From “On the job hunt: Unfilled jobs across America, are you qualified?” — Every day we hear the steady drumbeat. Unemployment over 9 percent. People who can’t find jobs exhausting their unemployment benefits. Going months – even years without work. Losing their homes to foreclosure. Marital and family breakups. Homelessness. It is tragic. No question.

But here’s a bizarre twist. While millions of people can’t find work, there are many American companies who can’t find people to fill open jobs. Thousands of jobs. Good paying jobs.

Drive along Riley Street in Zeeland, Mich,. and you’ll come across an unusual sight in America.

It’s a “now hiring” sign. It has been there for more than a year. It’s in front of the Gentex Corporation. Gentex is a high-tech manufacturer that makes “smart” rearview mirrors for cars.

Mirrors that darken at night. Mirrors that dim your high beams to an oncoming car. That have backup camera displays in them. That will tell your cruise control that you’re getting too close to the vehicle in front of you. They are in high demand – not just in the U.S., but among automobile manufacturers around the world. Gentex makes other products as well, including those new hi-tech windows for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that darken at the touch of a button. Business is booming.

And Gentex has jobs it can’t fill. More than 200 of them. And it plans to add another 1,150 in the next five years.

“Our problem right now is – we’re growing like crazy.” That’s Bruce Los talking. He’s Gentex’s Vice President of Human Relations. He bears a striking resemblance to actor Bruce Willis. He’s the guy in charge of finding people to fill vacant jobs.

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From Chippewa Valley Technical College: “Eau Claire Big Rig Truck Show sets up at CVTC” — 

From tricked out trucks to talking to Ice Road Trucker Alex Debogorski, the Eau Claire Big Rig Truck Show had it all!

Over 15,000 people came to the Chippewa Valley Technical College parking lot August 19-21 to get a close up view of the trucks you see on the highway. It was the graphics on these trucks that caught people’s attention. From everything from skulls to the ever popular Green Bay Packer truck, attendees had a lot to look at. Event highlights included the truck light show on Friday night and the truck parade on Saturday night, but the entertainment didn’t stop with just the trucks.

A line of eager fans waiting to get the autograph of Alex Debogorski was consistently more than two dozen people throughout the weekend. “He’s such an engaging guy,” Bob Loughan, CVTC Truck Driving instructor said. “He carries on a conversation with everyone coming through and really makes it a special experience for everyone.”

Rusty Naylor, CVTC Diesel and Heavy Equipment Instructor, had a blast showing off his program’s diesel truck engine that was collaborated to a computer so onlookers could see miles to the gallon, RPMs and more. “We let people turn on the engine and then see what happens to the numbers as the RPMs are increased. People seem excited to learn more about these large engines and what it takes to haul the big loads they see on the highway.”

Thousands of people lined Clairemont Avenue, Water Street, and Menomonie Street on Saturday night to watch the truck parade. The lights on the trucks were the showcase of the parade, but it was another chance to show off the great paint jobs. “We saw the trucks and stopped by to see what was going on,” a family commented as they sat on the hill near the CVTC bridge. “It’s pretty cool to see the trucks, but then to see the lights that go along with them is great!”

“This was a great success,” commented Terry Biddle, organizer of the Big Rig Truck Show. “The new venue at CVTC has worked out perfectly, and it really gives us a chance to grow the show for next year.”

From “Making eyeglasses fit for a princess” — Annie Ellsworth, 3 years old, pulled off her glasses and issued a declaration: Princesses don’t wear glasses.

Her mom, Kristin, saw an opportunity to prove her wrong – and start a business in the process.

The result is Peeps Eyewear LLC, a new Madison company that sells sparkly, pink and purple eyeglass frames in 67 stores in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Packaged in an organza cinch bag, each frame comes with a soft case and a book Ellsworth wrote about a princess who “gets to” wear glasses. Customers can also buy a dress-up kit, which includes a crown and a satin, sparkly cape like the one Princess Annie wears in the book.

