• WisBusiness

Thursday, October 8, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: State start-ups can get a boost from UW-Oshkosh's InventureXcel

By MaryBeth Matzek
Wisconsin start-ups looking for help in making the next step have a new resource – InventureXcel, a new program offered through UW-Oshkosh.

This free business boot camp program will be held over three weekends during the month of November. InventureXcel is designed to provide entrepreneurs with customized curriculum focused on customer validation, executive summaries and elevator pitches with access to a mentor network of industry experts, says program director Kim Biedermann.

"We're limiting it to five start-ups so we can really tailor the program to their needs," she says. "We're hoping that once they come through this program they'll be ready for a business accelerator or another similar program to keep advancing their idea forward."

Shelby Smykal, accelerator coordinator at the UW-Oshkosh Business Success Center, says the InventureXcel participants will work on putting together a well-written executive summary that they can present to potential investors about their business idea.

"A business plan is important, but a lot of investors just want that summary and want to understand what the business is," she says. "We'll also work on putting together an effective elevator speech since that is key when connecting with investors."

Biedermann says offering the program on weekends made sense since many entrepreneurs are working regular jobs and can't take time away during the week to work on their business idea.

"This program provides them time to focus on their idea and what they need to do to get it to the next stage," she says.

Biedermann says the university has multiple resources available to help entrepreneurs and offering the boot camp is one way to let people know what's all available. "We play an important economic development role in the community. We want to help grow and support businesses since that contributes to more economic growth," she says.

Smykal is eager to see the ideas that boot camp participants will bring in. "It will be exciting to hear their plans and figure out how we can help them," she says.

For more on the program, visit inventurexcel.com .

Shawano manufacturer sold

Novolex has purchased Wisconsin Film & Bag, one of Shawano's largest manufacturers.

Wisconsin Film & Bag makes polyethylene bags and films and employs about 175.

Novolex, which is based in Hartsville, S.C., and is a Wind Point Partners company that serves the retail, grocery, food service, industrial and hospitality markets, plans to incorporate Wisconsin Film & Bag's products into its custom film and bag brand, Novolex said in a statement announcing the purchase.

Special Lambeau tax ends

The extra 0.5 percent sales tax in Brown County created in 2000 to fund renovations at Lambeau Field ended Sept. 30.

The Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District, which administered the tax proceeds, said the extra sales tax had reached its goal.

In 2000, Brown County voters approved the special tax to pay for $160 million in bonding for the $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field in 2003. It was also designed to fund the Green Bay Packers with a capped amount of operations and maintenance reimbursements annually through 2031. Through the end of September, the tax had raised $300.3 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.


Friday, October 2, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Project G.R.I.L.L. heats up interest in manufacturing jobs

By MaryBeth Matzek
Getting high school students interested in manufacturing careers can be a hard sell. A Sheboygan County program, however, is changing that by showing students that manufacturing careers are rewarding and utilize the latest technology.

Project G.R.I.L.L. (Growing Readiness In Learning and Leading) pairs high school students with manufacturing companies to build a customized grill from scratch. The students earn up to nine technical college credits and get an up-close look at manufacturing careers. Participating companies benefit from the knowledge that by exposing more students to career options in manufacturing they may be recruiting future workers.

Project G.R.I.L.L pairs eight manufacturers with eight high schools to build a charcoal grill that will successfully cook 12 Johnsonville brats at one time within an hour of being lit. (Johnsonville is based in Sheboygan County after all). With 40 percent of all Sheboygan County jobs tied to manufacturing, encouraging more students to consider it as a career path is important, says Keith Anderson, chair of Project G.R.I.L.L. and a technical training manager at Masters Gallery Food Inc.

"We're looking our next employees and this gets them in here and see what we do," he says. "Students have to do everything from contacting the companies to get the ball rolling, to working on the design and the building the grill."

The students and companies decide together where the grill will end up, whether it's the business, the school or on the auction block to raise money for the program, Anderson says. "The grill itself is just the vehicle, it's all the stuff along the way that they'll learn is the huge part," he says. "They're learning about soft skills and teamwork."

Project G.R.I.L.L. started 10 years ago in Sheboygan County as a partnership between manufacturers, local schools and Lakeshore Technical College. A similar program is in place in Fond du Lac County and the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce launched its program this year.

Through the 30-week program, Anderson says students get a firsthand look at what it takes to take an idea from concept to completion.

"We've seen students who have gone through the program enter careers in manufacturing, whether it's as an engineer, an operator or come here directly after high school," Anderson says. "We're showing students that our manufacturing facilities are bright places and it's a vibrant, constantly changing atmosphere. These aren't boring jobs."

This past summer, Project G.R.I.L.L. received a $4,500 AT&T Innovation & Investment Award to help fund the program. It's also being recognized next month by the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance with a community partnership award at its annual Excellence in Manufacturing/K-12 Partnership Awards.

