RHINELANDER - Many companies in the Northwoods know they could expand, except for one thing.
There aren't enough skilled workers to go around.
Sometimes, well-paying manufacturing jobs go unfilled for months.
Welders are in especially short supply. One Rhinelander plant manager said eight welding jobs have been open since the fall. A welding instructor says he gets calls every day, looking for welders.
"[Welders] are fundamental to what we do," said Keith White, the president of Rhinelander-based AirPro, an industrial fan company. "It is a core competency of our company, so we're very, very serious about having the highest quality in world."
Finding those high quality welders is a challenge for White. But he hopes a scholarship awarded by AirPro might help.
On Monday, White presented 19-year-old Brandon Lambert with a $5,000 scholarship to Advanced Welding Institute in Eagle River. One of the requirements to receive the scholarship is a plan to stay in the Northwoods after graduation.
"We currently live in Lake Tomahawk. That's where the house is. I'd really like to stay there," Lambert said.
He first started welding in class at Lakeland Union High School.
"It fit me very well. I never got bored of it," Lambert said. "I was always in there welding."
"I have such high respect for people that are good with building things," White said. "That's what I saw in him."
Craig Deer, a welding instructor at Nicolet College in Rhinelander, wishes for more people like Lambert in the area.
"The Northwoods is definitely hurting for welders," Deer said. "Every day, we have employers calling us, contacting us, trying to find welders for open positions."
In part to attract more welding students, Nicolet started a new format this year called Nicolet My Way. Students can start in any month and work at their own pace.
"They decide how many hours they want to put in a week," Deer said. "A student could essentially put in 40 hours a week. They could put in five hours a week, depending on their lifestyle and their needs at the time."
Lambert will start classes at Advanced Welding Institute in Eagle River next year.
White hopes, bit by bit, new skilled workers like Lambert will help the Northwoods, and his company, AirPro.
"We want the people employed here to be the best," White said. "We're not after good enough. We're after the best."
Welders in the Northwoods generally earn good wages. Many local companies start welders above 16 or 17 dollars an hour.
RHINELANDER - A Rhinelander student made it onto her school bus and to class unhurt last Tuesday, but she almost didn't. A recent close call left Bowen Bus Service employees wondering if Rhinelander will be the next to see a student killed while simply trying to get to and from school.
On Hwy 8 last week a student was nearly hit by a truck at her bus stop, leaving the bus driver in disbelief. In a surveillance video from the bus, you can hear the bus driver say "That car like just missed you. That truck just missed her."
RHINELANDER - It's easy to slip on ice, skid on roads, or get stuck in the snow.
One thing that also happens is joint pain from common winter activities.
Shoveling heavy snow is one of the biggest problems Rhinelander Chiropractor Dr. Tony Lowenberg sees causing this pain.
He said shoveling is a physical activity that can cause excessive stress on the body; especially for people who don't lift heavy often.
"Lifting and the twisting creates wear and tear on their body. Then [people] feel it as pain and then their muscles get tight because they are not used to lifting stuff," said Dr. Lowenberg. "It's more people that are not used a physical job, shoveling can be [troublesome]."
TOMAHAWK - After a bitterly cold November, road crews in Tomahawk enjoyed a warm up on Monday. But temperatures shifting above and below freezing this week will create perfect conditions for a lot more work. John Cole is the Director of Public Works for the City of Tomahawk. He says that pothole issues are something that his crew fights all season long.
"It's job security, it's not a good job security, but it is job security for sure because you always have potholes to fill," said Cole. "When you get that expansion and contraction, we get water in those cracks, and when you get the traffic and people driving on them."
In Tomahawk, Cole sends crews out every week to look for potholes and fill them. He also sends out crews whenever they get a call about a bad pothole.
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