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Local flavors go farther


Dips, sauces made in the area show up in stores

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COVER COMMUNITY FEATURE STORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PROFILES . . . . . . . . . . , STORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Chippewa Falls waterslide firm grows.

Food products made in the Chippewa Valley appear in more grocery stores.

ExporTech helps companies go global.

GUEST COLUMNS Jeff West . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Andy Cooper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

CALENDAR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21-22 DIRECTORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 BY THE NUMBERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

EDITOR’S NOTE Several years ago, the rallying cry of “buy local” encouraged people to eschew getting all their goods at “big box” retailers. But now even the giant stores of Walmart, Target and others are facing their own challenge. Amazon has become a growing force in the marketplace, changing how many consumers shop for a variety of their goods. For brick-and-mortar businesses – from mom-and-pop shops to the big boxes – their rallying cry may now become simply “buy in person.”


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Convincing consumers to forgo the convenience of shopping from their own homes with the unprecedented selection offered by the Internet is a tough task. Some stores have expanded their incorporation of online sales to boost their relevance. Kohl’s invited Amazon in to a corner of their department stores. Walmart is expanding its locations that have pickup or even delivery of orders placed through its website. These initiatives and others are crucial for keeping up with Amazon. But for those of us who enjoy the

experience of shopping – trying on clothes, scrutinizing the quality of merchandise and happening across a surprise deal – we need to express that with our buying power. As tempting as online shopping is – especially checking off a long gift list without driving to multiple stores – it would serve businesses that likely aren’t in our area. Instead of sending your business to an online conglomerate, consider buying from people in the Chippewa Valley. It takes more legwork than placing an order through a computer or smartphone, but it’s how our retail sector will persevere and continue providing jobs.

Published four times per year by the Leader-Telegram advertising department. Copyright 2018 Leader-Telegram, 701 S. Farwell St., Eau Claire, WI 54701. All rights reserved. 800-236-7077.


LOCAL SAUCES SPREADING Increasingly grocers are stocking foods made from Eau Claire-based startups

Staff photos by Dan Reiland Chip Magnet CEO Alexis Lucas started her company by making her grandmother’s salsa recipe and selling it in 2011 at Eau Claire farmers markets. The company now produces salsa in a commercial kitchen in Banbury Place and its products appear on store shelves in 18 states. Lucas has plans to expand into a larger space and make her products for nationwide distribution.

By Eric Lindquist, Leader-Telegram staff


growing number of people prefer to buy food grown or produced close to home. From Wisconsin stalwarts like beer and cheese to worldly newcomers like salsa and hummus, Chippewa Valley shoppers have plenty of local food options in the area’s major supermarkets. In an era when much of the food market has gone global, the local food movement has the potential to benefit both consumers and producers in the region. Eau Claire’s largest grocer, Festival Foods, which now has three supermarkets in the city, has gotten the message. “Festival Foods loves to support local where it makes sense,” said Brian Stenzel, community involvement director for the Onalaska-based grocer. “For Festival Foods, we are a statewide company and consider products sourced throughout Wisconsin to be local. We give most any items a try that our guests request as long as it is up to the Festival Foods standards.” 4 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018

While Stenzel acknowledged local food still accounts for a relatively small share of Festival’s overall sales, the company’s North Clairemont Avenue location alone carries more than 100 products from more than two dozen regional suppliers. “People want high-quality products at a good value,” he said, adding, “The tendency seems to be to support local whenever possible.” Other major Chippewa Valley grocers did not respond in time for this article. When choosing what local products to carry, Festival officials must ensure the producers are capable of being reliable suppliers. “We need to know that they are safely producing and transporting the products first and foremost,” Stenzel said. “If all supply aspects seem good, it is mostly based on guest requests but also on if it fills a need in the category that the product is from.” Several local food producers contacted by Business Leader recently shared their stories about getting their products available on grocery store shelves.


Chip Magnet

Chip Magnet got its humble start with owner Alexis Lucas making batches of her grandma’s homemade salsa recipe and sellin‑g a few flavors at the Eau Claire downtown farmers market in the summer of 2011. After being approached by several local stores who wanted to stock the salsa, the company earned official licensing the following summer and rented a 1,000-square-foot kitchen in Banbury Place. With a goal of expanding beyond that seasonal, local business, Lucas and her husband would load up their car with cases of samples and visit grocery stores all over Wisconsin and the Twin Cities, trying to persuade store managers to carry their product. Some were eager to stock a unique local product, and others required much follow-up before they could gain corporate approval. “If they said no, we’d do it all over again in six months,” Lucas said. “It’s different for every single store. It requires a lot of tenacity.” As demand has risen, so has the need for space to make all that salsa. The company moved to a 5,500-square-foot kitchen at Banbury Place in 2014, and Lucas expects to nearly double that space in the next few months. Chip Magnet now has two distributors who handle grocery store recruitment, and its products are available in hundreds of stores in 18 states, mostly in the central United States. The company recently got a request for samples from the University of San Diego. “That would be huge. Southern California would open the

Becki’s Mediterranean Olive Salsa 

Becki’s Mediterranean Olive Salsa, another specialty salsa maker based at Banbury Place, is rapidly making a name for itself in the Upper Midwest. Owner Becki Spina, who moved to Eau Claire in 1988, started making homemade salsa as a way to supplement her income as a music therapist. She began by making batches of her Mediterranean-style, olive-based concoction on Mondays in her church’s kitchen and selling it at the Eau Claire downtown farmers market. After winning business plan competitions sponsored by Downtown Eau Claire Inc. and the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., she used the awards to help buy her own processing equipment and rented space at Banbury Place. She broke through and got her products placed on local grocery store shelves about 10 years ago and since has expanded into stores in Madison, Milwaukee and about 40 locations in the Twin Cities.

Becki Spina of Eau Claire is expanding the reach of her olive salsa this spring to stores in the Chicago area.

