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Friday, July 25, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Vacation destinations make pitch for telecommuters


By MaryBeth Matzek
Who hasn't gone away on vacation and wished they could stay there forever? Perhaps maybe the boss would let you telecommute or you have a job that lets you live anywhere, but then reality sets in and you realize there are too many barriers to make it work.

Two popular tourist destinations in Wisconsin are looking to smash those barriers. Door County and Bayfield County are both looking to convince visitors they can spend more time – living and still getting their work done – in their favorite vacation spots. To make it all work, however, broadband Internet connections are a must.

"We have worked diligently for more than 10 years improving communication technology in Door County. We know it's a necessity for not only businesses that already operate here and our residents, but also to attract businesses," says Sam Perlman, economic development manager for the Door County Economic Development Corp. "Broadband technology is an absolute economic development issue and we would love to have our seasonal residents spend more time here or maybe locate here permanently and technology is part of that."

While it may only be less than four hours north of Chicago, Door County's geology and geography – it's very rural in some spots and much of the peninsula has a thin layer of soil so to put in lines companies to drill into bedrock -- made it tricky to get broadband technology in place. But there's been immense progress in recent years with different telecom firms working in different parts of the county to improve DSL and cellular wireless access throughout the region.

"Off the top of my head, I can think of three headhunters who live and work from their homes in Northern Door. These are jobs where people can live anywhere. There are a lot of other jobs out there like that too and many more are likely to be created as technology continues to improve," Perlman says. "Now there are social media managers – that's a job that didn't exist five years ago – and it's a job you can do from anywhere. We want people to realize they can work and play all in one location."

Bayfield County – another popular Wisconsin tourist destination – is also promoting that theme, says Scottie Sandstrom, executive director of the Bayfield County Economic Development Corp. The organization has a dedicated webpage and campaign "Love Where You Work" showing professionals how they could make it work living and working surrounded by natural beauty. There's a list of telecommuting benefits, such as less stress and increased productivity, along with information about potential telecommuting jobs and how big companies such as IBM, Intel and Deloitte hire telecommuters.

Sandstrom says the county has great access to high-speed Internet and a detailed fiber network, making staying connected easy. The county is working to get out the word about the area's affordable living options, reliable infrastructure and utilities and quality healthcare, he adds.

And the survey says ...

A survey of state business leaders released earlier this week predicted an increase in economic growth and job growth through the end of the year, but a closer look at the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce report shows there is still more that can be done.

When business leaders were asked what one thing Wisconsin leaders can do to improve the state's business climate, 35 percent said reduce taxes, 15 percent picked becoming a Right to Work state and 14 percent said reform employment laws like making sure versions of state and federal laws are the same.

As for the growth expectations, 71 percent of business leaders predict moderate economic growth between now and the end of the year and 22 percent predict flat growth. Back in January, the six month outlook survey found that 65 percent predicted growth and 31 percent didn't expect any 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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Friday, July 18, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Initiative looks to help Oshkosh suppliers weather defense cuts


By MaryBeth Matzek
Defense spending cuts didn't just cost approximately 1,000 Oshkosh Truck employees their jobs during the past two years; the ripple effects are affecting dozens of Wisconsin companies who are part of the manufacturer's vast supply chain. The recently formed Oshkosh Region Defense Industry Diversification Initiative is doing what it can to mitigate the hurt.

The Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment awarded an $837,316 Defense Industry Adjustment Grant to the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, along with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the City of Oshkosh as sub grant recipients to develop a plan to help dislocated workers and businesses who are a part of Oshkosh's supply chain find new opportunities. In addition, the project includes a 10.7 percent local match from the planning commission and local partners.

"The expected layoffs announced in October 2012 and April 2013 represent a negative economic impact of $91 million in earnings and account for a loss of 1,437 total jobs – that includes not just Oshkosh workers affected by the businesses who worked with Oshkosh who are now seeing less work," says Katherine Ahlquist, an economic development planner with the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Barb LaMue, sector development manager for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) predicts, that about 40 manufacturers in eastern Wisconsin will step forward and identify themselves as being affected by defense spending cuts. With the grant in hand, a slew of partners from local counties and economic development organizations such as New North to chambers of commerce and technical colleges, are now working on a plan to realign regional economic and workforce development strategies to respond to Oshkosh Truck's decreased output and help businesses affected by the cuts to diversify and retool themselves for other manufacturing segments.

One sector garnering attention is the aerospace industry. With the City of Oshkosh and Winnebago County teaming up on a new aviation business park next to Wittman Field and Experimental Aviation Association (EAA), that's one area showing promise, Ahlquist says.

"There are already a number of local companies involved in aviation so it seems like a good market to take a closer look at," she says.

But before getting to that step, New North is working on a supply chain map to identify companies who work with Oshkosh Truck and encourage businesses affected by the cuts at the OEM to reach out to the consortium. "We're trying to identify businesses affected and will come in and do an analysis," she says.

After that, the business can work with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) on a plan to target new markets and clients or perhaps get the necessary certifications to work in the aviation or healthcare sector. "The main goal of this initiative is to keep people on the payrolls at these supplier companies," LaMue says.

Depending on how the program works out, Ahlquist says it could serve as a model for other regions hit when a major employer cuts jobs and those effects ripple through the supply chain. "What we're doing is a pilot program – bringing all these different organizations together to help businesses retool themselves," she says.

Click here for more information on the initiative

New tenant for former Associated Bank headquarters

West Corp., a business-to-business consumer sales provider, is moving into Associated Banc-Corp.'s former headquarters in Ashwaubenon. Associated vacated the spot last year and moved its headquarters to downtown Green Bay.

West Corp., which employs about 1,000 in Appleton at two sites, plans to start with about a dozen employees, but eventually plans to have more than 200 employees in Ashwaubenon. West Corp. also has offices in Middleton and Wausau.

Health firms named 'Most Wired'

Eleven state hospitals and health systems were named among the nation's "Most Wired."

Hospitals & Health Networks annually analyze healthcare organizations on their IT initiatives and how technology is used to improve patient care and communication. Wisconsin organizations to make the 2014 list include: Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee; Fort HealthCare, Fort Atkinson; Gundersen Health System, La Crosse; Holy Family Memorial, Manitowoc; Meriter Hospital, Madison; Ministry St. Clare's Hospital, Weston; Osceola Medical Center; Spooner Health System; ThedaCare, Appleton; University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Madison; and UWHP-Watertown Regional Medical Center.

-- 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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