FRI AM News: LAB audit highlights areas of improvement for Fast Forward program; WisBusiness: the Podcast with Doug Stafford of Pantherics Inc.

— Nearly a third of the “program successes” who participated in workplace training programs supported by Wisconsin Fast Forward grants didn’t get a wage increase, according to a recent Legislative Audit Bureau audit. 

LAB is recommending DWD improve assessments for the workplace training grant program, following inaccuracies were found in the audit. 

The Wisconsin Fast Forward program provides grants to public and private organizations for workplace training efforts. It was enacted in 2013 and later expanded through legislation. 

In a recent audit, LAB found Department of Workforce Development staff didn’t attempt to verify information that grant recipients submitted to the agency on program results. And the audit found DWD included inaccurate information in its year-end report for 2018. 

After reviewing 242 program grants for $57 million in total, the audit found DWD didn’t “consistently comply” with statutes and administrative rules for the grant process. Plus the agency didn’t require grant recipients to repay funds for not meeting contractually specified program results, or require enough oversight for contracts, the audit shows. 

In a release, Joint Audit Committee Co-Chair Sen. Robert Cowles said verifying grant award results is a “no-brainer,” adding it should have been implemented from the beginning. 

“It is critical to accurately verify the results of our workforce training and economic development programs to ensure that our state’s investment is being realized,” the Green Bay Republican said. 

DWD awarded 514 program grants through FY 2018-19, though not all had ended when the audit was conducted. Based on 209 grants, LAB found nearly 9,500 individuals received training due to grant-supported programs and were deemed “program successes.” These participants got an average wage increase of $1.85 per hour, the audit shows. 

Those individuals represented 53 percent of the nearly 18,000 individuals grant recipients who were contractually obligated to train. And the results of those 209 program grants “varied considerably.” 

Of the nearly 9,500 “program successes,” around 27 percent didn’t see a wage increase, while 8 percent got a wage increase of at least $5 per hour. About 21 percent were paid less than $11.67 per hour, and 23.3 percent were paid more than $20 per hour.

See more: 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Doug Stafford, president and CEO of Pantherics Inc., a Milwaukee startup developing a pill-based alternative to treat asthma. 

His company spun out of research from UW-Milwaukee, focused on ways to treat various inflammatory diseases of smooth muscles, including asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions. 

“In asthma, there’s inflammation in the lung, and as a result of the inflammation, the muscle in the airways contract and that’s responsible for the difficulty breathing,” he said. “But it’s not just in the lung — there are other conditions in other organs in the body that have a similar disease process.”

Stafford, who’s also the director for the Milwaukee Institute for Drug Discovery, explained his company is approaching the problem with a platform technology to create new drugs for various inflammatory diseases. 

“The current treatments, even in asthma, are unsatisfactory in many different ways,” he said. “Drugs are either not very effective, or in the case of steroids that are used in asthma, there are many adverse effects.” 

Listen to the podcast here:

See a full list of podcasts, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

See a recent story on Stafford’s company: 

— The state’s unemployment rate in October again ticked up one-tenth of a percentage point, reaching 3.3 percent for the first time since July 2017.

That’s from the latest federal jobs numbers released by the state Department of Workforce Development. The increase marks the fifth month in a row the unemployment rate has risen.

The release shows Wisconsin lost 7,700 manufacturing jobs since October 2018. DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman notes global trade tensions are hurting both manufacturing and agriculture, as the state is losing about two dairy farms per day. Still, private sector employers continue to add jobs over the year.

The state’s unemployment rate is below the U.S. rate of 3.6 percent.

See the release: 

— The state DNR has begun the process of creating the Wisconsin Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances Action Council, which will coordinate PFAS-related efforts among state agencies. 

WisPAC is chaired by DNR Secretary Preston Cole and includes affiliate members from DATCP, the Department of Health Services, UW System and a dozen other agencies.  

A release from Michael Best and Friedrich shows the group is tasked with creating a state action plan for PFAS, as well as identifying likely sources of the pollutant, informing the public about risks, and exploring funding sources for state and local government. 

The group plans to convene advisory groups and host the first PFAS listening sessions in the first two months of 2020. 

See the release: 

— GOP legislative leaders have sent Gov. Tony Evers legislation to put a hard deadline on ending the five-county sales tax used to build Milwaukee’s Miller Park, triggering a seven-day window for the guv to take action.

Bills that cleared the Legislature during the fall floor period are scheduled to go to the guv Dec. 5. But yesterday’s action begins the countdown for Evers to act on the Miller Park tax bill.

Under current law, the district that oversees the stadium would begin the process to end the sales tax once it’s certified enough revenue has been collected to cover the costs of building and maintaining Miller Park. That’s expected to happen in March, though it may take until September to wind down collecting the tax. The excess money collected after the board’s certification is slated to go to the state.

Under the bill, the sales tax in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties would have a hard deadline to cease collections by Aug. 31. The excess collected after the board’s certification would then go back to those five counties rather than the state.

See the release:

— U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson criticized expected limits on e-cigarette flavors, saying the move would cause “significant economic harm in the form of businesses closing and subsequent job losses.”

In a letter to President Trump, the Oshkosh Republican urged the administration to consider the potential long-term economic and health impacts.

“I am supportive of regulations that ensure the safety of consumer products, and common-sense efforts that prevent youth access to e-cigarettes,” Johnson said. “But I am strongly opposed to far-reaching, unchecked government action that stifles innovation and restricts adults’ freedom to choose safer alternatives to smoking.”

This came after the Trump administration rolled out a series of restrictions aimed at combating the youth e-cigarette epidemic. The FDA in September released National Youth Tobacco Survey numbers that indicated heightened popularity of non-tobacco flavored vaping products among high school students.

In response, the Trump administration is expected to introduce regulations to limit the sale of fruit- and menthol-flavored products.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has championed efforts to combat vaping-related illnesses. Over the past few months, the Madison Dem has pushed the FDA and CDC to crack down on e-cigarette products marketed to young people.

“The outbreak of lung injury connected to using e-cigarette, or vaping, products continues to grow,” Baldwin said in a release. “We need to know more about what is making people sick and do more to prevent young people from using vaping products.”

See Johnson’s letter: 

See Baldwin’s release: 


# He worked with Steve Jobs to create Apple’s iMovie. Now he’s growing his IoT startup in Milwaukee

# As utilities cut carbon emissions, some transitioning faster to renewables

# Wisconsin tourism head still hopes to score state funds for DNC marketing campaign

# Wisconsin hemp legislation advances to the governor



– Organic cost share application deadline extended


– Water breach delays BMO Tower opening

– Martzke helps Immel Construction with plan to transfer ownership to employees


– Pursuit of DNC business can pay off, but don’t forget regular customers: Panelists

– Wisconsin unemployment rate up for fifth straight month


– Teen parents in Milwaukee have a place to call their own — and they’re beating the odds


– Hospital head says health outcomes for Milwaukee children ‘abysmal’


– Manure driving Wisconsin push to prosecute journalists


– Wisconsin congressman behind bipartisan push to crack down on payday lenders

– Assembly honors life of former Dep. Ag Secretary Joe Tregoning


– Assurant building joins Westown office revival


– Kroger to build large automated fulfillment warehouse in Pleasant Prairie, create 400 jobs


– Mitchell International Airport ranks among most affordable airports in the United States


– Dr. Lisa Arkin: Wisconsin passed step therapy reform — now we need the federal government to do the same


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection: Organic cost share application deadline extended

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