Chip Magnet salsa rolls off the packaging line at Banbury Place.

door to all of California,” Lucas said, revealing that her goal is to gain nationwide distribution by the end of 2018. The company’s product line has expanded as well and now includes 15 varieties of salsa — what she described as “everything from Minnesota mild to knock-your-socks-off hot” — plus a range of hot sauce flavors, ketchup, barbecue sauce, taco sauce and other supper club sauces. So what’s Chip Magnet’s secret for climbing the food pyramid? “We feel it’s a combination of our personality as a fun, quirky, in-your-face kind of company and a really, really great product,” Lucas said.

“We’re right on the front end of growing that a lot,” Spina said. “I’m thrilled to say that in April we’re going into about 60 more stores in the Chicago area. It’s a very exciting time.” The master plan calls for expanding into other Midwestern states in the years to come. She already doubled her space at Banbury Place once and expects to expand again this year. She launched the firm with original olive salsa and gradually has added cream cheese varieties, hot olive salsas and a black bean salsa. Despite the growth, Spina insists that some things remain the same. “As my business grows, I have been advised to have someone else make the salsa, but I’m all about keeping it in Eau Claire and hiring local people,” she said. The company has four employees and Spina is looking to hire more part-time workers. See page 6 April 2, 2018 • BUSINESS LEADER | 5

from Page 5

“My secret is my product,” she said. “It’s all really highquality ingredients. In the summer, we use local produce as much as we can. It’s all handmade. All the produce is cleaned and prepped by hand.” Spina’s mother is launching another specialty product, Mom’s Great Granola, that already has made the shelves of Festival Foods and Just Local Foods in Eau Claire. “Since I had a production kitchen and my mom’s granola is so amazing, we decided to try selling it at the farmers market and people liked it so much they wanted to get it year-round,“ Spina said.

Water Street Deli

Sam Almadhoun, a native of Palestine, opened the Water Street Deli in 2009, serving gyros, kabobs and falafel to hungry customers. He sold homemade hummus and pita chips on the side to deli customers and people attending the Eau Claire downtown farmers market. “The farmers market is the best way to meet the local

Water Street Deli closed its restaurant last year to focus its resources on making pita chips and hummus for sale at Festival Foods and other local grocers in the state.

people and let them try our product and understand more what we are doing and how fresh our product is,” Almadhoun said. Eventually, the entrepreneur got Just Local Foods and a

few other local stores to carry his product. The business model officially flipped last year when Almadhoun closed the restaurant so he would have time and space to focus on expanding his wholesale business. His six flavors of hummus, pita chips and baba ghannouj — a spread similar to hummus but made from eggplant instead of chickpeas — are available in grocery stores in the Chippewa Valley, Madison, La Crosse, Menomonie, Rice Lake and River Falls. “Everybody likes the product and seems very satisfied,” he said. Almadhoun said his goal is for the business, which has six employees, to expand distribution statewide.

Silver Spring Foods

On the other end of the local food spectrum is Silver Spring Foods, which has been expanding its reach since being founded just south of Eau Claire in 1929 by Ellis Huntsinger along with parent company Huntsinger Farms. Huntsinger grew horseradish and then prepared and bottled it by hand in an old milk shed behind his house, selling the fresh ground horseradish door-to-door to augment his income during cold Wisconsin winters. Decades of steady expansion led to Silver Spring’s claim to be the world’s largest grower and processor of horseradish, earning Eau Claire the nickname “Horseradish Capital of the World.” The company, which still grows its own horseradish in the Chippewa Valley, now processes about 7.5 million pounds of the pungent root vegetable a year and sells its products in most major grocers in all 50 states as well as in Japan and Canada, said Eric Rygg, vice president of sales and marketing. The products are sold under the Silver Spring label, supermarket private labels and other labels that use the company as a contract manufacturer. Silver Spring made a big push into the mustard market in the late 1980s and is now one of the nation’s top 10 specialty mustard makers, Rygg said. Yet even today horseradish accounts for about half of Silver Spring’s branded sales, he said, with mustard and other specialty sauces (including wasabi, sriracha and

Festival Foods stocks numerous locally-made food products, including wines made by Infinity Beverages Winery & Distillery, from left to right, Big Donkey Pizza, Cowbell Bites and Cheesecake made by Dairyland Bakery in Menomonie, and beer from the Brewing Projekt and Lazy Monk Brewing. 6 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018


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Thai chile) splitting the rest of the product pie, he said. The company, which employs about 300 people, opened a 165,000-square-foot production facility on the northwest side of Eau Claire in 2006. Across all the product lines and years of production, one goal has remained consistent for Silver Spring, as summed up by the company slogan “Give it zing.” “We’re trying to bring excitement and flavor to the food you eat,” Rygg said. Contact: 715-833-9209,, @ealscoop on Twitter


Local foods Festival Foods compiled this list of locally-produced products available in their Eau Claire stores. • Peppers, onions, tomatoes from Chaput produce (Eau Claire) • Kitchen Kleen potatoes (Rice Lake) • Becky’s Olive Salsa (Eau Claire) • Silver Spring Foods condiments (Eau Claire) • Yellow Stone Creamery cheese curds (Cadott) • Lynn Dairy chunk cheeses and curds (Granton) • North Country cheeses and curds (Granton) • Big Donkey Pizza (Eau Claire) • Cowbell Bites Cheesecake (Menomonie) • Chip Magnet Salsa (Eau Claire) • Maple Dude Syrup (Granton) • Wisconsin Pure Maple Syrup (Stanley) • Sugar n Spice Co. spices and dipping mixes (Chetek) • One Love Bread Co. breads (Withee) • Water Street Deli hummus and pita chips (Eau Claire) • Lewis Martin cage-free eggs (Chippewa Valley) • Autumn Harvest Winery wines (Chippewa Falls) • River Bend Winery wines (Chippewa Falls) • Infinity Beverage wines, vodka and whiskey (Eau Claire) • Dancing Dragonfly Winery wine (St. Croix Falls) • Brewing Projekt beer (Eau Claire) • Chippewa River Distillery & Brewster Bros. Brewing Co. vodka, whiskey and beer (Chippewa Falls) • Lazy Monk Brewing beers (Eau Claire)

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Sliding into a niche Family waterslide restoration company grows from a garage into an industrial building

