Tuesday Trends sample: UW-Madison dairy rising, Milwaukee mixed and Wisconsin Rapids biomass falling

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RISING

UW-Madison dairy: The state’s dairy industry is ramping up fundraising efforts in hopes of overhauling the “almost embarrassing” state of Babcock Hall, the home of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at UW-Madison. The project — tabbed at an estimated cost of $32 million — would renovate the 60-year-old building, move an adjacent house and replace it with a three-story dairy research center. Dairy industry leaders hope to raise about $16 million by August, noting that $6 million has already been raised from dairy companies — many of whom aren’t located in Wisconsin but have used the center’s expertise. The project still needs approval from the UW Board of Regents, the State Building Commission and the Legislature during the state budget process. But Gov. Scott Walker is already on board, according to his office, and industry leaders say it’s something that “has to be done” to bolster research in America’s Dairyland.

MIXED

Milwaukee: The state’s largest city becomes a battleground in the political back-and-forth over jobs. First, local unemployment totals from the state Department of Workforce Development show the metro Milwaukee area lost 4,400 jobs in March, the largest loss among the metro areas outlined in the report. Gov. Scott Walker takes the opportunity to call the city an anchor on the state’s lackluster overall job numbers, with his gubernatorial campaign blaming Mayor — and potential Democratic opponent — Tom Barrett for his stewardship of the city’s economy. Barrett fires back that Walker deserves blame for the jobs climate in the area as well, since he served as Milwaukee County executive for more than eight years before taking office as governor. The two then exchange barbs over an economic development announcement in the city this week. Walker stops by a manufacturer on Milwaukee’s near south side to announce a $100 million initiative for the city through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. The “Transform Milwaukee” plan would be implemented over two years and would aim to address foreclosed and vacant properties, prepare vacant industrial properties for economic development, support businesses, improve storm water runoff systems and fund intermodal transportation. The WHEDA funding would provide $11 million in home loans in specified neighborhoods, $25 million in loans and federal tax credits for multifamily housing, $56 million in business loans and $8 million to tear down abandoned properties. Walker says that his administration was in contact with the mayor and that the announcement was “not a response to anything” except the issue of unemployment in the city. Barrett, however, calls the announcement curious, saying “one has to question whether this is to create jobs in Milwaukee or to save his job.”

FALLING

Wisconsin Rapids biomass: More than four years after the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $30 million grant to NewPage Corp. to build a biorefinery plant at its paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids — and followed that up with another $20 million award last year — the Ohio-based papermaker announces that it will abandon the project altogether. NewPage officials cited economic concerns with the project, which would have produced 5.5 million gallons of renewable diesel fuel annually from biomass. Local officials lament the end of the project, but say the “writing was on the wall” for the biomass operation, and that NewPage — which is still under bankruptcy protection — needs to take appropriate steps to ensure the viability of its business.