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

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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