FRI AM News: Private company exploring Milwaukee-area commuter rail service; WisBusiness: the Podcast with Craig Doriot, CEO of Dodles

— Eight years after Republican lawmakers derailed hopes for a commuter rail line connecting Milwaukee to Racine and Kenosha, a private company is studying whether to revive the idea.

But the plan by Wisconsin Transit & Realty Group — which could include trains to Waukesha and other suburbs — is likely to require some tax dollars, a significant political hurdle while the Legislature remains under GOP control.

WTRG is one of two local companies following different tracks as they compete to offer Milwaukee-area commuter rail service.

The other, Transit Innovations LLC, is making bold claims about building a privately funded $1.5 billion, 58-mile system from Milwaukee south to Oak Creek and west to Waukesha. Transit Innovations says it could open that system’s north-south leg in time for the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

Unlike its rival, WTRG is keeping quiet about its plans until it completes feasibility studies, company Vice President Michael Garven said. While Transit Innovations touts its proposal with a website, investor presentation and brochures, WTRG has revealed few details and hasn’t released a route map. Garven said its system would be a public-private partnership, but he won’t say how much his company would ask from investors and taxpayers.

Neither company has disclosed any investors beyond its executive team.

Because the Transit Innovations and WTRG plans would use some of the same freight tracks, owned by Canadian Pacific Railway and Union Pacific Railroad, only one can advance, Garven said. Union Pacific confirmed it has a letter of intent to work with WTRG. Garven said he has a similar deal with Canadian Pacific, which declined to comment. Transit Innovations President Greg Dugan said confidentiality agreements prevented him from discussing contacts with other companies.

Transit Innovations says Montreal-based Bombardier Transportation would manufacture and operate its trains. Bombardier confirmed it has an agreement with Transit Innovations.

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— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with returning guest Craig Doriot, CEO for an Appleton-based startup called Dodles. 

He gives an update on his company, which is developing a social animation platform that aims to make it easier for anyone to animate. He also talks about a new venture that spun out of Dodles, called Pound.Social, focusing on social media engagement and growth for companies and individuals. 

On the previous podcast with Doriot, in August 2018, he outlined his strategy for user acquisition, which involved both face-to-face interactions at comic cons and other events, as well as online engagement through other social media platforms and influencers. 

This time around, he explains how that strategy shifted, expanded and eventually led to the launch of Pound.Social. 

“We’re definitely more on the social side now than the traditional comic con approach — we’re exclusively in that area now,” he said. “And we’ve actually built out that strategy, and that’s where the spin-off company came from, the tactics that we use for online engagement.” 

Listen to the podcast here: 

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

— While WEDC Secretary and CEO Mark Hogan is rejecting the conclusions of a recent independent report on Foxconn, DOA Secretary Joel Brennan says it provides valuable information about the company’s impact in Wisconsin. 

Earlier this year, Foxconn scaled back its plans for a Gen 10.5 manufacturing facility with plans to produce smaller screens. After that, Brennan says the Department of Administration sought outside perspectives on the changing project, to protect the state’s economic development interests. 

The report, authored by Tim Bartik of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, shows the cost per Foxconn job to state taxpayers would be higher under the company’s revised plans, compared to the original larger facility. Bartik says each job would cost taxpayers $290,000, compared to $172,000 under the first plan. 

“The report from the Upjohn Institute, a non-partisan independent think tank that conducts research into various aspects of economic development, including state incentive programs, is valuable to the administration, policy makers, businesses and taxpayers to understand how this project could affect Wisconsin,” Brennan said in a statement. 

In a statement, Hogan says Bartik’s study makes assumptions that couldn’t occur under the existing contract between the agency and Foxconn, which outlines performance-based metrics tied to incentives. 

“The plain fact is the company would not be able to retain any incentives if, by the year 2023, it had only created either the 1,500 or 1,800 jobs the study is based on,” Hogan said in a statement. “As a result, any calculations about the effects of tax credit payments to Foxconn on other state spending priorities — and their impact on the broader Wisconsin economy — are purely theoretical.” 

Bartik and Hogan went back and forth on the issue over Twitter, with Bartik tweeting: “Paying out large incentives upfront to Foxconn & then hoping Foxconn defaults is equivalent to giving Foxconn a large no-interest loan, as the original contract does not adjust clawbacks for inflation or the time value of money.” 

In response, Hogan argued WEDC “did not negotiate this contract ‘hoping’ #Foxconn would fail!” 

He tweeted: “The ‘performance-based’ contract provides the company the flexibility it needs to make good business decisions to ensure its success & at the same time, protect #Wisconsin taxpayers.” 

