From “More than $40M invested in Marinette shipyard” — MARINETTE — More than $40 million has been invested in the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard as part of the U.S. Navy littoral combat ship program, and its parent company isn’t done yet.

Massive improvements at the yard to support the LCS program have been ongoing for the past two years — including the expansion of the main assembly building and a new steel fabrication and production building. The Navy is building two designs of the littoral combat ship, one led by Lockheed Martin and the other by Austal USA.

To date, Marinette Marine’s parent company — Fincantieri-Cantieri Navali Italiani SpA — has invested more than $40 million of $73.5 million in planned upgrades to the yard, said Chuck Goddard, president and CEO of Marinette Marine.

Another $22 million is earmarked for this year.

A new blast and paint shop is starting to take shape in the place of former steel fabrication buildings — structures that were almost seven decades old.

“It not only gets us the capacity we need, but it will allow us to do the blast and painting of the largest of the LCS modules,” Goddard said. “Our current (blast and paint) facility, which is more than 30 years old, can only do about two-thirds of the LCS module, so we either have to do them outside or try to make room in Building 10, which isn’t really equipped to do that blasting and painting.”

The ships built at Marinette Marine are made up of 46 modular sections pulled together in the finished ship.

The new, enclosed blast and paint building is expected to open this summer. A shop to fit electrical and other equipment into the modules after painting also is among planned projects and is expected to open in 2013.

In 2009, the yard had the capacity to produce 1½ littoral combat ships a year. When facility upgrades are finished, production is expected to increase to 3½ ships a year, Goddard said.

Marinette Marine is working on three littoral combat ships, the future USS Fort Worth, Milwaukee and Detroit. Contracts for two more vessels, the future USS Little Rock and Sioux City, are expected to be issued next month, said Joe North, vice president of the Littoral Ship and Systems Programs for Lockheed Martin.

The Forth Worth is expected to undergo Navy acceptance trials this spring, with delivery to the service scheduled for mid-year, he said.

“That ship was constructed with 30 percent less labor hours than (LCS) 1, and we took a lot of lessons learned from 1 and rolled them back into” the USS Fort Worth, he said. The shipyard “found a lot of different ways to do it a second time and do it much quicker, more efficiently, and still meet all the requirements.”

The Detroit is the second of up to 10 littoral combat ships Marinette Marine is expected to build for the U.S. Navy in the coming years — subject to congressional funding. Austal USA is building another 10 ships of a different design, but the same concept, in Alabama.

Both Austal and Lockheed Martin have delivered first-of-class ships to the Navy, which has reported some teething problems with both designs. The Navy said those issues are being addressed on the ships in service and future designs and that it would like to purchase as many as 55 of the vessels.

The Barack Obama administration budget issued earlier this month includes funding to the tune of $1.8 billion for four more of the ships in Fiscal Year 2013. The budget is subject to congressional approval.

North and the Navy have said delivering ships on schedule and on budget are key to helping secure continued funding for the program.

“We’ve created a program that keeps the production lines at all the vendors and facilities we use running,” North said. “That helps keeps costs under control.”

Employment at Marinette Marine is at about 1,200 people — about 500 more than in June, Goddard said. The company plans to add about 300 more hourly, union workers in the next four months.

Marinette Marine has worked with seven local high schools on vocational education, including teaching students some of the welding skills required by the Navy, Goddard said.

It is also one of the partner companies working with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in the formation of a recently opened North Coast Marine Manufacturing Training Center in Marinette.

“We’ve been able to get people locally,” Goddard said about hiring thus far. “But we’re doing some other things because the concern is at some point we’re going to exhaust the workforce here.”

From “Program to prep students for manufacturing careers” — North central Wisconsin educators are developing a program to help students better prepare for careers in manufacturing.

The teachers and administrators for the D.C. Everest, Wausau and Spencer school districts and Northcentral Technical College are working together to create the Wisconsin Advanced Pathway Education Network. The four partners also are using money from a federal grant program called Promoting Rigorous Programs of Study, and their work could end up as a framework for school districts across the country.

Essentially, the work is meant to create an educational road map for students interested in working in factories and other manufacturing sectors, said Bob Marlowe, career and technical education coordinator for the Wausau School District. Marlowe also is coordinating the grant work. It’s a four-year grant program, with each partner receiving $30,000 per year. The partnership is in the second year of the grant program.

