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The value of craftsmanship: David Hataj named distinguished alumni


David Hataj was one of those shop kids.

Relegated to classrooms at the end of long hallways, these students in some schools are offered technical college as a consolation prize, a second-best choice to four-year college.

They live in the demeaning worlds of “justs” that diminish confidence: just technical college, just a mechanic, just a carpenter, just a mason.

Hataj’s journey from those hallways led to him becoming president and co-owner of Edgerton Gear. He recently was named the Blackhawk Technical College distinguished alumnus for 2018. At one point in his varied career, Hataj studied at Blackhawk to be a machinist.

Edgerton Gear is a precision machine shop that specializes in making smaller batches of standard, custom or reverse-engineered components.

The news release from Blackhawk Tech uses such phrases as “demonstrating the value of technical college education” and “testament to life-long learning” to describe Hataj.

His legacy should include reclamation of the word “craftsman.”

Hataj has worked at Edgerton Gear for 25 years. He started there as a teen but left home to become a minister.

“I did not want to be a machinist,” Hataj said. “I thought, ‘Why would I want to do that?’”

He wasn’t good at school.

After being a pastor for a while, he decided he didn’t want to be in charge of a church. People told him he needed to get a four-year degree. He went to the University of California, Irvine and received a degree in social science. It was a good fit: It taught him about the relationships between people, the ways cultures interact with each other and how change works.

He later received a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate in transformational leadership from Bakke Graduate University. That offers another clue to who he is: Bakke focuses on developing “Christ-centered transformational leaders.”

When Hataj returned to Edgerton Gear, he brought with him his knowledge of relationships and culture, his faith and his memories of being what he calls a “shop kid.”

About six years ago, Hataj realized young people were not entering the trades fast enough to replace the aging workforce.

Working with Edgerton High School technical education and engineering teacher Joe Mink, Hataj created a 16-week curriculum called Craftsmen with Character. The course is 80 percent job shadowing, 20 percent classroom instruction.

It’s designed to introduce students to modern manufacturing and to develop soft skills such as making eye contact, having a firm handshake and dressing and acting in a professional manner.

Students discuss what character qualities they’ll need if they want to be skilled craftsmen or craftswomen.

He developed “The Craftsman’s Code,” rules that have become a part of Edgerton Gear’s culture. At its center, the code is about personal character, respecting yourself and your co-workers, and valuing the trades.

“In the classroom, I’ll pick up a napkin and ask the students to list all the things that went into making it,” Hataj said.

It begins with trees and lumberjacks.

Lumberjacks need well-forged steel for the blades of their saws, both handheld and mechanical. Then consider gears in the machinery used in the field.

Before they’ve even gotten out of the forest, students have named a half-dozen trades as crucial to manufacture of the napkin, Hataj said.

The course has helped young people who might be struggling with the traditional subjects see their skills as valuable, Mink said.

“It gives them a sense of purpose,” Mink said. “It matches what they do well. It gives them a challenge. It gives them an outlet to be creative. It shows them how they can help people.”

While working at Edgerton Gear, each student is paired with a mentor, usually a journeyman machinist. They serve as models for the code, teach the basics and speak bluntly to students. Why were they late? Why aren’t they prepared?

Hataj said the program could not be successful if his machinists weren’t willing to share their experience.

The Craftsmen with Character class is a “pre-internship” or pre-apprenticeship course for Edgerton Gear. From there, students go can go on to the youth apprenticeship course developed by the state’s Department of Workforce Development.

“Most of the youth apprenticeships have about a 50 percent dropout rate,” Hataj said. “We keep all of ours.”

Here’s another benefit: At many similar companies, the average age for the tradespeople is somewhere in the mid-50s. At Edgerton Gear, the average age is in the mid-30s.

Why do all of this work to gain a handful of employees?

It’s worth it, he said, because he ends up with the most talented tradesmen and women in the business.

Hataj said it is a way of living out his faith every day. He doesn’t proselytize at work, but the golden rule and the inherent value of each individual is embedded in the Craftsman’s Code.

“I also do it because I was one of those lost shop kids who wondered where I was going to go and what I was going to do,” Hataj said. “I want to show them how valuable and critical their work is.”

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Janesville official: Local tax-incentive oversight won't change


Even if the governor eases oversight for companies that get state tax-incentive packages, one city of Janesville official said local oversight won’t change for companies getting city help.

