• WisBusiness

Friday, May 30, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Thirteen colleges come together for unique engineering degree

By MaryBeth Matzek
Come fall, students seeking a bachelor's degree in engineering technology will have a new option. They can start at one of 13 colleges and universities in northeast Wisconsin and finish up at either University of Wisconsin-Green Bay or UW-Oshkosh.

This unique collaborative program came about by listening to business leaders, who stress the need for more employees with bachelor's degrees in engineering technology, said Scott Furlong, dean of liberal arts and sciences at UW-Green Bay.

"This program will provide students with a degree that has some very explicit and specific employment opportunities in areas which manufacturers are saying they need," he said, adding the degree combines hands-on skills along with more in-depth critical thinking courses. Students with engineering technology degrees focus on application and implementation, rather than the theory and design work that engineers work on.

The regional bachelor's degree in engineering technology has been in the works for a number of years. Faculty from the 12 members of the Northeast Wisconsin Education Resource Alliance (NEW ERA) first came together to outline the necessary courses with input from local business leaders. The next step was getting approval from the UW Board of Regents, which came last summer. This week, the Higher Learning Commission gave its permission, which means a group of students can start the program this fall.

The partnership is designed to make entering the program -- which has focuses in electrical, mechanical and environmental engineering technology depending on the student's interest -- very accessible, Furlong said. For example, a student living in Marinette could start out by taking courses at UW-Marinette, a two-year college, or Northeast Wisconsin Technical College before finishing up at UW-Green Bay or UW-Oshkosh.

Fred Rice, Moraine Park Technical College's dean of applied technology and trades, said the new program brings together technical college and university educations. He added students in the program will benefit from the knowledge and expertise from both environments.

"All too often, students are faced with an 'us or them' proposition when it comes to college choices. The Engineering Technology degree is different in that it is actually an 'us and them' opportunity for students," he said.

NEW ERA members include: College of Menominee Nation; UW-Fond du Lac; Fox Valley Technical College; UW-Fox Valley; Lakeshore Technical College; UW–Manitowoc; Moraine Park Technical College; UW–Marinette; Northeast Wisconsin Technical College; UW– Sheboygan; UW-Green Bay; UW Extension; and UW-Oshkosh.

And the winner is ...

The 13 Governor's Business Plan Contest finalists will compete Tuesday for the top prize at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Conference in Madison.

This is their golden opportunity to present their ideas to a room full of potential investors.

The finalists include IT, health and manufacturing businesses. Click here for a full list of the finalists.

The winner will be announced Wednesday.

WEDC grant boosts Florence County

A once-vacant grocery store in Florence is seeing new life with help from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Since Haberkorn closed about seven years ago, Florence has been without a full-service grocery store. This week, the WEDC and the Florence County Economic Development Corp. year for the contest and finalists compete for than $100,000 in cash and prizes announced that Pat's Foods – a chain found in Michigan's Upper Peninsula – will open in the town by the end of June.

WEDC recently awarded Florence County a grant to assist in opening the store. With the grant, the project developer can be reimbursed up to $250,000.

-- 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, May 23, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Conference puts spotlight on what makes nonprofits successful

By MaryBeth Matzek
Nonprofit organizations may not like to think of themselves as businesses, but they are an industry. An essential one at that, according to Vicki Clark of BoardSource, a national organization focused on board governance.

Clark was the keynote speaker at the innovative Enterprising Nonprofits conference held Wednesday in Appleton. First Business Bank-Northeast pulled the first-time event together to educate business leaders, executive directors and community partners on what it takes to make a nonprofit be successful.

"Nonprofits are a vital industry in this country," Clark said. "I know nonprofits don't think of themselves as an industry, but they are. They play a big economic role."

First Business Bank-Northeast President Mickey Noone said the bank works with a lot of nonprofit organizations and saw the conference as a way to bring people together and bounce ideas off each other.

