Tag Archives: Business

The Business News: Wausau on Water

Wausau on Water Kicks-off Wausau Riverfront Development
Perseverance Pays Off for Family Enterprise

For years, the Wausau riverfront, between Bridge Street and the Dudley Tower, has been a development priority for the City of Wausau. Following the opening of River’s Edge Trail in December 2016, the highly-anticipated Wausau on Water, or WOW Family Entertainment Center, opened on December 26, 2016. Further developments on the 16-acre riverfront are already in process by the city.

“We’re a family entertainment center with something for everyone,” says General Manager and Co-Owner Evan Greenwood. “There is fun for the families in the game room, and parents can sit in the full-service restaurant while the kids play. We also cater to corporate events with our laser tag. We’ve already hosted birthday parties, reunions, and it will be a great place to watch the Packers.” Several local companies have already taken advantage of the laser tag as a corporate team-building retreat.

The facility features 40 brand new arcade games, a 6,000 square feet laser tag arena, three private rooms for events, and the sports bar and restaurant which is covered with windows to provide optimal riverfront viewing. “There isn’t a bad seat anywhere in our restaurant,” says Julie Greenwood, Co-Owner. “We designed it that way so everyone would have a great view of the river.” Their outdoor patio will also be opening soon and will not only overlook the beautiful Wisconsin River, but also a park being designed by the City of Wausau. That park will feature a kayak launch, exercise area, giant chess board, and other fun activities for all ages.

Getting everything in place for WOW didn’t happen overnight. It took over five years of coordination and a lot of perseverance from the Greenwood family. That persistence seems to have paid off though. Already, they have almost 6,000 followers on Facebook and business has been steady since their opening. Online reviews have also been boasting the same thing. One said, “Wonderful casual dining experience. Friendly staff. Great service. Beautiful view of the River Walk area.” Another claimed, “Stopped today for the first time. Very nice new place, on the river with a great view. Inside is very clean, nice wait staff and very good food, using local businesses for many of their supplies, very good quality food. Meat from Townline Market meats is always excellent. Buns from Kreger’s Bakery a couple blocks away also excellent. Many tv’s…”

Sourcing from local businesses is important for Wausau on Water. In addition to Townline Market and Kregers, as mentioned above, WOW is working closely with Nueske’s and Kim’s BS Sauce to support their menu. “Tell that cook you’ve got some great food,” a satisfied customer shares with Julie as he walked by to prove that point. Their food has already made a large splash with the USA Today as well. Daniel Higgins, food and drink reporter, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, came as a secret shopper and highlighted their Bourbon BBQ Brisket Macaroni Grilled Cheese. “This sandwich…pushes the limits of when a grilled cheese becomes just a sandwich with cheese,” claimed Higgins before adding to his mouth-watering review.

In addition to local sourcing, WOW Family Entertainment Center, has another important element of Wisconsin lore. Their bar will look familiar to Green Bay Packers fans since it once was the trademark bar of Curly’s Pub, located in Lambeau Field. When Curly’s was remodeling in 2015, they acquired it and saved it for their idea that has now become a reality. All their art work was also re-purposed from a friend that was updating their collection.

The family focus of their entertainment center is in keeping with their desire to build something together as a family. Five family members of the Greenwood family equally share ownership responsibilities. “I’ve always wanted to go into business with my Dad, and development on the riverfront was a perfect opportunity,” says Evan. “We all have an important role – my uncle, my mom, my wife, my dad, and myself – and have worked hard together to get things to where they are right now.”

Published in The Business News on June 5, 2017.


The Business News: Colby Metal

Strategic evolution key for Colby Metal
Fabricating business has nearly doubled its sales in the last 10 years

Nestled in the small community of Colby, the metal fabrication specialists at Colby Metal take on the name of the community that they love. Their workers are their lifeblood and most come from Colby. Because of that they are constantly involved in the community. Using their expertise and equipment, they produce fire rings to help a variety of charities including supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, local cancer patients and the Jamison Kampmeyer Memorial. The strong desire to give back to the community has only been made possible by the success their business has experienced in recent years.

Despite the fact that manufacturing was hit hard during the recession, Colby Metal has thrived and is now looking to expand. Products they produce are as diverse as the capabilities they have to produce them. The combination of laser cutting, laser tube sawing, CNC forming & punching, robotic welding, sheet metal fabrication, powder coating and milling has created a wide array of products for a variety of industries. Combined with lean initiatives, this collection of skills has created a niche that enabled Colby Metal to grow will others struggled. Mark and Darla Viegut currently co-own the company with Mark Nemschoff. Darla credits their success to “Mark’s (Viegut) focus on versatility – healthcare, automotive, lighting – not just having one customer or industry focus.” Mark Viegut sums up their success with one word. Service. “We show our service before, during and after the sale.” This versatility and commitment to service has allowed them to nearly double their sales in the last ten years, with most of that growth occurring in the last five years.