The program eventually will guide students in what classes to take, and help educators understand the skills students need to be successful in manufacturing jobs.

Educators mostly are gathering data right now, but the work already is having an impact on classroom instruction, said Theran Peterson, a technical education teacher at Wausau West working in the program.

The educators have been working closely with local manufacturers, finding out what companies need in their employees to better prepare students for the jobs.

“What we are finding is that the students coming out of our programs are very technologically savvy, but employers say they need to work on soft skills, 21st century skills, such as teamwork, interpersonal communication,” Peterson said.

That means that Peterson has tweaked the way he teaches his tech ed classes. Instead of relying on individual projects, he has started to stress teamwork and problem-solving.

“It’s forcing us to align our curriculum with the needs of our community,” Peterson said.

The team also is bolstering classroom innovation, including creating an application that can track student progress on mobile tablets, said Aaron Hoffman, the career and technical education coordinator at D.C. Everest Area School District.

“That way, teachers will have access to students’ development, and see where students are sitting now, and be much more informed in delivering instruction,” Hoffman said.

Manufacturing is a large job creator in Wisconsin, Marlowe said, and he thinks it will continue to be so in the future, especially if the future workforce is strong and smart.

There were about 443,000 manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin in December 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We have to effectively prepare students. We have to teach them to be adaptable and trainable,” Marlowe said.

SWTC instructor honored

February 27, 2012

From “Cutting presented WCPA Education Award” — Southwest Tech Agribusiness/Science Technology program instructor Paul Cutting, Fennimore, was recently honored by the Wisconsin Crop Production Association with an Education Award.

“Paul was selected to receive this award by the Board of Directors for his dedication to agribusiness education and providing instruction to students who have been successful in the crop production industry,” commented Rob Poehnelt, Wisconsin Crop Production Association Executive Director. “Paul has a huge impact on crop production in the state of Wisconsin and we are proud to be able to recognize his achievements.”

“I am happy and humbled to have been selected for this award and am incredibly proud the Agribusiness/Science Technology program is being recognized in the industry,” commented Cutting. “As I was accepting the award, I was amazed to see the number of my graduates in the audience that are members of the Wisconsin Crop Production Association. Seeing students continue to learn is an award in itself.”

Cutting has been the instructor for Southwest Tech’s Agribusiness/Science Technology program for 23 years. He has been the State Manager for Wisconsin Post-secondary Agricultural Students (PAS) since 1989 and the advisor for Southwest Tech’s Agribusiness PAS Chapter, which has been represented by many state and national officers. Cutting is a member at the state and national level of both the Association of Agricultural Instructors and the Association of Career and Technical Education, and is a lifetime member of the FFA Alumni and PAS Associates.

From “Stoughton Trailers growth could indicate US is recovering from recession” — BRODHEAD — Some people think Stoughton Trailers is a canary in the economic coalmine.

“If you look at our history, sometimes we’re leading into an economic downturn,” President Bob Wahlin said, “but sometimes we’re leading out of that same downturn.

“We hope that’s the case.”

Stoughton Trailers laid off hundreds of workers at it Brodhead, Evansville and Stoughton plants in the early stages of the recession. Now, it’s hiring.

While the downturn of the last few years has been unprecedented, Wahlin sees production and manufacturing coming back on a national level.

“As that happens, trucking picks up; people are more aggressive in replacing their fleet, and consumer confidence picks up, (which means) more freight to move,” he said.

“Hopefully, the trailer industry picking up is a sign of greater success happening,” he said.

Stoughton Trailers is receiving orders from companies gearing up for the next shipping season of summer into fall and the holidays. The increase means a ramp-up in hiring at Stoughton Trailers, but Wahlin said he doesn’t want to give the impression that everything is great.

The company, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, manufactures conventional and intermodal transportation equipment. Intermodal domestic freight transport uses containers that can be moved between rail and truck.

Stoughton’s main product is the dry van, which is the box-and-chassis combination that makes up the box-shaped semitrailers commonly seen on the highway.

The Brodhead plant, where standard fleet trailers are produced, was built for speed and efficiency, Wahlin said.

The Evansville plant builds a redesigned intermodal container and chassis.

