• WisBusiness

Monday, May 25, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: New app helps farmers determine hay prices

By MaryBeth Matzek
There seems to be an app for just about anything and now you can add finding current hay pricing to the list.

Greg Blonde, an agriculture agent with the UW-Extension in Waupaca County, has developed a free app to help farmers identify hay prices and help negotiate or purchase standing hay. Logically called Hay Pricing, the app is available for Android smart phones and on the Google Play store.

Blonde says users can do a lot with the app from entering projected hay yield, cutting schedule and harvest costs to calculate the standing value per acre of their crop. Unlike soybeans and corn, there isn't an established commodity market for hay, which means finding reliable pricing information is a challenge – especially when it's still out in the field.

"It's that time of the year when fresh mowed hay fills the air across Wisconsin, which also means many farmers and rural neighbors will be negotiating the sale of standing hay," Blonde says. "This new mobile tool helps farmers and rural landowners access the latest hay market information on the go, plus gives them a simple tool to help estimate field value when considering buying or selling standing hay."

Each year, an estimated 2.5 million acres of dry hay and haylage are harvested in Wisconsin, with baled hay alone accounting for $80 to $100 million in market sales.

While the app was developed in Wisconsin, Blonde says farmers in 20 different states can utilize it. He says the app benefits more than just farmers, adding that Extension educators, feed and crop consultants, lenders, rural appraisers and real estate professionals can use the app to find information to help them do their jobs better.

This isn't the first app Blonde created for farmers. Last fall, he worked with Smart mAPPS Consulting on a free app for pricing wet corn to help buyers and sellers better manage the immature corn crop. That app features a link to current local elevator bid prices, a comparative value for wet corn vs. the current dry shell corn price and an adjustment for drying cost. Smart mAPPS Consulting is a Waupaca-based company that looks to develop apps to help farmers.

Moving ahead?

The long-discussed expo center in downtown Appleton may be one step closer to reality. The Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, which would be connected to the proposed $27 million Fox Cities Exhibition Center and manage it, apparently has a new owner. Inner Circle Investments of Florida is buying the hotel, which is currently in receivership.

City of Appleton officials hope that once the new owners are on board a management agreement can be hammered out between the two. After that, the next goal would be to get municipalities in the Fox Cities to raise the room tax to provide funding to get the center built.

The deal is expected to be finalized in the next two weeks and no purchase price was given.

Wind to power brewery

Badger State Brewing Co. in Green Bay will soon be completely powered by the win, according to a new agreement with Arcadia Power.

Arcadia will provide Badger State Brewing with energy from its Midwest winds farms. Badger State Brewing president Andrew Fabry says using wind power is the business' first step in reducing its carbon footprint.

"The brewery business plan had renewable energy as a focal point from the start and we are proud to take the lead in making our brewery clean power based," he said in a statement announcing the deal.

-- 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 18, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Biking adds to state's economy

By MaryBeth Matzek
When thinking about tourism and Wisconsin, waterparks, the Packers and the state's plentiful lakes pop into most people's heads. But what about bikes? It's true, biking – whether it's cyclists heading down long trail stretches or mountain bikers navigating courses – the sport plays a role in the state's tourism economy, which grew 7.8 percent in 2014, according to figures released in early May by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

While the Department of Tourism doesn't single out how much cyclists contribute to that amount, a study in back in 2010 by a group of University of Wisconsin graduate students found that the impact of recreational cycling topped deer hunting when it came to its economic impact in the state ($1.5 billion vs. $1.4 billion.)

"Biking is important to tourism in Wisconsin," says Danielle Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. "We were the first state in the country to convert abandoned railroad beds into multiuse trails."

That project known as Rails to Trails, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The first – and one of the most well-known trails is the 32-mile Elroy to Sparta trail. In Sparta, bicycle recreation brings in more than $924 million annually, with an estimated 100,000 people using the trail each year.

All told, there are 80 former rail beds that have been converted to multi-use trails in Wisconsin.

Beyond recreational bikers, the state also has several mountain bike trails that attract competitors and those just interested in the sport.

Wisconsin is also home to dozens of bike races – whether it's raising money for local organizations or an actual race, such as Race the Lake, a 90-mile ride around Lake Winnebago held each August. Those events attract not only local enthusiasts, but also those from outside the immediate area who need places to sleep, fuel up and eat.

Besides recreational biking, Wisconsin (despite the not-so-great biking weather for nearly half the year) is one of the country's leaders when it comes to commuters using bikes to get to and from work. The Fox Valley area is among the leaders annually in the National Bike Challenge with the Wisconsin Bike Federation advertising to companies the many benefits of having employees who bike to work (lower overall health costs, more productive workers, etc.)

