Helium Shortage Affects Local Floral BusinessSubmitted: 02/12/2013
Story By Ryan Abney

Helium Shortage Affects Local Floral Business
RHINELANDER - Helium-filled balloons will cost a little more this Valentine's Day.
There's a helium shortage. And some florists are worried about their store's biggest shopping day of the year.

Forth Floral Owner Ruth Hempel has seen helium prices rise over the past year. But her store is doing all they can to keep prices low.

"We've tried to do a better job on finding better deals on the actual balloons themselves to offset the increase. At this time of the year though, because it's Valentine's Day, the little bit extra they might have to pay usually isn't a big deal. For most, especially guys, if they want that balloon they're going to buy it."

Some parts of the country are out completely. Hempel said her business could deal without, but having balloons is an added perk.

"It's just that added exclamation point on the bouquet so as long as we can continue to do it we're going to hope we can. But if it gets to that point we're just going to have to find some other thing that gives that little punch."

Helium is also used for welding, medical devices, and some computer parts.

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TOMAHAWK - Two best friends turned into business partners about a year ago.

Bill Eastwood and Blake McMahon own Outboards Bar and Grill in Tomahawk.

The duo's combined restaurant and business experience helped them hit the ground running.

Fish quality comes first at Outboards.

"Friday night is the night that pretty much everyone goes out to eat. So if you don't have a good fish fry, people around here start talking!" say Eastwood.

For people with food intolerance, eating a fish fry platter can be nearly impossible.

So, Outboards offers alternatives like gluten-free beer-battered fish.

"We kind of put a twist on things and do it our own way. You can get fries, but you can get quinoa or a fresh vegetable," says McMahon.

When summertime comes, Outboards' patio overlooks the ski show and music on the river.

Outboards serves fish starting at 11 a.m.

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MADISON - A new report shows Wisconsin's unemployment rate hit a record low in February.

The state Department of Workforce Development released data Thursday that shows the unemployment rate dipped to 2.9 percent in February, down 0.2 percent from January to mark a record low. The previous record was 3 percent unemployment in July 1999.

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MADISON - The Wisconsin State Patrol says it saw more drugged drivers on the roads and had a significant increase in drug arrests from 2016 to 2017.

Wisconsin Public Radio reports that the State Patrol saw a 20 percent increase in drug arrests during that time period, with fewer than 2,900 arrests in 2016 to more than 3,400 last year. A drug arrest involves the possession of illegal narcotics or paraphernalia.

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RHINELANDER - Just like many small community courthouses, Oneida County doesn't have any way of keeping guns out of the building.

In response, on Tuesday, the Oneida County Board approved a mandatory active shooter training session for all employees.

"You have to keep your eyes open," said Oneida County Human Resource Director Lisa Charbarneau.

Charbarneau has learned not everyone who walks into the Oneida County Courthouse has good intentions.

"We do deal with not so pleasant things, whether that be social services, removing children from homes, we have inmates in and out for issues in the court," said Charbarneau.

The courthouse has an open door policy with multiple entrances open to the public.

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OCONOMOWOC - Authorities say more than 70 people were treated at local hospitals after an air quality issue forced the evacuation of Oconomowoc High School and the adjacent Oconomowoc Arts Center.

Western Lakes Fire District Chief Brad Bowen says low carbon monoxide readings were detected on some of the first patients treated, but officials could not immediately find a cause or source.

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HARSHAW - Rhinelander charter school students mixed in math with science, social studies, and reading projects on Thursday.

Northwoods Community Elementary School hosted parents to show off their work. Some classes did the math to plot out a vegetable garden. Others did research on Wisconsin counties and planned a weeklong trip there.

"I added decimals to count up all my rates for my bills, all the admissions to state parks, and renting," explained Oceana Patulski, who did a project on Door County.

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WOODRUFF - A fire burned a house to the ground in Woodruff early Thursday morning.

Firefighters arrived around 1:30 a.m to the home on Mid Lake Road.  The house was already mostly gone by that time.

No one was in the home, and no one was hurt.  Crews stayed on scene and kept the road closed until about 4:30 a.m.

The Woodruff Fire Department ruled the cause of the fire undetermined.

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