"One of my goals is to get more students involved in these programs," he says. "We're always trying to get better."

Manufacturing growth

Programs like Project G.R.I.L.L. and others like it that boost interest in manufacturing are essential as the number of state manufacturing jobs grow and baby boomers – who make up the largest segment of the skilled manufacturing workforce – begin to retire.

From July 2014 to July 2015, Wisconsin added 6,516 manufacturing jobs, an increase of 1.1 percent, according to the 2016 Wisconsin Manufacturers Register, an industrial database.

This is the fourth year in a row that the number of Wisconsin manufacturing jobs increased, according to the report. The state has 10,694 manufacturers who employ 572,189 workers. Since 2011, the state has added 18,568 workers, an increase of 3.3 percent.

Spurring growth

The Water Technology District in Milwaukee has generated $211.6 million in economic development since 2012 when the Walker Point area became an epicenter of water technology and freshwater research.

The analysis by The Water Council, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee focused on the impact of investments related to water technology and their associated actions from 2012 to 2014.

Property values in the water district increased 16.6 percent while property values overall in the City of Milwaukee decreased 11.1 percent.

-- 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.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: UW-Oshkosh debuts indoor garden for dining services

By MaryBeth Matzek
The UW-Oshkosh has made a name for itself with its sustainability initiatives, which helped it make the list of the top five "greenest" universities compiled by BestColleges.org earlier this year.

Tower Gardens, a vertical gardening system, is the latest example of the college's sustainability culture. Located in Blackhawk Commons, the campus' main dining hall, the new gardening system features three towers, which have so far been used to grow chard, lettuce and herbs that are being used right in the dining hall, says Marty Strand, assistant director of dining services at UW-Oshkosh.

"I had been looking awhile for a way that we could bring a garden inside and I came upon this idea and then talked with a friend who uses it at Ripon College and everything just clicked," he says.

Tower Gardens are standing habitats for plants that use aeroponics, a plant cultivation technique, to grow food at a faster rate than in a conventional garden, Strand says. The tower works by pumping Tower Tonic, a liquid plant nutrient mixture, up the tower and then cascading it over the plant roots. He says this provides the plants with ample oxygen, nutrients and water.

The gardening systems were installed over the summer and students already are reaping their benefits.

"We don't use any soil and it was fairly easy to put together," Strand says. "We've also purchased some light kits that run on a timer to make sure they get enough light. It will be nice to have something blooming in the middle of winter."

The gardens are a visible reminder to students and visitors about the college's sustainability initiatives, Strand says. "This really puts out there our sustainability efforts. They can see the plants growing and it's already spreading through word-of-mouth that we're using what we're growing in our dishes," he says.

So far, Strand says herbs have been the biggest success since the college is able to grow them cheaper than what it would cost to purchase them. In the future, he says some vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, may also be grown.

"The gardens are really neat and it's been a great way to talk up sustainability and local food sourcing," Strand says. "They should pay for themselves within two years."

New Shawano hospital unites healthcare services at one location

After more than 82 years of providing care from the same location, Shawano's hospital has a new home and name.

Last week, Shawano Medical Center transitioned its patients and services to the new $52 million ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano. The new hospital sits adjacent to the existing ThedaCare Physicians-Shawano clinic, creating an integrated medical campus for area residents.

"We were split before with services at different locations," says hospital CEO Dorothy Erdmann. "The single campus creates more convenience for patients and physicians. Physicians can get to their patients quicker and there's no running back and forth. I think before about a pregnant woman coming in to see her doctor and if the baby had to be delivered, it was then a trip across town. Now, you go right next door."

In designing the new hospital, Erdmann says ThedaCare worked closely with community members to create an inviting facility with lots of natural light and views of nature that also celebrates the area's diverse population (more than 20 percent of patients are Native Americans).

The 128,000-square-foot hospital's patient care units are served by four separate nursing hubs that each serve a small number of patient rooms. The clinic and hospital share services such as lab facilities and imaging areas.

"We really worked with the community in developing the hospital and making it a welcoming place," Erdmann says. "We're replacing a hospital that has stood for more than 80 years. We wanted to do it right. We had a public open house last week and had an amazing turnout and people were very complimentary."

The new hospital is also home to a unique nurse education center – a 5,000-square-foot area operated by the hospital and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. The shared learning space will be used by 60 NWTC nursing students annually and ThedaCare staff members will also be able to use the space for training. It's the first one like it in Wisconsin.

NWTC President Jeffrey Rafn says the space will allow nurses to train in a community health care setting and "to train nurses exactly where they are needed."

Erdmann, who helped develop a similar program at a hospital where she worked in Minnesota, says she is excited about the onsite training facility. "This is going to be great not only for the nursing students, but also for our community as well," she says. "Our staff will also benefit from having this educational and training space available."