Economic Development Director Gale Price said the city crosschecks tax-incentive deals every year to make sure companies meet benchmarks for job creation.

If the companies fall short, the city can and sometimes does claw back incentives.

“If they don’t hit the (job) number, they get an invoice for that portion of the debt service the city lays out in promissory notes for,” Price said. “It’s pretty rare that we have to send out invoices on those. But, you know, we’ll probably send out four or five a year. But it’s nominal because it’s spread out over 10 years. It’s sometimes maybe $300 per job.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the state’s jobs creation agency, made headlines earlier this month when the Republican-led state Legislature passed a late-night bill that would allow “spot checks”—independent audits to probe only a sliver of job-creation tax-incentive deals the agency writes.

The WEDC says if the bill passes, it would use the spot-check provision to augment—not replace—a crosscheck it already has in place to ensure companies getting state help make good on job creation agreements.

Some critics of the bill, including both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, said they’re concerned the provision could open the door for looser vetting of millions of dollars of economic development deals the WEDC grants statewide.

Some companies receive both state and municipal tax-incentive packages.

In Janesville, Price said, the city’s checks on companies with job-creation agreements are done every year. But he said the process is not run as an audit.

The crosschecks instead require individual companies to provide job creation tallies along with wage levels for employees.

The city’s economic development staff then uses the reports to make sure the companies are creating jobs and paying wages that match their agreements.

“We don’t do an audit. We don’t have some accountants go in and say, ‘Give us all of this,’” Price said. “There’s a level of trust with it. But our expectation is that the companies are reporting numbers that are true or accurate. That’s one benefit where we do a deal and the state (WEDC) does a deal is we can get ahold of the state’s data. If the state’s doing an audit, we don’t need to go back and have a certified audit.”

Price said this week his staff reviewed a logistics and distribution company that has a 10-year tax-increment financing deal that’s tied in part to job creation. Under the terms of the deal, the company was required to create 57 jobs that pay at least $16.03 an hour—a “living wage” the city has set through policy.

Under review, the city learned the company has created 83.25 jobs, most of which pay at least the baseline wage. That means the company has met—actually surpassed—the terms of the TIF deal on raw job creation.

However, Price said, the city noted the company is paying one supervisory position $21 an hour—a wage that’s $7 an hour less for that position than the company had outlined in a pay rate agreement.

Price said his staff circled back on that shortfall and discussed it, but he said the city ultimately decided against charging a claw back against the company. Based on the company’s jobs report, it pays its employees an average of about $25 an hour and it’s over performing in raw job creation.

“They got almost 30 more jobs than was anticipated. So do we gig them for that one wage being under the $28 they had in the initial agreement? Ultimately, that wage is still higher than $16.03—the benchmark. Why in the heck do we want to punish them for creating more jobs if this one job falls short of what the agreement had anticipated? It’s still higher than the baseline minimum wage,” Price said.

During annual reviews, the city tracks quarterly staffing and wage trends in the companies’ jobs reports, Price said.

He said if companies have “significant” shortfalls in either the number of jobs or wages paid, agreements can prompt city meetings with the companies to learn more about why the companies are not meeting benchmarks.

Price said any changes in state law in how the WEDC might crosscheck its own tax-incentive deals would not affect how the city vets its own deals.

“It ties back to city council policy and city council comfort level. I wouldn’t change the practice. We have a duty to the citizens that if we’re going to be doing these deals, we need to be doing an annual check. We should not change that,” Price said.

“We should make sure that we’re being good stewards of those investments and that everyone is performing on those investments.”

Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 13, 2018

Michael J. Bailey

Edwin D. Harnack

Iris I. LaMour

Loren K. Mayfield

Doris S. Rudisill

Stanley M. Schaefer

Frank H. Story

Jared Paul Swanson

Kenneth Lloyd Westby

'Dirty deeds': Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen gets 3 years in prison


Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s one-time fixer, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal his boss’ alleged sexual affairs, telling a judge that he agreed time and again to cover up Trump’s “dirty deeds” out of “blind loyalty.”

Separately, the legal and political peril surrounding Trump appeared to deepen when prosecutors announced that another major piece of the investigation had fallen into place: The parent company of the National Enquirer acknowledged dispensing some of the hush money in concert with the Trump campaign to fend off a scandal that could have damaged his bid for the White House.

