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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Technology connects farmers with their cows


By MaryBeth Matzek
Doug Reinemann, a biological systems engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, was at a conference talking to a farmer who happened to look down at his phone. He had just received a text message from the farm, reporting either a problem with the robotic milker or one of his cows.

"I thought – it's great how technology is allowing this farmer to go out and about doing his business, but he can still be in touch with what's going on at the farm," Reinemann says. So when UW-Extension was looking for ideas for its weekly podcast, he suggested the idea of the "texting cows." After it was posted, he soon got calls from local and state media outlets about the "texting cows" as well as farmers looking for more information.

"The whole thing kind of took off," Reinemann says.

The cows are obviously not holding phones, but they are tagged with a device that is read by a dairy's robotic milk machine. As each cow enters the milking station, the machine reads the cow's number and makes a note of her activity. That means if Cow 356 is coming too frequently to the machine or is producing less milk, the machine's computer sends a message via text to the farmer that there may be something wrong with the cow.

Reinemann says there are several different alert levels. The most important alert is that a machine isn't working. From there, the farmer can program what kind of alerts he wants to receive, such as milk yield or visit frequency.

"This kind of information allows a farmer to manage cows individually. He knows what each cow is doing rather than just a general overview of what the entire herd is doing production-wise, for example," he says. "This technology is leading to better animal care."

Kohler course economic impact

The golfing world may focus this summer on a Kohler-run golf course when Whistling Straits along Lake Michigan once again hosts the PGA Championships in August, but some Sheboygan County residents are more focused on another potential golf course.

Last year, the Kohler Co. proposed building a $25 million golf course on land it owns in the town of Wilson – just south of the city of Sheboygan. An economic impact study performed by SB Friedman Development Advisors in Chicago predicts the new course would bring another $20.6 million into the county annually and create 106 full-time equivalent jobs at the course and another 121 full-time workers elsewhere at businesses serving the golfers.

In addition, during the three years it takes to build the course, 95 full-time construction jobs would be created and an expected $12.5 million in economic impact would be generated. But those numbers don't console some area residents opposed to Kohler building the 18-hole course. A group called Friends of the Black River Forest say the course will harm 247 acres of pristine woodland and that the water and chemicals needed to keep the course green will harm the environment.

Just last week, Kohler said it would scale back the number of acres needed for the course from 33 to 4 and impact fewer acres of nearby wetlands.

The Kohler Co. applied to the town's planning commission for a conditional use permit for the golf course. If that is approved, it would then go before the town board. No dates are set for either vote.

Merrill revival

The city of Merrill in Lincoln County received a $417,250 grant from Wisconsin's Idle Industrial Sites Redevelopment Program to help fund a $1.4 million plan to redevelop 19 acres of vacant industrial property along the Wisconsin River.

The project calls for the demolishing the aging, idle buildings on site and clearing the land to make way for new development that will ultimately create jobs and increase the city's tax base while drawing more attention to the Wisconsin River.

The Idle Industrial Sites Redevelopment Program was started in 2013 by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

-- 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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Monday, March 16, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Young professional groups come together to slow Wisconsin brain drain


By MaryBeth Matzek
Between 2008 and 2012, an average of 14,000 college graduates left Wisconsin annually, with most of those between the ages of 21 and 29, according to data compiled by University of Wisconsin professor Morris Davis.

To slow the brain drain, young professional groups across the state will team up next month for a series of events to get the under 40 set excited and more engaged in their surroundings. The expansion is based on NEWaukee's successful young professional week.

That program started four years ago and features a variety of events and activities designed to get workers fired up and excited about living in Milwaukee, says Angela Damiani, president for Milwaukee's young professional organization.

"It's a very fast pace of activities and creates a real buzz and excitement," she says. "It really shows off what Milwaukee has to offer. Young professionals want to be involved, but they want to be asked and this is a great way to do that."

The unique activities, for example, include a naked ballet event where young professionals mingle in a ballroom and ballet dancers come out and perform to music that most wouldn't expect.

"It's an interesting collision of experiences," Damiani says. "Young professionals may have never been to a ballet and wouldn't know what to expect so here is something they can see and get a taste and it opens up the ballet to a whole new demographic."

