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International trade: The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has set records for the state with its outreach to foreign countries and trading partners. The public-private entity — which has dealt with public relations issues following problems tracking business loans — currently connects with trade partners in 36 countries. That’s compared to five countries maintained by the Department of Commerce — the agency the WEDC replaced — in 2011, and a record for the state, which began offering trade assistance in the 1970s. Further, the WEDC has contracts with 15 trade representatives — also a record high — at a lower cost. Other outreach efforts, however, fell short of agency goals: a program for new exporters attracted 21 businesses instead of the intended 75, and 31 companies received grants for international trade efforts meant for 35 businesses. Meanwhile, the state’s agriculture department announces the value of Wisconsin agricultural exports increased 6 percent through the first nine months of 2013 over the same period last year. At more than $2.3 billion, the state ranked 13th in the nation for the value of its agricultural exports so far this year.
UW System: Last summer, University of Wisconsin officials first announced plans for a new online education model, saying it would be the first of its kind undertaken by a public university and help expand the UW’s reach to adult learners. Last week, admissions finally open for courses through the UW Flex Option. Demand for applications is initially modest, but the system hopes the 4,000 people receiving online updates about the program and the 900 who’ve taken initial testing give a better indication of its potential. Gov. Scott Walker lauds the program, and says — during the midst of a book tour on the East Coast — he may use it to finish up his degree in the next few years. The UW remains, however, in a tenuous relationship with the Capitol after the disclosure of nearly $1 billion in fiscal reserves earlier in the year. The UW Board of Regents, as directed in the state budget, submitted a plan for tracking its reserves to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. But committee members hold off on approving the plan during a hearing, saying they need more detail from the UW about how campuses would maintain reserves equal to 10 percent of their annual expenditures.
Assisted Living Concepts: The Menomonee Falls-based operator of assisted living centers and senior residences announces it will relocate its headquarters to Chicago, taking about 100 jobs with it. ALC, which owns about 200 residences across 19 states, was acquired by private equity firm TPG in July after seven troubled years as a publicly traded company. Jack Callison Jr., who became CEO following the sale to TPG, says the move to Chicago will support the company’s future growth and provide transportation options to better serve residents and employees. The company is also eligible for about $4 million in tax credits from the state of Illinois.