How to grow businesses, attract young employees?
Issues at core of conversation during Business Alliance meeting

By: CHRIS BUCHER - Freeman Staff

Sept. 10, 2016

WAUKESHA — With over 1,100 member companies, the Waukesha County Business Alliance has grown drastically since its inception in 1918.

And when representatives from those businesses came together to celebrate the Alliance’s 98th annual meeting on Friday at the Country Springs Hotel, the talk centered around growing their own businesses and expanding collectively.

Generac Power Systems President and CEO Aaron Jagdfeld, the keynote speaker at the meeting, said it isn’t an easy process to grow a business, but it begins with a collaborative effort from employees.

“When I took the reins (of Generac) in 2008, our revenues were about $500 million and today we’re closing in on $1.5 billion,” Jagdfeld said. “We now have 14 factories around the world and 4,000 employees, with 3,000 of those employees being right here in Wisconsin.”

The talk also revolved around the importance of attracting and retaining younger generations of employees as the older ones continue to retire.

“As we sit here today, the last 12 to 18 months for us has just been about getting people, finding people,” Jagdfeld said. “We’re going to park the skills gap discussion; we can’t find enough people.”

School2Skills leading the way

That’s where programs around the state, such as the Alliance’s School2Skills initiative, come into play.

The program, which is celebrating five years of existence, gives high school students in Waukesha County the opportunity to tour local manufacturers and see the innovative technology in the area. The tours finish at Waukesha County Technical College, where those students in attendance learn about the schooling required to pursue a career in the manufacturing field.

“(School2Skills) is all about teaching the next generation that (the manufacturing field) is different than it used to be,” Jagdfeld said. “I thought it was a manufacturing stigmatism that was the problem, it’s really not. I think right now it’s a labor force issue.

“It’s unfortunate when you see young people who would rather be a barista at Starbucks. I’m not talking about people who graduated high school and don’t go on to college. I’m talking about college graduates.”

The School2Skills program itself was led by former Alliance Vice President of Community Engagement Mary Baer, who retired late last year.

At the meeting, the Alliance honored Baer by creating the Mary Baer School2Skills Scholarship. It will be given through the WCTC Foundation, with its primary purpose to promote education related to manufacturing jobs.

Fotsch family recognized

One of the first contributions to the scholarship fund was $500 from the Fotsch family, which received the Don Richards Leadership Award.

The award recognizes those who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the lives of others through leadership and involvement. The Fotsch family, which formed the Fotsch Family Foundation in 1967, has supported numerous causes throughout the area over the years, including donating $1 million to WCTC’s new IMC building if the community raised the other $2 million.

“We can’t thank you enough for this most prestigious honor,” Nana Fotsch said. “Together, we can all continue to make Waukesha County a terrific place. Not only from a business standpoint, but for hardworking, productive people and their families.”

There also was a new award presented at the meeting: the Waukesha County Advocate of the Year Award. It was given to Dale Shaver, director of the Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use.

Finally, the Alliance announced that at an upcoming event, Wisconsin U.S. Rep. and House Speaker Paul Ryan will join the Alliance for a congressional update. The meeting will take place Oct. 13 at the Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield Hotel.