FRI AM News: Manufacturers boosting wages, flexibility and adding HR positions to attract, retain talent; WisBusiness: the Podcast with Jerry Curtin, CEO of COR Wellness

— Manufacturers in Wisconsin are using various strategies to attract and retain talent such as increasing wages, offering more workplace flexibility and creating new positions dedicated to keeping workers onboard. 

Speaking at the WMC Foundation’s Future Wisconsin Summit in Madison, Greenheck Chief Human Resources Officer Carrie Strobel said the Schofield-based company recently hired a retention coordinator to reduce turnover in its production team. Greenheck produces air control and air conditioning equipment. 

She explained most of that turnover is seen in the first 60 to 90 days after someone is hired, but “once we get them past that hurdle, they’re with us.” Starting with several positions, the retention coordinator will meet with every employee in the cohort once a week for 30 minutes over the first four weeks. Those visits will be spaced out more as the new hire settles in, focusing on things like attendance and sick leave policy. 

“So we’re seeing if we can impact that first period of time … and then we’ll re-evaluate and find out if we’re seeing any difference in retention,” Strobel said yesterday. “If we are, we’ll double down because we know how much it costs every day that a production position goes unfilled … we’ll hire 10 more of her if it’s effective.” 

Tom Abrahamson, vice president of manufacturing operations for Green Bay-based KI, said the furniture company enacted two wage increases this year that helped keep employees from leaving and brought in new workers as well. The company has also begun advertising in new ways, putting up billboards in new areas of the city and reaching people through church bulletins. 

But he said the “biggest thing that I think had the biggest impact” was a new referral bonus program that offers employees an extra week of vacation for any “successful referral.” 

“That had a huge impact,” he said. “It’s been successful so far, and we’re excited to see where that will take us.” 

Freedom Graphics Systems of Milton has also boosted wages and is offering sign-on bonuses, referral programs and ramped up recruiting efforts through social media and job boards. But company President Eric Blohm says the company’s “fundamental focus” has been on changing attitudes among leadership related to workers in its production and administration divisions. 

Before COVID-19 hit, Blohm said company leaders had the mindset that employees need to structure their lifestyle around their jobs. But that started to change once the pandemic began, as some employees had to work from home with schools shut down or to take care of sick family members. 

Since then, the company has created a new “teleworking as a benefit” policy for administrative employees, offering them 90 days a year to work from home. Blom says the move “really has increased morale” among these employees. 

Meanwhile, Freedom Graphics Systems has also expanded shift flexibility for manufacturing workers, allowing them to choose the hours they work to some extent. He said making this change was a challenge, as managers at first didn’t think it would be possible. But that perspective began to change as it became clear it was working. The company now offers two, four, eight, 10 and 12 hour shifts for these workers. 

“In the beginning it was very chaotic, very hard to manage, but we focused on it, we got our IT group together, we created an app so we can start managing different employee hours,” Blohm said. “Today, we are more productive with less people because of these flexible hours.” 

Panelists also described efforts to reach new hires by connecting with high school students and college graduates through apprenticeship programs, educational outreach and videos provided to schools, and social media engagement. 

Abrahamson said KI’s skilled trades apprenticeship programs have been particularly successful. He highlighted a “draft day” program done in partnership with the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, in which local businesses can recruit students involved with these programs. 

Strobel said Greenheck will “continue to chase a headcount shortage” as the company plans to double its growth over the next four years. That will require tapping the pipeline of new college graduates, she said. 

“The time is now to really be drawing the college students back to Wisconsin if they’ve left for school, or really bringing them here if they’re graduating from a UW college of technical school,” she said.

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Jerry Curtin, CEO of Sussex-based COR Wellness. 

After spending decades in finance and human resources, Curtin launched multiple companies including COR Wellness, which provides an employee wellness program for businesses. The system he developed focuses on three main aspects of health: cognitive, metabolic and structural. 

The program includes assessments of factors like time management and stress, weight, blood pressure and dieting, as well as fitness. This information is used to craft personalized health and wellness plans for employees, with a goal of reducing employer health care spending and improving the health of participants. 

Curtin discusses trends in the industry and explains how his passion for improving health at the individual and organizational level brought him to where he is today. 

“In today’s environment, nothing could be more important, right, than to have healthy and resilient employees. Whether you’re talking about COVID, you’re talking about remote work, it’s on all of our minds, to be healthy, strong and resilient,” he said. “The fact that we have to put so much focus on this is sort of a cry that perhaps we’ve neglected it for too long.” 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See a full list of podcasts: 

— The board overseeing Wisconsin’s patients compensation fund has approved adding another year to a holiday on health care providers paying their assessments to support the program.

