News Release

Published on Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Earlier this year, Western Technical College received a grant for nearly $2 million from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Community-Based Job Training initiative. From the time the three-year grant period began in February, Western has been busy getting the people and the processes in place and making the community connections necessary to get the program running.

The first step was to hire someone to manage the grant and coordinate the activities. This person needed to have manufacturing experience, a head for project management, and the ability to keep up with the detailed status reports for the US Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. Western found that person in Jeff Kroes, a former manager at Pacal Industries in La Crosse. Kroes has over 25 years of experience in manufacturing management and served as vice president and president of the Equipment and Metal Manufacturing Association (EMMA) Board of Directors.

“His experience and knowledge of the industry has helped him hit the ground running, which is exactly what we needed,” said Patti Balacek, director of Western’s Business and Industry Services, which is overseeing the grant.

In addition to the $1,999,659 grant, Western, Workforce Connections, and a number of other community partners have committed over $450,000 in staff time and other support to accomplish the goals of the grant. Those goals include, increasing the capacity of Western in the areas of Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machining, welding and industrial electronics maintenance; helping local manufacturers improve profitability through the use of Lean techniques; promoting manufacturing careers in the K-12 school systems; and engaging manufacturers, educators, and support agencies in the community in the accomplishment of the goals.

So far, the money has been used to hire a Lean/Six Sigma expert to consult with and develop training for local businesses, implement a Welding Skills Institute, purchase CNC programming training software, and develop a set of CNC Machining Skills Institutes. A new CNC turning center will be ordered in July with grant funds to add to the state-of-the-art equipment in Western’s machining lab.

“We chose these areas as our starting point because industry leaders in our region have asked us repeatedly for this training and support,” said Kroes. “Our plan is to use this grant to renew Western’s commitment to manufacturing. We intend to expand our ability to provide up-to-date training for incumbent employees, and to provide students with the skills necessary to transition quickly and efficiently into careers in modern manufacturing.”

For more information about the grant and other Western Technical College programs and services for business and industry, please call 608.785.9232 or visit the Web site at