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Thursday, August 27, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Reopened Fox Locks good for local economy

By MaryBeth Matzek
For the first time in 30 years, water flowed this week through the city of Kaukauna's five locks along the Fox River. The opening of the locks marks the completion of the $14.5 million Fox River Navigational System Authority's (FRNSA) lock restoration project, which took 10 years and involved restoring and repairing 16 locks on 39 miles of the Fox River, which flows from Lake Winnebago to the Bay of Green Bay.

The restoration of 16 of the 17 locks along the river started in 2005 and construction was completed at sites in De Pere, Appleton, Menasha, Little Chute, Combined Locks and Kaukauna. One of the locks – located at Raptide Croche – remains closed to prevent aquatic invasive species moving from the Great Lakes to Lake Winnebago.

The FRNSA is proposing to build a boat lift/transfer and cleaning station at Raptide Croche, which would allow boats to travel the entire river after being cleaned and inspected. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is reviewing the proposal, which would use a hot water cleaning process to flush each boat's propulsion systems, intakes and exhaust ports to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

"Before there were roads, the river was the cultural and economic corridor of Northeast Wisconsin," says FRNSA CEO Bob Stark. "This project has state and national historic significance and we have provided for the sustainable operation of the locks system."

The Fox River lock system is the nation's only fully restored hand-operated lock system. Lock tenders staff the gates from May through October, opening them for both recreational and commercial vessels. Daily permits and seasonal passes are available. Those fees help fund the FRNSA.

Crews from CR Meyer Construction and The Boldt Company worked together carefully on the restoration of the Kaukauna locks, which were originally built in 1850.

"The lock system is on the historical register so lock gates were replicated to the original wood construction with usable existing metal," says Bill Goodall, construction project manager from Boldt. "It's not something you do every day."

The locks were built in the 1840s and 1850s to help boats and ships travel the Fox River, which falls 168 feet between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay. The locks, along with dams and canals, were built to tame the rapids and make it easier to transport people and goods along the river. The Army Corps of Engineers took over the operation of the locks in the late 1800s. In 1984, the Corps announced the locks' closure. The Army Corps of Engineers turned the locks over to the state in 2004, who then created the FRNSA to repair and reopen the locks.

Stark says there are several proposals in the works to attract visitors to the locks, including the boat lift/transfer station and a planned visitor and education center in Appleton.

Ariens expansion

Ariens is spending $9 million to upgrade and expand its product development facility in Brillion. The new Ariens Company Design and Development Center will be built in three phases over the next three years. The 45,000-square-foot facility will include a new engineering and technical center, industrial design studio, model shop, prototyping lab and a complete state-of-the-art validation and testing center.

The center will provide testing and production validation of outdoor power equipment, including the company's snowthrowers, mowing equipment and outdoor products for both the consumer and professional markets.

St. Norbert gift

Businessman Michael Van Asten, a 1975 graduate of St. Norbert College, gave $1.75 million for its new Gehl-Mulva Science Center and to provide scholarships for students. He owns Liberty Hall, a conference facility in Kimberly, and has an ownership stake in six Hilton properties around the country.

The larger portion of the donation, $1 million, is making possible the Michael Van Asten Auditorium, one of the primary teaching spaces in the state-of-the-art Gehl-Mulva Science Center. The remainder will go to establish the Van Asten Fellows program, which provides financial support to students who are in their junior and senior years and who have been exceptional academic achievers.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: River Falls looks to launch business incubator

By MaryBeth Matzek
The area around River Falls, which straddles Pierce and St. Croix counties in western Wisconsin and is about 45 minutes away from the Twin Cities, is one of the fastest growing areas in the state. With all those people streaming in, plus being home to a University of Wisconsin campus, the area is ideal for entrepreneurs seeking to start their own businesses.

To help budding business owners, a coalition has come together to create a business incubator in River Falls. Led by the UW-River Falls' Center for Innovation and Business Development and the city, the goal is to create a physical place where entrepreneurs can develop and hone their ideas into thriving businesses. There will also be programs and classes in place to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas into viable businesses.

