Hillcrest commerce: NWTC explores options for Aurora center
AURORA, Wis. — The Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Woodland Regional Learning Center in Aurora continues to look at options to best use its space in the former Hillcrest Elementary School.
Sally Miller, regional manager for the center, indicated they are in the process of moving one of the North Wing classrooms to the East Wing so all class instruction will be in the East Wing.
The four-room North Wing then can be devoted to fostering business.
“We are always looking for business start-ups that could use some help. We have a graduated lease agreement allowing new businesses to pay a lower rate their first year so they can invest that money into their businesses.”
The center since 2010 has had its Woodland Kitchen and Business Incubator, offering certified, fully-equipped commercial kitchens for use by growers, food processors, caterers, restaurants, chefs, special event food vendors, bakers, groups, organizations and more.
Processors pay a one-time fee to sign up, plus annual and hourly fees for kitchen use. NWTC can provide business training and mentoring if needed, along with help on marketing, product development, packaging and labeling.
Among the clients using the facility are Jo-Ti’s Raviolis, Kentrice’s Catering and Dulce Nulla Gourmet Desserts.
New to the facility is a pop-up shop. Miller said she got the inspiration for it while visiting her daughter in Ann Arbor.
“They have a lot of little storefronts that were for rent and they were really creative spaces,” Miller said. “I loved the ideas and even though our building is off the beaten path, we decided to create some space that a business could walk into and be up and running in no time.”
Pop-up shops are temporary stores that offer individuals or businesses the opportunity to sell directly to customers.
Mindy Angle, who oversee the business side of NWTC, said the 34-by-22-foot space can be used for rummage or holiday-type sales. They even have had a couple of bridal parties.
They work closely with Wendy Gehlhoff of Florence County Economic Development, who can provide low-interest loans for business start-ups.
“Once the threat of COVID has passed, we can also promote the other ‘shared spaces’ in our building,” Miller said.
The Woodland Cafe, which serves as the meal site for the Aging and Disability Resource Center, can be rented for parties and meetings as well. It offers space for up to 50 people, Angle said, with a television and computer available for use.
The gym area can be rented for larger events. “We do have some current renters in the gym, including Parkour Dance Academy and Kingsford Krush Roller Derby,” Miller said. School district also occasionally use it for sports practices.
On the academic side, Miller said they are looking to expand the Start College Now Program course offerings to the four area high schools they partner with: Niagara, Florence County, Beecher-Dunbar-Pembine and Goodman-Armstrong Creek.
“They have requested courses in carpentry and are currently looking at an alternative high school model for the at-risk or dropout students,” Miller said.
Programs now available include electro-engineering, health care customer service representative, nursing assistant and photography and graphic design.
The Job Center of Wisconsin has a space in the building, as well as Telecross Productions, which offers high-quality media services such as video production, audio/music production and photography.
Another new offering is a career closet, stocked with clothing students can borrow to use for job interviews, Angle said.
NWTC began having classes in the Aurora school in 2004 but moved its operations there full-time in 2017.
“This really has turned into a community hub,” Miller said, adding, “Who knew?”
Marguerite Lanthier can be reached at 906-774-3500, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.