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September 22, 2019

Jamie Taylor/river news

Sandy Bishop of Nicolet College, Jim Tuckwell of the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation, Toni Van Doren of Nicolet College, Stacey Johnson of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, Myles Alexander of the UW-Extension, Brittany Beyer of Grow North Economic Development Corporation, Jeff Verdoorn and Tarja Takko of Ahlstrom-Munksjö, and Nicolet president Richard Nelson pose with the check from Ahlstrom-Munksjö Thursday morning.
Jamie Taylor/river news

Sandy Bishop of Nicolet College, Jim Tuckwell of the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation, Toni Van Doren of Nicolet College, Stacey Johnson of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, Myles Alexander of the UW-Extension, Brittany Beyer of Grow North Economic Development Corporation, Jeff Verdoorn and Tarja Takko of Ahlstrom-Munksjö, and Nicolet president Richard Nelson pose with the check from Ahlstrom-Munksjö Thursday morning.
9/7/2019 7:30:00 AM
Ahlstrom-Munksjö makes donation to 'Innovation Hub'
Nicolet facility one of three out of over 80 proposals selected

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter


The Swedish firm that owns and operates the Rhinelander paper mill made a $15,000 contribution Thursday to help develop the future workforce of the area through a new program at Nicolet College.

Tarja Takko of Ahlstrom-Munksjö presented the check Thursday to representatives of Nicolet, the economic development corporations from Oneida and Vilas counties and the Grow North regional economic development corporation.

The economic development groups and the college have partnered in designing the facility to help companies like Ahlstrom-Munksjö train students to be ready to step into open job positions with area manufacturers.

Before the presentation, Jeff Verdoorn, Rhinelander plant manager, said the new Nicolet facility will help attract qualified workers to manufacturers across the Northwoods.

"We see this as a chance to do a couple things, one is education. This company is really involved in community education," Verdoorn said. "Particularly around the S.T.E.M disciplines, science, technology, engineering and mathematics," he said. "Why is it important to this mill? When you look at the employees that we have coming in here, paper making is not a manual industry like it was 30 or 40 years ago. It is highly automated and we really count on our folks coming into our mill on problem solving, be able to use those disciplines, to have those critical thinking skills to be able to act on the floor and be able to essentially make our business successful."

He said it's hard to find employees with these talents and experience in a rural community like Rhinelander. That's what's so unique about this partnership is that the economic development corporations can help Nicolet better tailor their instructional programs to meet the needs of employers, he said.

"It's far-reaching in terms of the scope of what we are trying to do," Verdoorn said.

Stacey Johnson, executive director of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, explained the concept behind the Innovation Hub.

"Technology is the commonality of all future industrial advancement. In order for our community to be competitive, we recognize we need to develop these skills now so that we can be better prepared for the future," Johnson said. "Thanks to the generosity and forward thinking of Ahlstrom-Munksjö, Nicolet College has partnered with Oneida County Economic Development Corporation and other local leaders to create a network of Innovation Hubs that will be able to share resources and ideas to become a conduit for workforce development and talent attraction at companies both here and worldwide."

Johnson said investments can be channeled into the new program to continuously grow the region's economic ecosystem and mindset of innovation,

"It's so exciting to be able to work with group of people that are forward thinking, without putting Band-Aids on the past, but really about creating a future for our workforce development and innovative thought here within our rural community," Johnson said.

Toni Van Doren of Nicolet College, who Johnson called one of her key partners in the push to create the Innovation Hubs, was next to speak. She said the goal is to teach students collaborative problem solving while reinforcing the S.T.E.M. skills they will need that they didn't have the opportunity to learn and master before.

"That is all thanks to the Ahlstrom-Munksjö," Van Doren said.

"The Innovation Hub represents a cultural shift and approach to workforce and economic development that will provide the college with the opportunity to direct and facilitate infrastructure and to cultivate and develop our workforce and job-safe future," Van Doren added.

Takko, who is the executive director of people and safety for Ahlstrom-Munksjö, explained how the Innovation Hub program's concept quickly made it the only choice as the company was looking for ways to invest in the communities where the company has operations.

"We want to be good citizens, we want to grow up with the communities. And this means the world to us that we can donate that money to the community," Takko said, noting the company had decided to donate 100,000 euros to programs worldwide.

"It was over 80 proposals, and it was really difficult to chose which ones we wanted to give the money too," she said. "Originally we planned to have three projects, but then the proposals were so good, it would have been difficult to not give to more of those."

Johnson said more details on the Innovation Hubs will be released in the near future.

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernewsonline.com.





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