more supercomputer orders than any quarter in its history, sending its stock price soaring.

They have all found workers in this area to be among the best in the nation, which supports Walker’s contention as to the talent level.

Helping produce those workers with specific skill sets for our manufacturing companies are UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College, which have forged relationships with many area firms. The schools have been so successful that some graduates have actually had to turn down job offers.

Our winter issue also takes a look at why Five Star Plastics in Eau Claire’s Sky Park Industrial Center is undertaking its second large expansion in five years, and Nanospark, a young spinoff company in Altoona with a bright future.

A key area with manufacturers is often exports, and Momentum West, an economic development group representing 10 area counties, is expanding its horizons this year by going beyond our borders. It is targeting two international trade shows with hopes of landing businesses for this area.

From weau.com: “Cold weather brings diesel dangers” – Semi-trucks, plows and school buses are all in danger when the temperatures drop below zero.

Mechanics say the proper fuel and care by truck drivers could save valuable time and money, especially on days when we don’t see temperatures above zero.

“The biggest thing is the filters get plugged. Once the filter’s plugged, then we run out of fuel,” Chippewa Valley Technical College diesel mechanic instructor Rusty Naylor said.

“The diesel fuel will start gelling when it gets down around 0 degrees. Anything below that, additives have to be put in to keep the fuel from getting thick,” Mid State International Trucks service manager Tom Behling said.

“Drivers in this area, what we have most problem with, is people coming from the south. They’re coming up from Florida, Texas, they fuel up in Missouri, and then when they hit here, our climates 20 below (zero), plus. They don’t think about the fuel gelling. They don’t have a problem down south,” Naylor said.

Behling said his Eau Claire shop has seen more than 100 trucks come because of cold weather problems, twice what it saw last year.

“If they can drive the truck here, they can easily get out of here for a couple hundred dollars. You get towed in; you’re probably looking at $1,000 or more because towing gets expensive.”

He along with Naylor said there are things drivers can do to avoid diesel from gelling up.

“You need a blended fuel, that will drop the temperature at which this wax will develop … Also to that you have to put additives in,” Naylor said.

“This is a trial and error time. I’m looking at tomorrow morning myself, got good fuel, blended fuel; we’ll see what happens at 25 below zero.”

Naylor said if a truck starts, but power drops while driving, that could be a sign that diesel is gelling.

From weau.com: “Filing your taxes soon? You’ve got options” – It’s your ticket to a big check from Uncle Sam, or for some it’s payback time to the IRS. Your W-2 should be in the mail soon and in 2014, there are plenty of different ways for taxpayers to file their taxes.

“I just got my W-2 in the mail. I may have to do it in the next week or two, I might need to get started on that,” said student at Chippewa Valley Technical College, Nathan Hakes.

Hakes and millions of Americans will be able to file their taxes now, but due to last year’s government shutdown, the IRS delayed the tax filing season by ten days.

“You can still prepare you return and send it, it’ll just be held until January 31st timeframe,” said Casper Haas, a tax manager at InCity Tax Service in downtown Eau Claire.

That means the IRS won’t begin processing tax preparations sent in until the end of the month. The April 15th deadline is still in place

Haas knows all about filing taxes because he thinks about it 365 days a year as a tax manager.

“Tax preparation can be stressful and we’re in the business of preparing tax returns. This is what we do, this is what we live for, this is what we study for,” said Haas who said people have begun bringing in their taxes for him to help prepare.

He said a professional preparer is something to consider, especially if you’re dealing with more than just a W-2.

“(If they have) two income households, they own a home, they have dependents, so they more than likely would itemize deductions, so Schedule A.,” said Haas. “We work with small businesses as well as LLCs, sole proprietors; we can do those returns as well.”

If you feel comfortable doing your own taxes, technology can help you do just that. New this year are tax preparation apps that can be downloaded on a mobile device. H&R Block came out with a Tax Preparation 2013 app and so did TurboTax with its new app called SnapTax.

SnapTax is as simple as snapping a picture of your W-2 on your smartphone and it will put all the information into the app program, calculating your federal and state returns.

Some people turn to software, like TaxACT and Intuit TurboTax.

“I now use TurboTax online,” said Hakes. “It’s so much faster and I can answer everything myself.”

Hakes said his mother taught him how to file his own taxes.

“I tried going through H&R Block but I think through TurboTax, I was able to find the deductions I knew. Now online works for me, it’s simple,” he said.

The IRS lets you file your taxes for free if your income is below $58,000. A free tax prep software is offered online at the IRS.gov website. For income above $58,000, it offers free file fillable forms which will be available on January 31, 2014.

