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WMC partnering with WTCS, UW System to create 20-year plan

By Karen Rivedal – The state’s biggest business group — Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce — is partnering with higher education leaders and the state’s job creation agency on a 20-year strategic business plan for Wisconsin.

Tentatively titled the Future Wisconsin Project, the effort will focus in its first year mostly on the oft-reported lack of skilled workers in manufacturing and many other challenged industries and sectors of the workforce, such as information technology.

But it’s also about taking a longer look at economic development issues facing the state and creating a workable and enduring system for addressing those issues, with timely input from business, government and academia, WMC president Kurt Bauer said.

“I think we’re all a little guilty of operating from month to month, year to year, election cycle to election cycle,” Bauer said. “This is supposed to be broader than that. This (will) look out and see what Wisconsin is going to be, and (ask ourselves), ‘Do we like it?’ and if we don’t, ‘How do we change it?’ ”

The goal of developing a lasting “infrastructure of communication” among the key parties is the main thing that differentiates the WMC project from other broad economic studies and initiatives such as Be Bold Wisconsin, said Morna Foy, Wisconsin Technical College System president. The tech system is one of the effort’s four partners, along with the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the quasi-public job creation agency recommended by the Be Bold Wisconsin study.

By contrast, Foy said, “(WMC leaders) are trying to build a road map that people can follow this year and the year after that and the year after that.

“Some of the topics they’re interested in examining are big. They go beyond the interests or borders of any individual company. It’s really refreshing for us to see them take that longer view.”

UW System spokesman Dave Giroux credited WMC for involving higher education leaders early in the process and said he liked what he described as WMC’s focus on “human capital, the competitiveness of our business and industry, and the overall quality of life.”

“We see ourselves (in the UW System) touching on these areas in many different ways,” Giroux said.

The effort is motivated by troubling demographic projections that threaten a crisis for Wisconsin’s aging workforce in the decades to come, WMC leaders said.

The Wisconsin Applied Population lab projects 14.2 percent overall population growth in the state by 2040, with about 800,000 more people but most of them over age 65, according to Jim Morgan, president of the WMC Foundation, the group’s research arm.

WMC also cites a Georgetown University Study that predicted 317,130 additional jobs between 2010 and 2020 in Wisconsin but only 15,150 new workers.

Incoming WMC chairman Dan Ariens, president of Brillion-based Ariens Co., an outdoor power equipment manufacturer, said WMC and its partners needed to create a “consensus dialogue” over these issues to effectively address the problem before it gets worse.

“There’s a workforce shortage now,” said Ariens, who also is vice chairman of the WEDC board of directors. “It’ll be a crisis later.”

Beyond workforce development — or “talent attraction,” as the Future Wisconsin project terms it — the issue of business competitiveness also is slated to be studied closely in year one of the initiative. Future years could focus on other identified issues, likely including global engagement, government effectiveness, life quality and entrepreneurial spirit.

Discussions and ideas also will center around what the parties see as the state’s various strengths and barriers to growth. WMC’s own agenda, mainly representing the viewpoint of business owners and industry, must be balanced by input from the other partners for the initiative to be successful, Foy noted.

“If the script is already written and all the ideas have been thought of, and (WMC leaders are) just doing a yearlong road show (of their conclusions), other parties won’t want to engage,” Foy said. “That’s not my sense at all about what they’re looking for in this. They are really trying to stretch beyond their own view to make sure they get the best and smartest ideas.”

WMC will share plans for the project more widely in the coming weeks and months, starting with its own members Feb. 6 at the group’s annual Business Day, a key membership and lobbying event in Madison.

Jim Morgan, president of the WMC Foundation, a research arm of the group, then will present the project at each of the technical system’s 16 colleges in February and March, with public listening sessions and regular meetings of the partners and other stakeholder groups throughout the year, leading up to a December forum where notes on problems will be compared and action plans could be issued.

Bauer and Ariens said possible end results could include new legislative proposals that WMC could lobby for, and/or more grassroots steps or decisions that any of the partners could take on their own.

