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2 July 2013

Exclusively for WisBusiness Subscribers

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“Big Gulp” law: Gov. Scott Walker signs the two-year state budget bill into law over the weekend, and the list of 57 items tweaked or eliminated by his veto pen does not include the ban on so-called “Big Gulp” laws. The budget committee moves to prevent local governments from restricting the size of soft drinks — nicknamed after a measure in New York City — during its review of the governor’s budget, and Walker declines to remove it. Democrats had criticized the provision as an attack on local control, while public health advocates said it removed local leaders’ ability to help combat obesity and other public health issues. Proponents, including grocers, restaurants and theater owners, countered that the budget provision was a question of freedom — and that they had the public on their side. A poll sponsored by groups backing the ban finds 70 percent of respondents favored stopping such size restrictions based on nutritional criteria.

UW engineering: The University of Wisconsin-Madison joins an Obama administration effort to broaden the nation’s advanced manufacturing base. The White House named the campus a partner institution in its Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness, a two-year old national effort aimed at doubling the speed with which the county discovers, develops and manufactures new materials. As part of the announcement, the UW-Madison College of Engineering pledges an initial investment of $5 million to create the interdisciplinary Wisconsin Materials Innovation Institute. The WIMII will provide infrastructure for researchers in such areas as mathematics, statistics, computer sciences, information science, chemistry, medicine and engineering, and create synergy among materials researchers at UW-Madison and elsewhere.

Insurance companies: A recently released study commissioned by a coalition of insurance industry trade associations finds the state has the fourth-largest amount of insurance companies in the nation, and that they contribute more than 5 percent of the state’s overall payroll. The analysis, conducted by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, found 250 insurers in Wisconsin, employing 80,000 workers with a total payroll of nearly $5 billion, according to numbers from 2010. Those numbers also showed the average annual wage in the industry was more than $20,000 above the state’s average, and that the industry hasn’t seen the volatility of the manufacturing sector in recent years. One industry leader notes the insurance sector saw double-digit job growth over the previous decade even as the state lost jobs overall.

Chilton: New York’s loss is the Calumet County city’s gain as Worthington Industries announces it will move production from Medina, N.Y., to Wisconsin. The consolidation eliminates 174 positions at the New York plant, which currently manufactures hand-held torches, and will add 100 positions in Chilton by next year, where the 170 current employees of Worthington Cylinders make fuel cylinders. Ohio-based Worthington says some of the new employees will likely be transfers from New York, though no numbers have been established. The company said the Chilton plant had available production space to accommodate the move, and that the consolidation will also curtail shipping costs.


Utilities: A proposal to combat climate change announced by President Obama sparks concerns among both elected officials and utilities in Wisconsin, which derives most of its energy from coal. Officials from We Energies and Alliant Energy say it’s too soon to tell what the impact of new rules from the Obama administration will be, though We Energies’ CEO says they could have the potential to drive up costs for ratepayers and harm job growth. Gale Klappa tells “UpFront with Mike Gousha” that he sees elements of what critics call a “war on coal” within the rules, and says those that have already taken steps to address carbon dioxide emissions in recent years — like We Energies — should get credit for that work. A group representing Wisconsin’s 25 electric cooperatives also says the president’s plan fails to take into account their existing efforts to integrate renewable energy into their power portfolios. Business groups aren’t so tentative, with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce predicting significant increases in electricity costs. Environmental advocates, however, are supportive of the president’s plan. Clean Wisconsin says the effort is long overdue — noting power plants are the country’s largest source of emissions — and predicts Wisconsin and the Midwest could see new manufacturing opportunities from investments in renewable energy technology.

Jobs: New federal numbers show an improvement in the state’s job growth ranking, but are again decried by Democrats as an example of Gov. Walker’s failure on the jobs front. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows Wisconsin gained 62,082 private sector jobs from December 2010 through 2012, and gained 32,282 of those jobs from December 2011 through 2012. That ranks 33rd for private sector job growth over the 2011-12 time period and 34th for job growth over the 2010-2012 period that covers Walker’s first two years in office. The 1.4 percent private sector job growth rate over the last year, however, lags behind the national average of 2.3 percent, though it still improves upon the state’s third quarter private sector job growth ranking of 44th out of the 50 states. Meanwhile, monthly numbers from the Department of Workforce Development show improvement in jobs at the local level, with 70 of the 72 counties and 27 of 32 cities of more than 25,000 residents showing a drop in their unemployment rates.

Agriculture: An unusually wet 2013 has delayed planting by farmers this spring. But a report from BMO Economics says this year’s ag prospects are still better than last year’s, when a drought wreaked havoc on fields across the Midwest. The report also notes that farmers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin are in relatively strong shape compared to the rest of the region. One crop, however, has been hit particularly hard by the rainy spring. A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says about 85 percent of the state’s soybean crop had been planted as of early last week — the crop was entirely planted at the same time last year — and that it’s getting too late for some to either finish planting or re-seed fields inundated with water. The rain is also making harvesting of spring crops, such as hay, difficult for many farmers. And dairy farmers are once again sounding the alarm over a potential spike in milk prices without a new farm bill. They are currently operating under an extension of the expired farm bill, but the House of Representatives shoots down a new bill last week.


WiscNet: The non-profit Internet provider — which has maintained a relationship with the University of Wisconsin System for years despite growing resistance from legislative Republicans — sees its contract with the UW severed. University officials had said they would continue to partner with WiscNet only a month ago, but now say the possibility of ongoing litigation and legislative changes forced their hand. Telecommunications companies have long complained that WiscNet was effectively being subsidized by UW and had an unfair market advantage — especially in providing Internet services to public schools and libraries — and the Legislature mandated the two sever their relationship in the 2011-13 state budget, though that was extended by six months in the budget signed by the governor over the weekend. UW says it will eventually serve as its own Internet service provider, but will continue to rely on WiscNet until it becomes self-sufficient. The state Department of Public Instruction initially warns the decision could jeopardize WiscNet’s service to schools and libraries. WiscNet officials, however, say it will continue to provide service to remaining members, insisting the non-profit is well-positioned to move forward without “institutional bureaucracies.” Meanwhile the head of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association says his group’s members are already competitive on price and will offer solid options for school districts.

Commercial bail bonds: Observers had initially considered a budget provision to implement a five-county bail bonding pilot program a safe bet to make it past the governor’s veto pen this time around after Gov. Walker nixed statewide bonding in the previous budget. But amid strong opposition from the state’s legal community — including the Republican attorney general — Walker nixes the measure from the final budget, saying he has concerns about the policy of enabling bounty hunters. Bail bond companies argue the private market provides better resources to defendants, while supporters in the Legislature say judges can use bonds at their discretion and that they’re simply looking to get defendants back into court. Critics, however, say the state’s current bail system is working fine, and that bonding would have invited corruption into the judiciary.


Wednesday, July 3

No events listed

Thursday, July 4

Independence Day

Friday, July 5

No events listed

Saturday, July 6

No events listed

Sunday, July 7

No events listed

Monday, July 8

– 1 p.m.: SCORE Counseling, La Crosse

Tuesday, July 9

– 8 a.m.: ExporTech Madison Kickoff, Madison

– 6 p.m.: Small Business: Pursuing your dream? Just ASK for IT! With Paul Dominie, Madison

– 6:30 p.m.: Creative Coping with Chronic Illness, Madison

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