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SOUTH MILWAUKEE - Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has listed South Milwaukee among the 21 school districts throughout the state that have been awarded a total of nearly $500,000 in grants to establish or expand local fabrication laboratory facilities.

Walker has declared April 25 as Fab Lab Day in Wisconsin, and to mark the occasion, he and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, along with other key state leaders, visited all 21 school districts on that day to present the grants and celebrate their successes.

Among those taking part in the statewide announcement tour are WEDC Secretary and CEO Mark R. Hogan; WEDC Deputy Secretary Tricia Braun; Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen; University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross; Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy; and UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer.

“Fab labs play a vital role in ensuring that today’s students have the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the 21st century by providing hands-on experience in areas such as design, engineering, and complex problem-solving,” Walker said. “This is the latest example of the significant investments we’ve made in education and workforce development over the last six years to ensure that current and future workers have the skills that are in high demand in the job market.”

A fab lab is a high-technology workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing components such as 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers, and plasma cutters. Through its Fab Lab Grant Program, WEDC is supporting the purchase of fab lab equipment for instructional and educational purposes by elementary, middle, junior, or high school students.

The 21 school districts are receiving a total of $494,809 in fab lab grants from WEDC. Individual school districts were eligible for up to $25,000 and consortiums of two or more districts were eligible for up to $50,000. The program requires matching funds from each district.

WEDC received 69 applications representing over $1.58 million in funding requests. Applications were evaluated based on readiness and long-range planning, curriculum, business and community partnerships, financial need, and previous awards. The review committee consisted of experts from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the Wisconsin Technical College System, and UW-Stout, as well as three WEDC team members.

“Wisconsin’s fab labs are already making a difference around the state by helping students develop skills that will benefit them regardless of what career path they choose after high school,” said WEDC Secretary Hogan. “Fab labs will undoubtedly benefit individual students, school districts, and Wisconsin’s economy as a whole.”

In addition to the funding, WEDC has developed a fab lab resource page for its website that provides districts with information and a video on how to set up and equip a fab lab, how to implement best practices to ensure a successful fab lab, and more.

Content for the page was provided by UW-Stout and Gateway Technical College. UW-Stout also received a grant from WEDC for the development of an online tool to increase collaboration and the sharing of resources among Wisconsin fab labs.

This is the second round of funding for the Fab Lab Grants and brings the total number of districts receiving grants to 34. Walker’s 2015-17 state budget included $500,000 to fund the initial round of grants. In response to an overwhelming number of applications in the first year, WEDC provided another $500,000 for the program, and in May 2016, grants of up to $25,000 were awarded to 25 school districts.

Because of the important role that fab labs play in student training and workforce development, Walker’s 2017-19 budget proposal calls for another $1 million in fab lab funding over the next two years.

This year, WEDC is requiring award participants to make the fab labs accessible to the public, and many schools will offer community members, businesses, and entrepreneurs the opportunity to use the labs after school. This facet of the program is expected to drive innovation and foster economic development throughout the community, WEDC officials say.

The Fab Lab Grants Program, which is aimed at preparing students for the workplace, embodies Think-Make-Happen In Wisconsin, a new unifying message that celebrates Wisconsin as a premier destination for business, personal, and professional fulfillment.

For more information on the state’s fab labs, including resources for teachers, visit www.inwisconsin.com/fablabs or follow #WIFabLab on Twitter.

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