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Friday, August 1, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Oshkosh looks for ways to grow aviation industry


By MaryBeth Matzek
The aviation world is focused on Oshkosh this week as thousands of visitors descend for EAA's annual AirVenture. Local business leaders hope to capture some of that excitement to spur economic development in the burgeoning aviation industry.

Even before Oshkosh Corp. and its supply chain began feeling the effects of Defense Department spending cuts, local business leaders were looking for a way to reinvigorate the local manufacturing sector. With several aviation businesses, including Basler Turbo Conversions and Sonex Aircraft already calling Oshkosh home, plus the presence of EAA and an aviation program at Fox Valley Technical College, growing aero manufacturing made sense.

In the past year, two big initiatives moved forward to help grow the sector. After years of planning, the City of Oshkosh and Winnebago County bought 80 acres of land adjacent to Wittman Regional Airport for a new aviation business park. The University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh also announced plans for a business accelerator program focused on aviation and a study is in the works on identifying and recruiting aerospace industry clusters to the park.

The work may already be paying off. D'Shannon Aviation of Minneapolis just announced plans to relocate its aircraft engine overhauling business to Oshkosh. The company plans to start with five or six local employees and work with local fabrication shops on making parts. D'Shannon will start operations in a hangar at Wittman until it can construct a facility of its own in the new aviation park.

That's what Meridith Jaeger likes to hear. Jaeger, leader of AeroInnovate, an organization designed to link up entrepreneurs with new technologies, ideas and businesses with possible investors to help bring the new ideas to market. The group's highlight is an annual pitch and mingle event at EAA that brings those entrepreneurs and financiers together in the same room.

"We're very excited about D'Shannon coming to Oshkosh and feel it will be the first businesses of many to recognize what we have here," she says. "We've had a lot of pieces come together at the same time – the business park, the accelerator and initiatives by FVTC and UW- Oshkosh to get more people trained for jobs in the industry."

UW-Oshkosh and the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network teamed up to launch AeroInnovate in 2007.

"We saw what an asset EAA is – bringing 500,000 people who are passionate about aviation – and want to capitalize on that," she says. "Now we want to leverage that a bit and also attract aviation businesses to Oshkosh and grow our industry segment."

Jaeger is excited about the new business accelerator and its potential. "Entrepreneurs will be able to come in and take a deep dive on their business with planning and development. The goal, of course, is that those businesses will be successful and they'll want to put down roots in the new park," she says.

A consultant, which is being funded through a Department of Defense grant to help identify new local business opportunities in light of job cuts at Oshkosh Truck, is currently digging deeper into aviation market needs and looking at local assets, Jaeger says.

"We're looking to see what niche we can fill in the aviation industry due to our workforce, education system and local businesses already in place. For example, we have a lot of machine shops – could those be leveraged? This is all about economic development," she says.

While AeroInnovate attracts people from all over the world, the recent developments is spurring more local interest, Jaeger says. "This is an exciting time for us – we have a Sept. 4 groundbreaking – and it's all coming together," she says.

Water industry careers get boost

A U.S. Department of Labor Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenger Grant is funding a CNC operator boot camp at Waukesha County Technical College starting later this month.

The program, which runs from Aug. 20 to Dec. 16, is designed to prepare skilled CNC operators for manufacturing careers in the water industry. The Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Workforce Development Board is hosting the program as part of its Water Accelerator Program, designed to help water-related manufacturers find the employees they need. Students in the program will earn a CNC operating certificate, job search assistance, mentoring and career counseling.

Urban farm gets boost

Riverview Gardens, an urban farm and park near downtown Appleton that was once a golf course, has received a $25,000 grant from the Ward Family Foundation for its job training program.

The program provides those living in poverty with job training skills using Riverview's agricultural businesses.

-- 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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