EDC Leaders Highlight CVTC’s Workforce Role

Mark Gunderman

EDC Leaders Highlight CVTC’s Workforce Role

3 mins
February 9, 2021

When Charlie Walker, executive director of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation, hosts site selectors looking for locations for business expansion ventures, he tries to present the area in as positive a light as possible and avoid some pitfalls.

He wants Chippewa County, and the wider Chippewa Valley, to remain in the conversation as a company considers a location for a major project. Communities can lose out on opportunities for a lot of reasons, but there is one major factor that does not worry Walker. He has Chippewa Valley Technical College to brag about.

The pipeline of trained labor is a major factor as site selectors look for reasons to cross locations off their list,” Walker said. “With CVTC, we have a facility that not only has a wide range of programs, but they also have advisory committees, so the employers have input as well.”

Walker is not alone in his assessment. “Having a technical college of the quality of CVTC with the broad offerings they have is extremely important,” said Aaron White, economic development manager for the city of Eau Claire.

White was quick to point out, though, that CVTC’s workforce development efforts are not the largest factor for a potential employer. “The number one factor is having a site that will meet their needs, with enough space for them to do their project,” he said. “Number two is always, ‘can you give us the workforce that is trained or trainable?’ If you don’t have that, they’re not coming to your community either.”

That a trained workforce is extremely important to employers should come as no surprise to anyone, but Walker points out another factor that people may not realize.

The other part of it is CVTC’s relationship with high schools,” Walker said. “That is an important element in how CVTC keeps the pipeline of trained labor flowing. Every time we have a visit, they want to know about the relationship between the college and the high schools.”

In recent years, CVTC has nearly tripled its high school dual enrollment activity, awarding 21,286 dual credits in 2019-20, a 300 percent increase from five years earlier,” said Dr. Julie Furst-Bowe, vice president of instruction. “In 2019-20, CVTC enrolled 5,262 dual credit students in courses, the third highest enrollment across all Wisconsin technical colleges, despite the institution’s relatively small size.”

White has found a way to overcome an objection that some site selectors have. Labor force is a big part of their decision, and when they look at the low unemployment numbers Eau Claire typically has, they are inclined to believe there are not enough local workers.

My response is we have 14 percent of the labor force that is underemployed, and we have the facility in CVTC that can turn those workers around into what the company needs,” White said.

CVTC’s reputation goes beyond the Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls area. “It’s difficult to overstate how important CVTC is to our area,” said Steve Jahn, executive director of the 10-county economic development organization Momentum West. “CVTC has set a bar in this part of Wisconsin that is second to none. I am a big fan of the technical college system and its importance to existing and potential businesses.”

Joe Folsom, executive director of the Pierce County Economic Development Corporation is in a different position in his populated area at the Minnesota border. A lack of suitable sites and the number of available employees makes recruiting major projects difficult. Instead, Folsom focuses on start-ups and supporting existing businesses.

We work with the businesses we have, and in conversations with them, CVTC is part of their plans,” Folsom said. “When I’m working with these people, CVTC is big on their list, along with UW-Stout's Manufacturing Outreach Center. These are two key players for existing employers.”

It all comes down to relationships,” Jahn said. “My hat’s off to President Bruce Barker and his team.”

This article was orginally reported by
Mark Gunderman

Mark is Communications Specialist for Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire, WI, since August 27, 2012.