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Friday, August 29, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Emergent Labs expands programs into Fond du Lac


By MaryBeth Matzek
Jay Smith of Fond du Lac is an entrepreneur at heart. The chief executive officer of Draiochta Labs, a game developer, participated in an Emergent Labs program in Milwaukee last year. He came away with a $10,000 grant for his business and the idea to bring Emergent Labs to Fond du Lac.

Founded by video game developer Emil Harmsen, Emergent Labs is a business accelerator class. In 2013, Harmsen received grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. for his Milwaukee class and to help five businesses – including Smith's – get off the ground.

"After I went through it, I told Emil that I really wanted to bring this to Fond du Lac. There are so many people out there with great ideas, but just can't get to that next stage because no bank will talk to them. Emergent Labs will help them achieve their dreams," Smith says. "Entrepreneurs are the future of our economy and anything we can do to help people start their businesses here is good for the local economy."

The free 12-week class starts Sept. 17 and Smith hopes to offer another one in the spring. In the program, students learn lean and agile business practices that will help them in the high-tech business world. They'll also gain powerful connections.

"They'll learn a lot about networking and how to grow and use your networks to help your business," he says, adding that students who complete the program will be eligible for a $10,000 grant to help them take their idea to the next stage.

Smith says there are many people in the Fond du Lac area who have ideas related to hardware and software projects and devices. "I think you would be surprised. A lot of people have ideas, but can't get them developed. If we can get those ideas developed here, more businesses will be created and we'll also keep people in the community rather than having them take their idea and move somewhere else," he says.

Smith brought together numerous local businesses and organizations to support the new initiative, including the Fond du Lac Economic Development Corp., where the initial class will be offered. Eventually, he wants to see the class housed in the Emergent Technology Center in Fond du Lac, a building that will also house a college based on the mentor-student concept, open collaborative work spaces, maker spaces where entrepreneurs can fabricate a prototype and offices.

"We're looking at a few spaces. This is something we're very excited about," Smith says. "People talk all the time about manufacturing jobs, but I believe technology can lead to lots of new jobs too. I think the Fox Valley has what it takes to be a place where technology companies can take root and grow."

For more information about the business accelerator class, please visit http://www.emergentlabs.org.

Growing the team

Team Industries, a pipe fabricator company in Kaukauna, looks to finish a 54,000-square-foot expansion this fall that may eventually lead to them adding 155 new fabrication and welding jobs.

The new hires are expected to come on within the next couple of years, company officials say.

Team recently completed a 30,000-square-foot expansion of its loading facility and bought a 225,000-square-foot building that was formerly used by RR Donnelley. All three projects will allow the company to handle the larger and longer pipe spools now being used in more construction projects.

Green Bay medical school loses partner

Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay is opting out of being a partner in the Medical College of Wisconsin's new campus in Green Bay. Aurora along with the three other Green Bay area hospitals initially signed up to partner in the Medical College's new program in Northeast Wisconsin by offering to serve as a clinical site and possibly providing staff as instructors.

The Medical College plans to launch its new Green Bay campus next summer and still has Green Bay's other three hospitals along with the local VA Health Center as partners. The majority of classes will be offered in a building on the campus of St. Norbert College.

Aurora leaders say its long relationship with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is why the organization is backing out. Medical College of Wisconsin leaders say the school is still moving forward and that they have received 1,200 applications for its first class, which will be between 20 and 25 students.

-- 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, August 22, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Oshkosh creates cohesive economic development group


By MaryBeth Matzek
For years, figuring out who ran economic development in Oshkosh was a puzzle. Was it the chamber of commerce? The city? Chamco (the city's industrial development organization)? The actual answer was actually all three, but now there's a new unified economic development organization in place that pulls together businesses, non-profits and government entities to help companies create jobs and reach out to new businesses to help diversify the local economy.

GO-EDC or the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. hopes to create 1,000 local jobs in Oshkosh and the surrounding area during the next three years. That goal came out of a strategic planning process involving its diverse board of directors that includes leaders from government, Fox Valley Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, local schools, local non-profits, area businesses and those existing organizations already involved with economic development. Originally, the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce was not involved in the planning process, but is now involved and placed a staff member on GO-EDC's board.

Bill Wyman, chair for GO-EDC and owner of The Waters, a special events facility in Oshkosh, says the new organization aims to provide direction and leadership to local economic development.

"This effort is an important new chapter in the history of collaborative efforts in Oshkosh," he says. "GO-EDC will build upon the solid foundation that presently exists in our regional economy."