Cohen, 52, shook his head slightly and closed his eyes as a judge pronounced his sentence for evading $1.4 million in taxes, lying about Trump’s business dealings in Russia and violating campaign-finance laws in buying the silence of adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, who claimed they had sex with the candidate. Cohen and federal prosecutors have said the payments were made at Trump’s direction to influence the election.

“Time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass,” said a choked-up Cohen, a lawyer who once boasted he would “take a bullet” for Trump. “My weakness can be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump, and I was weak for not having the strength to question and to refuse his demands.”

The twin developments represented a double dose of bad news for the president, who ignored reporters’ questions about Cohen during an appearance at the White House later in the day.

Cohen is the first and, so far, only member of Trump’s circle during two years of investigations to go into open court and implicate him in a crime, though whether a president can be prosecuted under the Constitution is an open question.

In a possible sign of further trouble for the president, Cohen said he will continue cooperating with prosecutors, and one of his legal advisers said Cohen is also prepared to tell “all he knows” to Congress if asked.

At the sentencing, defense attorney Guy Petrillo pleaded for leniency for Cohen, saying, “He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in our country.”

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said the defendant deserved modest credit, but his assistance “does not wipe the slate clean.”

“Somewhere along the way Mr. Cohen appears to have lost his moral compass,” the judge said.

The judge also ordered Cohen to pay $1.39 million in restitution to the IRS, forfeit $500,000 and pay $100,000 in fines. He was ordered to report to prison March 6 and left court without comment.

The prison sentence was in line with what prosecutors sought. Sentencing guidelines called for around four to five years, and the government asked in court papers that Cohen be given only a slight break.

The sentence was the culmination of a spectacular rise and fast fall of a lawyer who attached himself to the fortunes of his biggest client, helped him get elected president, then turned on him, cooperating with two interconnected investigations: one run by federal prosecutors in New York, the other by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election.

Beyond the guilty pleas, it is unclear what Cohen has told prosecutors or what he has left to say, though one of Mueller’s prosecutors, Jeannie Rhee, said in court that Cohen has “provided consistent and credible information about core Russia-related issues under investigation.” Legal experts said Cohen could get his sentence reduced by cooperating.

In the hush-money case, Cohen arranged for American Media Inc., parent of the pro-Trump National Enquirer, to pay $150,000 to McDougal to buy and bury her story, according to prosecutors. Cohen also said he paid $130,000 to Daniels and was reimbursed by Trump’s business empire. Both payments were made during the heat of the 2016 campaign.

Prosecutors said those secret payouts were not reported as campaign contributions and violated the ban on corporate contributions and the $2,700 limit on donations by an individual.

Shortly after Cohen’s sentencing, federal authorities announced a deal not to prosecute AMI. As part of the deal, prosecutors said, AMI admitted making the payment to McDougal “in concert” with the Trump campaign to protect him from a story that could have hurt his candidacy. An AMI representative had no comment.

Trump has denied any sexual relationship with the women and argued on Twitter earlier this week that the payments to the women were “a simple private transaction,” not a campaign contribution. And if it was a prohibited contribution, Trump said, Cohen is the one who should be held responsible.

“Lawyer’s liability if he made a mistake, not me,” Trump wrote, adding, “Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. WITCH HUNT!”

Trump’s legal culpability could hinge on whether the payments to the women were, in fact, made at his direction and whether he intended them to influence the election.

In a case with some parallels, prosecutors in 2011 charged former Sen. John Edwards with funneling nearly $1 million in under-the-table campaign contributions to hide his pregnant lover during his 2008 run for president. Edwards had argued that the payments were a personal matter—intended to keep things secret from his wife—and had nothing to do with the election.

A jury acquitted the Democrat on one charge and deadlocked on other counts. He wasn’t retried.

In addition to pleading guilty to the campaign-finance and tax charges, Cohen admitted lying to Congress to conceal that he was negotiating a proposal to build a Trump skyscraper in Moscow well into the presidential campaign season. He said he lied out of devotion to Trump, who insisted during the campaign that he had no business ties whatsoever to Russia.

Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who played a major role in exposing the hush-money discussions, said outside the courthouse: “We will not stop until the truth is known relating to the conduct of Donald Trump.”

But he added: “Let me be clear, Michael Cohen is neither a hero nor a patriot” and “deserves every day of the 36-month sentence he will serve.”


Gale Price