The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s (WEDC’s) recently awarded 21 grants totaling almost $500,000 to school districts throughout the state to establish or expand their local fabrication laboratory (fab lab) facilities.

A fab lab is a high-tech workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing components such as 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers and plasma cutters. Through its Fab Labs 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 listed below are receiving a total of $494,809 in Fab Lab Grants from WEDC. Individual school districts were eligible for up to $25,000, and consortia of two or more districts were eligible for up to $50,000. The program requires matching funds from each district.

This is the second round of funding for the Fab Lab Grants, and brings the total number of districts receiving grants to 34. Governor 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 that first year, WEDC provided another $100,000 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, Governor Walker’s 2017-19 budget calls for another $1 million in fab lab funding over the next two years.

“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,” said Governor Walker.

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 year, WEDC is requiring award recipients to make the fab labs accessible to the public, and many schools will offer training and workshops to community members after school. That facet of the program is expected to drive innovation and foster economic development throughout the community, WEDC officials say.

2017 WEDC Fab Lab Grant Recipients

  • Altoona (Eau Claire County), $25,000
  • Antigo (Langlade County), $25,000
  • Ashland (Ashland County), $24,690
  • Delavan-Darien (Walworth County), $14,000
  • East Troy (Walworth County), $24,550
  • Ellsworth (Pierce County), $25,000
  • Florence County (Florence County), $25,000
  • Ladysmith (Rusk County), $15,000
  • Lakeland Union High School Consortium (Oneida County), $49,999
  • Milwaukee Public Schools – Bradley Tech (Milwaukee County), $25,000
  • Necedah (Juneau County), $8,372
  • Northland Pines (Vilas County), $25,000
  • Onalaska (La Crosse County), $25,000
  • Phelps (Vilas County), $15,000
  • Phillips (Price County), $25,000
  • Rhinelander (Oneida County), $25,000
  • South Milwaukee (Milwaukee County), $25,000
  • Southern Door (Door County), $25,000
  • Stoughton (Dane County), $25,000
  • Turtle Lake (Barron/Polk Counties), $18,198
  • Waunakee (Dane County), $25,000