On a limb: "The Branch" offers unique connection between northcentral Wisconsin college students, area business opportunitiesSubmitted: 04/11/2016
Story By Ben Meyer

On a limb:
WAUSAU - Plenty of northcentral Wisconsin companies can empathize with the challenge faced by Merrill's Church Mutual Insurance Company.

"We're facing an aging workforce. Replenishing that workforce is a challenge," said Church Mutual Chief Marketing Officer Laura Hughes. "It's hard to believe folks wouldn't want to live and work in the Northwoods, but sometimes our youth is attracted to the big city."

Companies need skilled workers to replace their retiring older workers. Meanwhile, there are area college students who do want to get a jump on their business or entrepreneurial careers.

A piece of the solution might be a new program called The Branch, which was unveiled Monday at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau. The Branch is a collaboration between Church Mutual, NTC, and the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce.

The Branch seeks to provide a unique program for ambitious workers and potential entrepreneurs. Starting this summer, The Branch will offer ten-week programs to area college students. For those students, businesses will come with their projects, problems, and puzzles.

"Businesses are going to bring real projects to bear, whether it's building a mobile app, or a marketing campaign they need help with, or perhaps it's really deep IT programming," Hughes said.

NTC instructor Kimberly Reed sees the need for something like The Branch. When she thinks of the new program, she thinks of one student she taught several years ago.

"[He was a] young gentleman who was very charismatic, very outgoing, very well spoken, very motivated," Reed said.

But nothing like The Branch existed in northcentral Wisconsin at the time. If it had, he may well have enrolled in it. In fact, The Branch is one of just two programs like it in Wisconsin. The other is in the Milwaukee area.

A quarter-million dollars from Church Mutual will help The Branch get off of the ground.

"It all starts with a little bit of seed money to grow a tree like The Branch," said Church Mutual's Hughes.

"What we have here is our future," said NTC President Dr. Lori Weyers at the kickoff event. "Our future leaders. Our future entrepreneurial students that will become the future entrepreneurial leaders of our communities."

"This is going to be wonderful for those students that want to start their own business, because it gives them an opportunity to learn how to do that, and to apply what they're learning," Reed said.

College students at NTC, Lakeland College, Mid-State Technical College, Nicolet College, Rasmussen College, Upper Iowa University, UW-Marathon County, and UW-Stevens Point will be eligible to participate in The Branch. NTC's Information Technology Entrepreneurial Center in Wausau will serve as headquarters. The first group of students will start this summer.

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WASHINGTON - Former Vice President Joe Biden took his virtual presidential campaign to the next level Monday when he launched a podcast as the coronavirus forces him to get creative in reaching voters otherwise distracted by a global pandemic.

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MARATHON COUNTY - In a press release, the Marathon County Public Health Department confirms that a fourth person tested positive for COVID-19.

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ANTIGO - For Tapped Maple Syrup co-owner Jeremy Solin, harvest season usually means enjoying the outdoors with his four employees, neighbors and family.

"Maple syrup is a big family and community time for us usually," said Solin. "We love to have people out in the woods with us, tapping trees and collecting sap and being part of the cooking process. We just can't do that this year and so its kind of a lonely maple syrup season.

But the growing fears of coronavirus shrunk the team down to just five - making his farm in Antigo eerily quiet.

"I think we'll be okay," said Solin. "It just means a lot more work for fewer people essentially to try and keep up and more stress in a sense during the process of the season."

It's more work for Solin, but still same volume of syrup.

Supply won't be the issue - Solin is concerned about the demand.

"We work with a lot of restaurants, bars, coffee shops who are obviously really struggling at this point," said Solin. "We're concerned about their survival as a small business and partner of ours and friends of ours so as we lose those businesses that's going to affect our business as well."

Coronavirus does not discriminate between essential and non-essential businesses.

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Drive to the entrance at Rib Mountain State Park and you usually have to stop there to pay.

That's no longer the case, after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) waived entrance fees at all state parks and trails to encourage sensible outdoor activity.

"We want folks to use those responsibly and travel within their own communities and maintain social distancing in small groups," said recreation partnership sections chief Missy VanLanduyt

Getting rid of the fees is meant to cut down on potential overcrowding problems at the parks.

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RHINELANDER - The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic forced schools and colleges around the world to shut their doors.

It's been hard for most students. But seniors are especially concerned 

They worried they may miss out on important milestones. 

"When we are in school it's a whole lot easier to go down the hall, call a classroom to get a kid, talk to them in the hallways, go to the performances and games and all that to just be more present in their life," Tienhaara said.

Rhinelander High School counselor Ryan Tienhaara is doing his best to make sure students are getting the support they need during the Coronavirus pandemic.

"It's important to talk about those frustrations if you are frustrated," Tienhaara said.

Tienhaara says while most seniors have some idea of what's next after high school, some students, including juniors will have to make big decisions remotely.

"Most schools are closed down for who knows how long so it could be lots of virtual visits," Tienhaara said. 

For kids feeling lonely, stressed or anxious, Tienhaara urges students to lean on family and friends.

"Open up those lines of communication with everybody because we are all kind of struggling through this together," Tienhaara said.

While many are worried about missing out on certain experiences, counselors suggest seniors to create new ones by capturing this moment in its own milestone.

"All seniors across the U.S. essentially have lost their spring semester. Not necessarily that that's a good thing but to know that they are not alone while going through these emotions and feeling the frustrations," Tienhaara said.

In the meantime, Tienhaara hopes education is prioritized from here on out and nothing is taken for granted.

"I hope that it will kind of provide a sense of privilege that it is to get an education, go to school and to just kind have a normal life that we used to have. You know it's that saying you don't know what you got until it's gone. I think we are all feeling that right now," Tienhaara said.

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Evers said he hoped the declaration, which also would cover Wisconsin's federally recognized tribes, would allow the states to access critical programs to support its response, including community disaster loans, public assistance, direct assistance and crisis counseling.

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According to a press release from North Central Health Care, the employee is currently in isolation and is receiving medical guidance. 

The employee showed up to work last Sunday, showing no signs of COVID-19, but soon showed symptoms as the shift started.

The employee did follow protocol and reported their change to management. 

North Central Health Care is currently notifying all family members, residents and other employees. 

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