“It’s not just going to be another white paper,” Bauer promised. “It’s a process. More than anything, what we want to do is spark the debate and make people aware of what is coming down the road.”

Giroux agreed the project could be unique.

“We haven’t seen before the state’s lead business organization and the two higher education systems working directly together on something of this magnitude,” Giroux said. “We may have seen this model on a small scale, but not like this.”

Read more: From madison.com: "Leading state business lobby looks to create 20-year strategic plan for Wisconsin"

Corporate executives describe ‘pains and triumphs’ of expanding business

PEWAUKEE – It was time to talk about how expansion deals for growing businesses and industries in Waukesha County can get done through the availability of local and state resources meant to spur growth in the private-sector economy.

The Waukesha County Economic Development Corporation and Wisconsin Business Development expedited the discussion Wednesday in an event attended by nearly 140 at Waukesha County Technical College’s Richard T. Anderson Education Center.

The group composed of bankers, attorneys, consultants and business leaders heard a pair of corporate executives talk frankly about the pains and triumphs they encountered while recently expanding their shops.

The two talked about how they accessed resources, a sometimes difficult process, to help their firms expand in size and business.

The traditional starting point for the launch and expansion of many businesses here has been through financial institutions or the Development Corporation. Wisconsin Business Development, a nonprofit group, offers economic development solutions, potential investment capital and business strategies.

Sarit Singhal, president/CEO of Superior Support Resources Inc., of Brookfield, talked about navigating through various state, county and local financial offerings to more than double the size of his information technology firm.

Read more: From chippewa.com: "The business of expanding business"

Manufacturing still drives area, state economy

This question was once posed to me: Where would Wisconsin be without manufacturing?

It’s basically a rhetorical one, since the answer is quite obvious. Consider these facts:

  • Wisconsin leads the entire U.S. in manufacturing jobs per capita.
  • Ten percent of the state’s pool of workers 16 and over are employed in manufacturing. That’s twice the national average.
  • Manufacturing is the state’s single largest employment sector.
  • We have more than 9,000 manufacturers in the state, and more than 400,000 workers in that area.
  • All but one of Wisconsin’s 37 largest industries are in manufacturing.
  • It provides jobs for a majority of Wisconsin workers who do not have a college degree.

So as you can see, manufacturing is still the driver of the Badger state’s economy, for now and the foreseeable future.

Manufacturing is responsible for about 20 percent of the gross state product, and that figure translates to roughly the same percentage in the Chippewa Valley.

Our heavy reliance on manufacturing also comes with some risks. Wisconsin has many fewer manufacturing jobs than it did in 2000, but it has also retained more jobs than other manufacturing-heavy states, while manufacturing has also weathered the Great Recession of our lifetimes better than other job sectors.

Not that there won’t be challenges. Charlie Walker, director of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation, said that in trying to stay ahead of the curve, this area has been very proactive in identifying long-range issues that will impact growth.

He cited three major criteria for this area’s manufacturing success: the talent level of the workforce; accessibility to the marketplace through rail and highway infrastructure; and reliability of power. Walker says we stack up well in all three categories.

The Chippewa Valley also ranks well when it comes to advanced manufacturing, encompassing the high-tech assembly industry like the one we feature on the cover.

SGI has roots here dating back to when Silicon Graphics bought Cray Research in the mid-’90s. And now Jabil Circuits will become the latest worldwide player to land here, with its purchase of SGI’s manufacturing facility.

Jabil’s success story is impressive: Since its start nearly 50 years ago in Detroit, the company has expanded relentlessly through acquisitions and by evolving to serve numerous industries. In 2012 it ranked 157th in Fortune magazine’s list of the 500 most admired companies.

Oh, and SGI is very much sticking around here, as so many other related businesses have also done once they come to the area. TTM Technologies still produces circuit boards with about 1,000 workers in Chippewa Falls, and Cray, Inc., just installed and filled more supercomputer orders than any quarter in its history, sending its stock price soaring.

They have all found workers in this area to be among the best in the nation, which supports Walker’s contention as to the talent level.

Helping produce those workers with specific skill sets for our manufacturing companies are UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College, which have forged relationships with many area firms. The schools have been so successful that some graduates have actually had to turn down job offers.

