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Friday, October 24, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Doctor deploys technology to improve runners' safety


By MaryBeth Matzek
An avid runner as well as an emergency room physician, Mark Westfall thought something was missing when it came to marathons and other extreme athletic events: a safe, secure way to access a runner's contact information in case of an emergency.

Westfall, who works in the emergency departments at both Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah and ThedaCare Medical Center-New London, decided to come up with his own solution to the problem – developing a QR code that safely encrypts a runner's contact information – and if the racer chooses -- additional medical information. The QR code is then printed on the runner's bib.

"Having performed CPR on individuals who have collapsed at the end of or during a marathon as well as treating several individuals injured from triathlons, I knew that having immediate access to emergency health information can only benefit any participant," says Westfall, who in addition to running marathons and participating in triathlons also serves on medical teams for events he's not involved in.

Westfall came up with the idea after meeting with John Ernst and Scott Francis from Snap Lab Media in Appleton and learning about QR codes. He then worked with the duo and Steve Luebke to bring his idea to reality.

The technology -- call SynChart -- was utilized during the Cellcom Marathon in Green Bay last spring and the Fox Cities Marathon, which was held in September in Appleton. After seeing success at those races, Westfall is now looking to take his idea to larger races across the country. Westfall says the key to his medical QR code is its three levels of security. Anyone who accesses the information is recorded and once the race is done, the codes are turned off so if someone finds a bib after a race, she can't pick it up and scan it to get a runner's information.

"I like to tell participants that even the person who owns and wears the bib are not able to access the secure data without the unique and time limited security code," Westfall says. At the very least, the QR code provides emergency response officials – and they have to tap in a special code to access the information – with a runner's name, address, phone number and emergency contact. In addition, participants at the Cellcom Marathon and Fox Cities Marathon were invited via emails to go online and fill in additional information, such as allergies, medical conditions and any other important medical information.

"That was unique and a first," Westfall says.

This isn't the first time Westfall has waded into the business realm. While in medical school, he developed, patented and brought the CPR Microshield to market. The microshield is a CPR barrier that helps protect the rescuer and features a one-way valve.

"Now as then, there are two factors that make it possible and this is true of any successful startup/ entrepreneur. You must have passion and a great team. We had that for the CPR Microshield and we have it for SynChart and RunnersHealth.com, a related website we developed," Westfall says. "My team is very flexible and have real jobs as well, so we meet on weekends and at off times such as late in the evening, however, we all share the vision and the passion for what we can accomplish. The passion is infectious."

During the next few months, Westfall plans to demonstrate SynChart at two upcoming race management meetings and hasn't seen any other companies offering the same kind of technology. He's hoping SynChart will catch on and that larger races will adopt it.

"When talking with people about SynChart at runners' expos, most couldn't believe this (the QR code technology) wasn't being used already and hope the service is provided at other races," Westfall says.

Recycler grows

Dynamic Recycling Inc. plans to open a new Onalaska facility that may eventually create 110 jobs.

Dynamic Recycling, a national electronics re-marketing, recycling and scrap purchasing company, is relocating its operations from La Crosse to the old ATK Ammunition plant in Onalaska, which has been closed since 2012. The company is spending more than $1.5 million to renovate and upgrade the facility, which will open early next year.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. authorized up to $360,000 in Economic Development Tax Credits for the company over the next three years. The actual amount of tax credits awarded will depend upon the number of jobs created during that time.

On the move

Werner Electric Supply Co., a provider of automation, electrical and data communication products, is moving its company's headquarters and distribution center from Neenah to the nearby Town of Grand Chute.

The company says the move will allow it grow its business and increase employment; about 200 people work at its Neenah facility currently. The new building will open in 2016.

-- 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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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reggie Newson: Disability Employment Awareness Month an opportunity to showcase how employing persons with disabilities improves employers' bottom line


By Reggie Newson
Governor Scott Walker declared 2014 as Year of A Better Bottom Line to build awareness about the opportunity that exists in employing people with disabilities. Governor Walker also has proclaimed October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Wisconsin. It couples well with National Disability Employment Awareness Month and theme "Expect. Employ. Empower."

As a national leader in the delivery of vocational rehabilitation programs, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development's (DWD) Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) actively serves almost 17,000 consumers a year. Services range from transitional employment opportunities and on-the-job training to permanent work environments. Additionally, Wisconsin's vocational rehabilitation program placed 4,415 individuals with disabilities into employment during the last twelve months.

