• WisBusiness

Thursday, August 27, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Reopened Fox Locks good for local economy

By MaryBeth Matzek
For the first time in 30 years, water flowed this week through the city of Kaukauna's five locks along the Fox River. The opening of the locks marks the completion of the $14.5 million Fox River Navigational System Authority's (FRNSA) lock restoration project, which took 10 years and involved restoring and repairing 16 locks on 39 miles of the Fox River, which flows from Lake Winnebago to the Bay of Green Bay.

The restoration of 16 of the 17 locks along the river started in 2005 and construction was completed at sites in De Pere, Appleton, Menasha, Little Chute, Combined Locks and Kaukauna. One of the locks – located at Raptide Croche – remains closed to prevent aquatic invasive species moving from the Great Lakes to Lake Winnebago.

The FRNSA is proposing to build a boat lift/transfer and cleaning station at Raptide Croche, which would allow boats to travel the entire river after being cleaned and inspected. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is reviewing the proposal, which would use a hot water cleaning process to flush each boat's propulsion systems, intakes and exhaust ports to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

"Before there were roads, the river was the cultural and economic corridor of Northeast Wisconsin," says FRNSA CEO Bob Stark. "This project has state and national historic significance and we have provided for the sustainable operation of the locks system."

The Fox River lock system is the nation's only fully restored hand-operated lock system. Lock tenders staff the gates from May through October, opening them for both recreational and commercial vessels. Daily permits and seasonal passes are available. Those fees help fund the FRNSA.

Crews from CR Meyer Construction and The Boldt Company worked together carefully on the restoration of the Kaukauna locks, which were originally built in 1850.

"The lock system is on the historical register so lock gates were replicated to the original wood construction with usable existing metal," says Bill Goodall, construction project manager from Boldt. "It's not something you do every day."

The locks were built in the 1840s and 1850s to help boats and ships travel the Fox River, which falls 168 feet between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay. The locks, along with dams and canals, were built to tame the rapids and make it easier to transport people and goods along the river. The Army Corps of Engineers took over the operation of the locks in the late 1800s. In 1984, the Corps announced the locks' closure. The Army Corps of Engineers turned the locks over to the state in 2004, who then created the FRNSA to repair and reopen the locks.

Stark says there are several proposals in the works to attract visitors to the locks, including the boat lift/transfer station and a planned visitor and education center in Appleton.

Ariens expansion

Ariens is spending $9 million to upgrade and expand its product development facility in Brillion. The new Ariens Company Design and Development Center will be built in three phases over the next three years. The 45,000-square-foot facility will include a new engineering and technical center, industrial design studio, model shop, prototyping lab and a complete state-of-the-art validation and testing center.

The center will provide testing and production validation of outdoor power equipment, including the company's snowthrowers, mowing equipment and outdoor products for both the consumer and professional markets.

St. Norbert gift

Businessman Michael Van Asten, a 1975 graduate of St. Norbert College, gave $1.75 million for its new Gehl-Mulva Science Center and to provide scholarships for students. He owns Liberty Hall, a conference facility in Kimberly, and has an ownership stake in six Hilton properties around the country.

The larger portion of the donation, $1 million, is making possible the Michael Van Asten Auditorium, one of the primary teaching spaces in the state-of-the-art Gehl-Mulva Science Center. The remainder will go to establish the Van Asten Fellows program, which provides financial support to students who are in their junior and senior years and who have been exceptional academic achievers.

-- 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, August 13, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: River Falls looks to launch business incubator

By MaryBeth Matzek
The area around River Falls, which straddles Pierce and St. Croix counties in western Wisconsin and is about 45 minutes away from the Twin Cities, is one of the fastest growing areas in the state. With all those people streaming in, plus being home to a University of Wisconsin campus, the area is ideal for entrepreneurs seeking to start their own businesses.

To help budding business owners, a coalition has come together to create a business incubator in River Falls. Led by the UW-River Falls' Center for Innovation and Business Development and the city, the goal is to create a physical place where entrepreneurs can develop and hone their ideas into thriving businesses. There will also be programs and classes in place to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas into viable businesses.

River Falls City Administrator Scot Simpson says the idea for an incubator has been around for a while in the community, but really has taken off in the past year as the university grew its Center for Innovation and Business Development.

"There's a lot of small business growth potential in this part of the state," he says. "We're one of the fastest growing parts of Wisconsin and UW-River Falls has seen a lot of interest in their center programming since it started about a year ago."

The business incubator would include 30,000-square-feet of flexible space for both manufacturing and offices. To make the project a reality, the partners – which besides the city and university include both counties, Chippewa Valley Technical College and local businesses – is looking to the state and federal government for help. Wisconsin legislators included $750,000 in the most recent state budget for the project, but that's contingent on the project receiving a $1.4 million federal grant.

"Once the incubator is built, we'll have standard programs in place to help businesses," says Danielle Campeau, director of UW-River Fall's Center for Innovation and Business Development. "We expect businesses to be there for about three years. We'll also look to provide grants too. We'll set specific goals for the different businesses."

Campeau says the college has a close relationship with WiSys Technology Foundation, a non-profit UW System organization that serves as a technology transfer office for all of the UW campuses minus Milwaukee and Madison, and UW-Extension. That should help business owners as they look to get patents or trademarks, she adds.

