West Central Wisconsin Gives it the Old College Try

Higher education institutions link students to career opportunities.

By
Kevin Litwin
On Sunday, November 8, 2020 - 10:22
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A key component of West Central Wisconsin’s business advantage is access to a deep pool of skilled talent.

The region’s higher education institutions play a major role in workforce development, combining with business and industry to offer specialized programs to meet employer needs. Two technical colleges in the region – Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) – feature programs that provide students with both classroom learning and on-the-job training opportunities.

At CVTC, for example, a partnership has paired culinary management students with Midwest Meals, an Eau Claire-based manufacturer of prepackaged, ready-to-eat fresh meals. Any CVTC culinary student who helps develop a new menu product that Midwest Meals uses is rewarded with a scholarship.

“I’ve been into health and fitness since college, and that includes always preparing healthy and nutritious meals for myself,” says Daniel Beck, CEO of Midwest Meals. “A few years ago, a buddy challenged me to begin fixing healthy to-go meals on a large basis for the public because nobody was doing this in Western Wisconsin or Minneapolis, so I started Midwest Meals, providing healthy prepared meals for busy people.”

Midwest Meals now has its own commercial kitchen and a storefront in Eau Claire, and the company also delivers. Midwest Meals features more than a dozen signature menu items, such as a lean turkey taco with low-sodium seasoning and cheese and an Angus burger with sweet potato fries, for its breakfast, lunch and dinner lineups, plus meals can be made-to-order online by customers.

“As for our collaboration with CVTC culinary students, we continue to welcome all suggestions that fit into our healthy cuisine guidelines, and that people in the Midwest would enjoy,” Beck says.

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Courtesy of Midwest Meals

Winning with UWIN

Innovative initiatives promote internship opportunities throughout the region. The University of Wisconsin Internship Network (UWIN) is a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout and the Momentum West economic development organization that aims to increase the number of internships in the region, especially by having students work with small and midsize companies.

One of the companies involved with the program is TurnKey Corrections, a River Falls technology company that provides software solutions for county jails and prison operations from coast to coast. The company helps its client customers with software programs that address subjects like video visitations, commissary security, inmate text messaging, vending machines and facility support.

“We welcomed seven interns from UW-River Falls during our 2019 summer program, and we ended up hiring four of them full time,” says Dewey Wahlin, TurnKey Corrections president and CEO. “For the summer of 2020, we brought in six interns from UW-River Falls. Their backgrounds were varied, majoring in subjects like business and economics, computer science, finance and criminology.”

Wahlin says interns learn many hands-on aspects of the business world while at TurnKey Corrections, and not just in their chosen area of college study. For example, if an intern is majoring in finance, that intern will learn about finance at TurnKey Corrections as well as marketing, manufacturing, IT, accounting and several other aspects of the company.

“We also got the interns involved with community activities, and that included making a float they entered in the City of River Falls Parade,” he says. “The float for the 2019 parade won first place for its design.”

If you'd like to learn more about West Central Wisconsin, check out the latest edition of West Central Wisconsin Economic Development

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.