Colby Metal doesn’t produce many items that go directly to market but rather produces important components that enable their customers to create finished products. This model gives them global reach from their small town in western Wisconsin. Their components have driven on the dangerous roads of Iraq and Afghanistan, allow patients to be more comfortable during their hospital stay and help restaurants provide their customers excellent food and service. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – this list could go on and on.

Mark, who also serves as Vice President, describes his company as “a one stop shop” and has been called “the best kept secret” by their customers. Unfortunately, being a secret in the metal fabrication industry isn’t always the best key to success and their hoping to change that with some new initiatives. Despite their past success Mark admits that there is a “missing link” to the company. All new ideas and strategic directions are directed by a small group of owners. Like many business owners, they want to ensure there is a system in place to help guide the business that they’ve spent years growing and improving, as they begin stepping out of the day to day operational picture.

For Colby Metal, the first step was to develop their newly minted business plan. Initially created to be their road map to the future, it also captures some of the strategic elements they need to focus on for long term viability. One of these elements is to establish an advisory board. Darla, also Director of Human Resources, hopes “an advisory board will bring new ideas to business at a higher level.” The owners also expect that this will provide more structure to decision making. Right now, they are in the process of writing guidelines for the board. Advisory boards differ from corporate boards by providing advice and guidance rather than providing governance to large corporations. Many entrepreneurs and small to medium business owners turn to advisory boards as they expand and look to remain viable by creating strategic objectives.

Although there are many key focus areas, one of the most important was to review and update their organization structure. They realized that their management structure was still operating as it was before their growth occurred. Based on that, Colby Metal re-examined their organizational structure and has redesigned it to cater to a growing company. Now that they’ve revamped their structure, they plan to get the right people in the right position and then create stability that will allow them to excel at their roles. With current managers taking on more responsibility and new managers in the mix, they also established a three phase training program to give their leaders the skills they need to succeed. Skills include flexibility, communication, following up and delegation to start and evolve into being a visionary leader that can lead change and motivate a team to success. Not only will this training give their current leaders the skills they need to take Colby Metal to the next level, but it gives the organization the confidence that their leaders are ready to assume roles with greater responsibilities when the time comes.

Hard work and dedication combined with expertise in a high demand field led Colby Metal to success, but continuing that success into the future will take a different approach. Colby Metal has made a commitment to grow and evolve. Their business plan, advisory board and setting conditions to allow their management team to succeed will help Colby Metal look into the future and set a strategic path that will guide them to growth and continuing success.

Published in The Business News on July 6, 2015


The Business News: UWSP’s Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

WIST research helps fuel business innovation
UWSP institute looks for creative ways to spark local economic development

Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST), part of UW-Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources, provides research, laboratory services, and education for business and industry. Their ultimate goal is to bring new ideas and innovation from the university to the private sector. Based on the results they’ve achieved in the six years since their inception and the ongoing demand from local businesses for their services, they’ve lived up to their lofty expectations. Now they’re looking to push the envelope to find new and creative ways to spark local economic development.

Justin Hall, WIST project manager, analyzes natural extracts from potato peels.
Photo courtesy of UW-Stevens Point

“All the work we do is with some form of business partnership,” explained Paul Fowler, Executive Director of WIST. “We focus on improving economic development, sustainability, and minimizing environmental impact and naturally find ourselves working with industries that utilize natural resources.” Some of these include the paper industry, vegetable and fruit growers, and companies looking to utilize biomass waste from these processes. Just in the paper and packaging industry alone they have provided learning and training opportunities to 480 professionals.

Paul Fowler

These connections have translated into opportunities as Bill Cunningham, Manager of Integrated Solutions for Siemens Water Solutions in Rothschild, can attest. “It’s critically important that we have, one, a place to go to where we can have some of these short-term research efforts undertaken and not be delayed by our current research project commitments. And secondly, where we can do it at a place where we can train up students at the undergraduate or the graduate level and hopefully, long-term relationships develop and this becomes a feeder source for our future employment candidates as well. Siemens may be global, but having a local resource like WIST means we can undertake a greater volume of research with our current research staffing, and help develop the talent we’ll need to rely on in the years to come,” Cunningham said.

One measure of WIST’s economic impact is that they have received approximately $12 million in federal and state grants and $1.5 million in private sector investments. This infusion of financial support has allowed WIST scientists the opportunity to conduct valuable research that is then used by local companies to grow their business and local economic impact. “Patents have resulted from some of our biomass research and are being scaled up by American Science & Technology out of Wausau,” said Fowler. “That’s just one of the many examples. We are also working with Okray Family Farms (located in Plover) on an interesting project where we have a test plot of cold weather grapes with plans to extract the resveratrol which possibly prevents symptoms of certain diseases, like Parkinson’s.”