Our winter issue also takes a look at why Five Star Plastics in Eau Claire’s Sky Park Industrial Center is undertaking its second large expansion in five years, and Nanospark, a young spinoff company in Altoona with a bright future.

A key area with manufacturers is often exports, and Momentum West, an economic development group representing 10 area counties, is expanding its horizons this year by going beyond our borders. It is targeting two international trade shows with hopes of landing businesses for this area.

Read more: From chippewa.com: "Manufacturing still drives area, state economy"

February is CTE Month

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, and the Wisconsin Departments of Public Instruction (DPI), Workforce Development (DWD) and the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) are encouraging students, schools, parents, and educators to discover the high standards, innovation and excellence offered through the state’s CTE programs.

“Career and Technical Education introduces students to workplace expectations for knowledge and technical skills through a blend of classroom instruction and hands-on experiences,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “Because coursework is grounded in high standards and workforce needs through partnerships between educators and employers, young people in our high school CTE programs graduate college and career ready.”

“CTE has never been more important,” said Morna Foy, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System. “We’re proud to be partners in highlighting the many opportunities students have to participate in CTE. The result is a richer learning experience, greater awareness of education and career options, and many times, college credit.”

“Career and Technical Education Month offers an excellent opportunity to highlight successful partnerships, strong leadership, and promising initiatives to help build a skilled workforce to move Wisconsin forward,” DWD Secretary Reggie Newson said. “In collaboration with schools, the technical college system, employers, and parents, we are committed to helping both current and future generations of workers gain greater awareness of the challenging and cutting-edge career paths that technical education supports.”

More than 90,000 Wisconsin high school students are taking career and technical education courses in fields such as agriculture, business, family and consumer science, health occupations, marketing, and technology and engineering. Those increased opportunities help students find a viable route to a rewarding career. Many CTE programs provide multiple pathways for students to prepare for diploma and apprenticeship programs, technical college degrees and industry certifications, as well as four-year degree programs and other career and training.

Wisconsin’s technical colleges play an important role in expanding CTE opportunities for students through partnerships and dual credit coursework.

“Everyone knows that student engagement through great teaching is at the core of learning,” Evers said. He recounted a visit to Eleva-Strum’s Cardinal Industries, which focuses on metal fabrication. “The students do customized piece work for various fabricators in northwest Wisconsin, filling a niche in the industry. The class was run like a business. Students received both high school and technical college credit. And at the end of the year, profit sharing provided $1,200 per student. This innovation has been recognized nationally through Modern Machine Shop Magazine.”

In a partnership among the Baldwin-Woodville, Hudson and Menomonie high schools and OEM Fabricators, coursework and experience promote advanced manufacturing as a career choice. The Manufacturing Careers Pathway Partnership reaches both middle and high school students through career exploration, job shadowing, youth employment, state of the art training facilities, dual enrollment with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and tuition assistance. Evers visited the Eleva-Strum, Baldwin-Woodville and Menomonie high school CTE programs last year as part of the CTE month observance in Wisconsin.

In honor of this year’s CTE month observance, Evers, Foy and Newson are planning classroom and on-site CTE visits throughout the state. Details will be forthcoming.

Read more: From lacrossetribune.com: "February is CTE Month"

K-12, tech college partnership to train welders

By Peter Rebhahn – It’s a familiar story: An economy still shell-shocked from the Great Recession of 2008-09 has left businesses downsizing and workers scrambling for a dwindling supply of low-paying jobs without benefits.

But what if the story isn’t as true as we think?

“We lose a lot of business because we do not have enough people to staff our shop,” said Larry Willer, operations manager for W.M. Sprinkman Corp. in Elroy.

Sprinkman needs more welders. In fact, Willer said, the welder shortage is one of the biggest problems the company faces.

Willer said the welder shortage has persisted for years in spite of starting hourly pay “in the teens,” plenty of overtime opportunity and a full benefit package that includes vacation time and health insurance.

“We’re looking to expand our night shift and we would probably hire in the neighborhood of anywhere from 10 to 15 welders if we could find qualified people,” Willer said.