River Falls City Administrator Scot Simpson says the idea for an incubator has been around for a while in the community, but really has taken off in the past year as the university grew its Center for Innovation and Business Development.

"There's a lot of small business growth potential in this part of the state," he says. "We're one of the fastest growing parts of Wisconsin and UW-River Falls has seen a lot of interest in their center programming since it started about a year ago."

The business incubator would include 30,000-square-feet of flexible space for both manufacturing and offices. To make the project a reality, the partners – which besides the city and university include both counties, Chippewa Valley Technical College and local businesses – is looking to the state and federal government for help. Wisconsin legislators included $750,000 in the most recent state budget for the project, but that's contingent on the project receiving a $1.4 million federal grant.

"Once the incubator is built, we'll have standard programs in place to help businesses," says Danielle Campeau, director of UW-River Fall's Center for Innovation and Business Development. "We expect businesses to be there for about three years. We'll also look to provide grants too. We'll set specific goals for the different businesses."

Campeau says the college has a close relationship with WiSys Technology Foundation, a non-profit UW System organization that serves as a technology transfer office for all of the UW campuses minus Milwaukee and Madison, and UW-Extension. That should help business owners as they look to get patents or trademarks, she adds.

"We have a lot of interest in innovation and have a great ecosystem for entrepreneurship in the area," Campeau says. "The incubator will really be a launch pad.

Simpson says a lot of public and quasi-public organizations are coming together to make the incubator happen. "We're excited to see people starting new businesses and a lot of them are related to technology, which tends to be better paying," he says. "That can only be good news for our residents and community."

As for the university, being involved is a "win-win," Campeau says. "We're getting involved in the community and helping to spark innovation while also providing our faculty and students an opportunity to work with businesses who are dealing with real world issues," she says. "Everyone benefits."

Aviation firm plans expansion

Not too far from River Falls, Airworthy Aerospace Industries Inc., an aircraft interior provider, is planning a $4.6 million expansion at its Hudson facility that will eventually create 45 new jobs.

The expansion will triple the size of the company's existing facility to meet current demand and accommodate future growth. This marks the third expansion since the company crossed the Minnesota-Wisconsin border in 2004.

The company is purchasing an existing 73,000-square-foot building adjacent to its current facility for the expansion project. Part of the expansion plan calls for providing employee training in repair service that is required as part of the company's federal certification as a repair station for commercial aircraft.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is providing the Airworthy Aerospace Industries with up to $620,000 in job creation and training tax credits over the next three years. The actual amount of credits the company will receive is contingent upon the number of jobs created and how much the company spends on employee training over that time.

New Appvion leader

Appvion, which was formerly known as Appleton Papers, has a new CEO: Kevin Gilligan, who previously led the company's paper division. He takes over for retiring CEO Mark Richards, who will stay on as chairman of the board.

The company also announced it was selling its Encapsys brand to an investment firm in Baltimore for $208 million. That division makes micro encapsulated materials that are used in a variety of manufacturing industries.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Waupaca Foundry finds success with green initiatives

By MaryBeth Matzek
It's no secret foundries not only use a lot of energy, but they also create a lot of waste. With that in mind, Waupaca Foundry, which has three plants in Waupaca and one each in Marinette, Indiana and Tennessee, is doing more than its fair share to lessen that impact. The company has a robust sustainability initiative that has earned kudos from organizations and state and federal governments.

"At a foundry, you have a lot of opportunities to look at sustainability initiatives," says Bryant Esch, environmental coordinator of Waupaca Foundry Inc. "We use a lot of energy – just think about how we need to take a bunch of metal, heat it to super hot temperatures to melt it – so when we began looking at ways to be more sustainable, energy usage was the first area we touched."

That led to a heat reclamation project that captures waste heat used to melt metal and runs it through an air exchanger to heat its plants during the cold winter months.