The company’s corporate headquarters and a trailer manufacturing facility are in Stoughton. The company is hiring for shop floor positions at all three locations.

The downturn

Stoughton Trailers’ last peak was in about 2006, when the company employed 1,200.

By the end of 2008 and into 2009, “the trailer industry more or less stopped,” Wahlin said.

Trailer sales dropped more than 85 percent from the recent peak.

“That’s not just the Stoughton Trailers trailer. That’s industrywide,” he said. “With that type of drop, things just shut off. We had to reduce in the short term like never before.”

The company only had enough work for about 250 people.

“We don’t expect things to be that bad again,” he said, noting that those were unprecedented times.

Stoughton has been steadily building back up since 2009. At the end of 2010, the workforce was a little under 500, and the number grew to 800 by the end of last year.

By the end of summer, Wahlin said the company hopes to have 925 to 950 workers.

“Hopefully we can continue that ramp-up path, and things are looking positively for us to do that, but right now we can only commit to adding that many positions,” he said.

When the economy took a dive worldwide, people stopped buying and tried to squeeze another year or two out of their equipment, he said.

“Part of what’s driving the current demand is now that’s catching up with people,” he said. “That coupled with freight tonnages is trending very positively, and companies are ready to get back into their usual equipment replacement cycles, and in fact, most of them have some catching up to do.”

Stoughton is filling orders for Family Dollar now and does a lot of work for UPS and larger fleets seen on the road. The company also works with all kinds of decaling seen on the sides of trailers.

The company redesigned its container built in Evansville to compete with overseas companies. Because it’s a new product, orders aren’t consistent yet, he said.

After reopening the plant last year, the company shut it down after Christmas until now. Most of the workforce was diverted to the Brodhead and Stoughton plants.

“We’re doing everything we can to re-enter that market (of containers),” he said. “It’s still a very difficult environment.”

A ‘healing process’

In response to earlier stories about Stoughton Trailers, some current and former employees complained on The Gazette’s website,, about working conditions and what they claimed was a lack of respect for workers.

Wahlin said downsizing a company from 1,200 people to 250 is painful for everybody.

“We’re still healing from what happened the last few years,” he said.

The company tries to bring back workers who were laid off, but Wahlin said some have gone in other directions, he noted.

Stoughton Trailers is working on changing its culture, he said.

“That’s not an easy thing to do—not something that happens overnight,” he said.

Management took advantage of the downturn to educate and train its workforce, particularly managers, he said. Classes in lean manufacturing, leadership, ergonomics, safety, quality, “you name it” were held, many at the plant through a partnership with Madison Area Technical College.

The manufacturer also has “significantly increased” its automation and use of robotics in the last few years.

“It’s a physical job, hard work, and our employees work very, very hard,” he said. “That type of environment may not be for everybody.”

A normal week for plant workers is 40 hours, but orders have forced overtime because the company doesn’t want to hire too many workers too soon, Wahlin said.

Restoring pay and benefits cut during the recession also is a priority. The company has been increasing benefits “periodically as conditions continue to improve” and is “getting close” to pay increases for many shop floor employees, he said.

From: “BMHS students go job hunting at Wednesday career fair” — Beloit Memorial High School’s (BMHS) Barkin Arena was buzzing with activity Wednesday as students attended the 2012 Career Fair.

About 18 vendors were on scene to discuss career possibilities with more than 400 students from BMHS and about 25 students from South Beloit High School, said BMHS Assistant Principal John Kaminski.

Vendors ranged from Beloit Regional Hospice and the Beloit Police Department to Community Action Inc. and Alliant Energy. Six of the vendors performed interactive activities with students, and students who participated were able to get their “passports” stamped for a chance at a prize.

Kris Bacon of First National Bank was speaking to Senior Joseph Eley about a career in accounting. Eley, who works as a manager at the Knight Zone store and also works at Wendy’s, said he is taking an advanced business class at the high school and hopes to become an accountant. He had prepared a detailed list of questions for Bacon, who said she was impressed with the young man’s outgoing personality as well as his responsibility at the school store.

She gave Eley a business card and encouraged him to consider a future career at the bank. Eley said he’s planning on attending Blackhawk Technical College next year to major in accounting and business management.

Bacon said her favorite part of her career is helping people and sending them away with a smile, something she was confident Eley would be well  suited for.