That would be a big staff increase at Sprinkman, a manufacturer of stainless steel tanks for the dairy, food and beverage industry. It now employs 56 people – about two-thirds of them welders.

The company, which Willer said has benefitted from the microbrewing boom within the beer industry, serves customers nationwide from its 14,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in downtown Elroy.

Sprinkman’s customers include Fortune 500 giants such as Coca Cola and the Campbell Soup Company, as well as many smaller companies such as Capital Brewery in Madison.

The welder shortage is not Sprinkman’s problem alone.

At Walker Stainless Equipment in New Lisbon, Human Resources Manager Nancy Jacques said the “Welders Wanted” sign has occupied a prominent spot on the lawn at the front of the company headquarters for years. They’re looking to fill 20 vacant welder positions right now.

“It’s hard to find associates who are interested in the trade or who have any skill in welding,” Jacques said.

Walker, which also makes stainless steel equipment for customers nationwide, is Juneau County’s biggest manufacturing employer, with more than 500 workers in New Lisbon and at another facility in Elroy. About 225 of the company’s employees in Juneau County are welders, Jacques said. Like Sprinkman, business at Walker is good. Jacques said it’s frustrating to leave jobs unfilled.

“Walker’s market continues to expand,” Jacques said. “Therefore, the need for experienced welders increases also.”

Last week, the Juneau County Board of Supervisors took official notice of the problem when it passed a resolution that asked Western Technical College to “provide the necessary leadership, teachers, technical assistance, and monetary support for the establishment of the type of welding courses needed by Juneau County manufacturers at the New Lisbon High School.”

In fact, talks between officials from the technical college and New Lisbon schools are already well underway.

New Lisbon schools Superintendent Dennis Birr said the high school teaches a welding class. He said he’s “solidly behind” allowing the technical college use of the school’s welding laboratory. Talks with technical college officials about a sharing arrangement have been going on for more than a year, he added.

“The school’s perspective has been that we have a welding lab and we’d be happy to let it be used to help more people get the welding skills that help local employers,” Birr said.

The high school’s welding lab accommodates about a dozen students. Birr said the welding class attracts a mix of students – some who are merely curious and others who think they might like a career in welding. But even the career-minded students at New Lisbon are still only high school students who, unlike college students, haven’t necessarily made up their minds to pursue a career in welding.

The problem is meeting the increased immediate demands of industry. Training welders to step from a classroom and into a real-world job at a manufacturer like Sprinkman or Walker would require an expensive upgrade to the high school’s facility. That’s an expenditure Birr said the district isn’t interested in making because the existing facility meets its limited needs.

“The people who would be taking this class aren’t our students,” Birr said.

Patti Balacek, director of business and industry services for Western Technical College, said the hope is to copy in New Lisbon the success of a similar high school-technical college link-up in Black River Falls.

“It’s been an incredible boon for everyone, but it also was a year and a half of a lot of work, a lot of fundraising,” Balacek said.

In Black River Falls, Jackson County and the Black River Falls School District came up with $80,000 to create the Welding Skills Institute at the high school. The Ho Chunk Nation, which provided Jackson County’s $50,000 contribution, played a key role in the Black River Falls funding. The Black River Falls School District contributed the other $30,000.

Other partners in Black River Falls included the Department of Corrections, Jackson County Circuit Court and the state Department of Corrections.

“If we were to proceed with New Lisbon, it will take a great deal of commitment from a number of partners,” Balacek said. “I respect that the Juneau County board would like Western to provide some of the leadership, but it was only successful in Black River Falls because other people made a significant contribution to making this happen.”

She said she awaits word of a grant application that could allow expansion of the college’s welding training. But right now the technical college doesn’t have the money for an upgrade to the New Lisbon High School welding lab, said Balacek, who added she has also discussed the issue with Mauston school officials.

One of the problems educators face, Balacek said, is getting high school students to understand that manufacturing jobs are no longer the dirty, noisy and dangerous occupations they once were.

“The view of manufacturing is something we have to help young people understand has changed, and can lead to a very viable and financially sound career move for many people,” Balacek said.