And if you’re low income and want something free, CVTC is offering VITA, the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program.

“We have students who are very, very eager to help out and it’s great experience for them as well because gives them that real life feel and real interaction,” said accounting instructor Jason Szymanski.

He said it’s a chance for people who can’t afford professional help to get their taxes prepared by a trained and certified volunteer. Volunteers can help with services that are not too complicated, like income tax credit, child care tax credits, unemployment compensation and Wisconsin homestead tax credit.

CVTC said the VITA service is offered Thursdays Feb. 6 through April 10 in room 240 of the Business Education Center, 620 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire. The service is provided on a first-come-first-served basis, with sign-up beginning at noon and tax preparation from 1-4:30 p.m. each day.

From leadertelegram.com: “CVTC leader: State aid boost keeps job training in high gear” — Any way you look at it, Gov. Scott Walker’s announcement during his State of the State address Wednesday that Wisconsin technical colleges will receive an additional $35 million is good news, Chippewa Valley Technical College President Bruce Barker said.

Barker was enthusiastic after hearing Walker’s remarks about increasing funding for the technical college he oversees and others.

“It’s certainly good news,” Barker said of the additional money, part of a program dubbed Wisconsin Fast Forward. “It’s definitely more money for training and education, and that’s a good thing.”

However, Barker said while that money can be used to hire more teachers, he doesn’t believe it can be spent to add laboratory space, already in high demand at CVTC.

“It’s additional dollars, but we have to see what the requirements will be,” Barker said. “The problem is the capacity of our labs. Our welding lab goes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and these are year-round programs.”

The main components of Wisconsin Fast Forward aim to eliminate waiting lists in high-demand job markets such as manufacturing, agriculture and information technology, and help high school students get credits through dual enrollment programs between high schools and technical colleges.

CVTC has longer waiting lists for nurse hygienists and nursing programs than in manufacturing or agriculture programs, Barker said.

“We’re certainly seeing a big demand in manufacturing and transportation, for truck drivers. Both of those programs, we’re at maximum capacity,” Barker said.

State Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, who introduced Wisconsin Fast Forward in the Assembly, said the initiative is a step in the right direction.

“Linking job seekers with employers that target critical and in-demand jobs while working with tech colleges and workforce development centers across the state puts a sharp focus on employment issues at a local level, where need and demand can be best addressed,” she said in a news release.

In addition to those programs, Walker proposed replacing $406 million in property taxes for technical colleges with state dollars. That would be accomplished by lowering the property tax levy that technical colleges can assess on homeowners.

“It’s a step in the right direction for local taxpayers,” Barker said. “But with the switch to state dollars, you fear losing local control. You also fear a cut in the state budget.”

Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy said in a statement Thursday that Walker’s plan brings better balance to the system’s funding structure. Foy said the system has “long sought greater equity between local and state investments.”

From aspeninstitute.org: “2015 Eligible Community Colleges” — The Aspen Institute is pleased to name the following 150 community colleges eligible for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.  We recognize that there are many community colleges around the country that are employing innovative strategies and achieving excellent results for their students.  The bar for the Aspen Prize is intentionally set high in order to identify those institutions that have demonstrated exceptional levels of student success.

In a comprehensive review of the publicly available data, these 150 two-year institutions—from 37 states—have demonstrated strong outcomes considering three areas of student success:

  • student success in persistence, completion, and transfer;
  • consistent improvement in outcomes over time; and
  • equity in outcomes for students of all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

To ensure full representation of the range and diversity of the sector, adjustments were applied with respect to mission, size, and minority representation.

Wisconsin

  • Chippewa Valley Technical College Eau Claire, WI
  • Lakeshore Technical College Cleveland, WI
  • Moraine Park Technical College Fond du Lac, WI
  • Northcentral Technical College Wausau, WI
  • Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College Shell Lake, WI

From thecountrytoday.com: “Broadening opportunities: New CVTC instructors bring industry insider knowledge” — EAU CLAIRE — With a few fresh faces on its agricultural staff, Chippewa Valley Technical College is looking forward to a bright future in 2014. In the past year, the college hired three new agriculture instructors. CVTC horticulture instructor Susan Frame said the new additions bring industry knowledge that will help students excel in their fields.

“One of the advantages Chippewa Valley Technical College students have is that the instructors have been in the industry,” Frame said.

Among the new arrivals are animal science instructor Adam Zwiefelhofer, agronomy instructor Jon Wantoch and farm business instructor Maria Bendixen. All three are UW-River Falls alumnus.