Community Action Inc. Director of Planning and Development Marc Perry was speaking to Freshman Alisa Arrington about possible careers in his organization. In addition to having many opportunities in the human service field, he said there are opportunities in nursing, fundraising, public relations, human resources, accounting and business management. Perry said there were opportunities to work ranging from weatherizing homes to preventing child abuse.

Alisa said she was interested in a career in nursing or dancing. She said she enjoyed the expo and stopped at all the booths. Her favorite booths were at First National Bank where she could spin a wheel and Beloit Regional Hospice where she received a sticker.

Lindsey Mayer, a recruiter with Alliant Energy, was pleased to educate students on the various careers with her company. While some require two or four year degrees, she said there are other good paying jobs that require a high school diploma or a one year program.

She said customer service jobs require a high school diploma, and gas and line technician positions require a one year power distribution program offered through Blackhawk Technical College. Gas and line technicians can make around $30 an hour, and often being with an apprenticeship following their education.

“It takes a lot of commitment. They are on call 24-7 and respond to emergencies such as power outages, ice storms or gas leaks,” Mayer said.

Mayer said there are also exciting careers in engineering, computers, finance and human resources which require two or four year degrees. Some of the unique positions included wind turbine technician and power plant assistant.

From “MSTC looks at degree for aging population” — Mid-State Technical College is looking at adding a new degree that would train students to work with a growing elderly population.

The college’s board of directors approved a scope proposal Monday night. The vote clears the way for college officials to continue exploring the gerontology associate degree program.

The state technical college board could approve the degree next month.

The school has begun to survey potential employers to see whether the need exists for students with such a degree. The survey will likely be done by mid-May and the college could launch its program early next year, if the need exists.

Wisconsin’s senior population – those 65 and older – grew by more than 10 percent in the last decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census counted 777,000 senior citizens in Wisconsin in 2010 or just under 14 percent of the state’s population.

Students who take the program will learn how to provide recreation, housing, social services, financial assistance and advocacy for the elderly, said associate dean for service and health programs Beth Smith.

“The person who has earned this degree will have a broad range of skills that will allow them to provide those services,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Mid-State would be only the second technical college in the state to offer such a degree. Northeast Wisconsin Technical College began offering its degree last fall.

Hear interview from

From “Ask SCORE: Loan funds provide financial options” — Most area counties and cities have some type of loan option for small businesses.

When a bank says no, it doesn’t have to be the end of the road. There are economic development people in almost every community, and they have been tasked with supporting businesses and creating or retaining jobs.

Jessica Beckendorf, associate vice president of economic development, is one of those people.

She likes to think of herself as the first stop for small businesses. Involved in both the Brown County Revolving Loan Fund and Advance MicroLoan Program, Beckendorf is a connector.

“My role is directing them to the right source,” she explained. “Sometimes we might be that source, and sometimes I might refer them to other resources. I might continue to work with them through the entire process.”

Beckendorf looks at a team approach. From her office in the Advance Business and Manufacturing Center at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, she sits alongside a group of people who have the sole purpose of helping entrepreneurs. SCORE is one of those groups.

Beckendorf noted, “If we can’t help them, I’ll know where to send them. If they don’t have a business plan, I get them working with one of the partners on that.”

The point is to create or retain jobs, and to help provide alternate financial options when traditional sources aren’t enough.

For both of the funds that Beckendorf works with, there might be a bank involved on a limited scale with a gap in funding. She works to get deals done where they wouldn’t otherwise go forward.

The programs vary in the amount of funding provided, interest rates, and specific qualifications. The Revolving Loan Fund is tied into job creation or retention; the MicroLoan Program is not. Sometimes the funds can’t provide the amount of money needed, and other sources are considered.

“For a huge project, we might try to get the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) involved. There could be tax credits or direct lending available,” she said.

Beckendorf continually looks for a way to put a project together. The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) is another option.

When an entrepreneur comes to her office, she said that all it takes is a short interview and she’ll know where to send him or her. She asks for their story, why they need funding, whether it is for growth or retention, what would happen if they didn’t get the funding, do they have bank financing lined up, and how much more do they need.

“I’m looking for those who are willing to grow and learn how to run a business rather than just working in their business,” Beckendorf noted. “We want to allow our local companies to expand where the banks might not be willing to take on the risk.”

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