Willer said a few of Sprinkman’s welders live outside Juneau County, but attracting welders from distant areas runs up hard against a fact of life that all manufacturers face.

“People generally do not relocate for a shop job, so it limits us to people within a reasonable driving distance of our shop,” Willer said.

Willer said Sprinkman gets many job applications but the “vast majority” of applicants have no skills. They don’t understand that precision welding is exacting work that can’t be learned on the job in a week.

“These guys are fabricators,” Willer said with a nod toward workers on Sprinkman’s shop floor. “We don’t call them welders. We call them fabricators.”

Willer said company officials are considering taking matters into their own hands.

“We have gotten to the point where we are also looking at developing our own welding course and training people for the work we have available,” Willer said. “We can provide, I feel, good-paying jobs with benefits and a future – if they have the skills.”

Read more: From wisnews.com: "Welders wanted: Employers with jobs struggle to fill them"

President to highlight job training in Waukesha visit

President Barack Obama drops into the Republican stronghold of Waukesha County on Thursday morning and is expected to discuss a subject that unites Republicans and Democrats.

Job training.

Obama is due to visit GE’s Waukesha gas engines plant, a facility that employs around 700 people and manufactures natural gas engines.

He is scheduled to tour the plant, meet with executives and line workers, and give a speech, before making his way to an afternoon appearance at a high school in Nashville, Tenn.

A senior Obama administration official said that during his Waukesha appearance, the president is expected to discuss taking executive action to enhance reform of job training programs. The official laid out the general themes of Obama’s visit during a teleconference with reporters.

The Wisconsin stop is part of Obama’s two-day tour after his State of the Union address.

According to the official, the president is striving to amplify key themes from the speech, including expanding economic opportunity for Americans.

“That is the focus of the president’s domestic policy agenda,” the official said. “It is the focus of his efforts to try to find common ground with members of Congress. We certainly are hopeful that there would be some bipartisan common ground that could be found on some basic steps we could take that would expand economic opportunity for every American, in areas like job creation, job training and education.”

The official said the president will “also talk about his willingness to act on his own.

“When Congress refuses to act, the president won’t wait for them,” the official said.

The White House announced that after his speech in Waukesha, Obama will sign a Presidential Memorandum to initiate “an across-the-board review of how to best reform federal training programs.”

Vice President Joe Biden will lead the effort.

A competition will also be launched for the final $500 million of a community college training fund. Every state will be awarded at least one grant. The competition is designed to bolster partnerships with community colleges, employers and industry to “create training programs for in-demand jobs.”

The  senior administration official said the GE plant in Waukesha employs highly skilled workers who are trained to perform specific tasks.

“What the president would like to see is a re-orientation of our job training programs,” the official said. “The president wants to make our job training programs across the country more job-driven.”

The official explained that such reorientation means greater coordination between federal agencies that oversee job training grant programs and local community colleges, communities and employers.

The official said “there are many businesses across the country that, despite what continue to be elevated unemployment rates, still do have openings for workers. The difference is they are looking for workers with a very specific skill set.”

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has also emphasized the need to get workers the right training to match job openings in fields such as manufacturing and computer technology.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who will greet the president at Mitchell International Airport and be with him at the GE plant, said he expected the focus of the visit will be the economy and jobs.

“It’s something I’ve been talking about for some time,” Barrett said. “It’s what I call ‘ships passing in the night.’ Workers can’t find jobs. Employers can’t find workers. We’ve got to find a way to bring them together.”

The mayor said he hoped to share with Obama the work going on in the Milwaukee area to accomplish that.

He specifically mentioned the work of the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/BIG STEP, which develops resources and services for companies to expand employment and advancement opportunities by upgrading the skills of current employees and training residents to get family-supporting jobs.

Barrett also cited the work of the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, which is a government-business partnership that administers employment and training programs; Milwaukee Area Technical College; and Waukesha County Technical College.

Last week, Barrett and mayors from other cities around the country met with Vice President Joe Biden and discussed the manufacturing partnership between workers and employers.