Damiani says community and business leaders have been very responsive to the variety of activities. "There's a unique sense of leadership and access to leadership here and people are interested in participating," she says. "We believe if we show them this side of the city, it will help them be more interested in putting down roots and staying."

Last year, 4,000 people participated in 34 different events.

Based on NEWaukee's success, the Wisconsin Economic Development Council (WEDC) brought together that group with other young professional organizations across the state to talk about what could be done to attract and retain younger workers. From that discussion, Young Professionals Week was born. It will be held from April 11 to April 18 in cities across Wisconsin. Statewide, 85 events will be held in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Appleton, Wausau and Kenosha.

Tricia Braun, deputy secretary and WEDC COO, says the week marks the first time the organizations have worked together to promote Wisconsin as a great place for young professionals to work and live.

"We have heard from companies and our economic development partners around the state that attracting and retaining young professionals is a top concern for businesses," she says. "This is a national issue, and we are pleased to help build a collaborative, statewide effort to engage young talent."

For a rundown of the week's activities – which range from a cooking demonstration in Kenosha to neighborhood bus tours in Milwaukee, please visit http://www.ypweek.com.

In May, Damiani says representatives from the groups will get back together to see what worked and what didn't. "It's exciting to all be working together on this," she says. "When we first met, it was interesting to see we all had the same concerns and we all have exciting things going in our communities and this is a great way to bring it all together."

As part of YPWeek, the 2015 Bubbler Awards will recognize Wisconsin's best workplaces for young professionals. The deadline to apply is March 25 and the winners will be announced April 11, Damiani says. Companies are encouraged to nominate themselves. Information is available at http://www.ypweek.com.

New name for airport

Few people living outside the Appleton area realize that the local airport is called Outagamie County Regional Airport. And that, according to county officials, is part of the reason the airport is changing its name later this summer.

The airport will officially change its name to Appleton International Airport sometime in August once a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection station, which allows the airport to claim international status, opens.

The Outagamie County Board approved changing the airport's name to Appleton Airport last year, but since then the airport received conditional approval from the federal government to add the customs station. Customs inspection will allow private aircraft to land in Appleton without having to obtain clearance elsewhere. In addition, the airport would be able to bring in cargo from abroad. Requests for a customs station came from local businesses, says Airport Director Abe Weber.

By the way, the three-letter abbreviation for the airport is already ATW and that will not be changing.

Expanding network

SSM Health, the owner of three Wisconsin hospitals, Dean Clinic and Dean Health Plan, is joining the Integrated Health Network of Wisconsin, a clinically integrated network of major Wisconsin hospitals and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

SSM Health owns St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, St. Mary's Janesville Hospital and St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo.

By adding SSM, Integrated Health Network expands its geographic presence into south-central Wisconsin. Besides SSM, the network includes Agnesian HealthCare, Columbia St. Mary's, Froedtert Health, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Hospital Sisters Health System, Ministry Health Care, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and many independent physician partners.

-- 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, March 6, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: New SBA program connects lenders, businesses online


By MaryBeth Matzek
Business funding options could just be a few clicks away from entrepreneurs thanks to a new online lending tool launched by the Small Business Administration.

The SBA’s Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital or LINC tool asks potential borrowers to fill out an online form filled with 20 questions that lenders want answered, including basic business information, how much is requested, wand hat the funds will be used for. The SBA then sends that information to participating borrowers, who will then follow up with the business owners.

“People are on their computers all the time and it made sense to create a place online where business owners can easily access information about prospective lenders,” says Mary Trimmier, lead economic development specialist for SBA’s Wisconsin District Office. “The SBA looked at this and talked with lenders and it seemed to be a good fit.”

The program was launched in mid-February. Nationwide, there are 124 lenders, including five in Wisconsin. So far, Trimmier says all of the Wisconsin lenders have received leads on prospective customers.

“Once the lenders receive the information, they contact the businesses to get more information and then move forward if it looks like there would be a good fit to make a loan,” she says. “The program is still new and some things are being tweaked, but it’s a good start.”

Prospective borrowers can access the online application from the national SBA website or SBA’s Wisconsin page.

The SBA routes the inquiries to lenders who service a particular area so business owners can fill the form out at either site. Right now, LINC is only for borrowers looking to use either a microlender (a loan for less than $50,000) or smaller loans through SBA’s Community Advantage Program.