Traveling throughout Wisconsin, I have heard and witnessed many DVR success stories from both employers and workers with disabilities. For example, in Wausau, I met one DVR consumer named Jay who has a hearing impairment and had been on federal assistance. We helped Jay establish his employment goals and, subsequently, land a job at Linetec as a Lab Technician. Linetec was so impressed with the services by our DVR staff that they have hired several DVR job seekers with disabilities. Just like Linetec, companies across the state are affirming that employing people disabilities is helping their bottom line. And, just like Jay, people with disabilities across the state are not only reaching their employment goals, but they also love the work they do.

Another success story to note is Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH is a program that connects young people with disabilities to a series of internships. Participating youths develop employment skills that can lead to rewarding employment. At a recent graduation that I attended, a young man named Garrett spoke. Garrett was a previous Project SEARCH participant now working at American Girl. He has a bright future ahead of him because of the work experience he gained through a Project SEARCH internship through UW Hospital and Clinics in Madison.

A strong workforce is one that is inclusive of the skills and talents of all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. Governor Walker and I are committed to building a Wisconsin where every citizen can dream big and achieve an active life, full of opportunities. We encourage employers, families, and others to learn more about our DVR programs at dwd.wisconsin.gov/dvr/ or by calling 800-442-3477.

-- Newson is secretary of the Department of Workforce Development.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Richard G. Chandler: Celebrate manufacturing in Wisconsin: Participate in Manufacturing Month


By Richard G. Chandler
October is Manufacturing Month, a time when manufacturers throughout Wisconsin open their doors to school students and the public for facility tours and open houses. This October, Manufacturing Month highlights many exciting and challenging manufacturing careers and underscores the importance of manufacturers to Wisconsin's economy.

Visit http://www.wimanufacturingmonth.org to see a list of manufacturers hosting events this October and learn about their products, which range from innovative paper and adhesive labeling to 3-D printed products and orthodontic devices. Several October expos at Wisconsin technical colleges and high schools also offer a valuable opportunity for students to interact with companies about the exciting and diverse careers in manufacturing.

One in six Wisconsin workers is directly employed in manufacturing, outpacing the national average of 9 percent. The average pay for a manufacturing worker in Wisconsin is $53,000 per year, more than $10,000 per year higher than the average pay for all Wisconsin private-sector workers. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue forecasts that manufacturing employment will continue to grow in the coming years, adding thousands of well-paying jobs for skilled workers.

Manufacturing is a key driver of Wisconsin's economy, contributing more than $53 billion to Wisconsin’s economic output, or nearly 20% of our state's gross domestic product. We have worked to make the state's tax code competitive through provisions such as the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit, which encourages manufacturing production in our state. This and other incentives have helped make Wisconsin's tax climate for manufacturing companies one of the best in the country.

With well over 9,000 manufacturing companies located in Wisconsin, our state produces many fascinating products. Take time this October to attend a Manufacturing Month event and learn about products proudly made in Wisconsin and the exciting job opportunities in manufacturing.

Visit http://www.wimanufacturingmonth.org to learn more.

-- Chandler is Wisconsin's revenue secretary.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Job growth coming in areas that don’t require four-year degree


By MaryBeth Matzek
Parents want the best for their kids and for most of them, the “best” includes a traditional four-year college. But that scenario may leave students with a mountain of debt and few job offers. When it comes to job opportunities, the highest growth levels are in areas that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree – health care, manufacturing and construction trades.

“The way our education system is set, encouraging all kids to go to college doesn’t necessarily fit with what’s going on in the workforce,” says Buckley Brinkman, executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. “That’s not to say education past high school isn’t necessary. Rather it’s more specialized programs, such as associate degrees or programs designed for a particular job.”

Manufacturers, for example, have difficulty finding CNC machinists and welders; both professionals pay well. As the manufacturing workforce ages and Baby Boomers hit retirement age, there will be more opportunities available. “In a couple of years, we are going to have a lot of retirements, are there going to be enough workers to take their place?” Brinkman says.

The construction and trades industry is also desperate for workers. Skilled trades is the No. 1 area where companies need workers, according to the 2014 ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Survey. A career in those areas again doesn’t require a four-year education, with training gained on the job or through a technical school program. Faith Technologies Inc. in Menasha, for example, offers its own in-house training program.

