Cultivating Community Assets


When the Rock County Leadership Development Academy was planning its 11th annual program designed to develop the leadership skills and community knowledge of the county’s business and civic community, Eric Kuznacic, the organization’s president, went looking for a new component to enhance the successful, year-long seminar.

“Last year we tried to do it ourselves,’’ said Kuznacic, who is the president of the Janesville based Why The Fuss? Technical Solutions. “But we didn’t have the leadership training component we were looking for.’’

So the Leadership Development Academy ( did what more and more Rock and Green county businesses and community oriented organizations are doing when they are looking for an organization to help facilitate educational programs for its employees and members. It called the Business and Community Development (BCD) division of Blackhawk Technical College.

“I think the business community sees the service that we provide as a valuable training alternative,’’ said Doug Holmes, BCD’s manager of training and consulting.  “We have all these resources at Blackhawk -- individual expertise, equipment, space -- and we have the resources of the Wisconsin Technical College System.

“I think we are seen as a pretty deep pool of resources.’’

When the planning was complete, Kuznacic and LDA set up an 11-session program that runs for nine months. Four of the day-long gatherings are to be facilitated by Helen Proeber, a business management instructor at Blackhawk and a popular facilitator for BCD programs on business leadership. The first was held in September, entitled Introduction to Leadership. Proeber also serves on LDA’s Board of Directors.

LDA will also bring in marketing instructor Cindy Leverenz for its January class to lead a discussion entitled Community Image and Volunteerism; Nonprofit Services and Current Nonprofit Leadership Issues.

Proeber and Leverenz’s expertise in their subject areas is typical of how BDC will find a program instructor that fits the specific needs of a training course.

“Any one with highly developed skills and real world experience is fair game,’’ Holmes said about attracting BCD instructors. “Wherever we see the talent, we pursue that. They may be full-time faculty or adjunct faculty from Blackhawk. We’ll use individuals from outside businesses or faculty from other schools.’’

The connection with the Leadership Development Academy is just one instance of the wide-ranging offerings that BCD brings to the community. BCD is providing more than 20 specific courses this fall and has scheduled more than 20 for the spring semester. Subjects are as varied as how to deal with specific personnel issues in the workplace to how to establish an environmentally friendly business atmosphere. The programs can be found at

BCD also serves as an intermediary for local businesses seeking grants awarded by the Wisconsin Technical College System. Blackhawk’s popular Continuing Education program is under the BCD umbrella. The school’s internship program and its career services division for students and alumni also works closely with BCD.

The division remains in constant contact with the local business and nonprofit community through its Advisory Council, which regularly meets with BCD employees to provide insight and suggestions regarding its dealings in Rock and Green counties.

“Any program we offer here, we can customize it and bring it to your business,’’ said Dr. Gina McConoughey, dean of BTC’s Business Division. “BCD is a great fit because it really allows us to get involved with the community.

“Some of those businesses really want Green training or leadership training. Some want customized training. We want it to support what we are hearing from those in the Business Program’s Advisory Councils and from the rest of the business community.

“This is an educational link for local businesses for specific training in specific areas. Any program we offer here we can customize it and bring it to your business.’’

A primary example of BCD’s value to the local business community is illustrated by its ongoing relationship with Beloit Health Systems.

When Kristinn Armann and other executives of the Beloit Health System were engaged in long-range planning discussions in 2005, they discovered a disturbing trend.

            “We identified an aging workforce,’’ said Armann, a company vice president. “The average age of our leadership group was 55, and by the end of the three-year, long-range plan, a number of those employees would be eligible to retire.’’

            Eight years later, with the assistance of BCD, the company not only has a succession plan, it continues to actively recruit and train in-house employees targeted as the company’s future leaders.

            What started as a 10-class program in Leadership Training by BCD has evolved into a 16-class program. About 20 employees attend eight 3-hour weekly classes in both the fall and spring semesters.

 Proeber, the Business Management Instructor at BTC, helped develop the curriculum and teaches the program. Topics include understanding and developing a leadership style, becoming assertive, dealing with difficult employees and recruiting talented leaders.

“Leadership is about tapping into and then developing the frequently hidden talents of others,” Proeber said. “The Beloit Health Systems group is certainly one with tremendous talent.”

Proeber regularly receives outstanding reviews from the participants. Armann said an in-house survey shows students average 4.8 on a scale of one to five for class satisfaction.

“Helen is really engaged in the program,’’ said Marcy Bennett, Beloit Health System’s Director of Education. “She is very enjoyable and very interactive with the students.’’

This is a serious exercise for Beloit Health System. Employees are paid for their participation even though it cuts into daily work time. When the program is completed, the participants are recognized by the company at a luncheon held at The Country Club of Beloit.

            “We make it a big deal and we are very happy with the results,’’ Armann said.

            Beloit Health System identifies future leaders through its different levels of managers, who select employees whom they see as having the skills to be future leaders of the company. For example, right now they are trying to whittle down 30 candidates to about 20 for this year’s program. “Those who don’t make it this year move to the top of the list for next year,’’ Armann said.

 Bennett understands the process as well as anyone. She was a clinic staff nurse when she was tabbed for the program.

