Leadership Oshkosh experience puts community in new perspective

Posted May 29, 2012 by Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce
Categories: Leadership

By David Gundlach, Deputy Superintendent, Oshkosh Area School District
This column first appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern on May 27, 2012

At the start of my second year with the Oshkosh Area School District I was afforded the honor of representing our district by participating in Leadership Oshkosh. Leadership Oshkosh is a program run by the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce that works to bring leaders from throughout Oshkosh together to learn about our community, our challenges, and the positive developments that are occurring. I was joined by 37 successful and talented people from all parts of our community, most of which I had never met.

We started our journey by getting to know each other’s strengths and which organizations we represented. We conducted a detailed SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of Oshkosh to better inform and frame our future time together.

As part of our class we also had the opportunity to participate as adjunct board members on several nonprofit boards throughout Oshkosh.

After our initial time together we continued to meet one day per month to learn from a variety of community organizations. We started by learning about the rich history of Oshkosh and then proceeded to learn from leaders in government, arts and culture, economic development, education, health and human services, criminal justice, and communications.

Each month we drew closer to the end of our experience and you could sense that the class had formed strong relationships not only with each other but in networking with leaders from around Oshkosh. We thoroughly enjoyed learning more about various aspects of our community and the sense of pride in Oshkosh grew with each experience.

During our last session together we participated in an activity where each participant was asked what they took away from the experience and what will they do to make Oshkosh stronger in the future. There were several common themes that resonated from class members as they reported out.

First, everyone was impressed with the high quality of our civic organizations and those that led them. Many mentioned that they had several misperceptions that were proven incorrect as they learned first hand about our government, our schools, our healthcare institutions, and our business development community. Second, a sense of civic pride developed based upon the efforts to improve our waterfront, downtown hotel, convention center, business development, technical college, university, and school system.

The third theme mentioned involved the strong connection necessary between our private sector and our public sector organizations rooted in a strong realization that the common good must be cultivated and nurtured in Oshkosh for our community to prosper.

When it came to describing what we would do to make a stronger Oshkosh, the response was identical among all the participants. Each person indicated a strong desire to stay involved in the community and do what they can to make a positive contribution. Many had already taken steps to obtain more permanent positions on the various community boards that they were serving on.

I share the perspectives identified by my Leadership Oshkosh classmates and truly believe that common ground does exist in today’s polarized world even though we are often told it does not. If we take the time to learn about our community and nurture a sense of common good, it will undoubtedly lead to a deep sense of trust, willingness to really listen, and strong sense of civility.


Oshkosh Chamber supports FVTC referendum

Posted March 23, 2012 by Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce
Categories: Advocacy, Economic Development

By John Casper, President/CEO

At its meeting March 23, the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to support the Fox Valley Technical College referendum that will appear on ballots April 3.

FVTC is asking voters in its district to consider a $66.5 million referendum to improve its facilities and advance many of its educational programs.  A complete synopsis of the proposed projects can be found at www.fvtc.edu/facilitiesplan.

During the board’s discussion of the issue, several board members made valid points as to why passage of the referendum is necessary.

Although a majority of the referendum dollars is going to the Appleton campus, board members brought home the point that we as voters need to support a regional approach to economic growth and education.  We as a Chamber and as Oshkosh’s lead economic development organization understand well the importance of regionalism.  Our cities may have defined borders but our economy does not.  What is good for one city in Northeast Wisconsin is good for all.  In addition, as FVTC President Susan May has stated, it would be irresponsible to taxpayers for the college to duplicate programs.  The college has a long history of having students in Appleton travel to Oshkosh for some programs and vice versa.

Secondly, there is a great amount of discussion going on these days among business leaders and chambers of commerce regarding workforce shortages.  Called the Workforce Paradox, we are now doing business in a time when our unemployment rate is higher than recent history, yet businesses are scrambling to find skilled and qualified workers.  Local studies done recently show that a skilled labor shortage will become even more prevalent, specifically in manufacturing and health care, as a large wave of employees retire in the next 15 years.  Some of the gaps will need to be filled with those who have earned a 4-year degree.  However, filling future gaps will depend more upon those who learn a specific trade or skill at a two-year technical college.  FVTC reports that it’s experienced 30 percent growth in enrollment, and if predictions and studies hold true, the college’s growth will continue for many years to come.

It is never easy to ask voters to go to the polls and agree to a property tax hike.  That is why FVTC has asked voters to do so only three times in its history.  But, we have to keep in mind that this is the right thing to do in this critical time of current and future workforce shortages.  This will be a vote to remain progressive and be a leader in education and in business.

