Tuesday Trends sample: Orbitec rising, Waukesha water deal mixed and UW System enrollment falling
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Orbitec: The Madison-based tech company holds what its business director calls a "coming-out party" for a 15-year-old engine project. The result: the VR-3A Vision flight rocket engine, which company officials say was tested in the state alongside officials from the NASA and the Air Force last month. Another test run for the engine, which would be able to send satellites into space, is scheduled for this month in the California desert. If successful, the company hopes to compete for a government contract for space launches after the current one expires in 2019. The engine, built in part with $24 million in federal funding from the Air Force and NASA, uses the same fuel as competing systems but, according to Orbitec, is less expensive, lighter and better performing than current models. A decision about the next contract will be made closer to 2017, but development funds for firms that advance in the contract competition will be doled out beginning in 2014.
Waukesha water deal: Long rebuffed by Milwaukee in its attempts to buy Lake Michigan water for its growing population, Waukesha instead strikes a deal with the city's southern neighbor of Oak Creek. But a number of hurdles still remain. Waukesha needs a supply of fresh water because of radium-tainted wells, but it has to go through a series of hoops to get it from Lake Michigan because it's on the wrong side of the divide separating the watersheds of the lake and the Mississippi River. The state Public Service Commission, for one, has already highlighted issues over how the communities will resolve the costs of the agreement -- something proponents hope can be resolved. More importantly, the agreement still has to win approval from eight other states to divert Great Lakes water under the Great Lakes Compact, and some -- including irritated Racine-area elected officials -- already charge the deal violates the compact. One Racine lawmaker says Waukesha still has alternatives to Lake Michigan to fulfill its water needs, and warns against sending wastewater into the Root River, which empties into the lake at Racine. Meanwhile, observers note Milwaukee's refusal to negotiate with Waukesha and the revenue the city could lose to Oak Creek -- pegged at $3 million according to one early proposal.
UW System enrollment: Wisconsin's colleges are starting to feel the impact of declining birth rates that started about 18 years ago. Some UW System schools are seeing declining enrollment due to a host of factors, including more competition for a smaller pool of students. The Milwaukee campus, for example, is expecting a 2.4 percent drop in enrollment this fall with a freshman class that's down 6.7 percent from the year before and off 25 percent from its peak in 2007. The River Falls campus, meanwhile, saw an enrollment drop of 6 percent, partly because fewer Minnesota students are crossing the border to attend. Overall enrollment at the state's 13 two-year campuses is also down slightly for the first time in recent years. Still, not all campuses are seeing a drop, with Whitewater and Madison, for example, setting enrollment records. But the declining enrollment, school officials say, is forcing them to shift their recruitment practices, and it's projected the number of Wisconsin high school grads will drop 6.3 percent from 2010 to 2015 before picking back up. That decline could have a financial impact for schools with less tuition coming in to cover costs.