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Chippewa Falls part of statewide trend in low unemployment

With a new year almost here, business in Chippewa Falls appears set to continue developing in 2019.

Wisconsin’s business and labor environment are broadly doing well by unemployment and labor statistics.

According to numbers the Department of Workforce Development released Thursday, Wisconsin’s preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in November remained unchanged at 3 percent, continuing a 10-month streak of being at or below 3 percent.

It’s also 0.7 percent lower than the national average.

And, according to the DWD, it’s been a good year for job growth.

According to DWD numbers, from November 2017 to November 2018, Wisconsin added 40,500 private-sector jobs and 43,800 total non-farm jobs, which it called “statistically significant.”

The state also added 19,000 manufacturing jobs and 8,400 construction jobs over the same time-period.

“Wisconsin’s economy continued to demonstrate its success in November,” DWD Secretary Ray Allen said in his release.

“Individuals who are looking to break into employment or find a new career in one of Wisconsin’s many high-growth industry sectors should take advantage of the job-seekers labor market by visiting their local job center and speak with an employment and training representative today.”

In Chippewa Falls, those same factors are at work.

Mike Jordan, Chippewa Falls Chamber of Commerce president, said that on the whole, the business and industry in the area has recovered from economic instability a decade ago.

“Overall our business community is very solid,” Jordan said. “We do face challenges with it, but those challenges are because business is good.”

That’s because the same low unemployment can brings a very tight labor market, leaving employers sometimes struggling to find workers.

Jordan said that additionally, any workers companies can bring into the area struggle with a lack of housing availability.

Jordan points to things like the continued expansion of the Lake Wissota Business Park as signs of entering 2019 with continued business growth.

Nordson Corporation broke ground on a 145,000 square foot facility in November for a world headquarters for its EDI and premier extrusion and coating product line.

Relocation of these operations to the new facility will begin in the summer of 2019 and be complete by late 2020.

He also noted the growth like Huffcut Concrete’s expansion near Lake Hallie and the construction underway on the Oakleaf Clinic facility.

For its part, Jordan said the chamber works to help bring in outside interest, helps find business development funding, advertise broadly for the area and also works with schools to encourage exploration in the various industries.

Despite having around 6,000 manufacturing jobs in the area currently, Jordan said the chamber still finds people with the perception that industrial work is “dark and dirty” despite many shifts in technology and in the types of industries here.

“And that’s just not the case,” Jordan said.

Who are Chippewa County's top 10 property taxpayers? Here's the list
Who are Chippewa County's top 10 property taxpayers? Here's the list

Chippewa Falls native, champion baker aims for another title as frosting on the cake

STODDARD, Wis. — Prize-winning baker Jennifer Barney readily admits that she may seem like a charming and innocent when people first meet her but that those who square off against her in the kitchen are in for a battering.

If that sounds like the winner of The Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship last season was spoiling for another spatula spat, she was. She recently competed against other champions on the network, but how she fared won’t become public until after 8 p.m. Christmas Eve.

That’s when the Food Network will premier its Homecoming Special, pitting the Chippewa Falls native against five other champions in a one-hour, winner-take-all competition. Her lips are sealed tighter than a stubborn lid on a jar of sprinkles, because spilling the beans would earn her a DQ.

Barney, who operates her Meringue Bakery out of her home but is looking for her own bricks and mortar in downtown La Crosse, was pleased to get another Food Network gig, which was filmed in advance in New Orleans.

“It felt awesome. It was an honor to be invited back,” said Barney, who also confessed to being a bit intimidated, competing against other champions.

“I was nervous because this means that there is a whole different level of competition that I am up against,” said Barney, who defeated eight other bakers from throughout the country last season.

Lest you interpret the nervous Nellie persona as being akin to a fallen cake, Barney said, “I may seem sweet when you meet me, but I have learned that I am a fiercely competitive person when it comes to baking.”

That said, she noted that the other five also “are tough competitors.”

Asked whether the rivals bonded as closely as those last year, Barney said, “Honestly, no. Last time, I was gone for over two weeks. This time, it was a quick three-day commitment, so there was not enough time to develop strong bonds.”

On the other hand, most of the others have their own bakeries, “so I took any opportunity I could get to ask them business advice. They taught me a lot,” said the 34-year-old graduate of the internationally acclaimed Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts when it had a campus in the Twin Cities.

“This episode, we are teamed up in pairs of two. It can be very challenging working in groups,” she said. “In my previous season … we had one partner challenge, and it was really difficult to bring out the best in each other.”

Barney spoke reverently of what she described as the “ridiculously amazing credentials” of the competitors for the Christmas Eve show:

  • Jason Smith is a Food Network star who hosts multiple baking shows on TV.
  • Maeve Rochford owns a bakery and restaurant in California. She has competed against Bobby Flay, she ships her product around the world and she has a product line that sells at Home Goods.
  • Jordan Pilarski is a Hilton Pastry Chef who also judges The Food Network’s Holiday Christmas Cookie Challenge.
  • Nacho Aguirre owns two bakeries, and his wife also has challenged on several Food Network shows.
  • Michelle Antonishek was a New York City pastry chef who worked under many famous chefs.

“Then there is me — Jen Barney. I own a small bakery, but I have a lot of heart. If you stack me up against the other chefs I am defiantly the underdog,” she said.

The Christmas Eve show features two heats: In the pre-heat, the bakers are teamed up to turn the lightest of all pastries — pate a choux — into eclair holiday light strings. For the main heat, the teams take on the metallic trend to produce monochromatic gold and silver Christmas cakes.

Asked what kind of tricks she pulled out of her baker’s hat, she smiled evasively as she said, “You will have to watch to see. My strategy is always to stay true to what I know. I am not a fancy big city pastry chef.

Known for her love of combining flavors in desserts and making them look pretty, she said, “My strength is anything cake related. I tried to very creative and think outside the box. I always want to represent Wisconsin, and I tried to tie in my heritage as much as possible.

“I used a lot of recipes that I already make at the bakery every day,” she said.

Barney stepped closer to her own store this holiday season when she joined seven other entrepreneurs in selling their wares at the Pearl Street Pop Up in downtown La Crosse, where business was as brisk as a whisk. Now mulling a couple of choices for a location, Barney said she hopes to decide when business slows down after Christmas.

Plans are to have the store include a full coffee shop, bakery and cakes.

Barney was busy Friday, her bakery booked with custom cake orders almost into 2019. However, she said she has goods to sell at the Pop Up Store until Dec. 29.

Meringue also supplies pastries daily for Bean Juice Coffee at 1014 S. 19th St. in Jackson Plaza in La Crosse.

GALLERY: Chippewa Falls native wins Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship"
GALLERY: Chippewa Falls native wins Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship"
“If you stack me up against the other chefs I am defiantly the underdog.” Jen Barney, Chippewa Falls native