Cardinal Manufacturing began in the Eleva-Strum School District during the 2007-2008 academic year when instructor, Craig Cegielski, approached the School Board about the potential of pursuing an in-school manufacturing business similar to one he started in his prior position in the school district of Antigo, WI.
The school board approved and since that time Cardinal Manufacturing has gone from its infant stages to a company with significant annual sales and national notoriety. The growth of the program has attracted national and international attention and Cardinal Manufacturing has attended national tradeshows and hosted celebrity guests including Wisconsin's Governor, Scott Walker. Cardinal Manufacturing has served hundreds of customers from private individuals to clients throughout the state of Wisconsin and other parts of the country. A number of students have gone directly to skilled employment positions after high school, but most choose to go on to post-secondary education through technical college or the university system. Chippewa Valley Technical College and UW-Stout have taken a particular interest in the program. Cardinal Manufacturing has also built strong relationships with a number of private companies and professional organizations which have been supportive through donations, advice, publicity opportunities, and projects.
In-school programs such as Cardinal Manufacturing serve as a grassroots economic development effort. Not only do these programs expose students to career opportunities in manufacturing and teach students soft skills for future employment, but they also work toward changing the attitudes of counselors and parents to be more open to the idea of encouraging students to look at manufacturing careers. Students get hands on opportunities to try out these roles before making an expensive decision in choosing a post-secondary program. In other words, kids get the chance to try welding, machining, construction, production management, accounting, office management, and marketing prior to committing to a major or area of study. The services provided through the program are worthwhile and valuable to the customers who pay for the service. Since the very beginning, Cardinal Manufacturing has been self-sufficient meaning that they have not ever requested a special budget from the school district.