“This program is especially helpful if geographically a business isn’t near a lender in the microlending program, for example,” Trimmier says. “It’s just another way to bring business owners and lenders together.”

One step forward

The Appleton City Council agreed Wednesday night to spend $2 million to buy a parcel of property from Outagamie County for a planned $27.5 million expo center, but only if certain contingencies are met. Before the deal can be finalized, a management deal to run the center must be signed by the owners of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, which will be adjacent to the new center; bond financing is secured; and nine communities in the area must agree to a room tax to pay back the financing bonds.

Expo center supporters say the new facility is needed to bring additional groups to Appleton and that it will generate $6.5 million in economic revenue annually.

If built, the city, under the guise of the Appleton Development Authority, will own the center, but the Radisson will manage it.

-- 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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Monday, March 2, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Miron Construction invests in helping employees reach their dreams


By MaryBeth Matzek
Carrie Garczynski knows she has a unique title – dream coach – but every day she works with employees at Miron Construction Co. to help them reach their dreams whether it's starting a photography business, planning out a garden or saving up for a special trip.

"I work with them to plan and develop goals and then holds them accountable to what they are trying to do," says Garczynski, who joined the Neenah-based construction company 18 months ago. "They can be personal projects or aspirations and they can be big or small."

The idea to have a dream coach came to Miron President Dave Voss after reading the book, "The Dream Manager" by Matthew Kelly. The book discusses how businesses who help their workers achieve personal dreams can improve their productivity and retention. Voss saw it as a way to help the company, which also has offices in Wausau, Milwaukee, Madison and Iowa, to reward its hardworking employees and also distinguish itself in attracting new talent.

"It's definitely a differentiator when recruiting employees," Garczynski says. "It sets us apart."

When Garczynski first presented the concept to Miron workers, she admits the response was a bit tepid, but after some employees took the leap and word began to spread about what they were doing, interest has increased.

"It's going gangbusters now. I've also done Expand Your Minds and Lunch Workshops where I talk about how people can reach their goals and also send out biweekly emails too with inspirational messages," she says. "When I work with employees, I use a variety of tools and resources to help them map out a plan to make their goals feasible."

Participation is confidential unless an employee decides to share his or her story. Employees work with Garczynski for free and having her on board shows them that the company cares about its workers.

So far, Garcyznski has worked with employees on a range of projects from how to take a crafting hobby and turn it into a business to helping another employee find her birth mother.

"There's no project that's too big or too small. We talk about what their goal is and then I work with them on creating a plan to reach that goal," Garcyznski says. "I then circle back and work with them to see how they're doing."

As for why a company would help employees reach a goal – such as starting their own businesses – that could possibly lead to losing them, Garczynski says it's a risk worth taking.

"The goal is to help employees reach their goals and dreams and as they do that, they are happier and happier employees are more engaged and productive," she says. "What we're doing is really sending the message that we care about employees and that I think will help us become an employer of choice in a very competitive industry."

Cancer center construction

ThedaCare, a seven-hospital health system headquartered in Appleton, broke ground this week on its new $44 million regional cancer center. It's located next to Encircle Health, an ambulatory care center that has ThedaCare as one of its partners, and visible from U.S. 41.

The Regional Cancer Center will serve as the home base for ThedaCare's cancer program, which is focused on respecting patients and their families by honoring their choices, bringing a team of top- talent care providers to the table, and offering a broad range of treatments, services, and resources. Patients will have access to the latest technologies, including promising new treatments through participation in clinical trials, as well as the ThedaCare network of cancer care physicians and support staff.

Boldt Construction is building the center, which is scheduled to open in 2016.

Decision day for expo center

The Appleton City Council will take up the issue of purchasing land for the Fox Cities Exhibition Center once again next Wednesday. This latest vote – to spend $2 million to buy land for the center from Outagamie County – comes after a six-hour information session held earlier week. That public session provided plenty of time for community members and public officials to ask questions and get answers about the proposed center, which will be owned by the city but operated by the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel. The hotel will be connected to the center, which provides exhibition space and serves as a compliment to the hotel's meeting rooms.

For more on the center, please check out my previous column on the issue.

-- 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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