Business Barometer, February 27-March 2

Posted March 2, 2012 by Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce
Categories: Our Members

Here is what was announced this week in local businesses:

Congratulations go out to our two local newspapers for winning awards recently from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation.  The Oshkosh Northwestern took home 14 awards, including three in first place.  The newspaper took home first place in general excellence in its circulation category.  The award is based on news reporting quality, editorials, features, sports, photography and over typography of news and advertising.  Also, Jeff Bollier’s coverage of local government, including a series of articles on the condition of City Center Hotel, took first place.  Content Manager Erin Wasinger’s front-page designs, including one for the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and another for EAA AirVenture, took first place.  UW Oshkosh’s The Advance Titan won a first-place General Excellence award among college newspapers.

Curwood, Inc. – A Bemis Company – won six achievement awards in the Flexible Packaging Association’s annual awards competition. The company won two gold and four silver awards at the 2012 competition.  See the new release for details.

Business Barometer, February 20-24

Posted February 24, 2012 by Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce
Categories: Economic Development, Our Members

Here is what has been announced this week at local businesses and in economic development:

Kevin J. Ralofsky has been named CEO of CitizensFirst Credit Union.  He will begin his duties May 29.  Ralofsky is currently the CEO of Vacationland Federal Credit Union in Sandusky, Ohio.  CitizensFirst’s former CEO, Carla Altepeter, announced last summer that she had accepted the CEO position at a larger credit union in Washington state.

A familiar face is returning to Oshkosh as the general manager of the City Center Hotel and Convention Center.  Dan Schetter will return to Oshkosh after managing the CopperLeaf Hotel in Appleton for seven years.  Previous to that, Schetter had spent more than eight years as the food and beverage director of the Pioneer Inn & Marina.  City Center Hotel will be taking over management of the convention center in the next few months.

Evergreen was recognized as a 2011 Wisconsin Forward Award Mastery distinction recipient.  The program is based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.  Award winners demonstrate refined approaches, good-to-excellent results, and are considered industry leaders and role models for other organizations.

The Oshkosh Chamber completed its annual Business Outlook survey.  Overall, CEOs and business managers are optimistic that 2012 will be a better year than 2011.  Highlights of survey results include:

  • 162 CEOs and business owners responded to the survey
  • 63% predict that 2012 sales revenue will surpass 2011 levels
  • Nearly half of respondents say employment levels will remain the same
  • 60% of respondents say salaries and wages will increase in 2012
  • Business leaders say the most critical issues facing their business are the economic/business climate, the political climate in the State of Wisconsin, and the cost of doing business

Local CEOs, managers optimistic about 2012

Posted February 21, 2012 by Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce
Categories: Economic Development

Oshkosh Chamber news release

Local business owners and managers say they are optimistic about 2012 and are projecting higher revenue in the coming year, compared to 2011, according to a Business Outlook Survey conducted by the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce.

“The annual survey is used as a means to gauge the local economic outlook by asking CEOs, business owners and business managers to project sales volume and other economic indicators,” said Oshkosh Chamber President/CEO John Casper. “The fact that 161 business leaders responded to the current survey—the most ever to respond—indicates that we are coming off of a good year, relative to 2009 and 2010, and that our prospects for the coming year are even better.”

Of the respondents, 63 percent predicted that 2012 sales revenue will surpass 2011 levels, and more than a quarter of the respondents forecast sales increases greater than 10 percent. In addition, 57 percent of the respondents predict that sales revenue in the first quarter of 2012 will surpass sales revenue in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Despite expecting higher sales volume, nearly half of the respondents said they would keep employment levels steady during 2012. Of the remainder of the respondents, 31 percent expect to add employees, while 21 percent expect employment levels to decline. However, 60 percent of the respondents said they expect wages and salaries to increase in 2012, while 22 percent said wages and salaries would remain stable.

The Oshkosh Chamber asked business leaders about the cost of providing health insurance to its employees. Sixty-five percent of respondents expect health insurance costs to rise in 2012. More than 40 percent of respondents said they would combat rising health care costs by changing the plan design, increasing deductibles, and/or increasing employee contributions. Five percent of respondents said they anticipate discontinuing an employee health insurance plan.

Among manufacturers, 41 percent said they expect raw material inventories to increase during the first quarter of 2012, while another 41 percent said they expect the volume to remain the same. This indicates that manufacturers anticipate the same or more orders during the first quarter as compared to the same time last year.

In light of the current contentious political climate, business leaders were asked their opinion on state and national politics. Three-quarters of the respondents said the State of Wisconsin is headed in the right political direction, while the United States is headed in the wrong political direction.

Business leaders also were asked to list the most critical issues facing their business. The top three responses were, in order, the economic/business climate, the political climate in the State of Wisconsin, and the cost of doing business.

