Credited as being the “Father of the Wisconsin Fab Lab Initiative”, Don Sidlowski serves the people of Wisconsin as Founder of the Northwoods Broadband & Economic Development Coalition in which his principal role is as a government/civic strategist and advocate. A super-regional entity originally committed to the transformation of Wisconsin north of Highway 29 into a nationally-recognized high speed internet economic zone, attracting businesses and resident workers from around the country, its mission has evolved to expansion of all economic development and education based on broadband as the underlying and enabling technology. He is responsible for helping scores of rural Wisconsin communities to first become broadband sufficient and then leverage the asset for economic development. He is the author of the Fab Lab Match Grant legislation that became law in Wisconsin’s 2016-17 biennial budget. Don is past Chairman in the Town of Three Lakes in Oneida County where he also served as chair of the Economic Development Committee and as a Commissioner on the Three Lakes Plan Commission. He formerly served on the Board of Directors of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, and is an ex-officio member of the Technology Committee chartered by the Oneida County Board of Supervisors. He is the past Executive Director of Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation, one of nine such regional agencies in the state. He is the Past President of the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Rural Partners, the past Management Team Leader for the Public Service Commission’s Link WISCONSIN Region 2, and serves as a broadband and economic development adviser to a wide range of public and private entities at the local, county, regional, super-regional and state levels. He is Past Chairman of the UW-Extension Broadband & E-Commerce Education Center Broadband Advisory Council. Don is the Co-Founder and former Managing Director of Oneida Marketing Enterprises, a virtual company providing integrated internet marketing systems, from which he retired in 2016 after spending a career doing startups and turnarounds for mostly privately-held high tech corporations in the area of predictive (condition-based) maintenance.
In 2013, Don began spearheading an initiative to establish a Fab Lab maker space with STEAM curriculum program in a K-12 school district in each of the eight Grow North counties in upper N.E. Wisconsin by the end of 2016. This pilot project was intended to demonstrate that if the most rural and poorest counties in Wisconsin could adopt such a cutting-edge educational concept, then the rest of the state could follow. The first Lab on his list opened in Sep 2014 in the Three Lakes School District (Oneida), at the time only the sixth Fab Lab in all of Wisconsin and the first K-12 in the state. In Sep 2015, the Florence County School District opened its Lab. The boards of education in Rhinelander (Oneida, the first county in Wisconsin with two K-12 labs), Antigo (Langlade), Northland Pines (Vilas), Marinette and others quickly followed suit. Encouraged by the rapid acceptance in these rural counties, in 2015 Don drafted legislation for Rep. Mary Czaja that was passed and put into the 2016-17 State biennial budget establishing a Fab Lab Match Grant Program by which school districts can purchase capital equipment for their Labs. Since then, the board of education for some two hundred public K-12 school districts statewide (representing more than half the K-12 districts) have adopted formal resolutions to open a Fab Lab with attendant STEAM curriculum. This likely gives Wisconsin more K-12 Fab Labs than the other 49 states combined. For the current 2018-19 biennium, Don authored a new bill for Rep. Mary Felzkowski to provide curriculum development, in-school coaching and teacher training for applicants and award recipients alike, which also passed. As a management and technical consultant, in 2018 Don was instrumental in advising Palmer Hamilton on bringing a commercial solution to school districts wanting to implement a fab lab program.