Exporting kudos

Three Wisconsin companies -- Chippewa Valley Bean Co. Inc., Gamber- Johnson LLC and PreventionGenetics, LLC – have been honored with the 2015 Governor's Export Achievement Award, which recognizes their success in global business development. Chippewa Valley Bean of Menomonie grew from a family farm into a company that specializes in the growing, processing and delivery of high-quality kidney beans for canning.

The company is the largest exporter of dark red kidney beans in the country and has the largest kidney bean processing facility in North America.

Gamber-Johnson of Stevens Point is manufacturer of docking stations and mounting solutions for the public safety, law enforcement, military, telecommunications and transportation markets.

Until 2011, the company's sales were limited to just the United States and Canada, but exports now make up nearly 15 percent of overall company sales with one-quarter of all docks being sold outside of North America.

PreventionGenetics of Marshfield provides clinical DNA tests for genetic inherited disorders. The company tests are used in more than 70 companies worldwide, with international sales growing by 53 percent since 2013.

More room for food donations

Feeding America is building a new $5 million facility in Little Chute, which is between Appleton and Green Bay off of Interstate 41. The new 40,000- square-foot warehouse will replace a much smaller one in Omro, which is west of Oshkosh. The larger facility will allow room for more donations, which are distributed to local food pantries.

The larger facility, which should open later this year, will also have room for community and educational programs.

-- 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.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: State-of-the-art training center draws public safety professionals to Appleton

By MaryBeth Matzek
Preparation is essential when it comes to responding to emergencies, but for those working in public safety it's not easy to practice for disasters. A new training facility in the Fox Valley is looking to change that.

Fox Valley Technical College opened a state-of-the-art Public Safety Training Center adjacent to Outagamie County Regional Airport in Appleton earlier this year. The facility provides a place for integrative training for law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, forensic investigators and wildland firefighters.

"This facility is not only unique in Wisconsin, but nationally," says Aaron Tomlinson, dean of public safety for FVTC. "It brings together multiple disciplines in one location to train. Think about it: law enforcement don't usually respond to an emergency alone and neither do paramedics. They all work together so it's important for them to train together."

The $34.5 million Public Safety Training Center sits on 80 acres of land and its construction was part of a $66.5 million referendum in 2012 that asked taxpayers in FVTC's district to help pay for a variety projects.

An estimated 20,000 public safety professionals from around the world already use FVTC annually for their training and Tomlinson believes the new facility will increase the interest even more. FVTC is known nationally for its training programs on missing persons, AMBER Alerts, Internet crimes against children and human trafficking.

"Since we opened in January, we've been quite busy. We've not only had local and regional groups, but the FBI and the Department of Health & Human Services, too, -- just to name a few," he says.

Some groups bring in their own trainers and "rent" the space while others work with FVTC on developing a unique plan and use college staff to run the trainings.

The training center contains several unique features including River City, a scenario village for emergency response and forensic science applications; indoor and outdoor firing ranges, including one at 300-yards for sniper training; a six-story burn tower that presents several different technical rescue settings; a train derailment prop for hazardous materials training; a FedEx Boeing 727 aircraft for training; and a large emergency vehicle driving range designed for high-speed chases and specialized vehicle training. The facility also has trench training space for FVTC's Wildland Fire program.

"Another neat thing about the center is that our students are also utilizing it and most of them will wind up working locally and it's such a great resource to have such highly training students as they enter the workforce," Tomlinson says.

The center is more than an educational center; it's also an economic driver, with many of the people who train at the center coming into the area from out-of-town and utilizing local hotels, restaurants and stores. "We bring in people from all over to train here," Tomlinson says. "The support we've already received is amazing."

Developer looks to crowdfund entertainment venue

Mark Geall, the developer of RiverHeath, mixed-use project along the Fox River in downtown Appleton, is looking to add a 750-seat concert venue to the site. And he hopes the community will help pay for it.

Geall is looking to raise $2 million to make the Timber Mill project possible in the next 30 days. He is using Wisconsin Act 52 – which went into effect last year and allows crowdfunding for real estate projects – to connect with investors to support the venue. If successful, this would be the first time an entertainment venue in Wisconsin was funded via this method.

Here's how Geall is setting up the project: Potential investors can contribute $1,000. It's a loan to the developers with an expectation that if the project is successful, investors will receive their initial money back, plus 7 percent interest. There's also a $500 option too that allows people to join the Founders' Lounge for five years that gets them a bunch of perks (but no return on investment).

While people can pledge now, the individual contributions will not be collected until the $2 million threshold is met. If the campaign falls short, no money exchanges hands. If the theater is built, but isn't successful investors would likely not receive their total investment back. Geall says the developers are putting $1 million into the $3 million project. For more information, visit the Timber Mill website at http://timbermilltheater.com.