"In the old days, a lot of heat just went out the top of the building. Now we capture that heat and use it in our buildings," Esch says.

Waupaca Foundry first began looking at sustainability issues more than 10 years ago. "We've been fortunate to a very pro-active management team that wants to do the right thing when it comes to the environment," Esch says.

In recent months, the company earned the American Council of Engineering Companies Engineering Excellence Award in Wisconsin and a national engineering excellence recognition award while also being admitted to the state's Green Tier program. Waupaca Foundry also received multiple commendations for being a charter member of the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings, Better Plants Program.

The company also has its own internal goals, such as reducing energy use by 25 percent and reducing water usage by 80 percent before 2020, Esch says. Another goal – reducing spent foundry sand by 30 percent – has forced the company to get creative, Esch says.

Waupaca Foundry uses tons of sand annually in its casting process. The sand is then shaken off and reused; more than 800,000 tons of sand is reused in this way annually. Once the sand can no longer be used in the casting process, Waupaca Foundry looks beyond its doors to find uses for its sand, including in the construction, mining and agriculture industries. In construction, the sand is used in road projects while in agriculture, it's used to line manure pits and even bedding for animals. In the mining industry, the sand fills holes in the ground left behind by extracting operations.

Foundry sand doesn't look like typical sand – it's darker in color since it's more than sand. For example, about 10 percent of foundry "sand" is actually clay.

"Clay doesn't allow water to penetrate, which is why our sand is used so much for landfill or manure pits," Esch says. "We're definitely a pioneer in Wisconsin when it comes to finding new uses for foundry sand."

Esch, who has worked at Waupaca Foundry since the 1990s, says "you really see the fruits of your labors when it comes to sustainability issues. You can really see the difference you're making."

Market change

Bergstrom Automotive has left the Milwaukee market. Last month, the state's largest car dealer sold its Chevrolet dealership on Milwaukee's northwest side for $7.8 million to a group affiliated with auto dealer Jim Griffith.

Bergstrom, which is based in Neenah, has a strong presence in the Fox Valley as well as the Madison area. The Chevrolet dealership was its last remaining location in Milwaukee. At one time, the company – which entered the Milwaukee market in 2002 -- operated a Hummer and Smart Car dealerships on the Metro Auto Mall site.

Mixed bag for manufacturing

The Marquette-ISM Report on Manufacturing showed that Milwaukee area manufacturing activity increased slightly in July, but it remained overall in negative territory for the fourth straight month.

The Purchasing Managers Index was 47.12 in July, up from 46.56 in June. Any number above 50 indicates growth while a number below 50 indicates contraction. For the past 23 months, the number has been at or above 50 17 times.

In the report, businesses said that while June was slow, July saw an increase in orders and production. They also noted distributors are stocking less and many suppliers are not seeing significant growth.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Potatoes on a roll: Spudmobile moving billboard for state's tater industry


By MaryBeth Matzek
You can't miss the Spudmobile when it's driving down the road. With an image of giant baked potato on its side combined with views of a potato field, it's definitely an eye-catcher. And that's exactly what the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association had in mind when it rolled out the Spudmobile last year.

The Spudmobile is a mobile education center dedicated to all things potatoes. And before you question why the educational push for potatoes, it's important to note that Wisconsin is a leading potato producing state. We're not Idaho, but plenty of potatoes are grown in the Badger State. Wisconsin is the No. 3 potato producer in the United States behind Idaho and Washington. (The state also ranks second in the nation for production of processed vegetables.)

A 2014 study from UW-Whitewater found that potatoes contribute $522 million to the state's economy annually. Most of the state's potatoes are grown in Portage, Waushara, Adams and Langlade counties.

The Spudmobile helps consumers understand food production and the process leading up to the quality products they find in produce departments, says WPVGA Director of Promotions Dana Rady. "It's a traveling billboard that's also functional."

