Free Tuesday Trends sample: Cranberries rising, casinos mixed and WEDC falling
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Cranberries: As the Warrens Cranberry Festival -- the largest such event in the world -- wraps up its 40th annual run in Monroe County, farmers of the official state fruit say they're looking to build awareness of their crop. While they're optimistic about this year's harvest -- a 2 percent increase over 2011 totals has been projected, with Wisconsin again accounting for more cranberry production than every other state combined -- they've also seen flat prices over the past few years and are potentially looking at too much inventory, according to the head of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. That could be alleviated by increasing exports to foreign markets -- 33 percent of the country's 2011 crop went abroad -- leading industry leaders to ramp up efforts to educate global consumers about the fruit. In addition to the Warrens festival and other regional Wisconsin events, growers are set to roll out an election-themed awareness campaign this month, and have set up a cranberry marsh at the 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in Orlando. Industry leaders also say they hope to increasingly utilize social media to spread the word about their crop. Cranberries account for an economic impact of $300 million to Wisconsin, and the WSCGA says farmers have added 4,000 acres of cranberry marshes in the last five years alone.
Casinos: Local officials and the state's Indian tribes have floated a handful of proposals for new casinos in recent years, with proponents forecasting an influx of jobs and economic activity. But a new report commissioned by a Milwaukee area conservative group says those new facilities would provide a muted boost to the the state's overall economy and tax revenue. UW-Green Bay professor Daniel Alesch concedes in his analysis, issued by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, that a new casino could provide benefits to its local community. But his report suggests that Wisconsin's casino market as a whole is saturated. Alesch says tribal gaming is currently operating in 17 of the state's 72 counties, and that almost every state resident lives within a two-hour drive of a currently standing casino. He says that building additional casinos -- proposals have been floated for Beloit, Kenosha, Sheboygan and Shullsburg in southwestern Wisconsin -- would simply siphon revenue from existing facilities and lead to closures elsewhere. Moreover, Alesch says Wisconsinites can gamble at one of a dozen casinos just outside the state's borders. An official with the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin -- which is seeking to build the Kenosha casino -- says it makes sense to try to attract gambling revenue to Wisconsin rather than "let Illinois open all the new casinos."
WEDC: First, the public-private entity charged with coordinating the state's economic development efforts loses its top official after Paul Jadin announces he'll take over a Madison-area business group next month. Then the WEDC gets hit with a series of rough headlines over its distribution of funding to businesses. The issues with that money have been around for months., but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sent a sharply worded letter Aug. 16 reiterating a number of problems in how money was doled out by the agency. The governor downplays the issue as Democratic legislative members of the WEDC Board criticize the administration, linking the problems to its handling of the corporation's transition from the former state Commerce Department. Walker also catches heat for not letting the WEDC Board know about the letter at a recent meeting. One board member calls it unconscionable, and Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch apologizes to the board during a teleconference. The whole issue detracts from the roll-out of the WEDC's new branding campaign -- titled, "In Wisconsin" -- featuring five state businesses touting Wisconsin's advantages. For critics, it's a sign of an agency that still hasn't gotten its act together. Proponents, meanwhile, say it's simply a matter of growing pains for a new approach that's starkly different than that of the Commerce Department.