Don Sidlowski – Civic/Government Strategist
Hailed as “The Father of Fab Lab” in the State of Wisconsin, Don currently serves the people of Wisconsin as Founder of the Northwoods Broadband & Economic Development Coalition. 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. Working in this capacity as a non-compensated volunteer, he is responsible for helping scores of rural Wisconsin communities to first become broadband sufficient and then leverage the asset for economic development. He also the author of the Fab Lab Match Grant legislation that became law in Wisconsin’s 2015-17 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 Immediate 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 including the UW-Extension Broadband & E-Commerce Education Center of which he is Past Chairman of its 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.
In 2013, Don began spearheading an initiative to establish a MIT-chartered Fab Lab in a K-12 school district in each of the eight 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, 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 only county in Wisconsin with two K-12 labs), Antigo (Langlade), Northland Pines (Vilas), Merrill (Lincoln) and Marinette quickly followed suit. Encouraged by the rapid acceptance in these rural counties, in 2015 Don drafted legislation that was passed and put into the current State biennial budget establishing a Fab Lab Match Grant Program by which school districts can purchase capital equipment for their Labs. As a result, nearly one hundred school districts statewide have committed to opening Fab Labs. This makes Wisconsin the undisputed leader, with more Fab Labs than the other 49 states combined. Don is in the process of organizing a statewide Fab Lab Consortium – the first of its kind in the nation – which will partner with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and other state agencies.
In February of 2014, Don was honored with the University of Wisconsin Extension WEEDCA “Wisconsin Idea Award” for 2013 for his work across rural areas of the state in the area of broadband expansion and adoption as the means for launching economic development projects. Presented annually, the Wisconsin Idea Award is the only recognition given to an individual outside of the UW-Extension System and is the second highest honor that can be bestowed next to the Chancellor’s Award.
Don served as one of the principal authors of the Public Service Commission’s “Wisconsin Playbook for Broadband Progress” to which he was invited to contribute after authoring the Link WISCONSIN Region 2 Broadband Investment Plan as well as the white paper “Building Community Broadband Subscribership” published by the UW-Extension Center for Community Technology Solutions, now the Broadband and E-Commerce Education Center. In 2014, Don was appointed and continues to serve on the PSC’s Broadband Advisory Council, whose purpose is to ensure the Playbook is executed according to its design elements and to continue to make policy recommendations to the Commission.
In memory of his late wife who passed in May of 2014, Don has established the Ginny Sidlowski Applied Education Foundation, known simply as Ginny’s Gift, to fund educational programs in the areas of epilepsy, autism and Fab Labs.
Don is an Eagle Scout, a NESA Life Member, a member of the NESA Legacy Society, a James E. West Fellow, a Vigil Honor Member in the Order of the Arrow, has earned a Master Degree and is pursuing his Doctorate in the College of Commissioner Science. He serves as a volunteer for the Crystal Lake District and Chairman of the NESA Committee for Samoset Council B.S.A. in Northern Wisconsin. He also serves as a volunteer on-air host for The Polka Show on WXPR 91.7 FM Rhinelander on Saturday mornings from 9 until Noon.