From gmtoday.com: “The business of expanding business” — PEWAUKEE – It was time to talk about how expansion deals for growing businesses and industries in Waukesha County can get done through the availability of local and state resources meant to spur growth in the private-sector economy.

The Waukesha County Economic Development Corporation and Wisconsin Business Development expedited the discussion Wednesday in an event attended by nearly 140 at Waukesha County Technical College’s Richard T. Anderson Education Center.

The group composed of bankers, attorneys, consultants and business leaders heard a pair of corporate executives talk frankly about the pains and triumphs they encountered while recently expanding their shops.

The two talked about how they accessed resources, a sometimes difficult process, to help their firms expand in size and business.

The traditional starting point for the launch and expansion of many businesses here has been through financial institutions or the Development Corporation. Wisconsin Business Development, a nonprofit group, offers economic development solutions, potential investment capital and business strategies.

Sarit Singhal, president/CEO of Superior Support Resources Inc., of Brookfield, talked about navigating through various state, county and local financial offerings to more than double the size of his information technology firm.

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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.

February is CTE Month

January 30, 2014

From lacrossetribune.com: “February is CTE Month” — February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, and the Wisconsin Departments of Public Instruction (DPI), Workforce Development (DWD) and the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) are encouraging students, schools, parents, and educators to discover the high standards, innovation and excellence offered through the state’s CTE programs.

“Career and Technical Education introduces students to workplace expectations for knowledge and technical skills through a blend of classroom instruction and hands-on experiences,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “Because coursework is grounded in high standards and workforce needs through partnerships between educators and employers, young people in our high school CTE programs graduate college and career ready.”

“CTE has never been more important,” said Morna Foy, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System. “We’re proud to be partners in highlighting the many opportunities students have to participate in CTE. The result is a richer learning experience, greater awareness of education and career options, and many times, college credit.”

“Career and Technical Education Month offers an excellent opportunity to highlight successful partnerships, strong leadership, and promising initiatives to help build a skilled workforce to move Wisconsin forward,” DWD Secretary Reggie Newson said. “In collaboration with schools, the technical college system, employers, and parents, we are committed to helping both current and future generations of workers gain greater awareness of the challenging and cutting-edge career paths that technical education supports.”

More than 90,000 Wisconsin high school students are taking career and technical education courses in fields such as agriculture, business, family and consumer science, health occupations, marketing, and technology and engineering. Those increased opportunities help students find a viable route to a rewarding career. Many CTE programs provide multiple pathways for students to prepare for diploma and apprenticeship programs, technical college degrees and industry certifications, as well as four-year degree programs and other career and training.

Wisconsin’s technical colleges play an important role in expanding CTE opportunities for students through partnerships and dual credit coursework.

“Everyone knows that student engagement through great teaching is at the core of learning,” Evers said. He recounted a visit to Eleva-Strum’s Cardinal Industries, which focuses on metal fabrication. “The students do customized piece work for various fabricators in northwest Wisconsin, filling a niche in the industry. The class was run like a business. Students received both high school and technical college credit. And at the end of the year, profit sharing provided $1,200 per student. This innovation has been recognized nationally through Modern Machine Shop Magazine.”

In a partnership among the Baldwin-Woodville, Hudson and Menomonie high schools and OEM Fabricators, coursework and experience promote advanced manufacturing as a career choice. The Manufacturing Careers Pathway Partnership reaches both middle and high school students through career exploration, job shadowing, youth employment, state of the art training facilities, dual enrollment with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and tuition assistance. Evers visited the Eleva-Strum, Baldwin-Woodville and Menomonie high school CTE programs last year as part of the CTE month observance in Wisconsin.

In honor of this year’s CTE month observance, Evers, Foy and Newson are planning classroom and on-site CTE visits throughout the state. Details will be forthcoming.

From wiscnews.com: “Welders wanted: Employers with jobs struggle to fill them” — By Peter Rebhahn – It’s a familiar story: An economy still shell-shocked from the Great Recession of 2008-09 has left businesses downsizing and workers scrambling for a dwindling supply of low-paying jobs without benefits.

But what if the story isn’t as true as we think?

“We lose a lot of business because we do not have enough people to staff our shop,” said Larry Willer, operations manager for W.M. Sprinkman Corp. in Elroy.