See more of the exchange on Hogan’s twitter feed: 

See Bartik’s report: 

— Employment in metro Milwaukee hit an all-time high in June, the latest economic trends report from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce shows. 

Brett Maybourne, MMAC’s economic research director, says the 890,500 jobs marked in June is the most recorded for any month since June 2000. 

MMAC tracks 22 business activity indicators in these reports, 10 of which showed improvement in June. That’s down from 12 positive indicators in May. 

“The pace of year-over-year employment growth in June was relatively strong but the total number of indicators trending upward remains low for the current growth period,” Maybourne said in the report. 

Employment was up 4.7 percent in the sector of education and health services, while jobs in leisure and hospitality were up 3.5 percent. 

Meanwhile, jobs in financial activities, professional and business services, information and government were down between 0.7 and 1.7 percent. 

See the release: 

— The DNR is investigating a sand mining spill near Hixton that is affecting a nearby Curran Coulee Creek. 

A published news photo shows part of the Trempealeau River downstream turned yellow, but the Department of Natural Resources says no fish have been killed by the Aug. 3 spill. 

The agency reports sediment-laden water was released by Wisconsin Proppants, whose Hixton plant produces 13 million tons of frac sand each year, according to the company’s website. The company is currently building another frac sand mine in Alma. 

DNR says it received an anonymous tip-off through the agency’s spills hotline, and was also notified by the company. Agency staff are still assessing potential cleanup operations as well as any environmental impacts. 

According to a release, Wisconsin Proppants has “taken steps to stop the discharge” and is using a vacuum machine to limit the release of more sediment. 

See the release: 

— Another bill to address lead in drinking water is circulating in the state Capitol — this one from Dem Rep. Stausch Gruzynski, of Green Bay. 

He’s calling for a tax credit to encourage elimination of a lead hazard in a dwelling or residential condominium unit. 

Under the legislation, owners of a residence could claim a credit of up to $1,500 per unit to eliminate a lead hazard. To qualify, owners would have to have a professional inspect the hazard and then lead its elimination following Department of Health Services rules. 

Republican lawmakers nixed from the budget Gov. Tony Evers’ call for $40 million in bonding to help cover the cost to replace lead laterals in homes. 

Meanwhile, four GOP lawmakers earlier this week circulated a bill to address lead in drinking water at schools, daycares and group homes. 

See the release:

— Madison-based Primorigen Biosciences has been acquired by Nucleus Biologics, a precision cell culture business based in San Diego. 

“The exceptionally strong fit of the Nucleus and Primorigen product portfolios provide a compelling value proposition for customers seeking more complete solutions for cell biology research and production,” Primorigen CEO Chuck Oehler said in a statement.

According to a release, the addition of Primorigen’s Vitronectin XF and platform recombinant protein production technology will play a role in Nucleus’ strategy of offering traceable, reproducible cell culture ecosystems for cell and gene therapy companies. 

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

See more at Madison Startups: 


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# Utility regulators fine contractor over Sun Prairie explosion

# Snap-on acquires UK-based OEM software firm



– Burnett County board approves moratorium on CAFOs

– Top seller at State Fair Market auction brings $47,500 (again)


– Ikon Hotel development on Milwaukee’s northwest side may get another $5 million loan from city

– Redevelopment of vacant East Tosa building site could begin this fall


– Jackson County frac sand mine spill caused by pumping malfunction

– Damaging storm leaves thousands without power

– NWS says tornado struck Green Bay as storms hit NE Wisconsin


– Renovation project on tap at Mader’s on Old World Third Street


– DHS head looks to build on Wisconsin’s approach to opioid addiction

– DOC releases inmates’ protected health information


– Teens in the workforce: How are Milwaukee-area employers engaging students?

– Workers escape death from silo at Cargill facility


– New museum president Censky wants to make it accessible to all


– Iron Town Harley-Davidson negotiating with at least two buyers


– Sale of Journal Sentinel owner to New Media slammed on multiple fronts


– State changed location for planned Milwaukee youth detention center as favor to Direct Supply, Glendale mayor claims


– Cobalt withdraws big Bayside development plan

– Foreclosure activity is falling in Milwaukee region and Wisconsin

– Cobalt withdraws big Bayside development plan

– Cobalt Partners drops revised OneNorth project in Bayside

– Former Bucks player Tony Snell sells Mequon mansion


– Corps readies decision on underwater pipeline supports


– See $125M super yacht docked at Discovery World Wednesday: Slideshow

– Marathon County to skip Ginseng Festival in 2019


– Gov. Tony Evers’ transportation secretary moves toward confirmation


– Regulators fine contractor $25K following gas explosion


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