Tuesday Trends sample: Virent rising, jobs estimates mixed and Associated Bank falling

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Virent: The Madison biotech start-up has previously generated headlines through its development of plant-based fuels, including receiving millions in federal funding for a process to turn corn leftovers into jet fuel. But this week, the company lands a contract with one of the world’s most prominent brands due to advances in packaging. Virent and the Coca-Cola Company announce a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal to ramp up development of paraxylene, a plant-based material that the companies say will create completely renewable and recyclable bottles for the world’s largest soft drink maker. Under the agreement, Virent’s paraxylene material — dubbed BioFormPX — will be used in the company’s existing supply chain to create bottles made entirely from plant material. Coke officials say Virent offers high potential for creating bio-based packaging “on a global commercial scale within the next few years.” Virent says it’s targeted 2015 for opening the first commercial plant under the agreement.


Jobs estimates: The state labor department’s latest monthly report shows a drop in the unemployment rate but the fifth straight month of job losses. The DWD’s analysis shows 11,700 lost private sector jobs in November even as the unemployment rate dropped 0.4 percentage points to 7.3 percent. The report showed 3,100 jobs lost in manufacturing and 2,700 lost in construction. The news release from the agency, however, largely focuses on the fluctuation between preliminary monthly job numbers and the revised estimates that come later from federal officials, with DWD Secretary Reggie Newson arguing that the feds either overestimated the state’s job losses or underestimated job gains in eight of the first 10 months of the year. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch echoes that theme over the weekend, arguing that the projections are based on surveys of a small number of businesses that could lead to large margins of error. The administration notes that the initial federal estimate of 9,700 Wisconsin jobs lost in October had been revised to a loss of 2,400. But critics point out the administration was quick to publicize preliminary numbers this summer when they showed Wisconsin performing well compared to the rest of the country.


Associated Bank: The Green Bay-based bank, now the state’s largest after the acquisition of M&I, announces plans to close 21 branches over the coming months in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. Bank officials say the moves will affect some 200 employees, but that a large number would be able to transition to other positions within the company. Associated hasn’t indicated which branches will get the axe, but said the closings are expected in the first half of 2012. The bank says the announcement is part of continued efforts to invest resources “in a manner that allows us to achieve optimal returns.”