Sprinkman needs more welders. In fact, Willer said, the welder shortage is one of the biggest problems the company faces.

Willer said the welder shortage has persisted for years in spite of starting hourly pay “in the teens,” plenty of overtime opportunity and a full benefit package that includes vacation time and health insurance.

“We’re looking to expand our night shift and we would probably hire in the neighborhood of anywhere from 10 to 15 welders if we could find qualified people,” Willer said.

That would be a big staff increase at Sprinkman, a manufacturer of stainless steel tanks for the dairy, food and beverage industry. It now employs 56 people – about two-thirds of them welders.

The company, which Willer said has benefitted from the microbrewing boom within the beer industry, serves customers nationwide from its 14,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in downtown Elroy.

Sprinkman’s customers include Fortune 500 giants such as Coca Cola and the Campbell Soup Company, as well as many smaller companies such as Capital Brewery in Madison.

The welder shortage is not Sprinkman’s problem alone.

At Walker Stainless Equipment in New Lisbon, Human Resources Manager Nancy Jacques said the “Welders Wanted” sign has occupied a prominent spot on the lawn at the front of the company headquarters for years. They’re looking to fill 20 vacant welder positions right now.

“It’s hard to find associates who are interested in the trade or who have any skill in welding,” Jacques said.

Walker, which also makes stainless steel equipment for customers nationwide, is Juneau County’s biggest manufacturing employer, with more than 500 workers in New Lisbon and at another facility in Elroy. About 225 of the company’s employees in Juneau County are welders, Jacques said. Like Sprinkman, business at Walker is good. Jacques said it’s frustrating to leave jobs unfilled.

“Walker’s market continues to expand,” Jacques said. “Therefore, the need for experienced welders increases also.”

Last week, the Juneau County Board of Supervisors took official notice of the problem when it passed a resolution that asked Western Technical College to “provide the necessary leadership, teachers, technical assistance, and monetary support for the establishment of the type of welding courses needed by Juneau County manufacturers at the New Lisbon High School.”

In fact, talks between officials from the technical college and New Lisbon schools are already well underway.

New Lisbon schools Superintendent Dennis Birr said the high school teaches a welding class. He said he’s “solidly behind” allowing the technical college use of the school’s welding laboratory. Talks with technical college officials about a sharing arrangement have been going on for more than a year, he added.

“The school’s perspective has been that we have a welding lab and we’d be happy to let it be used to help more people get the welding skills that help local employers,” Birr said.

The high school’s welding lab accommodates about a dozen students. Birr said the welding class attracts a mix of students – some who are merely curious and others who think they might like a career in welding. But even the career-minded students at New Lisbon are still only high school students who, unlike college students, haven’t necessarily made up their minds to pursue a career in welding.

The problem is meeting the increased immediate demands of industry. Training welders to step from a classroom and into a real-world job at a manufacturer like Sprinkman or Walker would require an expensive upgrade to the high school’s facility. That’s an expenditure Birr said the district isn’t interested in making because the existing facility meets its limited needs.

“The people who would be taking this class aren’t our students,” Birr said.

Patti Balacek, director of business and industry services for Western Technical College, said the hope is to copy in New Lisbon the success of a similar high school-technical college link-up in Black River Falls.

“It’s been an incredible boon for everyone, but it also was a year and a half of a lot of work, a lot of fundraising,” Balacek said.

In Black River Falls, Jackson County and the Black River Falls School District came up with $80,000 to create the Welding Skills Institute at the high school. The Ho Chunk Nation, which provided Jackson County’s $50,000 contribution, played a key role in the Black River Falls funding. The Black River Falls School District contributed the other $30,000.

Other partners in Black River Falls included the Department of Corrections, Jackson County Circuit Court and the state Department of Corrections.

“If we were to proceed with New Lisbon, it will take a great deal of commitment from a number of partners,” Balacek said. “I respect that the Juneau County board would like Western to provide some of the leadership, but it was only successful in Black River Falls because other people made a significant contribution to making this happen.”

She said she awaits word of a grant application that could allow expansion of the college’s welding training. But right now the technical college doesn’t have the money for an upgrade to the New Lisbon High School welding lab, said Balacek, who added she has also discussed the issue with Mauston school officials.