While adding 1,000 jobs with a pay rate higher than $16.75 per hour is its prime goal, the group also hopes to meet with 150 existing businesses during each of the next three years while investing in the city's new aviation business park and business accelerator.

GO-EDC has been in development for years, but picked up steam last summer when the group operated as a commission through an ad hoc governance arrangement. GO-EDC became a non- profit last spring and was formally announced earlier this month. The group hopes to bring on a full-time executive director by January.

"GO‐EDC seeks to build upon – and help extend – the solid work that has been conducted by the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce and Chamco," says Wyman, adding that the group's by- laws stress it will work together with the plans and models drafted by the other organizations. The goal is to raise at least 60 percent of GO EDC's funding from the private sector, with remaining funds to come from Winnebago County and the City of Oshkosh.

Wyman says GO-EDC is a true partnership that links private sector with the non-profit sector and the public sector.

"We are exploring ways to have the business community effectively partner with others who help make Oshkosh strong with a reliable supply of high skilled labor," he says. "We want to remain business-lead, though, and this is reflected in our governance structure, funding assumptions and broader outreach and development plans."

Changes ahead?

Waupaca Foundry Inc. -- the largest iron foundry company in the world and the largest employer in Waupaca County -- will have a new owner by the end of the year.

This week, Hitachi Metals Ltd. announced it was buying Waupaca Foundry for $1.3 billion from KPS Capital Partners LP. KPS Capital bought Waupaca Foundry in 2012 from ThyssenKrupp AG. As owners of the foundry, KPS Capital invested millions in capital upgrades and operational improvements, boosting profits by 40 percent in two years. Hitachi Metals, which is headquartered in Japan and has foundries the United States, Japan, Korea and India.

Waupaca Foundry operates six manufacturing facilities, including three in Waupaca and one each in Marinette, Tell City, Ind. and Etowah, Tenn., that employ a workforce of 3,900. There's no word yet how the ownership change will affect employment numbers.

Rural communities get boost

The Innovation Foundation of Western Wisconsin received a $100,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help businesses in rural areas. The Innovation Foundation will help start-up and growth companies by providing access to expertise in different areas to help them grow. The grant fund can be used in communities with populations of fewer than 5,000 in Barron, Clark, Dunn, Jackson, Polk, Rusk or Taylor counties.

-- 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, August 15, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Entrepreneurial education program spreads its wings


By MaryBeth Matzek
A program that started out 14 years ago at Fox Valley Technical College as a way to prepare would-be entrepreneurs has gone nationwide.

E-Seed, an intensive 10-week course that makes entrepreneurs think deeply about their ideas and ends with them writing a viable business plan, is now available to other community and technical colleges across the country. Since the Venture Center, which is housed at FVTC and runs the E-Seed program, began licensing the program less than two years ago, schools ranging from Nicolet Area Technical College in Rhinelander to Bismarck State College in North Dakota have signed up to offer the course to local residents looking to start their own businesses.

The schools receive the E-Seed curriculum, access to an online portal and advice from Amy Pietsch, director of the Venture Center, and her staff, on how to start and sustain the program.

"E-Seed is really about creating new businesses – and new jobs -- in the community. It's a proven economic development program," she says. "Our key selling point is that E-Seed has helped create more than 300 businesses since it started. This strategy works."

During E-Seed, each week is focused on a different business aspect and the goal is for students to walk away knowing whether or not they have a viable business model. Students are taught not only by college staff, but also hear firsthand from local business professionals, such as accountants, marketers and attorneys, on what they need to know about launching and running a successful business.

In March, Pietsch is welcoming technical and community colleges from across the country to attend a free two-day seminar in Appleton to learn more about E-Seed and how it might work for them. Click here for more on the co-create session.

"We call it a co-create session where we talk about what we do and why we do it," she says. "We can customize it to their location, too, if they are interested."

If schools want to move forward, they purchase a licensing fee and then pay a per student fee for students who sign up.

"While it's another revenue stream for the Venture Center, it's also a great way to help colleges grow their local economies," Pietsch says. "In Rhinelander, they've had 15 new business launches. That's significant for their economy and that's what this is about: a proven way to grow the economy."

As part of the E-Seed program, Pietsch helps other colleges create relationships with professionals in their community – for example reaching out to attorneys and accountants.

"By getting professionals involved, students are not only receiving key information, you're also helping them build their networks and the same is true for the professionals who participate," she says. "Ideally, those relationships will extend beyond just the E-Seed program and throughout the entire college. It's good to have businesses involved with what's happening at the local colleges."