“I’m guessing this is something in their wheelhouse,” Barrett said of Obama’s visit to Waukesha.

Read more: From jsonline.com: "President Barack Obama to highlight job training in Waukesha visit"

Nicolet College to host caregivers conference

Professional and family caregivers who provide direct care services at home or in long-term care settings are invited to attend the 8th Annual Direct Caregivers Conference next month at Nicolet College.

Sandy Bishop from Nicolet College is a member of the Northern Wisconsin Long Term Care Workforce Network. She says it’s a day to celebrate those who give care to others…

“…its a day for us to provide education, not only for certified nursing assistants, but also for other direct care providers and caregivers on all types of topics of interest to them…..”

Keynote speakers include Lynda Markut, author of Dementia Caregivers Share Their Stories: A Support Group in a Book; and Charles Schoenfeld, author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Dementia Ward – Memoir of a Male CNA.

The conference is February 14 at the Northwoods Center at the Rhinelander campus. More information and registration is available by contacting the Nicolet College campus.

Read more: From wxpr.com: "Conference Honoring Caregivers Coming To Nicolet College"

Walker’s plan for tech college funding

Western Wisconsin property taxpayers would save about $15 million under tax cuts proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.

Money from the state’s expected surplus would offset taxes levied by Western Technical College, benefiting homes and businesses in Western’s 11-county district.

But Walker’s proposal is more than a money dump. It would also transform funding methods for Wisconsin’s technical colleges.

Western’s top official lauded the plan but wondered about the future.

“Essentially, it’s shifting the balance,” Western president Lee Rasch said. “If this plan is going to help reduce the impact on property tax, it’s really a wonderful thing.”

The governor’s plan would inject state funding into Wisconsin’s network of tech colleges in 2015 to ease the burden on local taxpayers. The average homeowner would save $89 per $100,000 of property value in Western’s district, which includes La Crosse County.

It’s a savings from this year’s rate, but it’s also lower than taxes were before voters passed an $80 million bonding referendum in 2012, Rasch said. Western’s total levy this year, not including debt, was just more than $25 million. Walker’s plan would cut that to $10.3 million.

“That’s a pretty significant drop,” Rasch said.

Western’s ability to tax property owners would be reduced from $1.50 to 61 cents per $1,000 of property value.

Western and other technical colleges would switch to a K-12-style of financing, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance President Todd Berry said. The governor’s proposal would link technical college levies to state aid and impose a cap on all revenue.

Like public schools, low property taxes would depend on continued support from the state. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the 2015 aid increase “will repeat in future years.”

“This is not one-time money,” Evenson said.

However, if state aid does dip, property taxes increase.

“That puts a new pressure on the state budget that hadn’t existed before,” Berry said.

Last year, Republican lawmakers recommended removing Wisconsin’s technical colleges from property tax bills.

At the time, Rasch criticized the proposal as a threat to local control. Walker’s proposal is “a good plan,” as long as local campuses still have the flexibility to develop courses and react to regional employment trends, Rasch said.

Walker also wants $35 million extra for training skilled workers. The program that would benefit is managed by the Department of Workforce Development, but some of the new funding would be channeled to technical colleges.

Money would go to eliminating wait-lists for high-demand courses and dual-credit programs, so tech schools could offer more college-level classes at nearby high schools.

Western officials are already considering ways to take advantage of the proposed funding, Rasch said. The college has wait-lists for welding, information technology and health care classes.

“We’re watching it closely,” Rasch said.

Read more: From jsonline.com: "Walker's plan would overhaul tech school funding"

Diesel instructor gives advice for winter driving

Semi-trucks, plows and school buses are all in danger when the temperatures drop below zero.

Mechanics say the proper fuel and care by truck drivers could save valuable time and money, especially on days when we don’t see temperatures above zero.

“The biggest thing is the filters get plugged. Once the filter’s plugged, then we run out of fuel,” Chippewa Valley Technical College diesel mechanic instructor Rusty Naylor said.

“The diesel fuel will start gelling when it gets down around 0 degrees. Anything below that, additives have to be put in to keep the fuel from getting thick,” Mid State International Trucks service manager Tom Behling said.