            “It’s a diverse group,’’ she said of the program’s students. “Those who are in the program range from the IT employee to the nurse on the floor. We try to identify certain skills in our employees that will help us address the needs of our organization.’’

            Holmes, the manager of BCD, described the division’s relationship with Beloit Health System as a good example of what BCD is able to bring to the business community of Rock and Green counties.

            “When a company recognizes an internal issue like Beloit Health System did a few years back, with the company’s assistance, we then are able to compose a program that addresses not only its immediate needs but those in its future,’’ Holmes said. “Beloit Health System took the first step when it recognized its leadership issue and the second when it contacted us. Now we work together so it will have a bright operating future.’’

            While BCD always encourages business to reach out to it, the division doesn’t just sit back and wait for input from business. One example is the Blackhawk internship program directed by Kerry Osmond. Another is the Career and Professional Development Office managed by Colleen Koerth.

            The programs work together. Osmond seeks out local employers and informs them of the advantages of internship programs, not only for the student but the business. Koerth is an intermediary for students preparing to enter the job market and employers seeking well trained employees.

            “We have a very strong relationship with local businesses,” Osmond said. “We end up going beyond the internship program because we present employers with other opportunities such as retraining of their employees or special programs for their employees.’’

            Koerth, who just took over her role after working in the Blackhawk Human Resources Department, is encouraged by her growing relationships with Human Resources director in the area.

            “Right now, they are reaching out more and more to us,’’ she said.

BCD’s public outreach also was demonstrated last May when it unveiled its new Advisory Committee. The group is composed of area businessmen and women who will help guide BCD’s training and consulting programs.

          Holmes said the council is a “great way to demonstrate our partnership with business, government agencies, non-profit organizations and other community support organizations in Rock and Green counties.’’

          Patricia Kempinski, Blackhawk’s Associate Dean of Business, said BCD’s goal is to “align our training programs with needs of the business community’’ during her opening comments at a breakfast meeting with Advisory Committee members.

During the hour-long session, Holmes and Amy Berendes, Business and Industry Training Coordinator, outlined the customized training, seminar and workshop programs and consulting services offered by BCD in conjunction with Blackhawk.

“Our primary emphasis is to assist businesses in developing the skills of their employees,’’ Holmes said. “We are looking to expand our portfolio and fully utilize our existing programs.’’

           Members of the Advisory Committee come from business and industry interests in the two-county area, as well as community oriented organizations. Members of BTC’s faculty and staff also are represented.

          Representatives of area businesses and industrial employers are:

          Kristinn Armann, Beloit Health Systems; Bob Blakely, Blakely & Blakely Law Firm; Kathy Buechel, Simmons Manufacturing; Diane Eickman, Diamond Foods; Jill Leitzen, Kuhn North America, Inc.; Deidre Richard, SSS Technologies; Malik Surani, Tigre; and Matt Wohlers, Blackhawk Community Credit Union.

          Advisory Committee members from community partner organizations are:

          Dan Cunningham, Forward Janesville; Gail Graham, Southwest Wisconsin Development Board; Lynn Jones, Community Action; James Otterstein, Rock County Economic Development; and Randall Upton, Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce.

          Blackhawk faculty and staff members are:

          McConoughey, Kempinski, Holmes, Berendes, Proeber; Rita Brock, Business and Industry Operations Coordinator; Rich Grossen, Instructor-Manufacturing; Tedd Snyder, Consultant/Trainer-Quality; Wanda Sloan, Administrative Staff; and Pam Thewis, Administrative Assistant.

          One important role BCD plays is helping area business arrange for grants from the Wisconsin Technical College System. BCD recently arranged nearly $244,000 in grants for three area manufacturers. To learn more about the grant process, check

          BCD is providing training in a wide variety of topics in advanced manufacturing and leadership development, including electro-mechanical, MSSC, Six Sigma, soldering, metallurgy, statistical process control, project management, problem solving and team building for employees of Regal Beloit, SSI Technologies, Inc., and Hufcor, Inc.

          The grant money was provided by the system’s Workforce Advancement Training Grant Program.

          Regal Beloit is one of the world’s largest producers of electric motors, generators and power transmissions. SSI, based in Janesville, designs and manufactures a variety of sensors, control systems and powdered components for worldwide automotive, heavy vehicle and industrial markets. Hufcor, also based in Janesville, is the world’s leading supplier of movable walls and folding doors.

          “This is just one of the many great ways Blackhawk Technical College continues to demonstrate its partnership with area business,’’ Holmes said.

          That spirit was on display when 25 men and women gathered in Room 2604 on the Central Campus of Blackhawk Technical College for the orientation of the Leadership Development Academy’s leadership program. The group demonstrated the diversity that exists in Rock County with representatives from 10 private businesses, seven governmental groups and one nonprofit, community action organization.

          “This sends a really good message,’’ said Kuznacic. “The people in here have a chance to expand their professional circle and we as an organization have formal leadership training.’’

          LDA’s goals mirror much of what BCD has to offer. LDA wants participants to learn Rock County’s history, economy, culture and government. It is comprised of individuals, businesses and organizations interest in having a positive impact on the community through programs like the one BCD is helping to offer.

          “I think we’re a good mix,’’ Kuznacic said.