Thanks to a donation from Viking Land Harley-Davidson in Baxter, Central Lakes College is on track to develop a Harley-Davidson certification program in the coming years.

With a shortage of locally trained Harley technicians, Dan Walton, owner of Viking Land Harley, hopes his donation of eight 2016 Harley-Davidson Street 500 bikes to CLC’s marine and powersports program will kickstart a new initiative.

Right now, the only two training schools for Harley-Davidson technicians are in Florida and Arizona, meaning it can be a hard sell to get those trainees to move north to the harsh Minnesota climate after their schooling in warmer locales.

“Typically when you get a technician from Orlando or Phoenix, they get here about December and January, and they say, ‘What am I doing?’” Paul Hofmann, CLC powersports instructor said. “They don’t care much for the Midwest in the wintertime.”

Instead, Walton said he would like to be able to find trained technicians who aren’t afraid of a snowstorm.

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“When we need somebody new it can be really a challenge to find a trained technician,” Walton said. “And because it’s a fairly complex piece of machinery — it’s a computerized motorcycle — you can’t just take somebody off the street and turn them loose working on it. So we need people that have been trained, and ideally we’d like to have people that were trained having access to Harley equipment, Harley special tools, Harley software and Harley’s university so to speak.”

Walton said he has hired technicians without formal Harley experience, but that means he has to spend the time and money on additional training. CLC’s marine and powersports program gives students the skills to become motorcycle technicians while also working with boats, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and lawn and garden equipment. However, the school doesn’t have the equipment and tools to specifically focus on Harley-Davidson bikes. And with nearly 700 Harley dealerships in the country, a working knowledge of the company’s technology is a positive for anyone in the industry, Walton said, noting Harley-Davidson technicians are responsible for the majority of upgrades and customizations seen on Harleys throughout the country.

“One of the most rare things in the United States is a stock Harley-Davidson. Everybody does something to them. And who does that? Most of the time it’s one of our technicians,” Walton said. “Whether it’s an aesthetic change or a performance change, those things happen because of good guidance and help from the people that actually know what’s going on. So this is a profession that people can benefit from for years.”

Dan Walton, owner of Viking Land Harley-Davidson in Baxter, speaks to a crowd gathered at Central Lakes College Tuesday, Dec. 3, for a dinner to thank Walton for his donation of motorcycles to CLC's marine and powersports technology program. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Dan Walton, owner of Viking Land Harley-Davidson in Baxter, speaks to a crowd gathered at Central Lakes College Tuesday, Dec. 3, for a dinner to thank Walton for his donation of motorcycles to CLC's marine and powersports technology program. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

With Walton’s donation of bikes, along with specialized tools and training materials, CLC’s Brainerd campus is one step closer to developing its own Harley-Davidson certification program, though Hofmann said he still has to work with company officials on logistics before doling out official Harley certification.

CLC administrators and instructors thanked Walton and Viking Land Harley for the bikes with a dinner Tuesday, Dec. 3, and explained what exactly the donation means to the school, beyond just starting a new program.

For one, the donation helps strengthen the college’s local industry partnerships and ensures students are ready for careers upon graduation, Jana Shogren, CLC Foundation and resource development director said.

“If we just operated in a bubble as a college, we wouldn’t know if we were turning out students with the needs that you need filled,” Shogren told those gathered Tuesday evening.

The donation also opens the door for CLC to receive more state funding for career and technical programs. Through Minnesota’s leveraged equipment program, Shogren explained, schools like CLC get matching funds from the state for high-demand technical career programs where students need to be practicing on the latest technology. Essentially, the state will match any donations a school gets in cash. So Walton’s motorcycle donation, which amounts to more than $57,000, means CLC can receive another $57,000 in funding from the state.

Shogren said CLC usually receives about $250,000 of leveraged equipment funding each year, but that’s money the school can only receive through donations like Walton’s.

“The state requires to have these partnerships and have these donations come in order to access that cash and then purchase something else for our students in the future,” she said.

It’s more than just a donation. It’s an investment in CLC and its students, said Rebekah Kent, CLC dean of career and technical programs.

“Donations like this really, in many cases, are more than just the one-time donation,” Kent said. “... It really has a ripple effect.”

But for Walton, the donation isn’t just about the money or even the program it may help start. It’s about giving back to the community and institution that has supported him in the past.

Though he eventually graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a veterinarian degree, Walton started his education at Brainerd Community College, before it was renamed Central Lakes College.

“The place that you start is important,” he said. “It kind of puts that tone to the rest of your career — your college career and eventually your professional career.”

And paying it forward in general, Walton said, is important as well.

“It’s important to realize that we’ve all benefited because of the activities and actions and generosity of those that have gone before us,” he said. “We’re here in a community that obviously has a strong value on education.

“... There’s a lot to be said for valuing what we’ve got. We’ve got a great country; let’s not mess it up. Give back. Think about what’s going to happen beyond just your immediate horizons.”

Note: The headline of the story was changed to reflect the addition of a Harley-Davidson certification program, not a new program altogether. The story was also updated to correct the spelling of Paul Hofmann's name.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.