“What I’ve done is tried to fight fun with fun and create an image of a brave and heroic and curious princess wearing glasses,” Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth was trained as a lawyer but drawn to entrepreneurship after taking a class at the Fox Valley Technical College’s Venture Center and grappling with her daughter’s vision issues. The college’s fabrication lab helped her create the first prototype of the frames, said Ellsworth, who has funded the company herself.

Ellsworth founded Peeps about 18 months ago. The company took first place in the business services category for the 2010 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

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From “Robotic milking and cow cams come to NTC” — Wireless cameras, solar panels, and robots would seem at home in a laboratory, but one local school is putting all that tech to the test on the farm.

School and a brand new agriculture center opened this week at Northcentral Technical College. Staff say students will hit the books, But they’re also hitting the buttons to control a new robotic cow milking machine. They are trying to prepare the kids for the farms of the future.

“The average age of a milk producer in Marathon County is 59 years old,” said NTC President Lory Weyers. “We need to have the next generation of people coming up because we all drink milk, the majority of us anyways, so we are committed to making sure that stays strong.”

The students can earn agriculture associate degrees. Majors include dairy science, agribusiness, and how to be a vet tech. The hope is a student-run operation gives them the chance to learn the skills to run their own farm.

“Some kids grew up on a farm but their parents never really let them get into it,” said Farm Manager Jordan Mueller. They didn’t get to call the shots, they didn’t get to plant the corn, they had jobs, management jobs, but they didn’t have exposure to anything and now they get to get that.”

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From “A century later, Fox Valley Technical College’s focus unchanged” — A century ago, Fox Valley Technical College offered teenage students a chance to prepare for mostly gender-specific trades, such as horseshoeing, cabinet-making, dress-making and cooking.

One hundred years later, FVTC serves more than 52,000 people of all ages and educational backgrounds, and is the third-largest technical college out of 16 in the state. It offers more than 200 programs of study.

The college has seen advancements in course offerings and technology capabilities from 1911 to 2011, and gender roles now are much less rigidly defined. There are men studying nursing and women studying to be electricians.

FVTC’s mission, however, hasn’t changed, said Susan May, FVTC’s president.

“One of the premises for the creation of our system was an educational system that was open to everyone regardless of their income or employment status or anything,” May said. “It was a way to allow people to access education beyond wherever they might have concluded that initial education. And that access for people to higher education has been a longstanding commitment this organization has made to people in the region.”

From “Training exercise teaches students how to prepare for a fire” — 

Firefighters spent six hours putting out flames in Weston Saturday.

It wasn’t a real house fire, but a controlled training exercise to teach students about real life scenarios.

Northcentral Technical College students training to be firefighters were gearing-up to put out a house fire, so when an emergency call comes in they are prepared to put out the blaze.

Professional firefighters first walked students through a home off Weston Avenue, to get a sense of the confined areas where they would be training. Then they had to ignite a live fire, wait for the smoke to accumulate and rise before they can extinguish the flames.

Firefighters said there are many things they have to consider in order to keep everyone safe.

“Be careful with the ceiling possibly coming down. You know it always goes through your head if there’s a basement underneath you that there’s no fire underneath you because you don’t want to be falling through the floor either,” said Weston Lt. Evan McVain.

Certain areas in the house were set on fire at different times throughout the exercise.

An instructor said as the smoke rises it gets so thick that it’s impossible to walk through, so that’s why firefighters always tell you to crawl.

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From the “Mobile lab takes NWTC manufacturing training on the road” — Dave LeBrun just wanted some up-to-date equipment for his tech classes as Southern Door High School.

A ceremony Thursday at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay demonstrated what can happen when you want the right things.

NWTC introduced its Computer Integrated Manufacturing Mobile Laboratory, a 44-foot trailer housing 12 CAD/CAM computer stations and two computer numerical control (CNC) machines, a lathe and a mill that will travel to rural high schools to give students hands-on exposure to modern manufacturing.

Manufacturing companies “are not limited by finding work. They are limited by finding a skilled work force,” said Tara LeClair, business and education manager with Door/Kewaunee Business & Education Partnership, one of several organizations that collaborated to create the lab.

It cost $323,000, of which $250,000 was provided through a grant from the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, and it was built by DEPCO LLC of Pittsburg, Kan.

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