EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Jay Risch, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Instiitutions (left), speaks with Mike Bergfelt (right), and Robert Pontius, Executive Director of the MCABI (center), during a tour of the Wisconsin Maritime Center of Excellence on Tuesday in Marinette. Bergfelt is developing a center-less grinder, easier for reducing diameters on tooled parts.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Jay Risch, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Instiitutions (left), speaks with Mike Bergfelt (right), and Robert Pontius, Executive Director of the MCABI (center), during a tour of the Wisconsin Maritime Center of Excellence on Tuesday in Marinette. Bergfelt is developing a center-less grinder, easier for reducing diameters on tooled parts.

MARINETTE — Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) Secretary Jay Risch paid a visit to Marinette on Tuesday to talk with local business and education leaders about the maritime industry in the city. 

The visit to Marinette, which began with a round table discussion at the NWTC North Coast Marine & Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, 1428 Main St., and continued with a tour of the Wisconsin Maritime Center of Excellence, 1320 Main St., was part of a trip Risch took Tuesday and Wednesday through shipbuilding sites in northeast Wisconsin to focus on the ways local financial institutions are supporting economic success in the marine industry and beyond. 

The group at the round table discussed a variety of the challenges maritime and other industries are facing today, particularly the workforce shortage that many companies are facing. Brian Lancour, Account Executive for Corporate Training & Economic Development for NWTC, said the situation is “a catch-22.” 

“When there’s a shortage and they want skilled workers, they need bodies so they’re hiring people out of high school and there’s no time to go to school,” he said. “So this really creates challenges for us, to come up with very creative ways (to attract students).” 

Lancour said NWTC has been integrating itself with local high schools to start technical training early and give kids a path from school to work. The technical college offers credits in high school as well as internships and apprenticeships in coordination with the NEW Manufacturing Alliance. 

Risch said he would share the comments he received with Gov. Scott Walker, and added that recent budgets have seen an increase in funding for technical programs in middle and high schools around Wisconsin. Mark Weber, Dean of Trades & Engineering Technologies at NWTC, suggested the DFI look into apprenticeship programs as a way of improving technical education and finance partnerships. 

“Apprenticeship seems to be its own constraint, at the state level,” he said. “I think there’s a huge opportunity there and we have to think differently. We have to unleash it. ... It’s all, hope that you find an apprenticeship employer, then maybe they’ll apprentice you, and then five years later, you’re done. That model is circa 1912.” 

Weber suggested looking at the two-year apprenticeship program model from Germany as a place to start. 

The group also discussed the shortage of affordable housing in the area, which Stephenson National Bank & Trust President and CEO Daniel J. Peterson said could be partially due to the lack of housing development interest in the area. 

“There are so many opportunities in other municipalities,” he said. “We’ve got a number of developers we work with down in the Green Bay and Fox Valley areas. They’ve got a lot of incentives down there, they’ve got TIF Districts... If they can’t get those same incentives here, in some of these municipalities, they just, they don’t bother because the demand has been so strong in other areas.” 

Risch also visited Marquis Yachts in Pulaski, Wis., and Fox Valley Metal Tech Inc. in Green Bay on Tuesday. Today, Risch will visit NEW Plastics Corp. in Luxemburg, Wis., and Marine Travelift Inc., Roen Salvage and Fincantieri-Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

The Wisconsin DFI is in charge of regulating state-chartered banks, savings and loan associations, savings banks and credit unions, as well as various operations of the securities industry. The department examines and files charters and other documents of businesses and organizations, and registers and regulates the mortgage banking industry and other financial service providers. It oversees Uniform Commercial Code filings, administers the Wisconsin Consumer Act and registers merchants who extend credit. The department is self-supporting through program revenue derived from fees and assessments paid by regulated entities and individuals.

“The DFI is dedicated to protecting Wisconsin citizens through financial regulation and education,” the department states on its website. “We are committed to ensuring the safety and soundness of Wisconsin financial institutions, protecting the investing public, and enhancing the viability and accessibility of the state’s business record-keeping system.”