Propel poised for growth in 2012

Posted January 4, 2012 by Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce
Categories: Programs & Services

By Kelli Karpinski, Director of Marketing and Communications

In 2003, the Oshkosh Chamber recognized a need to bring young professionals together to expand their network and learn more about the community.  In developing an organization that would fulfill the social and professional needs of 20- and 30-somethings, the Chamber would satisfy an ultimate goal of retaining and attracting to Oshkosh the best and brightest.

Thus, the young professionals group, Propel, was created as an affiliate of the Chamber.  As an affiliate, it had the backing of the Chamber and could tap into the Chamber’s resources when needed.  However, it was led and sustained by a dedicated group of volunteers who believed in Propel’s mission of connecting, inspiring and cultivating relationships among young professionals.

Faces may have changed throughout the decade, but the dedication among those leading the organization did not waiver.  However, like many of us, these volunteers eventually found themselves pulled more and more often in several directions, both at work and in their personal lives.  It was time, they decided, to seek more help.

Discussions between the Propel board of directors and Chamber staff led to the decision to make Propel a program of the Chamber as of January 1, 2012.  What does this mean?  It means that the Chamber will dedicate a staff member, Member Relations Manager Megan Kok, to lead a plan for growth and further opportunity for young professionals.

We will develop a 2012 slate of events and programs that meet the social and professional needs of the demographic.  Our goal is also to get more businesses involved. We ask that businesses encourage their young professionals to become members and to support the program through sponsorships and/or by providing expertise that can be tapped for programs and events.

We will do this by staying true to the organization’s mission and with the help of volunteers who now make up Propel’s Steering Committee.

Since its inception, Propel and its members have been held in high regard.  The community seeks their opinions and ideas.  They are considered—and rightly so—an integral part of Oshkosh’s growth and success.

If you are interested in learning more about Propel or becoming involved, contact Megan Kok at (920)303-2265, ext. 16, or megan@oshkoshchamber.com.

Oshkosh has no need to apologize

Posted November 18, 2011 by Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce
Categories: Economic Development

By Rob Kleman, executive director, Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corp.

I often find that Oshkosh feels sorry for itself.  Wish lists are full of desires for more chain department stores and restaurants.  The perception of many is that we are not growing to the extent of our neighboring cities in Northeast Wisconsin.

It’s simply not true.  The Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corp. (OAEDC) recently compiled new commercial and industrial construction totals for the past six years.  The numbers come from the State Department of Revenue and show that during the past six years, Oshkosh had $297 million in new commercial construction, more than Appleton, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Neenah, Ashwaubenon and Grand Chute. Oshkosh also led the way in industrial construction during those same six years, with just under $46.4 million in new industrial construction, higher than any of those same cities.  Of significance is that the State of Wisconsin is not required to report construction numbers, so these totals do not include nearly $60 million in construction at UW Oshkosh.

It’s important to note that two of those cities—Appleton and Green Bay—are larger than Oshkosh in population and yet did not expand in either commercial or industrial construction at the same rate as Oshkosh.  For example, Oshkosh’s new commercial construction per capita was $4,495, compared to $2,572 in Appleton and $1,566 in Green Bay.

The elephant in the room when it comes to local economic development is the Town of Grand Chute in Outagamie County.  This is, of course, the township where much of the Appleton area’s retail and commercial space is concentrated.  It’s where the Fox River Mall calls home.

And so, OAEDC compiled the same numbers for highly developed locations in both the Appleton and Green Bay areas.  You may be surprised to know that Oshkosh still holds its own against these areas.  Yes, when you combine the City of Appleton and the Town of Grand Chute, total new construction equals $310 million.  But wait.  That’s only $13 million more than Oshkosh, and taken per capita, Oshkosh still outpaces that area—Appleton/Grand Chute’s new commercial construction is just $3,316 per capita.

Green Bay and Ashwaubenon, taken together, did not expand at the rate of Oshkosh in new commercial construction, although they did record higher industrial construction totals.  There, $57 million of new industrial construction took place during the six years, but again, its per capita total of $640 is lower than Oshkosh’s $701 per capita total.

Quite often, Oshkosh hangs its head, almost apologetically for perceived shortcomings.  Yet the city has so much to offer.  We have a thriving outlet mall, a “Miracle Mile” of stores and restaurants along Highway 41, a revitalized downtown with unique cafes and shops.  We are home to the third largest state university and a technical college that boasts three locations in our city.  We are the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company—Oshkosh Corporation.  And, we attract more than 1 million visitors every year thanks to EAA, Country and Rock USA, Lifest and many others.

So many cities want to be us, Oshkosh.  Don’t apologize.

Total construction numbers can be viewed online.