"If you have strong nonprofits, you have a stronger community," he said. "There's also very close ties between nonprofits and businesses in this area. Many business leaders sit on nonprofit boards and get very involved so we also saw this as a networking opportunity, too."

Noone originally hoped 150 people would attend the day-long event, which featured breakouts and panel discussions on a variety of topics, including fundraising, responsibilities of nonprofit board members, and how businesses can get employees involved in volunteering.

"We had more than 300 people sign up. This turned out to be a lot bigger than what we expected, but that's great," Noone said. "We had a strong line-up of presenters and it's all about educating members of our community so they can do a better job at what they do."

Maria Turner, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Fox Cities, said the conference was an affordable training opportunity that most non-profit organizations don't have access to.

"The conference emphasized two important components of the nonprofit industry. First, that the success of nonprofits hinges on finding the right collaborative mix of board members to govern, an executive director lead and volunteers to do," she said. "Second, a reinforcement that nonprofits are an integral piece not only to our community's enhancement of human services or the arts, but also to our professional business community."

Clark, who travels around the country consulting with nonprofit organizations and their board of directors, was impressed with what she saw at work in Appleton.

"This is something special. You don't always see businesses and non-profits coming together like this," she said. "That can only lead to stronger communities."

Swimming with the sharks

Bankmybiz, a company that helps small businesses find lenders, is one of 25 semifinalists in a national competition sponsored by Miller Lite featuring Daymond John, an entrepreneur and an investor from the TV show, "Shark Tank."

Bankmybiz, which is just over a year old, and other participants in the Miller Lite Tap the Future business plan contest will participate in live-pitch competitions to win the $200,000 grand prize.

Representatives from the Madison company will compete in Atlanta on June 10.

Innovation awards

Innovative businesses and ideas will be in the spotlight on Aug. 26 for the inaugural Wisconsin Innovation Awards.

Nominations are currently being accepted for outstanding products, services and ideas across industries around Wisconsin. A panel of industry experts will review the nominations and hand out the awards at the 2014 Wisconsin Innovation Awards Ceremony on Aug. 26 at the Memorial Union in Madison.

Nominations are being sought across all sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, non-profit, government, education, it/web/software, and healthcare, and from companies of all sizes. Nominations will be accepted until June 30. A nomination form is available at http://www.wisconsininnovationawards.com.

-- 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, May 16, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Fewer businesses get out of the starting gates

By MaryBeth Matzek
Thinking of starting a business? The field may not be as crowded as it once was.

A recent report from the Brookings Institute found that between 2009 and 2011 the number of businesses failing outpaced the number of new businesses being created for the first time ever. While that may not necessarily be news – it’s a given not every entrepreneur will be successful -- the research also revealed that Americans started 27 percent fewer businesses on 2011 than they did in 2007.

Ryan Kauth with the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Green Bay wasn’t surprised with the findings. “It’s definitely a trend that is going on and it’s not unique to Wisconsin. Overall, there are fewer people starting businesses from scratch or taking over an existing business,” he says.

The Brookings Institute isn’t the only study or research pointing to a decline in new business start-ups. The Kaufman Index, which combines U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly survey information, says the Badger State is the fifth worse state in the country when it comes to entrepreneurship with 170 adults creating businesses for every 100,000 people. Then there’s pure data sites like www.youreconomy.org – a website full of all kinds of economic data down to the county level – that also shows business creation in Wisconsin is way down, says Mark Lange, executive director of the Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (DEED) at the UW-Extension.

“That just gives you the data. No interpretation, but you can tell just by looking at it what’s going on,” he says. “There’s clearly fewer businesses being created.”

But as for the why, that’s a little murky.

Kauth says access to capital or overall concerns about the economy could have some entrepreneurs-to-be staying on the sidelines. “People wonder if the business will be successful and how difficult it may be to get funding,” he says.

