UW System President Ray Cross announces new Business Council

A new UW System Business Council is one of the outcomes from a Board of Regents meeting in Eau Claire.

UW System President Ray Cross made the announcement yesterday, pointing to the importance of higher education, strategic investing and outreach in the development and retention of critical talent for the state.

The meeting also featured a discussion on these key points, as industry leaders spoke about the need for increased communication and collaboration.

These issues are important, said Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still, because the state needs to “maintain an edge” in an increasingly competitive global economy.

One way to do that is to make lines of communication between local businesses and universities more open and accessible, according to René Daniels, executive director of North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.

“[Businesses] don’t know how to access university resources,” said Daniels. “We have to do better at understanding what employer needs are.”

In addition to establishing clearer communication, universities in Wisconsin should be investing more in certain programs at the undergraduate level, according to Zach Halmstad, Eau Claire grad and founder of JAMF, an Eau Claire-based software company.

“We are not successful without access to liberal arts students,” said Halmstad. “Those skills are so important to us.”

The most important skill taught in the liberal fields, according to Halmstad, is the ability to keep learning and adapting to the changing world.

“There are things that can be done better,” said Halmstad. “We need to improve quality of life here.”

His fear of the brain-drain impacting the economy was echoed by Cross, as he urged attendees to fight for more investment in education.

“We have not just a skills gap, but a people gap,” said Cross.

Dr. José Ortiz Jr., orthopedic surgeon and chief of the medical staff at Mayo Clinic Health System, Eau Claire, spoke on ways that the medical field can help keep talent.

The best way to combat vacating talent, he says, is to increase industry exposure for students, showing them the array of positions and training available to them.

Healthcare is one area in which Wisconsin is a national leader, said Still, emphasizing advanced manufacturing and computer science as two other growing technological industries.

“We’re doing well in areas that the world needs,” said Still. “But we’re all in this together and we have to do more.”

Still pointed to high research expenditures at UW-Madison as a driving force for economic change, calling it an “important legacy to keep alive and foster because of the impact on economic activity.”

Daniels supported the notion of investing time and resources at the university level, providing an “educational pathway” for guiding students into emerging IT careers such as cyber security.

“Employers are ready to engage; we just need to be more creative in reaching out,” said Daniels. “We need champions to do this work.”

–By Alex Moe,