Staff photo by Dan Reiland Andrew Fischer sits on waterslides that will be restored at Fischer Brothers Enterprises in Chippewa Falls. The family-run company previously operated out of an Eau Claire garage, but recently moved into a vacant industrial building in Chippewa Falls. By Chris Vetter, Leader-Telegram staff CHIPPEWA FALLS


growing company that just moved to Chippewa Falls is making quite a splash in its service industry. Fischer Brothers Enterprises is one of just a handful of waterslide restoration service companies in the United States, said co-owner Andrew Fischer. “There are so many small towns of 10,000 people, and they all have a community center with a waterslide,” Fischer said. “We’ve worked a lot for the city of Eau Claire.” The company also has refurbished waterslides in Menomonie, Onalaska, Arcadia, Holmen and Chippewa Falls, he said. “Generally speaking, our customers are city governments, with pools open three months a year,” he said. “After six or seven years, you need to do repairs and maintenance. After 12 to 15 years, you are looking at a complete restoration.” About 80 percent of their business comes from working with cities and counties, he said. Other jobs are restoring waterslides at hotels, casinos and other private entities, he said. 8 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018

Workers not only sandblast and add new gel coats to the interior of the slides, they will replace bolts, make general repairs and repaint the equipment. During summer months, when outdoor pools are open, Fischer turns to restoring indoor slides. “There are oddball things you can’t predict that keeps you busy through the summer,” he said. Fischer, 35, formed the company with his brother, Nathaniel, in 2007. In that first year, they had just $65,000 in gross sales. However, in the past decade, the business has continued to grow as they have landed contracts with municipalities in a four-state area. In 2008, they grossed $250,000. In 2009, it was $500,000, and in 2010, they hit $750,000. “Now we have 10 employees, eight trailers, five trucks and $2 million in gross sales,” Fischer said. “Every week, there is a new opportunity that rolls across my desk.” A typical job is a five-day contract. His busiest times are April and May, then September through November. A typical slide they restore is perhaps 200 feet long, he said.

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Contributed photo Fischer Brothers made an extensive restoration of this waterslide at the Channahon, Ill., city aquatic center. The Chippewa Falls-based company restored the slide and the steel structure that supported it, plus installed new fiberglass stairs and wooden railings.

Out of the garage

“With the shop, it changes my whole approach,” he The company previously ran out of a garage in Eau explained. “We can bring slides back here and restore Claire, but they purchased them. We used to ignore a former A-1 Redi-Mix those jobs, because we were Concrete building at 4750 already busy. But those are W. Park Ave. in Chippewa small slides, so we can bring Falls on June 21. They them here. So, everything is immediately moved in and changing with having this filled the 10,500-squarebuilding.” foot building. The building Chippewa Falls Mayor features seven bay doors, Greg Hoffman was thrilled large enough to bring in the building has reopened a variety of pieces to be with a new business in town. worked on in the shop. “It’s a positive sign for “It’s just the right amount the economy, when these of space for us,” he said. Staff photo by Dan Reiland buildings that have sat “One of the keys to our Jim Fischer, left, and his son, Mitchell, apply fiberglass to a form at the business. empty can find someone to success is we fabricate use them,” Hoffman said. things; there are little devices we make to help in our “It’s great someone wants to come in and invest in the work.” community. Right now, the city has a shortage of middleThe larger work area also made Fischer rethink aspects sized buildings, which is good. You don’t want to be in a of his business, including his previous practice of ignoring See page 10 shorter slides that some hotels have. April 2, 2018 • BUSINESS LEADER | 9

from Page 9

city where you have 25 buildings sitting empty.” Charlie Walker, Chippewa County Economic Development Corp. executive director, was pleased the company relocated to Chippewa Falls. His organization assisted Fischer Brothers locate the building. “This company has a niche market, and we’re proud they




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are in Chippewa County,” Walker said. “It’s a good company. It’s good to get the building back to use. We’re glad they are part of the manufacturing community in Chippewa County.”

Getting started

Fischer attended Osseo-Fairchild High School, but eventually graduated from McKinley Charter School in Eau Claire. He started working in waterslide restoration at age 19. His brother joined him in the business, and they decided to form their own business in 2007. In the early days when they were happy to find work anywhere, they took jobs in 41 states, and even did restoration in Mexico, Jamaica and Dubai. “We had to travel to make our mark in the industry,” he said. As the business has grown, he made the decision to limit their contracts to jobs in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, so his workers are generally never more than about six hours away. The work can be challenging, leaving a day’s work at the whim of the weather and even plants near the waterslides. “The single biggest challenge we have is the weather,” he said. “It’s not just the rain, it’s the pollen. You need a good ‘spray day.’ You need to hit that perfect window.” Fischer said he loves what he does. “It’s what I know,” he said. “It’s a unique, niche market. As an entrepreneur, I enjoy building something from the ground up.” Contact:

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UW-Stout’s ExporTech teaches local companies about expanding to foreign markets By Ben Rueter, Leader-Telegram staff MENOMONIE


everaging a company’s exports is becoming a more important endeavor and a good way to ensure stability when domestic markets begin to shake. At UW-Stout there is a program that’s steadily growing with a focus on helping small to midsize businesses navigate the export scene. It’s called ExporTech. The program builds a company’s export plan in a way that is achievable for success. “If the economy tanks it could be thriving somewhere else,” said Joni Geroux, director of professional education programs and services at UW-Stout. “If you have this mechanism in place it can help navigate peaks and dips in domestic sales.” For one Wisconsin manufacturer, expanding his products’ reach is a way to deal with pressures of an increasingly competitive marketplace. According to Ed Vater, president at Bending Branches in Osceola, some businesses like his are starting to feel the “Amazon effect” and it’s putting financial stress on domestic retail. “The competition in the U.S. retail is making it real tough right now,” he said. Bending Branches manufactures paddles for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboards. He explains that Amazon is taking away market share from traditional retailers and is creating a culture where consumers expect to receive their purchases quickly. Consumers then put pressure on the retailers to keep up with what Amazon is offering. This hurts his business because a quality paddle is something that you will want to hold and feel in a store, Vater said. It’s something that isn’t possible scrolling through pages of paddles on a website. To learn about expanding into foreign markets, Vater enrolled in ExporTech.