The Spudmobile, which visits county fairs, grocery stores and community events, features eight different exhibits that take visitors on a journey from the farmer's field right to their dinner plates in a matter of moments. Rady says the exhibits feature interactive technology so they're not only educational, but fun. There's also an interactive touch table where children can play games and learn just how big the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry is.

Stevens Point area farmer Nick Somers came up with the idea of the Spudmobile during a WPVGA Promotions Committee meeting a few years ago and the committee then worked to bring the project to life. He views it as something similar to the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. "We were looking for new and innovative ways to promote Wisconsin potatoes and educate the public about all the different aspects of the Wisconsin potato industry," he says.

Menasha project gets boost

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. awarded a $500,000 grant to the City of Menasha to help build One Menasha Center, a $12.6 million office building in the city's downtown.

The grant is part of a deal between the city and One Menasha Center developers to create a tax incremental financing district to promote development downtown, with the office tower as its centerpiece.

Faith Technologies will be One Menasha Center's main tenant, moving 350 employees to the site. A Community First Credit Union branch and a dentist will also call the building home. The city also plans to build a 300-stall parking ramp.

More start-up funds

The Wisconsin Portfolio report from the Wisconsin Technology Council and Wisconsin Angel Network shows 113 state early stage companies raised investment capital in 2014, a 31 percent jump from 2013 when just 86 businesses received money from angel investors or venture funds.

Those 113 companies received more than $346 million, nearly three times the 2013 total of $128 million, the Wisconsin Technology Council reported. SHINE Medical Technologies of Monona reported raising the most -- $112 million.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Women In Technology group looks to bridge gap

By MaryBeth Matzek
Working with professionals in the IT industry, Michelle Schuler frequently heard about the lack of available employees and the need to get more girls interested in technology careers. She talked with her college roommate and marketing consultant, Kathy Fredrickson, and Women In Technology, or WIT, was born.

"We wanted to bring women together to talk and collaborate on these issues and I looked around and really didn't see any organizations out there that were doing what we wanted to do," says Schuler, business development manager at Excelion Partners in Appleton. "We're all about empowering women in the technology industry to achieve unimagined possibilities and transformations through technology, leadership and human connections."

Schuler and Fredrickson, owner of iMark Consulting in Neenah, held two intro sessions to gather feedback and gauge interest and "the response was incredible. We had more than 160 women show up at our first event. Women came not only from the Fox Cities, but also Green Bay, West Bend, the Lakeshore," Schuler says.

WIT's main goals include providing a platform of connections, resources and opportunities for members; create a pipeline of women to fill leadership positions in the IT industry; influence leaders in government, education and IT; and encourage girls and young women to choose technology careers.

"We also want to show that as women advance in their careers that it contributes to everyone's prosperity," Schuler says. "It's all about addressing the talent gap out there."

In less than four months, about 170 women have joined WIT.

"Our members range from IT executives to mid-level and those just starting out as well as college students in our WIT on Campus program," Fredrickson says. "We focus a lot on self-branding and professional development."

Beyond professional development, members are also interested in getting younger girls interested in technology careers, Schuler says. She adds while most people may equate a career in IT with programming, that's not the case.

"There's such a breadth of careers available – project management, analyzing, quality assurance," Schuler says. "There's a huge range of interests there."

While meetings feature speakers on different topics – the September meeting focuses on leading through change -- there's also time for networking and women can also connect online.

"It's about getting the conversation started and bringing women together to share ideas that inspire change," Fredrickson says.

To learn more about WIT, click here. http://witwisconsin.com/

Managing healthcare change

Dr. John Toussaint, founder of Appleton's ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value and a national expert on healthcare reform, is taking his message of how to change healthcare for the better directly to managers in his new book, "Management on the Mend: The Healthcare Executive Guide to System Transformation."

As CEO and president of ThedaCare in Appleton, he took the lessons he observed in lean manufacturing and created a process brining that same innovation to the healthcare industry. After his retirement from ThedaCare, Toussaint became a leading authority and speaker on lean healthcare.

