Wausau Pilot & Review

Editor’s note: Business of the Week is a sponsored feature that shares the stories of locally-owned and operated businesses in the Wausau area, highlighting the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the metro area’s unique flavor. Learn how to feature your business by emailing christina@wausaupilotandreview.com.


This week’s featured business is the Central Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, an organization dedicated to growth in the industry. The staff is both passionate and dedicated, working to create a workforce that will be around for generations to come. The organization launched in 2012 with just a handful of members but grew to 60 by 2019 and more than 140 today. Executive Director Tait Strand and CWIMA Systems Specialist Heidi Hammer work together to make the maximum positive impact to the community through the group’s collective efforts and initiatives, with regional educational institutions and workforce development partnerships that help place their members in front of the future of our workforce. Today, the group’s mission is more relevant than ever as they work tirelessly to increase educational and career awareness in welding, fabricating, machining, and other manufacturing trades. Executive Director Tait Strand offers his thoughts on the organization and the ways the group works to inspire youth and bring forth the rewarding career opportunities available in manufacturing, while strengthening the future of central Wisconsin’s workforce.

Tell us about your training and workforce development efforts. How do you see CWIMA’s role in helping central Wisconsin tackle its worker shortage?

By providing exposure to rewarding careers, students can make an educated decision and find the right fit for them when it comes to a career. In partnership with Technical Colleges, we offer the Move to Manufacturing Program. This program is designed to give a trainee, a free 28 hour course on the basic skills of a manufacturing employee, at their own pace without leaving their current job. They can then present the certificate to a participating CWIMA member for a guaranteed interview and a $500 sign on bonus after 90 days. You can find more information on those efforts here.

What kind of support does CWIMA offer your members?

Our collective membership of over 140 companies provides CWIMA the opportunity to compile resources offering more scholarships to the 10 county area we represent. Thus keeping trained workforce right in our own backyard.

Your organization is known for its community involvement including scholarship programs for students. Tell us about those efforts and why they matter.

In years past, our average scholarship spend was $50,000 annually. With our growth and the addition of our 2022 Annual Manufacturing Expo, we envision the scholarship spend to potentially double. This is very important to us in order to tackle the labor shortages, and allow young talented students the access to quality training at a reduced cost, thus benefiting our members.

What about your summer programs?

CWIMA, in conjunction with Technical College partners, host summer welding and machine tool competitions, along with Northcentral Technical College’s Metal Masters Quest and Mid-State Technical College’s Metal Mania. These offer college credits to student participants at no cost to them.

What is the “heavy metal tour™?”

HMT™ is a CWIMA Program that funds an opportunity for 8th grade students to explore manufacturing. The day starts with students receiving CWIMA sponsored T-Shirts, then 1-2 tours in the morning at member companies , a lunch stop at the technical college associated with the students region, then 1-2 tours in the afternoon. This has been a wildly popular program offering the experience to over 6,000 students, 16 school districts, and 84 member companies.

What do you wish more people knew about your organization, or what you do?

I would want them to see what our programs impact in the community. Our biggest challenge last year was brand awareness and getting the CWIMA name involved in the community. There are still some companies that do not know we exist, but once they experience CWIMA, they are hooked at the grass roots efforts to grow manufacturing workforce, thus growing our communities.

Tell us about the expo you have coming up. It sounds like a great way to learn more about opportunities.

We are holding our first ever Annual Technology, Manufacturing, and Innovation Expo on April 26th at the Rothschild Expo and Convention Center. We will have nearly 100 exhibitors, expecting over 1,000 attendees, and 600 hundreds students from districts we serve. You’ll find more details on this page. We are also hosting an amazing keynote speaker, Mark Perna, a renowned expert in relating to the millennial generation – our largest future workforce in history – on April 25. Doors open at 5 p.m. and it’s something not to be missed.

Connect with CWIMA

Visit CWIMA online at http://www.cwimamfg.com/