Breaking it down

The ExporTech course is composed of three sessions, each taught about a month apart. The first session looks at the risks and obstacles businesses will face when they get into exporting. In session two, companies will listen to presenters and receive one-on-one help to construct a plan. And this part brings in a crucial part of an export strategy — starting with specific destinations instead of trying to sell to the entire world. “They target three countries,” Geroux said. For example, she said that a company that has a product tied to dairy cattle, the team of experts could pull data on European countries that would benefit the most from that specific product. From there companies can narrow down their plan to focus on those two or three counties instead of exporting to all of Europe. Between session two and three the companies will work on finalizing their plan which they will present to a panel in the

final session. During the final session, the panel offers feedback to fine tune everyone’s plan. Helping each company throughout the program is a coach who walks them through the best course of action.

Picking markets


Branching out across the globe

Usually about six to eight companies sign up each time ExporTech is offered and there will be between 15 to 30 total people in attendance at the sessions. Geroux said that employees that are somewhat high up in a company are encouraged to be part of the process to forge a plan. Vater and his national sales manager attended the three sessions, finishing the program in January. He said the entire process forced him to think about where his business could be successful outside of the United States. He was walked through how to establish shipping, a budget, a website and translations. “I felt that we were really well prepared,” he said. Bending Branches had already been working on an export plan, but each ExporTech session gave Vater ways to tweak it and implement new ideas right away. In this regard, he was ahead of some people in the course. Companies that sign up for ExporTech look to gain an edge with their exporting, but some join without any understanding of how to begin exporting. “We want them to have a plan and know why they are targeting that country,” Geroux said. After completing the class, Vater is aiming at markets in the United Kingdom and his secondary location is throughout Norway. It’s too early to see how much the export plan has grown his business, and Vater doesn’t expect to see profits from it for about three years. But after completing the course and polishing his export plan, Vater said he is really impressed with the end results. ExporTech began nationwide in 2007 and UW-Stout began running the program in northern Wisconsin in 2012. The university hosts the program two to three times per year. Its latest ExporTech starts this month, and companies interested in it can apply through UW-Stout’s Outreach & Engagement website at ycxqpsm6. There is a $6,000 fee for companies that participate. Contact: 715-830-5840,, @BenRueter on Twitter



April 2, 2018 • BUSINESS LEADER | 11


Put to the test A CVTC-led coalition wants Eau Claire County to become an ACT Work Ready Community

By Andrew Dowd, Leader-Telegram staff


andidates can get a job with an impeccable resume, suave interview and stellar references. They passed the hiring process, but that isn’t necessarily the best way to tell if someone will thrive in a workplace. Sometimes an ace candidate can surprisingly become a drag on your businesses’ team for the lack of “soft skills” – those intangible traits that get the job done well. Wouldn’t it be great to know how well an employee can apply academics to real-world work situations, read graphs and charts, and pick out crucial information from lengthy company documents before hiring that person? As it turns out, Wisconsin has been using a nationally recognized test to gauge those skills in high schoolers for a few years now, but many employers didn’t know about it. Lynette Livingston learned about the test from her children and several teachers she knows, but when she asked how scores from the state-mandated test will help after high school, the reply was “I don’t know, nobody’s asking for it.” “It seemed like a significant investment of state resources, but it’s falling short of the benefits because employers weren’t aware of it,” she said. Livingston decided to make the test and awareness of it the subject of her dissertation for her doctoral degree in career and technical education at UW-Stout. “What I found was we certainly had very limited employer awareness of the WorkKeys assessment and National Career Readiness Certification in our region,” she said. She surveyed 95 employers in the region about their familiarity with the soft skills test and certification. Of those, 88 percent replied they had either no or minimal knowledge of WorkKeys, and 92 percent said they were unfamiliar with the corresponding certificates. But about 90 percent responded that they saw the value of such measures of an employee’s soft skills. In her position as dean of business, arts, sciences and academic initiatives at Chippewa Valley Technical College, Livingston is working with colleagues in education, business groups and companies to spread the word about the test that gauges soft skills. Their intent is to get Eau Claire County named the first

12 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018

Work Ready Community in Wisconsin — an honor that testing company ACT bestows on areas that meet certain goals.

Getting there The designation shows that a community has achieved benchmarks in testing students and workers, along with a level of awareness in the area’s business community. Eau Claire County automatically achieved one of those goals — getting enough high school students to take WorkKeys — because the test has been mandated throughout the state since spring 2015. During the spring semester, juniors take the wellknown ACT test for college admission and then have the WorkKeys test the following day. The workplace readiness test takes about three hours and is split up into three units – applied math, graphic literacy and workplace documents. Passing the test gives students an ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate to show their level of work readiness. Certificates range from bronze to platinum level to indicate the score that individual students earned. In the Eau Claire school district, about 90 percent of students earn platinum, gold or silver certificates from their WorkKeys scores, said Michelle Radtke, the district’s director of assessments. Eau Claire students took the test before spring break and will get their paper certificates mailed to them near the end of the school year. The tougher goal that ACT set for Eau Claire County is to get a certain amount of the business community to learn about the certificates students have and recognize how they could be useful in the hiring process. “We need to have 66 employers that identify as supporting the NCRC,” Livingston said. Those can come from within the county and a 25-mile radius of it. So far more than 15 companies have agreed, said Jeff Sullivan, CVTC’s dean of skilled trades and engineering, and he’s gotten information to many more who are considering it. For employers he’s talked to, Sullivan said the response has been positive.