So far, two other Wisconsin businesses – both breweries – have successfully raised money via Act 52.

Business builder

The City of Green Bay was ranked by NerdWallet as one of the top 10 places in America to start a business. The rankings looked at a variety of criteria – Boulder, Colo., took the top spot.

The home to the Green Bay Packers' stood out for its vibrant downtown and ample entertainment opportunities (including that football team) plus the Green Bay Area's Chamber of Commerce's microloan program, which helps start-ups get the funds they need to open their doors.

-- 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 4, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Drones find their way into Wisconsin skies, classroom

By MaryBeth Matzek
Whether you call them drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), these remote control flying devices are attracting a lot of attention from businesses and the government. While drones first gained notoriety for their military uses during the 2000s, companies in recent years have realized their business potential with the oil, mining and agriculture sectors taking a particular interest in their use.

Drones are attractive to businesses because they allow them to gather information and data easily from a wide area, says Joe Hupy, who will teach a class next fall at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on drone usage. The class – which is already full – will allows students to work with drones in a safe, structured environment.

He cited a study where experts predicted drones could have an $82 billion economic impact by 2025 thanks to their use in a variety of industries from agriculture and mining to real estate and insurance companies surveying storm damage.

Hupy says given that agriculture is such a large part of the state's economy that the drone usage will be focused on that. For example, the drones will have equipment that will help the students gather information and data on crop conditions. That information can then be shared with farmers to help them with any problems they may have. He says the class isn't just about teaching the "nuts and bolts" of how to fly a drone, but to also think critically about the information gathered using it.

Beyond helping farmers check what's happening in the fields, drones also can be used in marketing efforts. Freedom-based Milk Source LLC used a drone to record footage for a video later posted on social media at Rosendale Dairy in Fond du Lac County, the state's largest dairy.

"The aerial photography allows us to show viewers how we achieve sustainable agriculture in a high-impact, high-energy way. Offering a bird's-eye view of our farms can be an inspiring experience, even if the video is less than a minute long," says Avi Stern, communications manager for Milk Source. "Drone photography has really caught the public's fancy. One video -- taken within our milking parlor -- has been 'shared' on social media platforms about 1,800 times. Farmers are excited by what we can show them while consumers are often curious -- and drone photography gives us another effective tool to tell our story to both groups."

Stern says the first video was recorded during the winter and mostly focused on what was happening inside, but now that warmer weather is here Milk Source is looking at other ways to use drones to capture footage of its operations.

While the use of drones is increasing, the Federal Aviation Association is looking at current rules and considering changes governing their use. Currently, the rules regarding drone use are strict, including height limits and operators need to keep the drone in sight during their entire usage.

While some industries and organizations call for looser rules, those in the aviation industry have their concerns. As part of the public comment period, which ended last week, Oshkosh-based Experimental Aircraft Association sent in their concerns. Sean Elliott, EAA's vice president of industry and regulatory affairs, says the organization that supports and encourages recreational aviation use is concerned about how the new rules may affect their members.

"We worry about the freedom of navigation for manned aircraft, namely aviation users don't lose airspace because of increasing drone use and that the drones are safely integrated with the national airspace system," he says. "Someone could go to a store, buy a drone, put it together and start flying it several hundred feet up in the air and never realize there is a small airport runway nearby, which could cause problems."

Another fear for EAA leaders is that as rules for drones change, it may lead to the FAA requiring additional general aviation equipment for all aircraft. "Pilots shouldn't have to pay for expensive new equipment because drones are now in the sky," Elliott says. "We're concerned with the drone rules since our members are flying every day and what is decided with drones may affect them and their safety."

The FAA plans to announce new rules regarding drone use later this year or early next year.

New approach to landfill

Waupaca Foundry has found an innovative way to reuse the by- products from its three foundries in Waupaca. After working with TRC Companies, Inc. the company came up with a plan to use those by-products – namely sand and slag – in the construction of final cover and liner barrier layers for the landfill it operates near Waupaca.

Starting in 2011, TRC and Waupaca Foundry constructed test pads with underlying collection systems to measure the long-term performance and benefit of reusing slag and sand by-products as a landfill barrier layer material. For two years, the test pads were monitored. In May 2014, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved a plan to use the sand and slag by-product material as a landfill liner barrier. This will allow the company to save on landfill construction costs, extend the life of the landfill and reduce its overall environmental impact.

By reusing the sand and slag by-product, the company will be able to use nearly 200,000 cubic yards of waste material in the cover barrier and liner barrier. Waupaca Foundry hopes to put in the new liner barrier system next year.

Waupaca Foundry and TRC received an American Council of Engineering Companies Engineering Excellence Award for the State of Wisconsin and a National ACEC Award for the project.

-- 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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