Besides worrying about paying to get the business off the ground and keep it running, other concerns could include regulations and taxes. Or maybe it’s demographics: Baby boomers make up a large percentage of the population and as you get older, you’re less likely to start your own business.

Lange says another thing lurking in the data is that the new companies actually being launched aren’t generating as many jobs as they used to. “Part of that is that many start-ups contract out for services rather than hire on. For example, they’ll contract out an accountant instead of having one on staff,” he says.

While we won’t know for a while, Kauth thinks business creation may again pick up. “I’ve been getting more phone calls lately asking for help with getting started. That can only be a good thing,” he says.

**Microloan program gets boost**

The Advance Microloan Program run by the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce received a $100,000 grant in matching funds this week from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. after raising an additional $100,000 from area financial institutions.

The program now has $584,000 in available funds and assets of more than $1 million. The Advance Microloan Program has approved 28 loans worth more than $900,000 since it started.

The 3-year-old program helps startups and early-stage companies in the region with financial support ranging from $5,000 to $100,000. The WEDC funds come from the state’s Capital Catalyst Program and are targeted for technology-based businesses in Green Bay.

**Going with the flow**

While it may be tough to get a business off the ground, once it’s there most Wisconsin business owners are optimistic about their future, according to the 2014 U.S. Bank Small Business Annual Survey.

Forty-eight percent of survey participants described the state’s economy as “good,” “very good” or “excellent” and 52 percent said it was “fair” or “poor.” As to their own business, 71 percent of respondents said they were in “good,” “very good” or “excellent” health.

The survey polled more than 3,000 small business owners – including 200 in Wisconsin – about their biggest concerns. Wisconsin business owners are more optimistic than in previous years, but still remain cautious about the economy’s direction. When it comes to what they’re worried about, innovation and plans for future hiring and capital expenditures top the list.

-- 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, May 9, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: UW-Oshkosh center helps students launch businesses

By MaryBeth Matzek
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh students with an idea for a business don’t have to look far to see if it will work.

The campus has its own Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) where students can test the waters for their businesses. The brainchild of Colleen Merrill, director of the university’s Small Business Development Center, the CEI took a big step forward last week when Neenah- based Alta Resources announced it would partner with the university on the center for budding entrepreneurs. Now known as the Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, it has also received financial backing from J.J. Keller & Associates, Faith Technologies, Jay Manufacturing and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

The CEI started slowly last summer in response to requests from students, Merrill said.

“When I would go into classrooms and talk to students about what we did, I always had several come up to me and say they had ideas for their own businesses and wanted help with getting them started,” she said. “It’s exciting to see so many students with ideas for businesses. They are looking to create a sustainable business that will provide them with a job after graduation.”

Students are grouped into 12 different cohorts and work on a number of ideas from app development to a car detailing business, she added. Another cohort of students starts this fall.

“The students involved come from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds,” Merrill said. “It’s great to see how they interact.”

The CEI provides students with multiple resources to help them launch and maintain their businesses, including desk space in the SBDC for a year, connecting with mentors in the local business community, advisement from SBDC counselors and one-on-one support from College of Business staff members. There’s also access to outside resources, such as students at the UW Law Clinic in Madison, who have helped with legal issues.

“We’re here to help students in any way we can,” said Merrill, adding that she hopes to have a business incubator in place this summer so students can work on their businesses. “It’s great to see these businesses develop right here in Oshkosh. The students have such a great entrepreneurial spirit and are dedicated to doing this while also working on their degrees.”

The funds from Alta Resources – the donation total wasn’t disclosed – will allow the center to hire a director so additional programs and services can be offered to students. Currently, Merrill works on the CEI in addition to managing the SBDC.

“We’re doing a lot of stuff on nights and weekends. With a person dedicated just to the CEI, we’ll be able to do a lot more,” she said.

-- 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.


Monday, May 5, 2014

John Imes: The way forward to a more resilient Wisconsin

By John Imes
Wisconsin lags behind other states when it comes to making smart choices for our environmental future while also pursuing competitive advantage.

