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Shopko: The Green Bay-based retailer announces a merger with Nebraska-based Pamida that will expand the Shopko name and shift more than 120 jobs from Omaha to northeastern Wisconsin. Terms of the merger — which combines two companies already owned by a Florida investment firm — weren’t disclosed, but the deal includes Shopko spending some $80 million to convert the 193 current Pamida locations to “Shopko Hometown” stores. Those stores would target communities typically too small to be served by larger retailers, and Shopko’s president and says he intends for the combined company to be the national leader in that retail category. The state will help back the deal with $2 million in tax credits dependent on creating 129 new jobs, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
Mining: As the spring legislative session prepares to kick off next week, the story remains largely the same for an overhaul of the state’s iron mining regulations. While it’s one of the top priorities for the session for Republican leaders in both chambers, the Assembly is moving ahead while the Senate remains without a bill. The Assembly Jobs Committee has scheduled a hearing on the iron mining bill this week in Hurley — near the site of a proposed iron mine along the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan border — after lawmakers originally said the committee wouldn’t return to the state’s far northern frontier. Lawmakers say they remain on track to pass the bill by the end of the month. One complication, however, could be the price tag the bill would have for the state Department of Natural Resources. A fiscal estimate released last week showed the legislation could cost anywhere from $550,000 to $3.8 million over the next four years, with the largest portion depending on hiring contractors to create an environmental impact statement for proposed mines. The Assembly bill requires the mine operator to reimburse the DNR for permit review costs, but caps the amount at $1.1 million even though the agency estimates the cost could run up to $2.7 million. Meanwhile, Eau Claire County faces a lawsuit over its moratorium on new frac sand mines for the energy industry, with High Country Sand Company arguing it should be allowed to continue work on a proposed mine since it had a deal in place before the moratorium passed the county board.
Central Wisconsin Airport: Between January and November of 2011, fewer than 250,000 commercial airline passengers passed through the Mosinee airport — a drop of 14.5 percent compared to the same period in 2010. CWA officials attribute the decline to a continued rough economy and a reduction in flights. Airlines — particularly Delta — attributed their recent flight reductions out of Central Wisconsin to fuel costs rather than passenger demand, but the drop has officials worried that more reductions could result — potentially influencing travel for people in the Wisconsin River Valley. Delta says more flight reductions are coming but that it didn’t have specific routes singled out yet; the airline dropped one of its four routes from CWA to the Twin Cities last year. United, another of the airport’s three carriers, says it expects service to remain flat this year, while the effects of third carrier American Airlines’ bankruptcy declaration in November remain to be seen. A $31 million renovation of the airport is scheduled to begin this year, but officials can’t say definitively whether that will help passenger levels.