Sometimes the key to victory lies in an effective passing of the baton. One runner begins while the next takes it to its next length. Such is the transition to Michael Witte, new executive director of the Portage County Business Council (PCBC).

Previous director Todd Kuckkahn, who served since 2015, left in November to devote his time to a private venture as a certified coach, speaker, and trainer

Witte may be new to the directorship but is no stranger to the PCBC. Some years back, he ran a local business called Productivity Point International. He’s dedicated his past eight years as a recruiter, giving him a frontline view of the challenges facing prospective employers.

“The last eight years I’ve spent as a recruiter for truck drivers,” he said. “The transportation industry in general is experiencing a huge gap in the supply chain. There certainly are some problems in production, but guys are sitting there for four or five hours waiting to be loaded. They’re not being loaded, and nobody knows why.”

While business leaders of all sizes and stripes are scratching their heads over national trends, they’re doing all they can to shore things up locally and regionally.

The PCBC surpassed 500 members for the first time in 2020, so more businesses are turning to the organization for a sense of stability and cooperation, and Witte was eager for the opportunity to provide that leadership.

“I wanted an opportunity to help grow a chamber,” he said, “and this area has been extremely progressive. With large-dimensional warehousing, manufacturing, information technology, agriculture, we have diverse offerings for people to move here.”

With an unemployment rate hovering around 2 percent, Portage County businesses will be vying to attract all types of workers to the area, as well as retain those graduating from right in town at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“There have been two sides,” Witte said of the supply chain challenges. “Retail hasn’t been hurt as bad on shortfalls. Manufacturing has been hit hard, more from microchips than anything. Millions of dollars of orders have been cancelled or stalled. Because they’re so specific; you need a Samsung chip for this or that, for example.”

Just putting a job description out on your website is not going to work. That ship has sailed and sunk.

— Michael Witte,

executive director, Portage County

Business Council

But larger-scale materials have been in short supply, too.

“Certain metals like aluminum,” Witte said, “has been hard to come by. Everybody wants to blame container ships and trucking, but it’s not just that.”

That’s where recruitment and retention come into play. Under Kuckkahn’s leadership, the PCBC launched The portal was meant to channel many of Portage County’s most attractive qualities in a one-stop, search-friendly site.

While it’s created an eye-catching branding opportunity, Witte sees it as a first step.

“We’ve spent a lot of money getting the word out,” he said. “Now, we’re going to start targeting more. I’ve been meeting with human resources people to see if they’re on the same page because recruitment has changed. The days of getting 20 to 60 applications for one job are gone. Now, if you’re not on one candidate, they’re gone.”

“Just putting a job description out on your website is not going to work,” Witte said. “That ship has sailed and sunk.”

He cited “speed to hire” as a major initiative for the PCBC as 2022 dawns. With that will come emphasis on quality training and mentoring, Witte said. He pointed to one instance where a candidate was hired, then was left with an inexperienced trainer/mentor, and wound up leaving in short order.

Witte cited management training as another key initiative he intends to champion this year. “Leadership is a major component of that,” he said, noting that the employment climate may necessitate training people for roles they wouldn’t have envisioned for themselves. “We’re working with UWSP to create a program of management training for non-managers.”

Witte is not only looking to continue the Heavy Metal Tour that introduces middle and high school students to manufacturing careers, he’s begun reaching out to previously underserved school districts.

“Almond-Bancroft and Tri-County” are two districts the PCBC hadn’t worked with previously, Witte said, adding that there are benefits for the adults in those districts as well. “It’s training for the kids, but for staff development as well.”