“We can take a high school graduate and put him to work and put him through our own training program and once the employee reaches journeyman status, it’s possible they can be making $50,000 or $60,000 a year,” says Stephanie Guin, executive vice president-human resources for the specialty and electrical contractor with operation in six states. “And they get paid the whole time they are learning the trade and there’s no student debt.”

Health care is another area clamoring for employees. As Americans get older, they have more health needs and more employees are needed to meet those needs. Nurses, CNAs and home health aides are just a few of the areas seeing demand and students can get all of those jobs with either an associate’s degree or a program degree. For nurses who earn an associate’s degree and interest in pursuing further education, their employer may even pay for them to go on to get their bachelor’s degree.

With the average person expected to go through multiple careers in his or her lifetime – the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a 2012 report that people have an average of 11.3 jobs between the ages of 18 to 46 – Brinkman says it makes sense for more high school students and young adults to look first to a technical college rather than a traditional four-year college. “I think we’re definitely going to see a shift as people realize that getting a four-year degree isn’t for everyone and that it’s important to look at the end cost – will you get a job that will allow you to pay your student loans?”

That answer may be yes for an engineering major, but not necessarily for a yes for someone with a liberal arts degree.

Boards getting more diverse

Corporate boards in Wisconsin are becoming more diverse, according to a report released this week by the Greater Milwaukee Committee and Milwaukee Women inc.

The report says one in 10 board members of Wisconsin companies are non-white while 15.5 percent of board members are female, up from 14.3 percent in 2013.

The two groups also announced a new CEO to CEO initiative led by ManpowerGroup chairman Jeff Joerres and Wisconsin Energy Corp. CEO and chair Gale Klappa to encourage business leaders to add more gender and racial diversity to their corporate boards.

Engineering boost in Sheboygan

The University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan recently broke ground on a $1.5 million engineering building. The 7,000-square-foot building will include classroom and lab space for students participating in the collaborative engineering degree program with UW- Platteville and UW-Sheboygan pre-engineering students.

The program with Platteville allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical or electrical engineering onsite in Sheboygan. The new building is expected to open by the start of the 2015-16 school year.

-- 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, October 10, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Wisconsin manufacturers bullish on future


By MaryBeth Matzek
It's a good time to be in manufacturing.

That's the conclusion of Buckley Brinkman, executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, based on the data and what he's hearing from manufacturers. Not only are manufacturers seeing a continued increase in sales, they are also adding workers, space and new equipment.

According to the 2015 Wisconsin Manufacturers Register, state manufacturers added 5,796 jobs from July 2013 to July 2014, a 1 percent increase. It's the third straight year that manufacturers added jobs. Meanwhile the September Marquette-ISM Report on Manufacturing reported that 60 percent of manufacturers in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois expect continued growth and positive conditions over the next six months. That's up from the 40 percent who felt that way in August.

"The people I talk to are very positive about manufacturing and the numbers are positive," Brinkman says. "We're far enough away from the Great Recession that it's no longer hanging over people's heads and they are moving forward."

Since 2009, 40,000 manufacturing jobs have been created in Wisconsin, Brinkman says. "We're obviously still not back to where we were in the past, but we have made big strides."

With manufacturers in expansion mode – for example earlier this month Bemis Co. announced a $25 million expansion at one of its Oshkosh facilities that has the potential to create 160 new jobs – Brinkman does have one worry.

"We're going to go over a demographic cliff in about six years as a lot of our current manufacturing workforce begins to retire. The next step to keep the growth going is make sure there are skilled workers to take their place," he says.

Across Wisconsin, October is celebrated as Manufacturing Month with multiple events designed to raise awareness about the industry and available career opportunities. And there are plenty of them. Ann Franz, alliance director of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, says the organization's online job board is very active. The Alliance brings together Northeast Wisconsin businesses, educational institutions, workforce development boards and other organizations with the goal of promoting and growing manufacturing in the region.

"It's amazing how many companies are looking for workers. This has to be one of the top times we've ever had for the job board," she says.

As for why businesses are in a hiring mode, Franz says many owners are confident about the marketplace. "Many companies have seen growth, but using temporary workers and using overtime to meet the demand," she says. "But now they are hiring because they are bullish about the future and not worried about bringing on additional workers."

Global recognition

The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) received the 2014 Emerging Center Award this week from the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers.

The award is given to entrepreneurship centers less than five years old, but have achieved significant milestones and accomplishments. The last winner was the Kansas State University entrepreneurship center in 2012. Award judges were impressed with what the Alta Resources CEI was able to accomplish in its region, and in such a short amount of time since the UW Oshkosh-based center's launch.

