Up Close and Personal With Rural Entrepreneurs

The culminating event of the College’s celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week involved a series of small business tours in Waupaca County.  We were very pleased that Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch joined us at the FVTC Waupaca Regional Center to kick off what was a great morning of tours and a look behind the scenes of six businesses that our Venture Center has assisted in some way in recent years.  Like so many things, it’s one thing to hear about the work our staff are doing and the impact we’re having, but to actually see the results in action is quite another thing.  What follows is a brief overview of our experiences that morning and some of the real gems that operate in rural Wisconsin.

First we heard Chris Wenzel’s story about how his business came to be.  He is the owner/operator of Fremont Bait & Tackle and First Cast Tournaments.  It was great to hear his excitement for the tourism that takes place on the Wolf River, particularly for the fishing that occurs from March through mid-May.

Venture Center Instructor Mark Burwell and Camille Solberg from U.S. Senator Ron Johnson’s office joined me for a tour of Mama Z’s Bakery and visit with owner Mitzi Wohlrabe.
Venture Center Instructor Mark Burwell and Camille Solberg from U.S. Senator Ron Johnson’s office joined me for a tour of Mama Z’s Bakery and visit with owner Mitzi Wohlrabe.

Next we were off to Mama Z’s Bakery on Cty. Rd. QQ where we met owner/operator, Mitzi Wohlrabe.  She certainly serves up some delicious bakery and counts among her clients the King Veterans Home just down the road where I’m quite certain her workmanship puts smiles on faces every day.

Also on Cty. Rd. QQ, we next stopped at a very quaint storefront for Furniture by Todd, Inspired by Nature where we met owner/operator, Darlene Reed, and Todd the furniture maker.  They have been doing this work in one way or another for a lifetime and enjoyed talking about their enterprise and showing us their many wonderful “made in America” creations.

Next, we headed to downtown Waupaca (in fact to the building FVTC leased downtown for many years before building the new center) to tour Office Outfitters and hear from owner/operator Bill Zimmerman about his journey as an entrepreneur, how he is working to expand his business model, and the successes they have seen thus far primarily as a business service for not only a wide range of office products, but other services as well.

From downtown Waupaca, we traveled to the tiny little town of Scandinavia and what did we find there but a company called Ebel Yacht Works, LLC and met owner/operator Dan Moldenhauer.  They make high-end and very specialized finishes for interior and exterior components of yachts manufactured by companies throughout the country.  A small, but mighty, manufacturer in Scandinavia!  One would never know.

For our last stop the delightful owner/operator, Tom Fucik, actually opened the business during off-season just to accommodate our visit…The Millstone of Iola Mills.  Located in downtown Iola, Tom has invested incredible time and resources in restoring what was originally the heart of Iola enterprise in 1853 when the river was dammed to power a sawmill.  This large scale restoration is still a work in progress, but is one of those places that is beyond description—you just have to visit next summer.  The little restaurant features casual indoor and outdoor dining, an espresso bar, homemade gelato, and locally brewed beer and wine.  Tom provided a wonderful lunch for our group.

Wow, what a morning!  Now you can understand why I referred to these businesses as “gems” in Waupaca County.  It was very gratifying to know that our Venture Center staff helped to play some role in either the launch or development of these businesses.  Have you had the opportunity to visit any of these places?  If so, what did you think?

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