-- 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.


Friday, September 18, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Sheboygan dairy invests in new technology to deal with manure

By MaryBeth Matzek
Wisconsin is home to a lot of cows and, unfortunately, that means a lot of manure. But farmers across the state are looking to a variety of solutions to help manage it.

Under rules from the Department of Natural Resources, all farms with more than 1,000 animal units need to file a management plan with the state to address how they'll deal with manure. New technology is providing more options to farmers. For example earlier this year, Shiloh Dairy near Brillion in Calumet County put in a system that converts manure to potable water and nutrients that can be used as fertilizer and now Majestic Meadows Dairy in Sheboygan Falls is installing a first-of-its-kind fully integrated manure management system.

Digested Organics LLC began construction over the summer at Majestic Meadows on a new integrated manure management system, which will process 20,000 gallons of manure per day, effectively harvesting energy through biogas generation, concentrating nutrients for more targeted crop use, and reclaiming clean water for farm use and surface water discharge. The goal is to have it operational before the World Dairy Expo later this month in Madison.

"We had been looking at manure treatment systems for years, but we just couldn't get comfortable with either the technology or the costs involved," says Dean Strauss, managing partner and co-owner of the Majestic Meadows Dairy. "Digested Organic's solution is the right fit for our farm, allowing us to concentrate key nutrients for our crops into substantially less volume at a competitive operating cost – that means getting manure trucks off the road and reduced hauling costs."

Strauss also liked that the system is highly automated and has a small footprint. "It's environmentally sustainable – something that's important to us and our community," he says.

Chris Maloney, Digested Organic's chief operating officer, says the system being installed combines a high efficiency/low residence time anaerobic digester with a highly automated ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis system that concentrates nutrients into 30 percent of the original manure volume while recovering about 70 percent of the original volume as clean water suitable for drinking water for the animals, washing and flushing on the farm or direct discharge to local waterways with DNR approval.

Airport property 'development ready'

More than 33 acres of land at Austin Straubel International Airport, just west of Green Bay, has been designated a Certified in Wisconsin development-ready site by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

The certification gives site selectors and business owners confidence knowing that building plans will not be held up by costly delays in permitting and approvals, says Airport Director Tom Miller.

"The parcels owned by Austin Straubel offer prime locations for many types of businesses looking to locate or expand in Brown County," he says. "With WEDC's certification, we now have the opportunity to draw more attention to the commercial opportunities available next to one of Wisconsin's premier transportation hubs."

The Certified In Wisconsin Program, which was launched in 2012, provides potential tenants with all the information needed to make quick decisions about whether that site is right for their needs, such as utility and transportation infrastructure, environmental assessments and quality of labor force. WEDC markets the certified sites through its Locate In Wisconsin website. Other Certified In Wisconsin sites are located in Westport, Wisconsin Rapids, Stevens Point, Beaver Dam, Beloit, Chippewa Falls, DeForest, Fitchburg, Howard, Janesville, Menomonie, Prescott, Verona and West Bend. Development is currently underway at the Stevens Point, Beloit, Fitchburg and Prescott locations.

Apprentice program gets boost

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand its Wisconsin Apprenticeship Growth and Enhancement Strategies (WAGE$) project. The program will add new apprenticeships in 12 high-growth areas including advanced manufacturing, healthcare and information technology.

Under the program, up to 1,000 new apprentices and 542 current workers will receive additional training and skill development.

The DWD is working with the Wisconsin Technical College System and the Wisconsin Workforce Development Association to develop and promote registered apprenticeship programs in the state. -- 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.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: The name's the thing for Appleton airport

By MaryBeth Matzek
Look at the list of airports in Wisconsin and you'll see a new name on the list – Appleton International Airport. No, the city didn't build a new airport. Instead, the new name is result of several years of work by Outagamie County and airport leaders to come up with a new name for its airport, which was formerly known as Outagamie County Regional Airport.

Located in Greenville, an Appleton suburb, the airport is owned by the county, but self-funded.

"The idea for a new name has been around for a while," says Pat Tracey, marketing manager for the Appleton International Airport. "When people fly into somewhere, they want to be able to find it on the map. You can't find Outagamie County easily on a map, but you can find Appleton."

The county board voted in February 2014 to change the name of the airport. The change became official last month with the debut of new signs as the airport celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Tracey says a few other names were considered, such as Fox Cities Airport, but then again "that's not something you find on the map. We keep telling people: 'We renamed the airport to help travelers. We all know there is an airport here, but people elsewhere don't.' This brings greater visibility to our airport."

He says business travelers to the region often fly into Milwaukee or Green Bay since they don't realize Appleton has its own airport. The new name should help change that, Tracey says.

