High-tech hot dogs

We sometimes forget that Oscar Mayer is Madison’s oldest and best-known business icon. In recent years, this east side meat processor has been overshadowed by insurance, finance, and technology companies, but it’s a worldwide brand and still a major force in our community. It’s always among the top 10 private employers in the In Business Top 100.

But in all the years I’ve lived in Madison, I’ve only set foot in that very big building on Packers Avenue once, with a group to deliver an award to then-President Jim McVey.

I’ve never had a tour of the plant to see how those famous wieners are made, and I suspect few outsiders have. As a kid, we had grade-school field trips to the 7UP bottling plant, the Wisconsin State Journal press room, and the Red Dot potato chip factory. But never Oscar Mayer. I always figured the reason for keeping the plant off-limits, both then and now, is that Oscar really doesn’t want people to know too much about what goes into the product. When I was a kid, they did slaughtering there, so I can understand why it probably wasn’t a good idea to bring in a Cub Scout troop to watch.

Imagine my surprise when this teaser appeared on the cover of the July Wired magazine: “How Hot Dogs Get Made.” And sure enough, among articles on the latest trends, jargon, and gadgets is a two-page spread titled “Inside Oscar Mayer: The transformation from ground meat to summertime treat.” The feature didn’t dwell on details of what’s in the product. It highlighted the technical processes such as infrared scanning for quality control, calibrated stuffing, hickory smoking, cooking, and packaging. The sometimes snarky Wired editors treated Oscar Mayer with kid gloves. A PR person’s dream.

I love Oscar Mayer wieners (everyone does, you know) and this blue-collar east side company has been a great corporate citizen for decades, so it makes me happy to see Madison’s own Oscar Mayer getting recognition in the trend-breaking Wired magazine. Very cool.



Alarming lake levels

Unless you are a regular user of Madison’s lakes, you may not realize that we’ve dodged a few bullets with regard to water levels this spring, and we’re not in the clear yet.

On June 30, Lake Mendota was the highest it’s been since July 2004. It’s come down only slightly since then, and a big storm could easily push it to an all-time high. Curtailed boat usage, damaged piers and shorelines, and loss of business are the result.

Our lakes are among the top amenities for locals and visitors alike, and when they are not fully usable, it’s serious stuff. Here’s a link to the county’s website showing daily readings for Madison’s chain of lakes.

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