FRI AM News: Paper Council’s legislators of the year highlight differing priorities; WisBusiness: The Podcast with Eric Borgerding, president and CEO of WHA

— Rep. Katrina Shankland and Sen. Tom Tiffany were both recognized by the Wisconsin Paper Council as legislators of the year, though each highlighted differing priorities at the group’s recent annual meeting.

Both lawmakers are part of the bipartisan Wisconsin Paper Caucus, which was started earlier this year. Tiffany, R-Minocqua, is chair for the Senate, and Shankland, D-Stevens Point, serves as vice chair for the Assembly.

“We have to work together in bipartisan ways,” said Gov. Tony Evers, who addressed attendees of yesterday’s event at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. He called the creation of the Paper Caucus “a huge step in the right direction.”

“If you think about what you did when you created that bipartisan caucus, that is a huge thing,” the guv said. “This is an area that they can be together on and make wise decisions.”

Still, the two legislators representing the caucus at the event hit on very different topics of importance to the paper industry when addressing attendees. Tiffany focused more on transportation, while Shankland discussed issues around education and the workforce shortage.

Tiffany, one of the Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, highlighted increased funding for the state highway rehabilitation program in the version of the budget JFC passed last week.

“Something that’s very important to all you folks … You will see about $300 million increase over this budget, and you’re going to see significantly more roads move up in the queue as a result of putting more money into transportation,” he said.

JFC Republicans decided to raise vehicle title fees and registration fees in their version of the budget in order to boost transportation funding, according to Tiffany. He said he would have preferred to have covered the increase with the budget surplus, or by raising the gas tax.

“I did not win that battle,” he said. “But nonetheless, there’s going to be more money.”

He also highlighted a $100 million budget increase for local road aids, which go to repairs and maintenance for county roads and towns. And he said he’s about to start a renewed push for better rail service in Wisconsin.

Tiffany added: “We hope that we will be passing [the budget] next week before the whole Legislature, sending it on to Gov. Evers — and we sure hope he will sign it.”

Speaking to attendees earlier in the day, Shankland spotlighted the paper science department at UW-Stevens Point. She said the program is helping to grow the industry’s workforce, which has been dwindling in recent years.

“I’ve always been an advocate for higher education,” Shankland told in an interview. “Whether we’re investing more money into classrooms so students can graduate on time, or making sure that people who are eligible for need-based aid actually get financial aid.”

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— With a renewed focus on advocacy, a “massive” restructuring project in the rearview mirror and more than 21 new members, Wisconsin Paper Council President Scott Suder says: “We’re back.”

“The Paper Council has been somewhat of a sleepy organization for a while, and we hadn’t been doing as much advocacy or outreach both internally and externally as we perhaps should have,” he told yesterday at the group’s annual meeting.

Now, he said, the group has created strategic plans to reach its goals and has adopted “best practices across the board.” Last year’s meeting brought in about 60 participants, while yesterday’s event more than doubled that number.

Suder says he’s seeing resurgent excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the state’s paper industry, which he noted produces more paper than any other state in the country.

He mentioned the new investments being made at ND Paper and Green Bay Packaging, the “renewed commitment” of Verso Corporation to Wisconsin, and Midwest Paper Group retaining hundreds of employees.

“Paper is alive and well; we’re a vibrant industry,” Suder insisted. “Anyone who’s out there saying paper is dead, well they’re dead wrong.”

Suder said it’s the Paper Council’s job to make people realize that “paper is not just paper.”

“It’s specialty products, it’s the cups you buy at Starbucks, it’s even in aerospace engineering, in space shuttles,” he said. “It’s not just a piece of white paper, it’s a very key component of our everyday lives.”

As part of the new lobbying efforts, he said the Paper Council is looking at ways to get more drivers into the trucking industry, which is also hurting for workers. He said the group is also looking to get a “state rail plan” created, to increase transportation options.

“And we want to make sure that people realize we’re a major energy utilizer… millions [of dollars] per month in some cases for mills,” he said. “We want to make sure those energy costs are fair, that they’re sustainable.”

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” is with Eric Borgerding, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

He discusses WHA’s budget priorities ahead of the Assembly and Senate taking up the spending bill passed by the Joint Finance Committee. He touches on provisions that would increase reimbursement, as well as budget changes to regulations surrounding telehealth.

Borgerding said the budget put forth by Gov. Tony Evers was “probably the strongest health care budget I’ve seen in 30 years.” He said the guv listened to concerns raised by WHA and others, and proposed a “really strong piece of legislation.”

“While it’s not everything he wanted, it’s not everything we wanted, it remains — coming out of Joint Finance — a very strong health care budget,” he said. “By and large it still remains very positive.”

Borgerding said telehealth is a “critical technology” for expanding access to health care.

“It’s a technology issue, it’s an infrastructure issue like broadband capacity,” he said. “And it’s a workforce issue. It’s a way for us to capitalize on our existing workforce in ways that take care to where the patient is, rather than having to get the patient to where the care is.”

He said the guv included “some really positive things” in the budget changing regulations around telehealth, as well as some reimbursement policy changes in the Medicaid program related to the emerging technology.

“We still have many steps to go, as it relates to fully realizing the promise, if you will, of telehealth but we’re certainly getting there,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said yesterday Republicans aren’t looking to make “dramatic changes” to the JFC’s budget ahead of next week’s planned votes in the Assembly and Senate.

Listen to the podcast here:

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

— A new incubator program for urban food entrepreneurs called UpStart Kitchen is set to open this summer in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park.

According to a release, the program will provide constant access to commercial kitchen space as well as other support services. An info session is being held this weekend at Parklawn Church in Milwaukee, and another will be held in early July.

The group is looking to crowdfund $50,000 by July 19 to support the planned launch.

See more on the info sessions:

— Health care is going to be more consumer-driven, a panel of healthcare experts explained at the OnRamp Healthcare Conference in Green Bay.

First, patients need better access to their own data, according to Advocate Aurora Health Medical Director of Commercial Health Rupesh Patel. Since banks offer secure data to their customers, he said healthcare providers should be able to as well.

“Patients will become better owners of their data,” Patel said.

WEA Trust Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Tim Bartholow agreed with Patel.

“There’s this growing expectation that data that was previously unavailable can now be accessed,” Bartholow said. “We’re not as constrained as we were five years ago.”

In addition to focusing on patient data, Bartholow said payers and providers need to make sure that health care services are affordable.

That will lead to consumers doing “a lot more shopping for their healthcare,” Launchpad Digital Health VC Investor Solome Tibebu said.

Bright Health Manager of Supplemental Benefits Cameron Carter added: “Consumers want more details to make more informed decisions. Data is gold.”

See more at Madison Startups:

See coverage of the event:


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

UpStart Kitchen: Opening this summer in Sherman Park

Dairy Business Association: Praises Assembly for supporting milk consumption among children

Wisconsin Technology Council: Madison-Milwaukee research to headline July 11 Tech Council event in Wauwatosa

Fox Cities Chamber: Young Professional Award recipients recognized at Future 15 event