With less than one year under its belt, the Alta Resources CEI has helped dozens of UW Oshkosh students start their own businesses. It also provides students with business consulting services, hosts several business idea contests throughout the year, and offers a 12-week accelerator program that helps students turn their ideas into companies.

"We're beginning to create global partnerships and initiatives with some of the highest ranked universities in the world," says executive director Colleen Merrill. "They are impressed by what our students are doing and want to link arms."

-- 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, October 3, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Programs team up to put entrepreneurs on the right track


By MaryBeth Matzek
Dave Linz wasn't surprised to hear the results of a survey announced late last month that Wisconsin lags behind other states when it comes to the new jobs created by entrepreneurs. But while the 2012 Business Dynamics Statistics data shows Wisconsin ranked third lowest in the nation when it comes to the number of businesses created by entrepreneurs, the interim director of the University of Wisconsin-Extension Center for Technology Commercialization says the state is moving in the right direction and creating an atmosphere that embraces entrepreneurs.

"When you're on the ground floor like we are, you can see the needle moving and seeing entrepreneurs finding success," Linz says. "That data is just one piece of the puzzle. There's a whole ecosystem out there helping innovative people take their idea and find a way to turn it into a business opportunity. There's definitely a groundswell of support for entrepreneurs in Wisconsin."

The Business Dynamics Statistics report revealed Wisconsin entrepreneurs created 5,757 businesses with employees, which was about 5.8 percent of the state's total employer firms. The average for the nation is a bit above 7 percent. But while Wisconsin didn't fare well in the number of new businesses created, it did do well in another area: the survival rate for new businesses in the state is higher than the national average.

Lisa Johnson, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., says the state is home to a lot of innovative ideas, but the key is taking those ideas and transforming them into viable businesses.

"This is something the WEDC has been focused on and we have a number of programs in place to help entrepreneurs, but partnerships with other organizations and the University of Wisconsin have also been important," she says.

The Start-Seed-Scale (S3) initiative is one way the WEDC along with the UW System and other business leaders are looking to help entrepreneurs launch their businesses by helping to remove as many barriers as possible. Johnson says the various S3 programs includes financial and operational assistance programs designed to specifically address business startup and seed- funding challenges in Wisconsin.

"Getting funding is the hardest thing for new businesses. We have a variety of support systems in place to help entrepreneurs whether it's through matching grant programs or offering programs that make entrepreneurs take a long, hard look at their idea through business modeling to validate their idea and make sure it's a viable business option," Johnson says. "It's all about offering bottom-up support for entrepreneurs and giving them the tools they need."

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Advance program is one example of a program that the WEDC is using to help entrepreneurs. In this initiative, which is a collaboration between the WEDC and the Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC), small high- tech businesses receive grants to help commercialize their ideas. Last month, seven companies received $75,000 each as part of their program; all the recipients had already received federal SBIR funding but since those dollars can only be spent on certain activities, Johnson says more help was needed.

"We were able to identify that some activities that are necessary to getting a business going such as patent work and customer validation were not covered by the federal dollars so these entrepreneurs were facing a gap," she says. "We were able to come in and create a program along with the CTC to fill that gap."

With a multitude of programs in place along with a long list of organizations in place to help start-ups, Linz is optimistic that the number of entrepreneurs – and the jobs they create – will increase in Wisconsin.

"Wisconsin has always been the lower end when it comes to business creation and I'm not sure why, but there are a lot of positive things happening right now and I'll think we'll continue to see more new businesses – and jobs – being created in the state," he says.

HOW IT ALL WORKS

To see an interactive graphic detailing the Start-Seed-Scale initiative, please visit http://inwisconsin.com/entrepreneurs-and-innovators/s3-funding-initiative


Funding in-demand jobs

Chippewa Valley Technical College will be able to train more students for high-demand health care careers thanks to a $20 million federal grant.

The grant, which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will allow the college to train 148 more students in nurse and medical office assistant programs during the next three years. All of the state's technical colleges will get some piece of the $20 million to help with training for healthcare careers, but CVTC is the lead agency and will use $3.87 million to develop new technology to improve classroom simulators. The hands-on technology allows students to view patient reactions, symptoms and even some surgical procedures using smartphones and other electronic devices while working with the lifelike dummies currently used in the classroom.

College leaders say the technology will better prepare students for the workplace by providing more realistic scenarios.

-- 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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