Toussaint, who previously authored "On the Mend," wrote his latest book after observing and assessing organizations making the transition to lean healthcare practices. He says that the ones that were the most successful had senior managers who led by example. In "Management on the Mend," Toussaint outlines how to make lean transformations work and describes how to do it step by step through people in 11 organizations who are doing the work.

Angel network gets new leader

Bram Daelemans is the new director of the Wisconsin Angel Network, the link between the Wisconsin Technology Council and the investor community. WAN operates as an umbrella organization providing services and resources to the early stage investing and entrepreneurial communities.

Daelemans previously was with AquaMost, a Madison-based water treatment start-up, and also served for four years as associate director of Golden Angels Investors, a group of 100-plus active investors in tech-based companies.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Green Bay group seeks to turn vacant armory into indoor farm

By MaryBeth Matzek
A long-neglected building in Green Bay may soon find new life as an indoor farm and agribusiness.

The Farmory, which would be located in an old armory on Chicago Street near downtown Green Bay, received a $50,000 grant recently from the United States Conference of Mayors to help get the project up and running. NeighborWorks Green Bay, a non-profit committed to revitalizing neighborhoods and promoting homeownership, would run the operation, which would grow produce inside the building and then sell it to fund on-going operations.

Noel Halvorsen, executive director for NeighborWorks Green Bay, first proposed the idea in 2013. Since then, NeighborWorks America and the Greater Green Bay Basic Needs Giving Partnership have also backed the project. The next step is gathering stakeholders to put together a final plan on how to run the urban farm and figure out how much it will cost.

"The national grant will really help us to put our arms around the project," he says.

The building was built in 1918 by the Allouez Mineral Springs Company as a bottling plant. After a few years, it closed and stayed empty until a Wisconsin National Guard infantry unit moved in 1927 after their previous armory burned down. The Guard used the 20,000-square-foot building until 1963. Since then, it has sat mostly vacant.

Halvorsen envisions growing a variety of food crops including leafy greens, mushrooms and some other plants year-round in an indoor environment. Halvorsen already connected with Will Allen, who started Milwaukee's Growing Power urban farming project, as well as Riverview Gardens, an urban farm in downtown Appleton.

Besides growing crops, Halvorsen says The Farmory would provide an economic boost to the neighborhood and also serve as a training site to help people learn job skills.

Training center adds on

Operating engineers from around Wisconsin have a new place to go for year-round training. Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a new 108,000-square-foot addition at the Wisconsin Operating Engineers training center just east of Coloma.

Operating Engineers Local 139, the parent organization of Wisconsin Operating Engineers, funded the $10 million project entirely through members' paycheck deductions.

The 400-acre training center is busiest the first four months of the year as thousands of operating engineers from around the state come to improve their skills. The addition's centerpiece is a 51,000-square-foot indoor arena with a sand floor and a roof more than 60 feet in height at the centerline, which means engineers will have the ability to train inside during Wisconsin's winters.

"We'll keep the inside temperature above freezing so our members can run cranes, bulldozers, excavators and the other pieces of heavy construction equipment that we operate, without Old Man Winter getting in the way," says Terry McGowan, president/business manager of Operating Engineers Local 139.

McGowan says the center contributes to the local economy since many of the trainees stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.

Manufacturer plans Northwoods expansion

Great Northern Innovation LLC, a manufacturer of rubber screen media and wear components used in mining and aggregate operations, plans to bring 35 new jobs to Milltown, a small town in northwestern Wisconsin.

The company, which was started by Gabe Feuerhelm just a year ago in Polk County, is leasing a new 22,000-square-foot building and has plans to buy additional equipment to help meet its growing customer demand. The construction project will be complete this fall.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is giving Great Northern Innovation up to $180,000 in state tax credits through 2018. The actual amount of the tax credits is linked to the number of new jobs created.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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