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DARBOY – After many discussions and meetings during the past six months, plans for the new Center for Dairy Research facility on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison are “back on track,” CDR director John Lucey assured members of the Eastern Wisconsin Cheesemakers and Buttermakers at their 23rd annual convention.

“We're over the worst,” Lucey indicated in the wake of the revision of the original architectural designs that were received earlier this year and which would have put the project at about $11 million or 32 percent over its budget which was derived from both private and public funding.

Design reformulation

The immediate reaction of the CDR staff and its supporting industry partners was that its product research and development programs had to be saved, Lucey said. The followup negotiations, which included two dairy industry representatives, found ways to shrink the proposed size of the building by removing non-essential space that had been included for corridors, one elevator and an upper floor penthouse.

By October, all of the parties agreed on changes from the original design, Lucey stated. The negotiations also led to an additional contribution of $1.2 million by the University of Wisconsin, a reduction of fees by consultants and an assurance the CDR will have nine rooms for the ripening of specialty cheeses, he reported.

Pending approval by state level agencies, Lucey anticipates the start of construction in 2017 for a facility with a lifetime potential of 50 to 100 years. There has already been a delay of over one year from the initial timetable for the project, to which the private dairy industry in Wisconsin and beyond contributed $18.4 million in 2012 and 2013.

CDR programs

Lucey, who has been associated with the CDR for 18 of its 30 years, announced that funding is being sought for an entrepreneurial laboratory for new foods in the new building. He is also talking with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the possibility of a $1-2 million grant for a national beverage development venture.

Two cheese technology short courses that were offered in October had a full enrollment, Lucey reported. He also mentioned a plan to hire graduate students for cheese technology training programs.

The CDR has also inaugurated an online dairy training certificate program, Lucey noted. This new approach attracted the maximum of 30 participants and a 2nd session has begun.

Employee shortages

With Wisconsin's dairy plants having access to record volumes of milk produced within the state, they're now encountering a challenge of recruiting and keeping an adequate number of employees, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association executive director John Umhoefer disclosed.

That concern was the one most often expressed when the WCMA's board of directors held listening sessions at five locations around the state in the past year, Umhoefer pointed out. He noted that a shortage of employees was well down the list of concerns when listening sessions was held several years ago.

To deal with the current challenge, the WCMA has developed a tool kit to help its members review wages being paid by employers in other sectors in their regions, Umhoefer reported. He also mentioned making contact with job centers, reaching out to schools, and establishing a pilot program with individual WCMA members.

Umhoefer, who observed that he has been the WCMA's executive director for 25 of its 125 years, reminded members that the 2017 United States Championship Cheese Contest will be held at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on March 7 to 9 and that next year's Wisconsin Cheese Industry Conference will be held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on April 12 and 13. He noted that volunteers are needed to handle the thousands of entries for the cheese contest.

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