Pacon Corporation, located in Appleton, and owner of the Strathmore Artist Papers brand, also reached out to WIST after learning about their capabilities. As a result, they now offer fine art papers in three grades to customers across North America. “We could not have launched our Printmaking program, especially in the timeframe, without UWSP. We have been able to bring new products to the market, made in Wisconsin paper mills, that will help us continue to grow our business and cement our position as an innovative supplier of fine art papers,” stated Jim McDermott, EVP of Sales and Marketing for Strathmore Artist Papers, after the project was completed.

Founded in 2010, WIST was initially comprised of a part-time staff that focused only a small portion of their time on the new initiative. Quickly recognizing the demand and potential, Fowler was brought on as the first full-time employee. By December 2014, they were up to 13 staff members. Recent funding decisions at the state level have since decreased that number, but the “work hasn’t dried up, that’s for sure,” Fowler mentioned when discussing their capacity. Unfortunately, some crucial projects, such as biomass fermentation research, have been put on hold until additional funding is available. To fill some of that void, they’ve turned to students. More than 40 students have been involved in WIST training and research.

UW-Stevens Point’s initial ties to the paper industry were the foundation of WIST, but with Wisconsin being one of the top global producers of snapbeans, carrots, potatoes, cranberries, and other fruits and vegetables, working with some of the region’s farmers and growers was a natural extension. With their research efforts, they will continue to infuse innovation into local businesses that rely heavily on natural resources and central Wisconsin will likely see new markets and industries formed, spurring economic development for the entire region.

Published in The Business News on March 13, 2017


The Business News: Aspirus Arise

Click the link below to read my most recent article for The Business News, or read the text that is copied below:

Feb 13, 2017 – Aspirus Arise had solid first year


Photo: Brett Davis, President and CEO of Aspirus Arise

When Brett Davis, President and CEO of Aspirus Arise, addressed a group of young professionals from the Marathon County United Way Emerging Leaders last month, it wasn’t sales and dollar figures that he discussed, but rather the importance of culture. “I want Aspirus Arise to be the best health plan in the nation,” Davis declared. “That is my vision.”

In order to accomplish that vision, “it’s important to own your culture,” Davis explained. “Culture is king and it matters. In the Fall of 2016 Aspirus had a terrific speaker at a retreat and he said something that resonated with me – you either have a culture by default or design, but either way you will have a culture. Make it the one you want for your organization.” At Aspirus Arise, they focus on the tenets of customer focus, individual responsibility, mutual respect, and passion as the centerpiece of their culture. “Growing out of two organizations, we’ve had to merge the culture of a health system and a health insurance company, yet define our own,” Davis discussed when talking about how Aspirus Arise was formed. “We’re very proud of what we have done so far. As a leader of an organization, it is very important to also look at your own behavior and ask – am I living up to the words I am talking about? If you are not adhering to your own standards, those that you are leading will not be living that culture.”

It has been this culture that has helped leaded the Wausau based Aspirus Arise to a solid first year sales performance with 59 groups already signed up and a total membership of around 15,000, which Davis fully expects to grow throughout the year. This is important considering, Aspirus Arise “is at the cutting edge across the country,” Davis revealed, referencing the unique partnership between Aspirus and the Arise Health Plan. “I’m fascinated to see how it is going to stack up against other plans.”

His journey to the helm of the now year old Asprius Arise was a whirlwind of unique positions and opportunities, all centered on public service. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, he served as a legislative aide for State Representative Mike Powers before becoming an advisor to Governor and later Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. From there he launched his own political career, serving three terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly and then as Wisconsin’s Medicaid Director under Governor Walker. It was that last experienced that positioned himself perfectly for a Vice President role at WPS Health Solutions, holders of the Arise Health Plan, and ultimately the President and CEO role when Aspirus Arise was created.

Aspirus Arise’ goal is to promote good health in Wisconsin, while keeping the costs down, with this unique local collaboration between a health insurance company and a health care provider. In addition to that cooperation, they are utilizing some creative strategies to do just that. At their core business, they offer individual marketplace, small group, large group, self-funded plans in the 16 counties that make up north-central Wisconsin. Yet, it is everything else that they plan to do, which they hope sets them apart. Population health management is one of their focus areas and it involves keeping people out of the hospitals by giving them the tools they need to take care of themselves. This concept is becoming popular nationwide, but Aspirus Arise is using analytics to make it happen. Their Health Analytics Management (HAM) team is “going on the offense,” according to Davis. “We’re trying to build a system of healthcare not sickcare by discovering over and under-utilization and adjusting our offerings accordingly. In order to do that we’re engaged in the community and taking a proactive approach.” This means teaching people what their medical numbers truly mean and doing outbound calling when necessary for prevention.

Davis offered some other wisdom that he’s learned throughout his years of public service that he’s now applying to Aspirus Arise.