“Drivers in this area, what we have most problem with, is people coming from the south. They’re coming up from Florida, Texas, they fuel up in Missouri, and then when they hit here, our climates 20 below (zero), plus. They don’t think about the fuel gelling. They don’t have a problem down south,” Naylor said.

Behling said his Eau Claire shop has seen more than 100 trucks come because of cold weather problems, twice what it saw last year.

“If they can drive the truck here, they can easily get out of here for a couple hundred dollars. You get towed in; you’re probably looking at $1,000 or more because towing gets expensive.”

He along with Naylor said there are things drivers can do to avoid diesel from gelling up.

“You need a blended fuel, that will drop the temperature at which this wax will develop … Also to that you have to put additives in,” Naylor said.

“This is a trial and error time. I’m looking at tomorrow morning myself, got good fuel, blended fuel; we’ll see what happens at 25 below zero.”

Naylor said if a truck starts, but power drops while driving, that could be a sign that diesel is gelling.

Read more: From weau.com: "Cold weather brings diesel dangers"

Tech college students provide tax preparation assistance

It’s your ticket to a big check from Uncle Sam, or for some it’s payback time to the IRS. Your W-2 should be in the mail soon and in 2014, there are plenty of different ways for taxpayers to file their taxes.

“I just got my W-2 in the mail. I may have to do it in the next week or two, I might need to get started on that,” said student at Chippewa Valley Technical College, Nathan Hakes.

Hakes and millions of Americans will be able to file their taxes now, but due to last year’s government shutdown, the IRS delayed the tax filing season by ten days.

“You can still prepare you return and send it, it’ll just be held until January 31st timeframe,” said Casper Haas, a tax manager at InCity Tax Service in downtown Eau Claire.

That means the IRS won’t begin processing tax preparations sent in until the end of the month. The April 15th deadline is still in place

Haas knows all about filing taxes because he thinks about it 365 days a year as a tax manager.

“Tax preparation can be stressful and we’re in the business of preparing tax returns. This is what we do, this is what we live for, this is what we study for,” said Haas who said people have begun bringing in their taxes for him to help prepare.

He said a professional preparer is something to consider, especially if you’re dealing with more than just a W-2.

“(If they have) two income households, they own a home, they have dependents, so they more than likely would itemize deductions, so Schedule A.,” said Haas. “We work with small businesses as well as LLCs, sole proprietors; we can do those returns as well.”

If you feel comfortable doing your own taxes, technology can help you do just that. New this year are tax preparation apps that can be downloaded on a mobile device. H&R Block came out with a Tax Preparation 2013 app and so did TurboTax with its new app called SnapTax.

SnapTax is as simple as snapping a picture of your W-2 on your smartphone and it will put all the information into the app program, calculating your federal and state returns.

Some people turn to software, like TaxACT and Intuit TurboTax.

“I now use TurboTax online,” said Hakes. “It’s so much faster and I can answer everything myself.”

Hakes said his mother taught him how to file his own taxes.

“I tried going through H&R Block but I think through TurboTax, I was able to find the deductions I knew. Now online works for me, it’s simple,” he said.

The IRS lets you file your taxes for free if your income is below $58,000. A free tax prep software is offered online at the IRS.gov website. For income above $58,000, it offers free file fillable forms which will be available on January 31, 2014.

And if you’re low income and want something free, CVTC is offering VITA, the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program.

“We have students who are very, very eager to help out and it’s great experience for them as well because gives them that real life feel and real interaction,” said accounting instructor Jason Szymanski.

He said it’s a chance for people who can’t afford professional help to get their taxes prepared by a trained and certified volunteer. Volunteers can help with services that are not too complicated, like income tax credit, child care tax credits, unemployment compensation and Wisconsin homestead tax credit.

CVTC said the VITA service is offered Thursdays Feb. 6 through April 10 in room 240 of the Business Education Center, 620 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire. The service is provided on a first-come-first-served basis, with sign-up beginning at noon and tax preparation from 1-4:30 p.m. each day.

Read more: From weau.com: "Filing your taxes soon? You've got options"

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