THU AM News: Tech associations across North America working to strengthen talent pipelines; Evers connects workforce shortage to immigration reform

— Tech associations from across North America are developing apprenticeship programs and youth engagement initiatives to reinforce their local talent pipelines. 

Leaders of these groups from the United States and Canada are gathered in Madison this week for the 2019 TECNA Summer Conference. Membership for the Technology Councils of North America includes more than 22,000 companies, and speakers said many of the employers they represent are struggling to fill positions. 

“We just don’t have enough talent, and we don’t have enough workers,” said Gov. Tony Evers, who addressed attendees yesterday at Epic’s corporate campus near Madison. “In Wisconsin, I would say most people look like me and are about my age. That’s a problem.” 

Evers said the state could prepare all 860,000 of its public school students to be “college- and career-ready to the highest achievement level possible,” and still have hundreds of thousands of jobs left vacant. 

“So that keeps me awake at night,” he said. “And to some extent, I hope it keeps you awake also, because we have to solve it.” 

One program from the Washington Technology Industry Association has placed more than 500 apprentices across 12 states in less than three years. Sasha Rayburn, the Apprenti program’s director of operations, envisions employers taking what she calls the “farming” approach. 

“This is a big shift,” she said yesterday. “This is something I believe we can do together — bring that whole tech sector into the farming mindset, that we’re going to grow our talent ourselves, rather than just poaching it from each other.” 

See more: 

— In his comments to TECNA leaders, Evers connected the workforce shortage issue to the national conversation on immigration reform. 

“We have to have immigration reform. We have to,” Evers said yesterday. “If we don’t deal with this issue of immigration, we won’t have anybody milking the cows in Wisconsin, period. How is that going to work for the state of Wisconsin? Not well.” 

He bashed the Trump administration’s trade policies and its approach to the immigration question, adding Wisconsin should be a place that values diversity and inclusiveness. 

“We have to be able to discuss the issue of immigration without the crazy ‘let’s send them home’ dialogue that permeates the day’s deliberations around the issue,” Evers said. 

His comments referenced recent tweets from the president, in which Trump told four freshmen Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three of the four were born in the United States. 

“A lot of what I think needs to be changed lives in the hearts of people, individuals,” Evers said. “And sometimes that’s hard to address in a really holistic way or a government policy way.” 

— Also at the conference, technology association leaders discussed potential pitfalls for burgeoning tech groups, drawing on shared challenges. 

A common theme from the earlier-stage tech councils in the discussion was the tendency to overreach. They said the enthusiasm that usually drives the formation of a new groups like theirs should be tempered with a sense of focus. 

Joe Russo is CEO for the Palm Beach Tech Council in Florida, which was started about five years ago. 

“We realized early on we were focused very much on this wide swath — everybody from Fortune 500s to entrepreneurs — and when we did that, we stretched ourselves a little too thin,” he said. “When we were working with Fortune 500 executives, it’s a very different message, a different deliverable than when we’re working with entrepreneurs.” 

Yvonne Pilon, president and CEO of the WEtech Alliance, had a similar experience when the group launched about nine years ago. Her organization works with technology companies in the Windsor-Essex region of Canada, which already had several established organizations working in the tech sector. WEtech tried to model what those groups were doing, and Pilon admits it wasn’t the right move. 

“We decided we’re going to work in every sector of tech,” she said. “Which was a good thing, but in the long term we spread ourselves out too thin.” 

Another challenge Russo mentioned, inherent to new tech associations, is a lack of trust in the industry. When launching, he said the Palm Beach Tech Council dealt with other entities that were protective of the space and spurned partnerships at first. 

“That always kind of seemed to be this overlooming cloud,” he said. “We had to rise above that over time.” 

Now, he said, conversations involve more hard data, and rely on the legitimacy of the group’s member companies and board members, as well as its own track record. 

While early-stage tech associations face hurdles related to scope and acceptance, more established organizations can struggle with issues of leadership and direction. That’s according to Brian Moyer, CEO for the Greater Nashville Technology Association. 

Like the Wisconsin Technology Council, which hosted this year’s TECNA conference, the Nashville organization has been around for about 20 years. Before Moyer took over as CEO and was still on the group’s board, the CEO at the time resigned to launch a startup. 

After a nationwide search, the Greater Nashville Technology Association found a candidate in Boston who moved to Nashville to run the group. But Moyer said the decision to hire someone from outside the area proved to be a mistake. 

He said the new CEO had been a chief information officer and had plenty of experience, but “it just didn’t click.” 

“So we actually took quite a dive, and several steps backwards for a couple of years,” Moyer said. “It was just a horrible situation that the organization found itself in.”

He said it didn’t start to improve until his predecessor became the CEO and “really started the process of righting the ship” by cleaning up the finances and rebuilding ties to businesses in the area. The association also landed an $800,000 grant from the state of Tennessee that helped with the overhaul. 