As for adding "international" to the name, that came through after the airport was approved for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection station that can handle private aircraft with up to 20 passengers and cargo, Tracey says. Previously, companies such as Kimberly-Clark and Gulfstream, which have operations at the airport, had their private corporate jets stop elsewhere to clear customs before coming home to Appleton after an international trip.

"I think people would be surprised by the amount of business travel that comes through here. There are a lot of big companies who do business in the area," he says.

The customs user station should be operational next month.

Appleton International Airport offers non-stop service to eight cities via Delta, United and Allegiant Air. The airport continues to use ATW as its three-letter code.

Top performer: Bellin-ThedaCare Healthcare Partners' Pioneer Accountable Care Organization is ranked No. 1 in quality among the 20 Pioneer ACOs in its third year of operation, according to federal data. Bellin-ThedaCare also received the nation's top quality ranking in 2013.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that Bellin-ThedaCare had a quality score of 94.2 percent in 2015 and saved Medicare $3.2 million. The partnership also earned $2.2 million in shared savings, which will go towards improving quality and care coordination to help patients achieve better health outcomes, says Dr. Dave Krueger, executive director for the Bellin-ThedaCare Pioneer ACO.

The partnership is between Bellin Health of Green Bay, ThedaCare of Appleton and both systems' independent physician groups.

Lock closed

Just a couple of weeks after the last Fox Locks opened in Kaukauna opening up the Fox River from Lake Winnebago northward to the Raptide Croche to boaters, the Menasha lock was closed after officials found the round goby – an invasive aquatic species -- below the Neenah dam.

The closing is designed to prevent the round goby from getting in to other parts of the river, Fox River Navigational System Authority officials say. There's no word on when the Menasha lock will reopen. The Department of Natural Resources is currently investigating the spread of the infestation.

Rehabilitating the locks was a 10-year, $14.5 million project.

-- 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.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Investors Community Bank going strong after IPO

By MaryBeth Matzek
Taking a bank public isn't an easy task. Just ask Tim Schneider, chief executive officer and co-founder at Investors Community Bank in Manitowoc. The bank, which focuses primarily on agriculture and commercial deals, launched a successful initial public offering in January.

Taking Investors Community Bank public was viewed as a way to help the bank, which also has a branch in Stevens Point and three lending offices, get to the next level by increasing the amount of available capital, Schneider says.

"It's been a strategic goal of ours for the past several years to find an acquisition and the public offering provided us with access to additional capital," he says. "By going public, we've also increased the accessibility of people to buy our stock and expand our investor pool."

The stock trades on the NASDAQ exchange under the ICBK symbol. As for the stock, it's been trading in the $18 to $19 range, which Schneider said was expected.

Previously, bank stocks were traded privately and the bank had to do a lot of legwork to connect sellers with potential buyers. The pool of buyers for the bank stock was also smaller, Schneider says.

Going through the IPO process was a bit daunting, but the bank's staff was up to the challenge, Schneider says. As a public company, "things are more complex on the accounting side" and the bank hired staff to help with the additional work, including the preparation of quarterly audits and reports. "We used to only do that on an annual basis," he says.

For the bank's general customers, the change has been seamless, Schneider says.

"Now that we're publicly traded, we have a higher profile and we're out there talking with other bankers about possible acquisitions," he says, adding that purchasing another bank will elevate Investors to the "next level."

"We were well capitalized before the stock sale and have also seen a lot of organic growth," Schneider says. "We are in a strong position."

Part of that growth comes from the agriculture business sector. All of Investor's ag bankers grew up on farms and understand what farmers are going through, Schneider says.

"Our bankers spend a lot of time on farms talking with clients. It's a great differentiator," he says. "It's taken a lot of work to get through the IPO, but we're excited for our future."

Residency program falls through

The planned residency program at the site of Shawano Medical Center, which was being developed by Shawano Medical Holdings LLC, is now off. The City of Shawano announced earlier this summer that the group would take over the hospital site once ThedaCare opens its new Shawano hospital later this month.

Under the plan announced, doctors would train at the residency training center. The development company led by Todd Schultz initially said it would treat veterans at the facility, but then expanded its patient "scope" to include everyone. That expansion led ThedaCare officials, who needed to sign off on the deal, to withdrawal its tentative approval since it would create a competing local hospital.

ThedaCare and the city of Shawano will now go back to the drawing table and look at other options for the site. City of Shawano officials say they are willing to work with Schultz' group at finding another site in the city for the residency training program.

Marcus closing Appleton theater

The Marcus Corp. is closing Valley View Cinema, a long-time budget movie theater in Appleton. The company says the decision was made because of the limited availability of 35mm film in the market, which is what the second-run theater plays.

The theater opened in July 1978 as Valley Fair Cinema with three screens. Three additional screens were added and the theater became a second-run venue with discounted prices in 1996. It was then renamed Valley View Cinema.

-- 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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