Two of them involve sending the part back along with a “They were encouraged that the scores existed,” he said. The college and its partners unveiled the Work Ready request for the paperwork you lost. Another answer suggests Community effort on March 1 at CVTC’s annual Manufacturing using documentation from another return transaction. And another wrong way to deal with the problem would be to send Show and began seeking employers to join in. Matt Guse, owner and president of his family’s machine shop the bad part along to a coworker or underling. Ultimately the correct answer is to repeat the standard in Augusta, MRS Machining, is one of the first local firms to sign procedure all over again to get all the necessary paperwork on as an advocate for the program. “It will be a tool for me to use right away to tell if the person before returning the bad part. And, no, checking with your supervisor wasn’t even an is qualified for the position we’re looking to fill or not,” he said option — the test wants you to make of the certifications gained from the the decision. WorkKeys test. “It is that measurement of pulling While CVTC is looking for information together and identifying companies to agree that they’re what you do with that, rather than simply aware of the WorkKeys and having to locate the answer within certifications and what they mean, text,” Livingston said. Guse is going a step further and said Applied math questions include it will be something he considers story problems like making change when he’s hiring. at a cash register, calculating fuel “They’ll be the first in line for left in a cylindrical tank and finding me because I’m a big fan of this the average of sales calls made over program,” he said of candidates with a week. Graphic literacy sample a certificate. questions have students gauge And the varying levels — bronze Contributed photo the highest blood glucose level of through platinum — will aid him in a hypoglycemic patient using a deciding which candidates would be Matt Guse, owner and president of MRS Machining in Augusta, signs chart, tracking inventory levels and better for general labor versus those onto the effort to get Eau Claire County recognized as an ACT Work deciding which plant out of four is who already have the skills for a Ready Community. most in need of improvement funds higher level job. The benefit to his 50-person machine shop would be to avoid based on financial performance. The workplace documents making a bad hiring decision, which costs time and money. portion of the test has questions on recording an employee Getting a new hire trained in how the shop works, observing discount, understanding a corporate email policy and reading experienced workers and all up to speed costs MRS Machining instructions for filling an order. In his position at CVTC, Sullivan oversees several programs about $15,000, Guse said, before that person is producing where these soft skills come in handy. For example, the ability to revenue for the business. Two additional criteria for getting the Work Ready Community read and interpret graphs and diagrams is crucial for students designation are administering the test to a few current workers in the college’s manufacturing program. “We look at blueprints, we read technical documents,” and some in between jobs. The 12 people already in the workforce who have an NCRC Sullivan said. In her research of career readiness assessments, Livingston count toward the goal of 37. There are 10 people considered “transitional” in their found other tests and frameworks, but WorkKeys has the name employment with an NCRC, but that will need to grow to 220 recognition of ACT, which already is respected for college within three years for the county to become a Work Ready readiness exams. While Eau Claire County is the lone one in Wisconsin shown Community. Every three years, the county will have to go through its goals to be working toward certification, there are 200 counties elsewhere in the U.S. that already have the designation, and 181 again to recertify, if it wants to keep that status. working toward it. Nearly all of South Carolina, many in North Carolina, Missouri and Oregon, based on a map on ACT’s website. As of While she hasn’t taken the whole WorkKeys test, Livingston mid-March, nearly 20,000 employers in the U.S. recognized the said she has tried sample questions and found they were WorkKeys as a credential. different than the ordinary standardized test. “They’re more multifaceted,” she said. “It’s not your typical Contact: 715-833-9204, story problem.”, ACT has several sample questions posted on its website to @ADowd_LT on Twitter. give an idea of how the test works. One question starts by explaining the process for requesting a replacement for a defective part from a manufacturer. But it Test yourself To learn more about the then asks what to do if you followed procedure but then lost the ACT WorkKeys assessment document the manufacturer sent back. There are five carefully worded answers to choose from and and try sample questions, each hints at how an employee would function in the workplace. go to Livingston Sullivan

How to test?

April 2, 2018 • BUSINESS LEADER | 13


Who owns the problem? Start by finding the things you truly enjoy doing at your business

Jeff West is the owner of Bear Down (, an executive and executive team coaching company based in Eau Claire. He was a founder and CEO of Silicon Logic Engineering. He also chairs Business Partners peer groups in Northwestern Wisconsin. West can be reached at: 715-559-2195 or

“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.” PAUL HAWKEN, ENVIRONMENTALIST By Jeff West

As the head of your business have you ever taken time to think about where problems come from? Have you thought about who’s responsible for them? More importantly, have you thought about what happens when the person who should own the problem doesn’t or the person who’s not responsible does? If not, I think you’d find the time spent very beneficial. High performance organizations spend a great deal of time making sure the right problem is owned by the right people. Seems pretty obvious doesn’t it. However there’s a subtlety here that separates the good from the great. If the wrong person owns a problem, all kinds of unnecessary new problems will arise. They’ll usually attribute the causes of the problem to things other than the key cause. The next thing you know you’re drowning in issues that really provide nothing toward helping your organization get where you want to go. Your competition loves it when you spend precious time fixing issues that have no relevance to your business performance. I’m sure you’ve seen or been a part of organizations where excuses are more prevalent than problem solving. People feel no responsibility for problems they refuse to own. Which type of company would you rather be in charge of? ••• As always a good place to start is with yourself. Whose problems are you owning in your organization? For example, how much time do you spend owning your employees’ satisfaction? How much time does it take away from what you should be doing? Shouldn’t they be in charge of that? Think of it this way: If a person who works for you isn’t responsible for the problem of their own destiny, do you think they’ll ever be able to understand why you’re so hyped about the purpose and destiny of your company? People who have no commitment to the well-being of your business are an anchor you have to pull along. Who owns the problem of recruiting in your company? If your answer is HR it means you’ve let everyone else off the hook for owning that problem. In a tight labor market – 14 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018

like we’re in now – wouldn’t it be great if everyone in your organization owned the recruiting problem? ••• The distribution of the ownership of problems is a crucial part of your job as the leader. When you get it right, your business can then rise to take on the real issues and problems it faces from the external world of customers and competition. This leads back to the whole reason why the purpose of your business is so important. If you hand out responsibilities to people who “get” what you’re trying to accomplish, the problems can be taken care of without you needing to be a part of every decision. That in turn leaves you more time to oversee that the entire organization is constantly improving. If you’re the type of CEO or owner who loves to be the go-to problem solver, then you will inadvertently be the invisible and insoluble cause of those problems. If you love being Problem-Solver-in-Chief, how is anyone else in your organization going to become more competent? This is one of the most common reasons why I see “A” players leave companies. They’re more than willing to step up, take responsibility and help the organization succeed. After a typically short period of time, though, they become frustrated at having a lot of responsibility but no authority. You’ve unintentionally inhibited the healthy growth of your own people. Do you think your life and stress level will get better when your best people desert you? ••• If this resonates at all then what to do? First, is to not be a part of the problem. Second, find the right people so they can own the right problems of their performance and the performance of the part of the company they’re responsible for. You can never decree the level of performance you want. You can, however, put the right people in charge of owning the right problems. The more control they have over their destiny within your organization the more they’ll become tied to that destiny!