“The organization probably could have survived had we not done that, but that allowed us to staff up to provide a lot of new programming,” he said. “That was the catalyst that put us back on track.” 

— Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is blasting DATCP Secretary Brad Pfaff for “offensive and unproductive” criticism of the Legislature for failing to fund programs to reduce farmer suicides. 

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s Joint Finance Committee hearing, DATCP issued a press release in which Pfaff knocked Republicans on the panel for “abandoning our state’s farmers.”. 

“As of today, DATCP has funding to provide just five more counseling vouchers to 

farmers in need of mental health care,” Pfaff said in the statement. “If the Joint Finance Committee doesn’t want to move this funding forward immediately, then they have a choice to make: which five farmers will it be?” 

Fitzgerald yesterday ripped those comments as “flippant” and “beneath your position” before highlighting actions the Legislature has taken over the past two sessions to address mental health. 

“If you truly care about farmers’ well-being, I hope that you will strive to work with legislators on addressing mental health in Wisconsin rather than releasing inflammatory statements,” he said. 

In response, Pfaff again took a shot at the Legislature, which he said “delayed release” of mental health assistance funding by stashing those dollars for the JFC “to distribute at some later date.” He went on to say that his agency then provided the JFC with its plan, but “for some reason they delayed again.” 

“We continue to look for ways to work together on this issue, but I hope that the legislature can share my sense of urgency on this issue,” he said in a statement. “The need is now.” 

Like all other department heads in the Evers administration, Pfaff has not yet faced a confirmation vote in the GOP-run Senate. Quizzed by as to whether Pfaff’s comments could jeopardize his nomination, a Fitzgerald spokesman indicated the letter was specific to the issue and wasn’t about confirmation. 

See the DATCP release:

See Fitzgerald’s letter:

— The Wisconsin Hospital Association has hired Mark Grapentine as the group’s new vice president of communications. 

Grapentine previously spent five years working in the state Capitol, as a policy advisor to Gov. Tommy Thompson, a legislative assistant to then-Rep. Scott Walker, and chief of staff for former Sen. Peggy Rosenzweig. 

Most recently, he worked as senior vice president for government relations at the Wisconsin Medical Society for 16 years. 

“Mark is highly regarded in our field of health care advocacy and his unique skills will enhance and expand what WHA can accomplish on behalf of our members across the state,” said WHA president and CEO Eric Borgerding. 

According to a release, Grapentine will start Sept. 9. 

See more: 


# Dr. Nick Turkal steps down at Advocate Aurora Health; Skogsbergh sole CEO

# Quad CEO Joel Quadracci on walking away from LSC deal

# Renovation initiative in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood reaches milestone

# Midwest wildlife officials discuss chronic wasting disease



– Scientists tell lawmakers agriculture practices must change to protect groundwater

– Local poultry farmers saw more egg production in June

– Wisconsin still tops nation in mink pelt output


– Oak Creek preps for more development around Ikea, Drexel interchange


– Bill would cap future UW Tuition increases at rate of inflation


– Midwest officials gather in Madison to discuss CWD


– Oven-fried mac ‘n cheese restaurant Mac Shack sets opening date


– Design study to examine redevelopment options for West Burleigh Street corridor


– Suit accuses Fox Valley contractor of shorting workers on lunch breaks; company denies claim


– Nick Turkal to leave Advocate Aurora as system drops co-CEO model


– New motorcycle model helps Indian outrun sluggish market


– State farm groups launch ‘Farm Neighbors Care’ campaign


– Federal food stamp rule change could cause 25K Wisconsinites to lose benefits

– In speech to tech execs, Tony Evers rips Trump trade wars, immigration rhetoric


– Beaver Lake home sold for $1.8 million

– Region’s industrial real estate market absorbs 1.1 million square feet in Q2

– Milwaukee real estate market preps for more buildings as leasing remains solid

– Developers restoring MAC building discover location of lost Scorpion Lounge: Slideshow


– State shuts down Quality Inn in Beaver Dam over pool


– Pure Barre opening at Drexel Town Square in Oak Creek


– Milwaukee to host USA Triathlon national championships in 2020, 2021


– Gov. Evers, Tech Council and Epic Systems host North American tech industry leaders

– Perfect weather for Farm Tech opener in Jefferson County


– Madison Water Utility has no immediate plans to bring east side well back on line


– Debby Jackson: Transportation investment moves everything

– Chet Thompson: When will enough ethanol be enough?


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

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation: Jefferson to host Wisconsin Main Street Day celebration 

Brown County Government: STEM Innovation Center Project on Time for Start of Fall Classes

National Presto Industries, Inc.: Acquires OneEvent Technologies