"We have a lot of interest in innovation and have a great ecosystem for entrepreneurship in the area," Campeau says. "The incubator will really be a launch pad.

Simpson says a lot of public and quasi-public organizations are coming together to make the incubator happen. "We're excited to see people starting new businesses and a lot of them are related to technology, which tends to be better paying," he says. "That can only be good news for our residents and community."

As for the university, being involved is a "win-win," Campeau says. "We're getting involved in the community and helping to spark innovation while also providing our faculty and students an opportunity to work with businesses who are dealing with real world issues," she says. "Everyone benefits."

Aviation firm plans expansion

Not too far from River Falls, Airworthy Aerospace Industries Inc., an aircraft interior provider, is planning a $4.6 million expansion at its Hudson facility that will eventually create 45 new jobs.

The expansion will triple the size of the company's existing facility to meet current demand and accommodate future growth. This marks the third expansion since the company crossed the Minnesota-Wisconsin border in 2004.

The company is purchasing an existing 73,000-square-foot building adjacent to its current facility for the expansion project. Part of the expansion plan calls for providing employee training in repair service that is required as part of the company's federal certification as a repair station for commercial aircraft.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is providing the Airworthy Aerospace Industries with up to $620,000 in job creation and training tax credits over the next three years. The actual amount of credits the company will receive is contingent upon the number of jobs created and how much the company spends on employee training over that time.

New Appvion leader

Appvion, which was formerly known as Appleton Papers, has a new CEO: Kevin Gilligan, who previously led the company's paper division. He takes over for retiring CEO Mark Richards, who will stay on as chairman of the board.

The company also announced it was selling its Encapsys brand to an investment firm in Baltimore for $208 million. That division makes micro encapsulated materials that are used in a variety of manufacturing industries.

-- 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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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Waupaca Foundry finds success with green initiatives

By MaryBeth Matzek
It's no secret foundries not only use a lot of energy, but they also create a lot of waste. With that in mind, Waupaca Foundry, which has three plants in Waupaca and one each in Marinette, Indiana and Tennessee, is doing more than its fair share to lessen that impact. The company has a robust sustainability initiative that has earned kudos from organizations and state and federal governments.

"At a foundry, you have a lot of opportunities to look at sustainability initiatives," says Bryant Esch, environmental coordinator of Waupaca Foundry Inc. "We use a lot of energy – just think about how we need to take a bunch of metal, heat it to super hot temperatures to melt it – so when we began looking at ways to be more sustainable, energy usage was the first area we touched."

That led to a heat reclamation project that captures waste heat used to melt metal and runs it through an air exchanger to heat its plants during the cold winter months.

"In the old days, a lot of heat just went out the top of the building. Now we capture that heat and use it in our buildings," Esch says.

Waupaca Foundry first began looking at sustainability issues more than 10 years ago. "We've been fortunate to a very pro-active management team that wants to do the right thing when it comes to the environment," Esch says.

In recent months, the company earned the American Council of Engineering Companies Engineering Excellence Award in Wisconsin and a national engineering excellence recognition award while also being admitted to the state's Green Tier program. Waupaca Foundry also received multiple commendations for being a charter member of the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings, Better Plants Program.

The company also has its own internal goals, such as reducing energy use by 25 percent and reducing water usage by 80 percent before 2020, Esch says. Another goal – reducing spent foundry sand by 30 percent – has forced the company to get creative, Esch says.

Waupaca Foundry uses tons of sand annually in its casting process. The sand is then shaken off and reused; more than 800,000 tons of sand is reused in this way annually. Once the sand can no longer be used in the casting process, Waupaca Foundry looks beyond its doors to find uses for its sand, including in the construction, mining and agriculture industries. In construction, the sand is used in road projects while in agriculture, it's used to line manure pits and even bedding for animals. In the mining industry, the sand fills holes in the ground left behind by extracting operations.

Foundry sand doesn't look like typical sand – it's darker in color since it's more than sand. For example, about 10 percent of foundry "sand" is actually clay.

"Clay doesn't allow water to penetrate, which is why our sand is used so much for landfill or manure pits," Esch says. "We're definitely a pioneer in Wisconsin when it comes to finding new uses for foundry sand."

Esch, who has worked at Waupaca Foundry since the 1990s, says "you really see the fruits of your labors when it comes to sustainability issues. You can really see the difference you're making."

Market change

Bergstrom Automotive has left the Milwaukee market. Last month, the state's largest car dealer sold its Chevrolet dealership on Milwaukee's northwest side for $7.8 million to a group affiliated with auto dealer Jim Griffith.

Bergstrom, which is based in Neenah, has a strong presence in the Fox Valley as well as the Madison area. The Chevrolet dealership was its last remaining location in Milwaukee. At one time, the company – which entered the Milwaukee market in 2002 -- operated a Hummer and Smart Car dealerships on the Metro Auto Mall site.

Mixed bag for manufacturing

The Marquette-ISM Report on Manufacturing showed that Milwaukee area manufacturing activity increased slightly in July, but it remained overall in negative territory for the fourth straight month.

The Purchasing Managers Index was 47.12 in July, up from 46.56 in June. Any number above 50 indicates growth while a number below 50 indicates contraction. For the past 23 months, the number has been at or above 50 17 times.

In the report, businesses said that while June was slow, July saw an increase in orders and production. They also noted distributors are stocking less and many suppliers are not seeing significant growth.

-- 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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