Free Tuesday Trends sample: Dairy rising, jobs mixed and frac sand mining falling

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RISING

Dairy: The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection reports that Wisconsin once again led the nation in cheese production in 2012, with a total of 611 million pounds — more than a quarter of the overall national output. Moreover, the amount of that total classified as specialty cheese climbed to 22 percent of the state’s output, a new record and a 36 percent jump over the percentage in 2011. Meanwhile, dairy workers in southeastern Wisconsin get a jolt of good news as the new owner of a Waukesha plant announces plans to rehire all of the workers that were let go when Golden Guernsey declared bankruptcy and shuttered the plant earlier this year. Illinois-based Lifeway Foods Inc. submits the winning $7.4 million bid to take over the facility, and officials say they’d like to bring back the 112 workers “and then some” to manufacture a yogurt-like dairy product called kefir when it reopens this summer.

MIXED

Jobs: The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development releases a flurry of job numbers offering a conflicting picture of the state’s employment situation. DWD first releases its preliminary job figures for the fourth quarter of 2012, which showed an increase of about 62,000 private sector jobs during Gov. Scott Walker’s first two years in office. Later that same day, however, the agency released numbers from two different monthly surveys. The first, based on a survey of Wisconsin households, showed the state with an unchanged unemployment rate of 7.1 percent and 7,800 more people employed in April. The second, however, was based on a survey of employers — and showed the state losing 24,100 jobs overall, including 22,600 in the private sector. The Walker administration repeats its criticism of the methodology behind the monthly surveys, while supporters hail the numbers from the fourth quarter as evidence that the state is creating jobs. Critics deride the administration’s take as spin, and note that even the quarterly numbers show Walker is less than a quarter of the way to his pledge of 250,000 new jobs in his first term.

FALLING

Frac sand mining: Wisconsin has become ground zero in the debate over mining the particular form of sand — found widely in the western part of the state — that’s utilized in “fracking” to extract natural gas. Proponents have touted the potential economic impact of the mines, while critics have warned about their environmental consequences. A recent report from a Montana-based consulting firm, however, estimates the combination of the sand’s benefits and costs won’t amount to much in the way of employment gains near the mines. The report — commissioned, in part, by the Wisconsin Farmers Union and Wisconsin Towns Association — suggests that local officials examine the number of jobs filled locally, mines’ long-term prospects as they relate to the energy market, and any potential adverse impacts on other industries before clearing new sand mines. A sand mining trade group rips the report as the product of a group with an “anti-mining bias.” But the report says jobs forecasts too often fail to account for costs, such as damage to roads, declining property values or environmental degradation.