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From adversity to fortune Sloppily edited tales of black millionaires reveals overlooked U.S. history

Title: “Black Fortunes.” Author: Shomari Wills. Pages: 301. Publisher: Amistad (c.2018).

By Terri Schlichenmeyer The Bookworm

A dollar doesn’t buy as much as it used to. Once upon a time, you could get a good steak and a drink for under ten bucks. You could buy a house for less than five figures, and it was big enough to raise a goodsized family in it. A dollar used to stretch farther, last longer, buy more, and in the new book “Black Fortunes” by Shomari Wills, it took fewer dollars to make someone rich. Growing up, Wills heard many stories about his uncle, “the millionaire” son of a slave who became a rich man. Such a tale, says Wills, is an “overlooked subject” in American history. Strictly speaking, he says, the first black millionaire in America was William Alexander Leidesdorff, real-estate mogul, philanthropist and friend to the powerful, who lived in San Francisco well before the Civil War. But this book isn’t about Leidesdorff. It’s about Mary Ellen Pleasant, who received an inheritance from her late first husband and parlayed that “small fortune” into a much larger one that she used as an activist. It’s about O.W. Gurley who bought land in Oklahoma and built a predominantly black town that was exceptionally prosperous – especially for Gurley. It’s about Annie Turnbo Malone and her protegee, Sarah Breedlove. After Emancipation Malone made it her mission to create hair and beauty products that worked specifically for black women. Once her business was successful, she hired salesladies – one of which was Breedlove, who created her own product to rival her mentor. It’s about Robert Reed Church, former slave, favorite son of Memphis and the richest black man of his time. 16 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018

Even now, more than a century after his death, his legacy can still be seen in his adopted hometown. And it’s about Hannah Elias, who spent most of her life in scandal and built her wealth with the money of her lovers, then disappeared. To this day, writes Wills, nobody knows where Elias landed – or how much of her ill-gotten fortune was intact. “Black Fortunes” is a good idea in bad need of an editor. Over and over, I found dates that didn’t match, incorrect information, statements that conflicted with other statements, silly repetitions and a lot of “huh?” moments. After a while, these errors superseded any information I was gleaning. Still, author Wills offers interesting, thoughtful tales that basically show readers how black entrepreneurs – some of whom could barely read or write – changed U.S. economics and paved the way for later wealth-builders and, in some cases, for overall equality. Wills admits in his introduction that he brought these stories forth, even though “few records exist” from his subjects’ times, and diaries and letters were largely nonexistent. That would explain the deep novelization of the tales, which is not the bigger distraction; lack of attention and a red pen are more the issue. Even so, with a dose of patience, this book is worth a look. Just be aware that “Black The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never Fortunes” isn’t what you goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill may be used to. in Wisconsin with two dogs and 15,000 books.

- Guest Article -




Ownership in family businesses can present unique challenges when the older generation (and often founding generation) retain an ownership interest in the business and begin to need longterm health care services (e.g., assisted living or nursing home). Making sure their business ownership does not jeopardize the business due to the expenses associated with long-term care becomes a priority. Here’s a common situation I encounter when helping families. John and Jane once ran a business (or farm) with their children. Although they have stepped aside from the day-to-day operations, they are reluctant to give up control of the business they worked so hard to create. They continue to hold onto their controlling ownership interest in the business. Recent health issues now require them to start looking for longterm care services for John that are not covered by Medicare. While working, John and Jane put a majority of their resources into building the business, so now they have a valuable ownership interest, but they do not have a lot of additional resources. They are worried about affording the care they need. As they begin exploring options, an overriding concern is what will happen to the family business if they need medical assistance. In other words, they want to know, “Will the state take their business from their family?” This very typical scenario presents both financial and emotional concerns related to how to pay for long-term care. John and Jane worry about the impact their care will have on the business. They also know that the care John will need is expensive, and regardless of whether he receives care at home, in an assisted living facility, or a nursing home, it may be necessary to apply for medical assistance to help pay for his care.

Benefits with no protection for the business. The good news is that business ownership is typically an exempt asset for medical assistance purposes. This means that the value of the business does not count as an asset that would keep John from receiving medical assistance benefits. The bad news, though, is John’s ownership interest is an asset that is part of his estate. After John’s death, the state will look to recoup the costs paid for John’s care by filing a claim against his estate (note: the rules vary based on whether John or Jane are the first spouse to die, but those variations are beyond the scope of this article). The real danger to the family business comes when dealing with the claim against John’s estate. John’s estate must satisfy the state’s claim. The business interest gives value to John’s estate, but liquidity is an issue. If John’s estate has no other resources to use to pay the claim, pressure is put on the family to find a way to preserve the business and generate the cash needed to pay the claim. A better way that protects the business. To avoid issues with claims against John’s estate, John and Jane could have done planning to protect their business interests. Some may suggest that John and Jane should have given the business to the children years before needing care. Although transferring ownership in a

family business is often done by a gift, John and Jane also would have given up control of the business when they gave away their ownership interests in the company. For them, the loss of control was unacceptable. In addition, when dealing with medical assistance, gifts may cause benefits to be withheld. Gifts must be reported on an application for medical assistance if they are made within five years prior to applying (i.e., the 5-year look back). Because of this, any gifting should take place well before care is anticipated. To help John and Jane protect the business and maintain control of the company, they could have transferred their ownership interest into an irrevocable trust that they are the trustees of. Yes, this is a gift that must be reported for five years. However, making the gift to the trust allows John and Jane to maintain control of their interest in the company. In addition, when John later passes, the trust is not subject to a claim by the state for benefits paid on John’s behalf. By planning early, parents can maintain control of their interest in the business and ensure that the business interest will not be subject to an unwanted claim by the state after death.