One of the problems educators face, Balacek said, is getting high school students to understand that manufacturing jobs are no longer the dirty, noisy and dangerous occupations they once were.

“The view of manufacturing is something we have to help young people understand has changed, and can lead to a very viable and financially sound career move for many people,” Balacek said.

Willer said a few of Sprinkman’s welders live outside Juneau County, but attracting welders from distant areas runs up hard against a fact of life that all manufacturers face.

“People generally do not relocate for a shop job, so it limits us to people within a reasonable driving distance of our shop,” Willer said.

Willer said Sprinkman gets many job applications but the “vast majority” of applicants have no skills. They don’t understand that precision welding is exacting work that can’t be learned on the job in a week.

“These guys are fabricators,” Willer said with a nod toward workers on Sprinkman’s shop floor. “We don’t call them welders. We call them fabricators.”

Willer said company officials are considering taking matters into their own hands.

“We have gotten to the point where we are also looking at developing our own welding course and training people for the work we have available,” Willer said. “We can provide, I feel, good-paying jobs with benefits and a future – if they have the skills.”

From jsonline.com: “President Barack Obama to highlight job training in Waukesha visit” — President Barack Obama drops into the Republican stronghold of Waukesha County on Thursday morning and is expected to discuss a subject that unites Republicans and Democrats.

Job training.

Obama is due to visit GE’s Waukesha gas engines plant, a facility that employs around 700 people and manufactures natural gas engines.

He is scheduled to tour the plant, meet with executives and line workers, and give a speech, before making his way to an afternoon appearance at a high school in Nashville, Tenn.

A senior Obama administration official said that during his Waukesha appearance, the president is expected to discuss taking executive action to enhance reform of job training programs. The official laid out the general themes of Obama’s visit during a teleconference with reporters.

The Wisconsin stop is part of Obama’s two-day tour after his State of the Union address.

According to the official, the president is striving to amplify key themes from the speech, including expanding economic opportunity for Americans.

“That is the focus of the president’s domestic policy agenda,” the official said. “It is the focus of his efforts to try to find common ground with members of Congress. We certainly are hopeful that there would be some bipartisan common ground that could be found on some basic steps we could take that would expand economic opportunity for every American, in areas like job creation, job training and education.”

The official said the president will “also talk about his willingness to act on his own.

“When Congress refuses to act, the president won’t wait for them,” the official said.

The White House announced that after his speech in Waukesha, Obama will sign a Presidential Memorandum to initiate “an across-the-board review of how to best reform federal training programs.”

Vice President Joe Biden will lead the effort.

A competition will also be launched for the final $500 million of a community college training fund. Every state will be awarded at least one grant. The competition is designed to bolster partnerships with community colleges, employers and industry to “create training programs for in-demand jobs.”

The  senior administration official said the GE plant in Waukesha employs highly skilled workers who are trained to perform specific tasks.

“What the president would like to see is a re-orientation of our job training programs,” the official said. “The president wants to make our job training programs across the country more job-driven.”

The official explained that such reorientation means greater coordination between federal agencies that oversee job training grant programs and local community colleges, communities and employers.

The official said “there are many businesses across the country that, despite what continue to be elevated unemployment rates, still do have openings for workers. The difference is they are looking for workers with a very specific skill set.”

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has also emphasized the need to get workers the right training to match job openings in fields such as manufacturing and computer technology.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who will greet the president at Mitchell International Airport and be with him at the GE plant, said he expected the focus of the visit will be the economy and jobs.

“It’s something I’ve been talking about for some time,” Barrett said. “It’s what I call ‘ships passing in the night.’ Workers can’t find jobs. Employers can’t find workers. We’ve got to find a way to bring them together.”

The mayor said he hoped to share with Obama the work going on in the Milwaukee area to accomplish that.

He specifically mentioned the work of the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/BIG STEP, which develops resources and services for companies to expand employment and advancement opportunities by upgrading the skills of current employees and training residents to get family-supporting jobs.

Barrett also cited the work of the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, which is a government-business partnership that administers employment and training programs; Milwaukee Area Technical College; and Waukesha County Technical College.

Last week, Barrett and mayors from other cities around the country met with Vice President Joe Biden and discussed the manufacturing partnership between workers and employers.

