IRONWOOD - You probably recognize the name "Stormy Kromer".
You probably also know what the recognizable hats look like from seeing them around the Northwoods.
But do you know where and how they're made?
George "Stormy" Kromer was a semi-pro baseball player and railroad worker in Kaukauna in the early 1900s.
But old Stormy had a problem.
"He worked on the Chicago-Northwestern line for a long time, and he kept losing his hats in the wind, riding the trains. He brought a baseball hat home and asked Ida to sew a band around the hat, and the Stormy Kromer was born," says Gina Thorsen, the Stormy Kromer Vice President.
Before long, they took off, and were being mass produced in Milwaukee.
But that business was about to die in the early 2000s.
To save it, an Upper Peninsula family bought the brand and moved the production to Ironwood.
"We find that people who have hats almost think of it as a special club. When you see someone else wearing a hat, you might walk by and say, 'nice hat'," Thorsen says.
Since the hats started being made in Ironwood, they've gained even more popularity.
That's allowed the company to branch out into womens' Stormy Kromers, as well as other cold weather apparel.
That success has made it a staple of the community's economy.
"Here in Ironwood, it's a small town. Industries have left. Businesses have closed. To us it's really important to be able to provide jobs here with benefits and to treat them well and to provide them a place where they can spend their career," Thorsen says.
About 150 people work for the company in Ironwood.
They make hats that have become a symbol for people in the Northwoods and U.P.
RHINELANDER - The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce group held a seminar at Nicolet College in Rhinelander Tuesday, to plan how to make Wisconsin more attractive to skilled workers and manufacturing businesses.
WMC's president believes the shortage in younger people in the industry has to do with two big misconceptions about manufacturing.
"The younger kids, as do their parents, have a perception on what manufacturing looks like and it's about 40 years out of date. If you're in an advanced manufacturing facility now, it's clean, it's high-tech, the engineers and technicians are working together," said Jim Morgan."We have a perception problem. I think we still have a definition of success that's says unless you have a four-year degree, you're not successful."
Morgan says groups like WMC work to change that perception. He believes workers with a two-year degree are just as successful in the industry.
So far, WMC held seminars at nine other technical colleges. For Rhinelander, more manufacturers could mean more economic independence.
"The Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce is looking to see how it can help and partner with local manufacturers to make the Rhinelander area a more favorable place for them to locate their businesses, as well as to attract and retain skilled workers to make those businesses successful," said Dana DeMet, Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce director.
Over the next six months, WMC will continue to look for ways to attract more workers and businesses to the state.
In December, it hopes to have 1000 representatives for a meeting in Milwaukee focusing on how manufacturing will benefit the state.
WMC also works with the University of Wisconsin system and the Wisconsin Technical Colleges.
LAC DU FLAMBEAU - Ruby's pantry opened their doors Tuesday in Lac du Flambeau. This is the first time the Ruby's pantry has set up shop there. They decided to come to Lac du Flambeau because of the good turnout in Rhinelander. The food pantry asks that people give a $20 donation.
“It's not your typical food pantry,” says Gloria Cobb, Ruby's Pantry Lac du Flambeau Lead Coordinator. “This is an opportunity to give people dignity, to serve with dignity, and it's a donation base.”
“I mean look at the hustle and bustle going on we've got the community coming together not only Lac du Flambeau but the surrounding community coming together to meet a very basic need and that's to help with hunger,” says Cobb.
The pantry offered items like strawberries, cake mix, and toilet paper. More than 400 people were expected to show up.
“A participant will go through the line with a laundry basket and or box and they will be offered items,” says Cobb. “They can refuse them however we will encourage them to take the item because somebody else that they may know may have a need.”
“They get a certain amount of each item and they go through the line like an assembly line,” says Cobb.
The pantry had more than 21,000 pounds of food to give away.
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