MON AM News: Foley & Lardner lobbyists driving support for Yahara Clean Compact; WBA members expect ‘strong and steady’ economy in 2020

— Lobbyists with the law firm Foley & Lardner have been working to drive interest in the Yahara Clean Compact, continuing a lake cleanup effort started more than a decade ago. 

The work is being done on behalf of the Clean Lakes Alliance, a Madison-based group launched by business leaders, environmental advocates and homeowners. For more than eight years Foley & Lardner has been providing free office space as well as pro bono lobbying and legal services to the nonprofit. 

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the past year meeting with officials to get buy-in, to get them to sign off on it,” said Jason Childress, the firm’s director of public affairs. “We’re acting as a liaison between government agencies and making sure everyone is on the same page to work together to clean up the lakes.” 

In a recent interview, Childress said the compact has been “the primary focus” of the firm’s recent lobbying activity. This plan to reduce phosphorus was spearheaded by leaders from Lands’ End and Spectrum Brands in 2008 and participating groups outlined 70 recommendations in a report two years later. 

The Clean Lakes Alliance brought stakeholders back together in 2012 and hired an engineering firm to identify the top 14 “cost-effective” recommendations that could reach a goal of 50 percent phosphorus reduction in the Yahara Lakes system. 

According to Childress, the UW-Madison Center for Limnology projects that achieving the phosphorus reduction goal could double the number of summer days where Dane County’s lakes are algae-free. In recent years, toxic algae blooms have reduced the window for swimming and other lake activities. 

“They want to reverse that trend and make the lakes swimmable and more of an economic engine,” he said. 

Childress noted the CLA tries to “make the business case” for clean-up efforts and recommendations, noting that’s a positive aspect of having business community buy-in. Madison Gas & Electric has been involved with the effort as well as local farmers and other companies. 

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— Members of the Wisconsin Bankers Association predict the state’s economy will be “strong and steady” next year, according to the group’s latest survey. 

“As predicted in our last survey, 2019 was a strong year for Wisconsin’s economy and lending activity,” said Rose Oswald Poels, WBA president and CEO. “It’s very encouraging to see most bankers believe 2020 will continue that positive trend.” 

Respondents listed low unemployment, high consumer confidence, low interest rates and strong performance in manufacturing as strengths of the state economy. Meanwhile, bankers said the lack of skilled workers and the state’s struggling agricultural sector are “negative factors creating some economic headwinds for Wisconsin.” 

About 80 percent of surveyed bankers ranked the current economy as good, and 72 percent percentage expected the same for 2020. Around 23 percent expect the state economy to improve next year. 

In a statement, Poels said bankers are the “best barometers of the economy” as they interface with many sectors and industries. 

“They work together with their communities and are the first to see and understand Wisconsin’s economic trends due to their customers’ activities,” she said. 

Across various loan categories, responding bankers largely believe that demand will stay the same moving into 2020. 

This year’s WBA Bank CEO Economic Conditions Survey was completed by 79 percent of the state’s bank CEOs and presidents. 

See the full survey results: 

— Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, says he continues to believe the state’s contract with Foxconn is a “good deal” and urged the Evers administration to stop “nitpicking” what the company is doing at a site in his district.

Correspondence between the Evers administration and Foxconn has emerged showing the guv believes the company is not meeting the contract it signed under Scott Walker and thus isn’t eligible for the tax credits laid out in the deal. One company official fired back the administration’s “red herrings” over terms of the contract are impeding Foxconn’s efforts.

Some of the dispute is over the company’s announced plans to build significantly smaller LCD screens at the Mount Pleasant plant than originally envisioned. Company officials have also suggested other uses for the facility beyond manufacturing.

In a year-end interview with, Vos likened the deal to a new incentive package announced last week for Milwaukee Tool. That deal didn’t include specifics on whether the company will build cordless drills or screwdrivers. The bottom line is the creation of jobs, he said. Likewise, his main focus with Foxconn is that it sticks to the promises it made on the wages it will pay employees and the investment in the facility.

Meanwhile, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, says he doubts Foxconn will have created enough jobs in 2019 to qualify for state tax credits, regardless of the debate over whether the company is in compliance with the deal it signed with the state.

The company fell short of the minimum jobs required to qualify for credits in 2018, but a Foxconn official has expressed confidence it will surpass the minimum mark of 520 as of Dec. 31.

At the same time, the Evers administration has told Foxconn the company is not compliant with the terms of the contract, making it ineligible for the credits. Falling short of the minimum positions required would make it a moot point on the jobs credits, though the contract also has provisions for the capital investment at the Racine County site.

If the company wants to ensure it’s eligible for credits, it should apply to amend the contract and “right-size the deal,” Hintz said. He also criticized the company for what he believes is a lack of transparency over its true intentions with the Wisconsin facility.

See more from the interviews at 

— A recent blog post from a USDA official shows Wisconsin’s dominance in cheese production is matched in other areas, with the state ranking first in the country for cranberries, silage corn and snap beans. 

Plus, Wisconsin is the top-ranked state for milk goats and mink pelts, according to Greg Bussler, Wisconsin State Statistician for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. 

Farmers in the state sold $11.4 billion in agricultural products and ranked 9th among U.S. states for the value of products sold, new numbers from the 2017 Census of Agriculture show. 

Bussler notes the number of farms and the amount of farmland decreased between 2012 and 2017, while the average farm size increased 6 percent. The state had just under 65,000 farms in 2017 and 14.3 million acres in farms. 

Wisconsin is ranked first in the country for the number of dairy farms, with 9,037 milk cow farms. But the blog post shows 48 percent of farms in the state had less than $10,000 in sales in 2017. 

Despite the state’s aging population, the blog post shows the average age of ag producers in Wisconsin is 56, which is 1.5 years younger than the national average. Producers aged 35 or less made up 9.4 percent of producers in the estate, while 22 percent had been farming for 10 years or less. 

See the blog post: 

— The Wisconsin Technology Council’s 17th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest is accepting entries until Jan. 31, organizers announced recently.

Companies or individuals that have not received angel or venture capital are eligible to enter. The categories are advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences.

The top 12 will present their business plan during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference on June 4, 2020 in Milwaukee. GrowthChart, based in Stoughton, won the 2019 contest.

See more at Madison Startups: 

See contest details: 

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