Hospital venture

In a follow-up to a column I wrote in June about smaller hospitals joining up with larger ones, there was another example this week when Aurora Health Care made its interest in Bay Area Medical Center in Marinette official by taking partial ownership. The two sides began talking last year. While the value of Aurora's investment in the hospital wasn't made public, the deal gives local Aurora clinics a local hospital – before this, the closest Aurora hospital was in Green Bay – and Bay Area Medical Center will get an infusion of capital and will install the Epic electronic medical record system.

On the move

The Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) is moving its headquarters to Schlitz Park in Milwaukee.

WWBIC helps men- and women-owned businesses in all phases of their development, from start-ups to established businesses. In 2013, the group helped 720 businesses, providing $4.8 million in direct loans to 120 business owners and educated more than 3,000 in either group or individual sessions. In addition to the office in Milwaukee, there are also offices in Madison, Racine, Kenosha and three virtual rural offices.

The WWBIC is the latest business to move into Schlitz Park this year. Other new tenants include HAS Bank, UMB Fund Services, My Dwelling, and RDA Enthusiast Brands.

-- 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, August 8, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Preservation program looks to keep ag economy vibrant


By MaryBeth Matzek
To Matt Zoschke, agricultural enterprise areas aren’t just about preserving farmland. They’re also about preserving a way of life and the local economy.

Zoschke, the Clark County land conservationist, is active in two agricultural enterprise areas or AEAs in Wisconsin – Heart of America’s Dairyland, which covers land in Marathon and Clark counties, and Friends in Agriculture, which covers a swath of land in Clark County. AEAs were created by the state to encourage the preservation of agricultural land use and to promote agricultural economic development. Farmers who apply for the program and agree to use their land for agricultural purposes for at least 15 years receive tax credits.

With thousands of people descending this week and last on West Allis for the annual State Fair, it’s a good reminder of the role that agriculture plays in the state’s economy. The AEAs are part of a plan to keep those farms that are key to the state’s ag economy strong.

“Farms are an important part of the economy in many parts of our state. Farmers spend their money locally on seed, equipment and other supplies and that spending then aids other local businesses,” Zoschke says. “The tax credit money definitely stays local and helps our farm communities as it turns over several times through different local businesses. The farmer spends the money at the feed mill, which then spends the money elsewhere in the community, plus you have all those people employed in all of the related businesses.”

Statewide, Wisconsin is approaching 1 million acres of land in AEAs. After Jan. 1, the state will create four new AEAs – including Friends of Agriculture – and expand a fifth – Heart of America’s Dairyland. Wisconsin will then have 29 AEAs in 22 counties, 85 towns and the Bad River Reservation, according to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

In addition to Friends of Agriculture, other new AEAs created include Greenville Greenbelt AEA in Outagamie County, the Headwaters of Southeast Monroe County AEA and West Point AEA in Columbia County.

To create an AEA, more than 50 percent of landowners need to sign a petition that they support the creation of the zone. Once the zone is created, farmers then need to sign up individually for the program and pledge to follow the guidelines for the tax credits, Zoschke says. The AEA also sends the message to local ag businesses that their future is more secure.

“The great thing, at least in our AEAs, is that so many farmers have voiced their support for AEAs and farmland preservation,” he says. “But this is more than about preserving farmland, it’s about keeping our farms, ag related businesses, and rural communities thriving and really keeping our rural community and our way of life viable.”

Farmers markets

Did you know Wisconsin has eighth-most farmers markets in the nation?

That’s what the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. This week is National Farmers Market Week and Anne Alonzo, who leads the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, was in Madison last week to celebrate all of the state’s 295 offerings. Ten years ago, Wisconsin had 170 farm markets.

“It’s amazing how many farmers markets Wisconsin has for a state its size,” said Alonzo, while touring Rosendale Dairy in Fond du Lac County last week. Besides Madison and the state’s largest dairy farm, she also visited the Wisconsin State Fair.

“More people than ever before are interested in buying food grown locally and the USDA is really committed to helping farmers find success whether it’s selling to local residents or selling their products to food companies,” Alonzo said.

Nationwide, there are more than 8,200 farmers markets, up from just 3,700 a decade ago.

High-tech boost

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is looking to provide $1 million in funding to entrepreneurs focused on high-tech innovation.

The new program called SBIR Advance is being administered by the University of Wisconsin- Extension’s Center for Technology Commercialization. The program is open to young companies throughout the state Funds from the program are available to recipients of federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants.

As administrator of SBIR Advance funds, CTC can match up to $75,000 of the participant’s federal SBIR/STTR Phase 1 award and up to $250,000 of their Phase 2 award. Online applications for SBIR Advance are now. More information can be found online at http://www.wisconsinsbir.org.

-- 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, 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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