Attorney Aric D. Burch, Ruder Ware

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April 2, 2018 • BUSINESS LEADER | 17


What to do in volatile times

Andrew Cooper is a financial adviser with Edward Jones Investments in Eau Claire. He can be reached at 715-833-3986 or andy.cooper@

By Andrew Cooper Edward Jones Investments

As you may have heard, the stock market has been on a wild ride lately. What’s behind this volatility? And, as an investor, how concerned should you be? Let’s look at the first question first. What caused the steep drop in stock prices we experienced on a few days earlier this year? Essentially, two main factors seem to be responsible. First, some good economic news may actually have played a significant role. A 17-year low in unemployment and solid job growth have begun to push wages upward. These have led to fears of rising inflation, which, in turn, led to speculation that the Federal Reserve will tighten the money supply at a faster-thanexpected rate. Stocks reacted negatively to these expectations of higher interest rates. The second cause of the market volatility appears to be simply

a reaction to the long bull market. While rising stock prices lead many people to continue buying more and more shares, some people actually need to sell their stocks - and this pentup selling demand, combined with short-term profit-taking, helped contribute to the large sell-offs. Now, as for the question of how concerned you should be about this volatility, consider these points: Sell-offs are nothing unusual. We’ve often experienced big sell-offs, but they’ve generally been followed with strong recoveries. Of course, past performance is not a guarantee of future results, but history has shown that patient, persistent investors have often been rewarded. Fundamentals are strong. While short-term market movements can be caused by a variety of factors, economic conditions and corporate earnings typically drive performance

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18 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018

in the long term. Right now, the U.S. economy is near full employment, consumer and business sentiment has risen strongly, manufacturing and service activity is at multi-year highs, and GDP growth in 2018 appears to be on track for the best performance since 2015. Furthermore, corporate earnings are expected to rise this year. So, given this background, what’s your next move? Here are some suggestions: Review your situation. You may want to work with a financial professional to evaluate your portfolio to determine if it is helping you make the progress you need to eventually achieve your long-term goals. Reassess your risk tolerance. If you were unusually upset over the loss in value of your investments during the market pullback, you may need to review your risk tolerance to

determine if it’s still appropriate for your investment mix. If you feel you are taking on too much risk, you may need to rebalance your portfolio. Keep in mind, though, that by “playing it safe” and investing heavily in vehicles that offer greater protection of principal, but little in the way of return, you run the risk of not attaining the growth you need to reach your objectives. Look for opportunities. A market pullback such as the one we’ve experienced, which occurs during a period of economic expansion and rising corporate profits, can give long-term investors a chance to add new shares at attractive prices in an environment that may be conducive to a market rally. A sharp market pullback, such as we’ve seen recently, will always be big news. But if you look beyond the headlines, you can sometimes see a different picture – and one that may be brighter than you had realized.

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April - May

April 5: Chippewa County Economic Development Corp. roundtable discussion with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Dan Meyer, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Rooney Farms, 9996 Highway Q, Chippewa Falls. Cost: $10, includes lunch. Register: 715-723-7150 or April 5: Business Plan Basics class, 6-9 p.m., Western Dairyland Community Action Agency, 418 Wisconsin St. Cost: $29. Info/ register: April 5-6: Supervisory Management: Orientation, Time Management and Delegation course, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. each day, Holiday Inn South, 4751 Owen Ayres Court. Cost: $600, includes lunch, class materials. Info/register: 715-836-3636 or yagtjxol. April 12: Professional Business Documents class, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Room 204A, CVTC Applied Technology Center, 2322 Alpine Road. Cost: $119. Info/register: April 12-14: Midwest Craft Brewers Conference & Festival, Memorial Student Center, UW-Stout, Menomonie. Info: yax9h3pn. April 13: Sales Skills Training to Transform Your Business, 9 a.m.4 p.m., Room 320, Schneider Hall, UW-Eau Claire campus, 1702 Park Ave. Cost: $299. Info/register: 715-836-3636 or y8xzkvvb. April 17: Build Productive Teams (by Leveraging DiSC) class, 1-4 p.m., Room 100A, CVTC Business Education Center, 620 W. Clairemont Ave. Cost: $99. Info/register: April 17: Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce’s 104th Annual Meeting, 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Davies Student Center, UW-Eau Claire


campus, 100 Roosevelt Ave. Cost: $80. Info/register: y7xcmkec. April 18: Microsoft Excel Basic class, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., CVTC Chippewa Falls Campus, 770 Scheidler Road. Cost: $124. Info/ register: April 18: Food Entrepreneurship Roundtable featuring owners of community kitchen Forage, noon-1 p.m., Suite 212, Building 13, Banbury Place, 930 Galloway St. Cost: $15, includes lunch. Info/ register: April 19-20: Supervisory Management: Orientation, Time Management and Delegation course, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. each day, Citizens State Bank, 375 Stageline Road, Hudson. Cost: $600, includes lunch, class materials. Info/register: 715-836-3636 or yagtjxol. April 24: Office 365 Features and Benefits class, 8 a.m.-noon, St. Croix Innovation Center, 1091 Sutherland Ave., River Falls. Cost: $79. Info/register: April 24: Lunch & Learn: Securing Your Business Against Today’s Hackers, noon-1 p.m., Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, 101 N. Farwell St. Cost: $20 chamber members, $40 nonmembers. Info/ register: 715-834-1204 or April 24: Business Tax Chat featuring advice for small businesses, 6-8 p.m., Western Dairyland Community Action Agency, 418 Wisconsin St. Cost: $10. Info/register: April 25: Workplace Wellness Network: When Work and Caregiving Collide presentation on supporting employees who take care of a


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- Guest Article -



Article submitted by: Ginger Wolf, Director of Business Sales Strategy, Security Health Plan

Have you ever attended a church basement potluck dinner? You know, the ones where every family brings a hotdish to share and the salads contained more Jell-O than green vegetables? Well, this compilation of the latest changes and regulations dished out by the government is kind of like that. Some of this you’ll probably find palatable, and other things might leave a bad taste in your mouth. So, either way, here are the things that are piling up on the plates of Human Resources managers across Wisconsin.

