I doubt that when Bill Ihlenfeldt accepted the position to become president of the Chippewa Valley Technical College in 1994 that he knew his true job description. Dr. Ihlenfeldt understood the dynamics of the position since he had been with the tech school since 1987. But then the local economy began to change. The following is an excerpt of my interview this week as Ihlenfeldt prepares to leave his position and turn over the reigns to a replacement by the end of this year.
TBL: You have experienced a number of achievements over the past 13 years, but you are still working until probably the end of this year. What do you still wish to accomplish?
B.I.: First of all, we are moving fast and furious on Nanotechnology. My hope is to make sure that Nanotechnology has a national presence for the Chippewa Valley. Secondly, we are putting together an Innovation Fund. We are trying to raise $2 million between now and December that will go into an endowment fund that will be administered by the (CVTC) Foundation. The money raised will be used to respond to business and industry needs in the community.
TBL: How often have you thought of your job as being a part-salesman and sometimes a politician?
B.I.: (Laughs) Probably more than one cares to think about. But I believe that any college president that is worth their salt should be trying to raise money and develop the proper image so we can work with governors, lawmakers and representatives in Washington,D.C.
TBL: You have developed partnerships between industry and education to raise funding for programs that affect the health care community, machine tooling and others. What are the biggest challenges for a technical college president over the next decade?
B.I.: The biggest challenge, in my mind, is the ability to keep up with the exploding technology...It has changed exponentially over just the past few years. I also believe in local governance. It is especially critical for this area of the state because if government were to control the technical college system, it would be difficult to compete with interests in Madison and Milwaukee.
Ihlenfeldt, along with his staff, have raised millions of dollars for college programs that have helped the Chippewa Valley economy. His image has helped sell the community on the concept that the technical college can be a proactive entity. Do not be surprised if he comes knocking on your door for financial support yet this year.
The West Central Wisconsin business community is much better because of Bill Ihlenfeldt. He is not only a great salesman, but he knows how to get things done in the political arena. Even if those traits may not have been part of his original job description.