“I’m guessing this is something in their wheelhouse,” Barrett said of Obama’s visit to Waukesha.

From woodworkingnetwork.com: “Teaching Wood Students Success at Fox Valley Tech” — By Matt Schumake -With each lesson in the Wood Manufacturing Technology program at Fox Valley Technical College, students routinely pull out calipers to check their work.

The goal: “To develop their sense of precision,” says instructor Mark Lorge. And paired with the students’ broad understanding of secondary wood processing, it creates a well-rounded knowledge base, which Lorge says is essential for a career in the industry.

An alumnus of the program, Lorge graduated in 1983 and went on to work with production and millwork companies such as Morgan Products Ltd., Elipticon Wood Products and Valley Planing Mill. Last year, Lorge celebrated his 20th year of instruction at Fox Valley Technical College.

Associate instructor Glenn Koerner leads the program with Lorge. Also a graduate, Koerner returned to Fox Valley Tech after more than 14,000 hours of industry experience.

The Wood Manufacturing Technology program is housed at Fox Valley Tech’s S.J. Spanbauer Center in Oshkosh, WI. There, Lorge and Koerner work with approximately 20 students each year, guiding them through five nine-week units of instruction.

“Some students come in with no prior understanding,” Lorge says. During the first nine weeks, they are introduced to the groundwork of every project — planning. They learn to read blueprints, prepare a parts list and production estimate. They also learn basic machining and wood identification.

The second block further develops students’ understanding of material, terminology, tooling and processes. They are introduced to an advanced level of setup and operation on woodworking machines, and demonstrate their psychomotor and cognitive competency of the process through a series of operation exercises.

It is during the third block that students become familiar with basic cabinetmaking processes. They design doors and drawers, build jigs and fixtures, and process materials to create laminate countertops. Cabinets completed in the program have been donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Advanced Skills

After approximately 36 weeks, students learn the principles of veneering, advanced machine joinery and CNC routing.

Through a partnership with Komo Machinery, the Wood Manufacturing Technology program has been provided with a VR510 Mach 1 S router, software for 21 seats and upgrades of RouterCIM and two seats of AutoNEST applications to operate the machinery.

“Most students embrace the CNC technology with enthusiasm,” Lorge says. By writing G-code, programming the router, setting tools, developing multiple tool programs and creating a gasketed fixture, students gain an understanding of the machine and its capabilities.

With these skills, the hiring rate for students is currently at 100 percent, Lorge says; over the past five years, the program has witnessed a 94 percent employment rate for graduates.

“A company needs employees who possess technical ability and a good work ethic — good training is one of the keys to success,” says Len Riebau, owner of Wisconsin-based WDL, and a member of the Fox Valley Tech advisory board. Industry feedback also has helped the program stay successful and relevant to today’s needs, he adds.

Currently, Lorge and Koerner are in the process of revising the curriculum for web-based delivery and to require tablet access for each student by August 2014. The two also are working with high schools on a curriculum with transferable credit to Fox Valley Tech, and to develop a basic-skills certificate program for students who cannot commit to the year-long program.

Under Lorge’s and Koerner’s direction, Fox Valley Technical College’s Wood Manufacturing Technology program already has received notice for its efforts. Not only is the school a past recipient of the “Educator of the Year Award” by the Woodworking Machinery Industry Association, but its students frequently receive awards from the Association of Woodworking and Furniture Suppliers.

From wisconsinagconnection.com: “Fox Valley Tech to host Dairy Challenge Competition” — College students from 10 states will be heading to Appleton next week to participate in the Midwest Dairy Challenge, being hosted this winter by Fox Valley Technical College. Contest organizers say teams from 18 different schools will be competing in the February 5-7 event, which helps college students planning a career in the dairy industry put their skills to the test.

Each team of students will inspect an actual operating dairy by analyzing real farm data and interviewing the farm’s owners. They will then develop recommendations for nutrition, reproduction, milking procedures, animal health and housing to help the farm optimize performance and profitability.

The Midwest event is one of four regional contests sponsored each year by North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge. Over its 13-year history, the contest has helped prepare over 4,000 students for careers as dairy owners or managers, consultants, researchers, veterinarians or other dairy professionals.

The 2014 national event will be April 3-5 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

 

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