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Farmers: The state’s agricultural community gets boosts from a series of bills signed into law by the governor in recent weeks. First, Walker signs off on a bill protecting farmers offering agricultural tourism from lawsuits by those who are injured while visiting their farms. Then, he backs a measure exempting equipment used in fertilizer blending, feed milling and grain drying from the sales tax, saying it ensures there is no tax disadvantage when agribusiness operations update their equipment. Walker also signs a bill expanding weight limits for agricultural vehicles traveling on the state’s roads, which farm groups tout as an agreement reached with local government officials to ensure their equipment can operate safely and legally. In addition, the state’s agriculture department says plant product exports from Wisconsin continue the record pace of late 2013. The state’s Bureau of Plant Industry issued more than 3,300 certificates from January through March, up 60 percent from the same period a year ago and 11 percent above the previous record year of 2010.
Oshkosh Corp. fallout: The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. moves to help businesses affected by the latest round of layoffs by vehicle manufacturer Oshkosh Corp. Oshkosh announced 760 layoffs earlier this month as it bids for another large federal Defense contract, which WEDC officials argued could leave related businesses with a need for crucial gap funding. The special loan program was already in the works in response to other small businesses seeking similar assistance, but WEDC leaders say the Oshkosh supply chain required particular urgency. Meanwhile, observers in the Fox Valley are optimistic that the local economy will be able to absorb most of the workers who are in their final weeks at Oshkosh Corp. They note the economy adjusted well to more than 1,100 cuts at Oshkosh last year, a result of effective job placement programs and available positions at other area employers. Wisconsin TechConnect, a job service offered by the state’s tech colleges, reports 19 companies in the region already have openings for some 120 welders and metal fabricators.
Rideshare services: Wisconsin’s capital city becomes the latest battleground over so-called “rideshare” companies. The companies — such as Uber and Lyft — allow potential customers to connect with drivers using smartphone apps, who then transport the customers using their own cars and asking for “donations.” Representatives of the company tell a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon they are not taxi services and shouldn’t be regulated as such, citing differences in costs and demographics. Madison officials disagree, and undercover police officers issue tickets for more than $1,300 to two drivers in mid-April. That gets the attention of at least one GOP state legislator. Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, criticizes Madison’s use of “the power of government to punish individuals operating under what should be a free market system” — adding that his office is looking into “a legislative remedy to this situation.”