The move, which is subject to review by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, means health care providers are looking at going three years without paying anything into the fund, which had a balance of nearly $1.3 billion on June 30, 2020. That’s the last fiscal year for which there has been a final accounting of the fund’s assets.

The premium holiday was originally requested by the Wisconsin Medical Society in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began. The extension the board approved Wednesday would extend through June 30, 2023.

The board also approved keeping assessments at the same level that they’ve been since the 2018-19 fiscal year. 

Fees vary among professions. For example, some surgeons pay the highest premiums, which range from $1,003 to $2,521 per year.

The Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund was created in 1975 to provide medical malpractice coverage for health care providers in addition to the private insurance they obtain. The fund covers individual claims above $1 million or $3 million in aggregate per year.

Participating health care providers, which include hospitals, physicians, nurse anesthetists and others, pay an annual assessment to finance the fund.

— The Department of Health Services has announced $8.1 million in grants for community groups working to improve vaccine equity in the state. 

“By providing funding to community-based organizations, we are partnering with trusted messengers who are in the best position to share accurate information, build confidence in vaccines, and close the gaps that remain in vaccination rates across our state,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

The DHS website shows vaccination rates are lower among Black, American Indian and Hispanic residents in Wisconsin than among white residents. While 51.4 percent of white residents have completed the vaccine series, that number is 46.4 percent for Hispanic residents, 41.6 percent for Native American residents and 34.1 percent for Black residents. 

Asian residents have the highest vaccination rate of any racial or ethnic group in Wisconsin at 55.5 percent. 

More than 90 recipients have received grants in this round of funding, ranging from $15,000 to $100,000. They include nonprofits, faith groups, chambers of commerce, medical clinics, public health organizations, community centers and others. A number of these groups focus on specific racial or ethnic groups in Wisconsin, while others cater to a set geographic area. 

See the full list of recipients here: 

See the release: 

— The state Public Service Commission is awarding nearly $280,000 in grant funding for 15 projects aimed at improving the resilience of fueling infrastructure in Wisconsin. 

The funds will be used to create “fueling points of distribution or designated disaster fueling facilities” that are meant to stay open during power outages or other emergencies. The commission voted unanimously to approve all applications it received. 

“These grants will help ensure that first responders and utility service vehicles can refuel during a disaster and assist with emergency response and restoration of critical services,” said PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq.

See the list of recipients: 

See the release: 

— Attorney General Josh Kaul has announced that Kerry Inc. will be paying a $90,000 penalty for alleged violations of Wisconsin’s air pollution laws. 

The alleged violations occurred at the company’s facility in Rhinelander, which produces liquid smoke used in cooking. The complaint alleges eight violations against the company for exceeding the state’s standard for particulate matter emissions, failing to construct an air pollution source in accordance with state approval, and failing to maintain required records, according to a release. 

Under the agreement signed by Oneida County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bloom on Dec. 1, Kerry will be required to pay $90,000 in forfeitures, surcharges and court costs. The release shows the company has also upgraded its facilities to avoid future violations. 

“Our air pollution laws protect clean air and people’s health,” Kaul said in the release. “Facilities must ensure that they’re complying with those laws and preventing unlawful pollution.”

See the release: 


# 50 percent of Wisconsin’s working women are considering leaving their jobs, according to new report

# Exact Sciences test may let more breast cancer patients skip chemo

# Regent panel OKs out-of-state, graduate tuition increase



– Dairy Margin Coverage program enrollment opens December 13

– FFA Foundation holding past chapter officer challenge


– Nearly 20K Wisconsin farms will receive state COVID-19 aid


– Regents panel extends test exemption for 2 more years


– Black bear harvest authorizations applications due Friday


– Eno Vino owners opening two new restaurants outside of Madison, plus tavern Downtown


– Harley doing away with its chief administrative officer role


– Bipartisan bill would extend postpartum Medicaid coverage in Wisconsin to a year after giving birth


– Exact Sciences to lease space in Black Business Hub, give $500,000


– Water utility trade group opposes PFAS regulations, urges state to wait for federal action


– Milwaukee touts DNC experience, new facilities in bid for 2024 Republican convention


– As new head of Focus on Energy, Stefanik sees plenty of room for more energy efficiency 


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