5 Cool Things I Saw This Year
Every year I travel thousands of miles crisscrossing Wisconsin. It's an honor that in every community, people want to show me the pride of their town, the coolest, neatest, oldest, newest, most special whatever that makes their community unique. It's one of the things that makes my job a lot of fun.
Of course, as much as people often show me the best parts of their communities, they often describe or show me the challenges they're facing, the things that need fixing. Sometimes that's my opportunity to share a best practice, an idea from another community that faced a similar problem and found an innovative solution. So as I was thinking about the best parts of 2015 and the challenges we face as a state in 2016, I thought I'd share with all of you five cool new concepts or programs I saw in action this year in the hopes that people across Wisconsin could embrace these new answers to old problems.
We have great small businesses in Wisconsin, we know that 60 to 80 percent of job growth happens thanks to small businesses. The Greater Milwaukee Committee's Scalerator is a series of classes and exercises that help small businesses get bigger--to add that next location, to start distributing regionally, to put on an addition that doubles production. I've talked with several Scalerator classes, and always walk away excited by the energy, enthusiasm, and creative spirit on display from these small business owners out to make their American dreams into realities.
Talent Upload & Milwaukee fellows
The Fox Valley faces an issue I hear about often across Wisconsin: we have more jobs than we have workers! TalentUpload invites college students from across our state and even our region, reaching to schools like Purdue or Michigan Tech, to a weekend experience in the Fox Cities. There, students meet employers, network with one another, and visit cool and fun destinations across the Valley. Many walk away not only with a fistful of business cards from potential employers, but also a serious interest in the high quality of life available here.
In a similar vein, the MKE Fellows is a wonderful program to ensure that Wisconsin students studying at historically black colleges and universities around the country (especially Morehouse) have internships in Wisconsin. Many great Milwaukee-area corporate employers offer summer slots for these bright young people to return home in the hopes that they'll return long-term after graduating. This helps prevent "brain drain", which is especially important for young people who help our corporations reflect the diversity of our communities.
Ed excellence for veterans
Every year the Military Times produces a list of 4-year and technical colleges that are "best for vets" based on a variety of factors, like academic support and extracurricular activities specific to vets. This year, the list of 125 4-year universities nationwide included five from Wisconsin: UW-Eau Claire, UW-Whitewater, UW-Stout, UW-River Falls, and private Edgewood College. At the same time, Moraine Park and Waukesha County technical colleges were two of the top twenty for career and community colleges nationwide. I salute all our educators who place a special emphasis on preparing our heroes for the civilian workforce.
Fab lab in florence
Earlier this month I toured the new Fab Lab in Florence, building on the success of the Fab Lab I helped open last year in Three Lakes. These Northwoods school districts are proving that Wisconsin students can get world-class educations even in the far northern reaches of our state. These projects often involve the school district, local businesses, and the state, proving the power of partnership to accomplish big things for our kids. Plus, these fab labs are also open to the community after hours, so manufacturers, inventors and tinkerers, and local tech college or university students have access to these MIT-certified resources.
Plumbing excellence from appleton to india
I recently stopped at Fox Valley Tech College with my friend State Rep. Mike Rohrkaste and learned about an awesome experience for their students. FVTC's plumbing apprentice program partnered with the Milwaukee School of Engineering to redevelop a faulty plumbing system for an elementary school in Nashik, India, representing "Team USA" in the Global Community Plumbing Challenge. Competing against 500 students from across the globe on other projects to improve health and hygiene through plumbing, our Team USA won first place in the competition!
Best wishes to you and yours in 2016
These five projects are pretty cool, but they're just several of the many innovative initiatives happening around our state. Do you know of a company, school, or non-profit that I should visit in 2016? I'm always anxious for new destinations to tour and learn so we can keep spreading the best practices and coolest solutions to more parts of Wisconsin. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.
In the meantime, my best wishes to you and yours for a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2016!