Main dish — Affordable Care Act (ACA) 2018 Although we read a lot about repeal and replace legislation in 2017, none of the congressional efforts to actually reform, repeal or replace the ACA received enough votes to pass. However, federal legislators continued to implement adjustments to the ACA that employers should have on the radar: • The Cadillac tax, assessed on high-cost group commercial coverage plans, was delayed until 2022. • Health insurance carriers are required to pay the Health Insurer Tax (approximately 2-3 percent of premium) in 2018 but will receive a one-year reprieve in 2019. This may affect group commercial insurance costs. • The medical device excise tax, unpopular since the law was passed in 2010, was delayed again and is now pushed out until 2019. • An exemption for employers with religious or moral objections to providing certain

contraceptive coverages was ordered by the Trump administration but is currently under judicial injunction. This could affect benefits under the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits mandates. • IRS Shared Responsibility letters are on the way. Despite an incredible IRS backlog (since 2015 no letters were issued), employers with over 50 FTEs who failed to provide ACA-compliant health coverage will start receiving potential liability letters in 2018.

Salad — mid-year health savings account changes for 2018 If your company offers a qualified highdeductible health plan and employees make a pre-tax contribution to a health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement account (HRA), you may want to make adjustments. The allowed contributions for an HSA or HRA changed on March 5, 2018. Due to inflation adjusted calculations, the annual limit on deductions for individuals is now $3,450 and for families is $6,850. In practical terms, this

means that employees who make the maximum contribution will need to adjust their HSA or HRA contribution withholdings. If you’d like to learn more, check out the IRS notifications found at

Dessert — wellness program changes coming in 2019…or not ACA regulations give employers incentives to promote employer-sponsored wellness programs. Originally, these programs were capped at 20 percent of the cost of health plan benefits. However, under guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the wellness incentive cap was raised to 30 percent. That was until the US District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the ruling. Confused? Don’t lose heart. The court’s ruling does not take effect until January 2019, which should allow plenty of time for the EEOC to modify or justify its earlier wellness incentive guidelines. In fact, the revised rules are expected to be made public in August 2018. See for more details. Staying up to date on health plan benefits is a key to success for HR managers. At Security Health Plan we’re here to help you keep your benefit plans compliant. Give us a call at 877.249.7232 to learn more about how we can help you stay a step ahead of the pack. And don’t forget to visit for a steady diet of facts, insights and tips. 849029 04-02-18

April 2, 2018 • BUSINESS LEADER | 21

loved one, 8-9:30 a.m., Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, 101 N. Farwell St. Cost: Free. Info/register: 715-858-0616 or ybqmllc6. April 25: Developing Effective Training Skills course, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Room 117, CVTC Chippewa Falls Campus, 770 Scheidler Road. Cost: $225. Info/register: April 25: Office Personnel Seminar, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., CVTC Business Education Center, 620 W. Clairemont Ave. Cost: $85. Info/register: April 26: Junior Achievement of Wisconsin, Northwest District “Hero Gala” recognition dinner, 5:30-8:30 p.m., Wild Ridge Golf & Event Center, 3647 Kane Road. Cost: $80 individual but higher sponsorship table packages available. Registration ends April 22. Info/register: April 26-27: Supervisory Management: Process Mapping and Work Flow Improvement course, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. each day, Holiday Inn South, 4751 Owen Ayres Court. Cost: $600, includes lunch, class materials. Info/register: 715-836-3636 or May 9: Building Employee Accountability — The Critical Role of Leadership class, 1-4 p.m., St. Croix Innovation Center, 1091 Sutherland Ave., River Falls. $79. Info/register: ybzcaeca. May 10: Mastering Emotional Intelligence class, 9 a.m.-noon, Room 103B, CVTC Business Education Center, 620 W. Clairemont Ave. Cost: $139. Info/register: May 10: Working Mothers Luncheon, noon-1:30 p.m., River Prairie Center, 1445 Front Porch Place, Altoona. Cost: $25 chamber members, $45 nonmembers. Info/register: 715-834-1204 or y7jum63x. May 10: Business Plan Basics class, 6-9 p.m., Western Dairyland Community Action Agency, 418 Wisconsin St. Cost: $29. Info/ register: May 10-11: Supervisory Management: Employee Evaluation and Performance Management course, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. each day, Citizens State Bank, 375 Stageline Road, Hudson. Cost: $600, includes lunch, class materials. Info/register: 715-836-3636 or May 12-19: Several downtown Eau Claire businesses will Creative Economy Week with tours, live music and presentations. Info: May 15: Microsoft Excel Intermediate class, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Room 204A, CVTC Applied Technology Center, 2322 Alpine Road. Cost: $124. Info/register: May 17-18: Supervisory Management: Building Leadership Skills through Communication and Listening course, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. each day, Citizens State Bank, 375 Stageline Road, Hudson. Cost: $600, includes lunch, class materials. Info/register: 715-836-3636 or tinyurl. com/y8prab5y. May 21: Dealing with Difficult People and Negotiations training session, 1-5 p.m., Room 311, Davies Student Center, UW-Eau Claire, 100 Roosevelt Ave. Cost: $49 regular, free for May 22 Women’s Business Conference attendees. Info/register: May 22: Women’s Business Conference, 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Davies Student Center, UW-Eau Claire campus, 100 Roosevelt Ave. Cost: $69 by May 17, $89 after, students and low-income individuals can register for $25. Info/register: May 22-24: Furthering Food Safety Workshop for businesses that produce food or beverages, 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. each day, UW-Stout, Menomonie. Cost: $950. Info/register: May 31-June 1: Supervisory Management: Employee Evaluation and Performance Management course, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. each day, Holiday Inn South, 4751 Owen Ayres Court. Cost: $600, includes lunch, class materials. Info/register: 715-836-3636 or y7lvtfd3. 22 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018


from Page 20



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April 2, 2018 • BUSINESS LEADER | 23



Business Leader | Spring 2018  

100% local business news. The cover story of this issue explores what several Chippewa Valley employers are doing to step up to the challe...

Business Leader | Spring 2018  

100% local business news. The cover story of this issue explores what several Chippewa Valley employers are doing to step up to the challe...