Business and civic leaders, researchers, communicators, and concerned citizens who are creating a brighter future for a thriving Wisconsin will meet in Madison on May 6 to discuss how a thriving Wisconsin depends on clean and abundant water, and on energy sources that meet our needs, but don't make climate change any worse.

This public forum, "Resilient Wisconsin Day," will include panel discussions to explore advances in energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy that can shape a greener future and opportunities for safeguarding our state's freshwater ecosystems. Workshops for participants will examine climate change and improving approaches to food, water, and energy sustainability.

In the closing address, Torbjörn Lahti, co-founder of Sweden's first "eco-municipality," will lead the charge for sustained -- and sustainable -- progress toward a thriving Wisconsin.

The forum is part of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letter's efforts to develop a Road Map for the state's climate and energy future. A broad-based Wisconsin group is exploring options that offer a way forward on cleaner energy sources, better environmental results, and a more productive business climate. The aim is to promote a wider conversation on these topics.

Preliminary options identified in the Road Map include:

Increase overall energy efficiency in Wisconsin by 2 percent a year:

* The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that a 2 percent incremental improvement in energy efficiency each year will over 10 years (extrapolated for Wisconsin): Save $3.4 billion on utility bills; reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 million metric tons and create more than 4,000 energy related jobs, including local jobs retrofitting buildings for weatherization that can't be outsourced.

* Another study found a 2 percent reduction in Wisconsin industrial energy use would reduce those same emissions by over 400,000 metric tons per year. Quad/Graphics, Johnson Controls, Miller Coors, Gundersen Health System, and other innovators are among the Wisconsin companies profiled in the Road Map as leaders in efficiency and sustainable practice.

* The unprecedented three-fold spike in the cost of propane this winter is a reminder of how vulnerable Wisconsin is to supply-chain disruptions. Imagine the thousands of jobs we could create from weatherizing the nearly 250,000 homes heated by propane in the state.

Commit to a minimum 1 to 1.5 percent overall average annual increase in renewable energy generation in Wisconsin starting in 2015. Wisconsin ranks among the worst of 29 states that have a Renewable Energy Standard. Other Midwest states are moving forward and embracing solar, smart biomass, and strategic wind. For example:

* Minnesota is on track to have 25 percent of total electricity sales generated from renewable resources by 2025 and proposals have been introduced for a standard of reaching up to 40 percent by 2030.

* In 2012 alone, the state of Michigan installed more wind energy capacity than Wisconsin will have in total through the year 2015.

* Iowa, which has over 5,000 MW of wind energy installed (27 percent of its energy production), has 30 percent lower electricity rates than Wisconsin, which gets only 2 percent of its energy from wind.

* Wisconsin's manufacturing heritage -- including its tool and die and machining capabilities, and access to markets -- is tailor-made for clean energy manufacturing and development. Right now, however, most of that business and job creation is going to other states in the region.

Other options in the Road Map include tax credits and incentives for energy efficient commercial and residential buildings and public school districts; the use of a revenue-neutral "feebate" funding mechanism to spur clean energy development; and actions related to transportation, utility leadership, and investments in public and private research and development.

Wisconsin is still well positioned for success in a high-end, cleaner energy economy. With decisive leadership, the right policies, and investments in Wisconsin's future, we can achieve our aspirations for a more resilient Wisconsin; one that attracts more clean energy jobs and investment and furthers our state's long tradition of environmental stewardship.

If you go ...

Resilient Wisconsin Day is presented by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters in partnership with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and with generous support from the Joyce Foundation, the Brico Fund, and the Sally Mead Hands Foundation, and other sponsors. Registration online until noon on May 5 at http://resilient-wisconsin-day.bpt.me/

-- Imes is executive director for Wisconsin Environmental Initiative and a member of the Climate & Energy Road Map advisors group.


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