“Speak truth but don’t burn bridges,” Davis imparted on the group as he discussed the importance of being candid but understanding that people receive messages differently. “I use to laugh at personality tests when I was younger, but they help. It allows you to adjust your approach based on the best way to communicate with someone.”

“Have a mindset of continuous improvement,” Davis said. “It’s important to understand that nobody is perfect but try to do a little bit better all the time. That’s one thing that we’re doing at Aspirus Arise, by recognizing strengths as well as what people are not as good at and making a plan to constantly improve.”

Beside coaching 4th grade girls’ basketball for his daughter Audrey, Davis still has “the public service bug” and feels that his role at Aspirus Arise is carrying out that mission, by helping people throughout central Wisconsin get the best possible health coverage.

The Business News: Swiderski Equipment

The Business News is another newspaper that I have the pleasure of writing for most months. After a brief hiatus to finish my military coursework, through the Command and General Staff College, I’m back to writing. To read the most recent article published, please click on the link below.

Jan 2, 2017 – Swiderski has filled a need since 1925

While you’re at it don’t forget to pre-order my upcoming novel Forever Changed by sending a quick email to jimservi10@gmail.com.

Or if you prefer, I’ve pasted the original text here along with pictures:

Swiderski Equipment Inc. was founded in 1925, on the Swiderski family homestead in Mosinee, to support the local farming community and that is exactly what they continue to do today. Owned by Alex and Dianne Swiderski, the company is preserved in the Swiderski family more than 90 years later. By evolving with the agriculture industry, they have captured, “more than 50% of the market share in the areas that we are responsible for,” explained Sly Krautkramer, Chief Operating Officer. But that wasn’t always the case. As recent as 2010, they struggled to define what the next level would look like for their business. Finally, all the pieces fell into place and they have been growing ever since. “We’ve had a pretty good surge here, which started in 2010, and took the business to a new level,” said Krautkramer discussing their secrets for growth. “We got into high horsepower stuff, precision farming technology, and took our offerings to a higher level with bigger farms demanding bigger equipment.”

Owners Alex and Dianne Swiderski

Owners Alex and Dianne Swiderski

That is where Swiderski Equipment’s evolution paid dividends. When they were founded in 1925, there were 193,155 farms in Wisconsin and only 116 farms were over 1,000 acres according to the 1925 Census of Agriculture. Naturally, their business supported these family farms, first by training and selling work horses and later by selling New Holland and Minneapolis Moline tractors and implements by the late 1930s. That evolution continued throughout the subsequent decades. Fast forward to recent years and there are now less than 70,000 farms in Wisconsin and almost 2,500 of those farms encompass 1,000 acres or more. Now, all five of their locations – Mosinee, Wausau, Thorp, Antigo, and Waupaca – offer product lines to support the larger farm operations in an 18-county area that spans from the Chippewa Falls/Eau Claire area to Outagamie County and throughout central and northern Wisconsin.

Sly Krautkramer

Sly Krautkramer

Even though they now can easily serve those large farms, “we have equipment to support hobby farmers with only two acres up to those with more than 2,000 acres,” noted Krautkramer. Agriculture may be the core of their business, but Swiderski Equipment is involved in many other areas as well. “Construction equipment, governmental contracts, weekend adventurers, landscaping, and snow removal are just a few of our markets,” described Krautkramer with the help of Melissa Heise, Director of Marketing and Human Resources. “There’s also another side of agriculture we support, in addition to traditional dairy and crop farming, including cranberries, potatoes, grain, and beef operations. We’re using technology to help those growers and producers be profitable in their own businesses.”

Melissa Heise

Melissa Heise

Evolution of their product line is clearly one key factor to their dominating growth in the region, but certainly not the only key to success. “We have high level, quality people with little turnover,” said Krautkramer with pride. “Not only that, but we hire talented people and empower them. Each person has a different personality and a different flavoring which we capitalize on to get strong results.” According to Krautkramer, that wasn’t always the case either. “We went from having a hard time finding employees to having people knocking on our door because everyone wants to work for a winning team.”

With success due to their never ending evolution and a strong team in place, Swiderski Equipment is looking to continue their success. “We always have to grow and have growth plans in place, but the real key is to capitalize on new opportunities,” explained Krautkramer. One key aspect of that continued growth is what Heise calls their “sixth location.” Right now, they are investing in advancing their online presence or that “sixth location” and will be launching a brand-new website sometime early in 2017. With that, they hope to reach out to both current and prospective customers to discuss technology and innovations so they can stay on the cutting edge and provide their customers with exactly what they require to be successful.

Even with all that, Krautkramer says there is one last key to their continued growth and success. “We support our communities through different programs and community events, whether it is 4-H, the FFA, or June Dairy Breakfasts, we’re engaged and active members of our community to show them we truly care.”