Baldwin tours Western, talks jobs, economy

June 17, 2013

From “Baldwin tours Western, talks jobs, economy” — Sen. Tammy Baldwin toured Western Technical College on Friday to talk jobs and learn about the school’s efforts to bolster the Coulee Region’s workforce.

During her first visit to the La Crosse tech college as a United States senator, Baldwin said she was also reaching out to similar institutions to learn about their partnerships with local businesses, and how those collaborations can spur the economy.

“At this point in our economic recovery, that is just one of the keys,” Baldwin said.

The La Crosse area showed the best yearly job increases in 2012 since the recession, including growth in the health care and leisure industries, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

Nearly 93 percent of Western’s 2010-11 school year graduates were able to find jobs, including 85 percent who found jobs in Wisconsin, according to a survey by the college.

Western officials tailor the school’s offerings to what local employers need, but the college also provides training programs for local businesses.

Shelley Ellingson, training coordinator for Northern Engraving, toured campus with Baldwin.

Her company used state grant funding to bring in Western and train staff. Western’s training programs helped improve the relationship between management and workers, and increased efficiency, Ellingson said.

“I think it’s helped our supervisors apply some soft skills when working with employers on the floor,” Ellingson said.

Baldwin mentioned her work on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and credited tech colleges for being an alternative option for high school graduates who don’t have the time or money for a four-year university degree.

“Some are going to try to fit into a career as soon as possible,” Baldwin said.

Western’s successful $80 million referendum last year will help the college to update and expand school buildings and crank out more students. New spaces also mean improved training for a future workforce, Western President Lee Rasch said.

“It’s just going to be better for students,” Rasch said.

Baldwin toured Western’s facilities, including the current heating and ventilation training center, which will eventually move to the new $32.6 million applied technology center.

Baldwin called Western a school on the “eve of transformation,” after seeing a computer image rendering of the new technology center. Instead of dim, cramped corners of the old HVAC space, the images showed a building filled with windows and natural light.

“Look at how different that is from what we walked through,” Baldwin said, evoking laughs from a small audience of Western officials and representatives from local businesses. “This is really exciting for me.”

Baldwin also lamented Congress’ inability to find timely solution to a looming rate hike in federal student loans. Rates on Stafford loans might double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent unless lawmakers can agree on a fix.

Lawmakers took until the 11th hour crafting a bipartisan solution to the same problem last year, and that could be the case again this year, Baldwin said.

Meanwhile, college students are “struggling with enormous debts,” Baldwin said. “It’s such a critical issue.”



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