Zwiefelhofer, who majored in agricultural education, hails from the Eleva-Strum area.

The former Genex breeding specialist said teaching was a natural transition, noting, “I always knew I wanted to teach.”

Wantoch, a Mondovi native, majored in agricultural studies with minors in dairy science and biology and was previously employed by Lakeland Cooperative.

The switch to teaching was an easy one, he said, adding, “Helping others fits who I am.”

Bendixen taught high school agriculture in Colby and spent a year serving as UW-Extension agriculture agent for Taylor and Marathon counties before signing on as Clark County’s agent, a position she held for seven years.

Though she worked directly with producers as an ag agent, Bendixen said she was interested in being able to work with them on a more continual basis.

“I’m excited to be able to work with farmers for an extended period of time and to be able to follow up,” she said.

Bendixen joins veteran farm business instructor Mark Denk in aiding farmers in continuing education throughout western Wisconsin.

Continuing education

Zwiefelhofer said many people don’t realize the extent of continuing education CVTC offers.

The ag programs have 80 students on campus. Another 160, mainly farmers, are enrolled in the Farm Business and Production Management program, which offers resources to improve management skills. The program features part-time instruction with topics rotating over six years, versus the typical time-intensive 32-week school year.

Students range from high schoolers (enrolled in the youth option) to farmers in their 70s, Denk said, noting the broad variety of ages and backgrounds creates a unique peer setting not found at larger educational institutions.

“There’s a lot of knowledge transfer that comes into play there,” Bendixen said. “It leads to some lively discussions — which is fortunate, because in agriculture, there’s no one right way to do things.”

Zwiefelhofer said the school has adjusted its curriculum for the ever-diversifying niches of Wisconsin agriculture.

“I think we’ve flexed with the times,” he said. “If there aren’t jobs for our students, we’re not going to be around in the future.”

Though their three main program areas are agriscience technician; landscape, plant and turf management; and farm business and production management, Denk said the instructors have helped students branch out into other topics.

“We’ve had students interested in hops, for example,” he said. “In that case we end up working with them on a more individualized basis or connect them with an industry partner, but the backbone of what they need to learn remains the same.”

That backbone is rooted in ag-focused marketing, sales, equipment and facility courses. From there, students can branch out into the varying tracks.

Industry partners, such as Case IH and John Deere, have been instrumental in CVTC’s ag programs, Denk said.

“I personally feel like we touch on community more than the larger universities,” Zwiefelhofer said. “The labs we do are mostly on farms or businesses in our local community.”

The college has an active biofuels program in which students grow the crops used to generate biofuels. Students can also become certified in skills such as commercial pesticide application, skid-steer operation and performing animal ultrasounds.

Two greenhouses on campus allow students to grow produce, which this year was sold in an on-campus farmers market.

“We also do hydroponics and work closely with cooperating farms and the local farming population,” Frame said.

Students also benefit from a strong internship program, Zwiefelhofer said.

“The internships they take between their first and second year are really what separate us from the larger schools,” he said. “A lot of times it leads into employment.”

Those interested in learning more about the ag programs are welcome to shadow classes.

CVTC also has a transfer agreement that allows students to carry credits into the UW system.

Denk is eager to see how the ag programs develop with the influence of the new instructors.

“We’ve got a great staff here,” he said. “We’re committed to working together for the students’ success.”

From chippewa.com: “CVTC Foundation receives grant from DuPont Pioneer” — DuPont Pioneer has donated $5,000 to the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) Foundation toward the development of an Energy Education Center. Local account manager Patrick Branick sponsored this grant.

The funds will be directed toward the development of an Energy Education Center which is aimed at preparing a skilled workforce in energy technologies, and serve as a regional demonstration site to support energy-based economic development.

“We are excited to support the development of the Energy Education Center which will focus on areas such as bioenergy development,” said Branick.

Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) already works diligently to fill the need for an energy workforce. The College currently offers eight energy-related educational programs, including: Agriscience; Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration; Civil Engineering; Electrical Power Distribution; Electric Line Utility Apprenticeship; Environmental Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, and Heating Service; Landscape Management; and Residential Construction.

“With the agricultural base and strong manufacturing industry in western Wisconsin, Chippewa Valley Technical College is ideally suited for pursuing additional economic growth and development in the bioenergy sector,” said CVTC Dean of Industry, Agriculture and Energy Aliesha Crowe.

Pioneer makes contributions to community-based organizations on behalf of the business and employees. Consideration for outreach grants are given to communities where Pioneer representatives, employees and customers live and work and that support quality-of-life initiatives to create an improved, sustainable lifestyle for people worldwide.

 

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