University students a resource for Pierce County businesses

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published January 1, 1992  | January 1992 issue

The Pierce County Economic Development Corp. and university professors have opened new doors for students and county businesses.

Students in selected classes at University of Wisconsin campuses in River Falls and Menomonie are matched with area businesses to complete special projects relating to their studies.

The majority of projects are coordinated by the Pierce County Development Corp. with classes at the University of Wisconsin—River Falls. For the past year students in marketing, industrial research and systems design classes have practiced their newly learned skills on area businesses. With 11 projects currently under way, Bill Warner, executive director of the county EDC, says, "Students get good, real world experience, and if we set up the project correctly, the business will get a really good study out of it." Warner receives requests from area businesses for help and takes a laundry list of projects to the university classes. He works with the professors and the students to develop timelines and project plans.

Prescott Bergh, owner of Four Winds Farm Supply in River Falls, a provider of biological and least-toxic pest controls and fertilizers for organic, sustainable and low-impact farmers, used a team of students to evaluate his marketing approach. As a result of their recommendations, Bergh lowered his marketing budget and now relies more on direct, personal contact to market his goods. The team also redesigned his trade show display.

Largely due to the success of the first student team, Bergh welcomed another student, who currently is surveying other regional and national product sales organizations to assess Bergh's market position. "The program offers businesses in the area marketing analysis and research for free—you can't beat the price," Bergh says. Bergh has been so pleased with the program that he has recommended it to business associates in the area.

Not only businesses use the program: In the Village of Spring Valley a team of students is conducting a study of communities in five regional states with similar locations, per capita income and population to analyze retail uses. Results will help Spring Valley officials better plan the community's retail environment.

While most interested businesses are small entrepreneurial operations, Warner says he'll match up students with "anyone who walks in the door." When a beer keg reconditioning company needed a method to remove and separate parts of the old keg to be recycled, Warner went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie and found a team of industrial design students from the engineering program to take on that challenge.

Kathy Cobb