EagleHerald/Jim Plansky
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), standing, greets president and CEO of Fincantieri Marinette Marine Jan Allman, front, and other members of the Marinette Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce during a Q&A session Tuesday at Riverside Golf Club in Menominee.
EagleHerald/Jim Plansky
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), standing, greets president and CEO of Fincantieri Marinette Marine Jan Allman, front, and other members of the Marinette Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce during a Q&A session Tuesday at Riverside Golf Club in Menominee.
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MENOMINEE — Business leaders from the twin cities area listened attentively and asked occasional questions of the Marinette Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce’s special guest speaker, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Tuesday at Riverside Golf Club. 

The senator’s visit, one of the Chamber’s “Manufacturing Month” activities, was well-attended by area business leaders and Chamber board members, who spoke with Johnson for an hour about the challenges and opportunities facing today’s companies and manufacturers. Johnson gave his perspective on the country’s problems with business growth and gave suggestions to attendees on where to start making changes. 

Johnson, who is well-known for his individual liberty values and desire to minimize federal involvement in the private sector, stuck to this message when it came to doling out advice. He advised those present to start working with local schools and school boards to become involved in education, offering kids the opportunity to start a path to the work force early. 

“Just make sure that our kids and their parents understand that they really have all these options,” he said. 

Johnson suggested the beginnings of a culture shift, from the current mindset urging kids to attend a university after high school to an alternative route that shows them it’s OK to move straight from school to the work force or technical programs. He added that businesses should support in-school technical programs such as robotics and shop classes, and that federal involvement in the programs with schools is not necessary. 

“The solution doesn’t lie in Washington D.C., the solution lies right here in your communities,” he said. “A big source of that is getting involved and making sure your kids understand what makes this country great.” 

Jacqueline Boudreau, Executive Director and CEO of the Chamber, laid out the organization’s involvement with local schools and asked Johnson how to go about changing the mindset of parents. Johnson suggested using facts and figures to convince parents of the benefits new graduates can find by going straight to work, such as the avoidance of student debt from college. 

“It’s not a matter of us not having the jobs, it’s that we don’t have enough workers,” he said about the labor shortage he hopes to help combat. “We’ve got to start telling the truth on that.” 

The group asked Johnson about a variety of topics, including funding for public infrastructure, the border wall project along the Mexican border, combating the spread of drug addiction and related cartels and health care for employees. Johnson stuck to his core messages about shrinking federal involvement in the private sector, upholding individual liberties and lowering taxes. 

Overall, Johnson thanked the attendees for coming and for being part of their local Chamber of Commerce — something he sees as a truly bipartisan organization. 

“We’re all concentrating on one goal,” he said.