WED AM News: Milwaukee-to-Chicago train service plans facing opposition; Dairy contributes $45.6 billion to state economy, report shows

— Plans to expand Amtrak’s Milwaukee-to-Chicago train service are facing opposition from the freight railroad that owns the tracks.

Wisconsin lawmakers appropriated $35 million of state money in the 2019-’21 budget to boost the Hiawatha line from seven to 10 round trips daily. Counting funds from the federal and Illinois governments and the railroads, that effort could cost more than $200 million and take until at least 2025.

But in a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Canadian Pacific Railway says it won’t agree to any increase in Hiawatha trips on its tracks until all related improvements are completed on the route — including two projects that have been canceled.

Responding to opposition in the Chicago suburbs of Glenview and Lake Forest, the Illinois Department of Transportation dropped plans for a track improvement project in each of those communities. However, Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson said that decision wouldn’t stop the Hiawatha from adding an eighth and possibly a ninth round trip. Wisconsin passenger rail manager Arun Rao said the two states were working together to find other ways to keep the project moving forward without the canceled projects.

After and other news media reported about the Hiawatha expansion push, Canadian Pacific released a letter from Chuck Hubbard, who oversees the company’s relations with U.S. passenger railroads.

In his letter to Rao, Hubbard called the canceled Illinois projects “necessary to the viability of the overall project” and added, “Without these improvements, CP cannot support any additional Amtrak Hiawathas in this corridor.” He warned that if Wisconsin moves ahead with planned track improvements in this state, “it does so at its sole risk that there will be no additional Hiawatha starts.”

See more: 

— Wisconsin’s dairy industry contributes $45.6 billion to the state economy, making up more than 40 percent of all farm activity, according to a recent report. 

But despite the overall impact of ag continuing to grow in the state, dairy’s contribution is lower than in previous reports. 

The UW-Madison analysis, led by Professor Steven Deller, gives a snapshot of Wisconsin agriculture and dairy using numbers from 2017, the latest year for which they’re available. The previous report was conducted using 2012 data. The latest update shows the state’s total ag impact grew from $88.3 billion to $104.8 billion in those five years. 

“To put this in perspective, dairy’s economic impact is twice that of another key growing industry, Wisconsin tourism. It also shows dairy is Wisconsin’s signature industry and is central to our state’s identity,” according to Deller. 

Compared to the last report published in 2014, he found the economic contribution of farming has increased across multiple measures. But he says on-farm activity “was not a major contributor” to this increase, and likely reflects weak commodity prices for 2017. 

“The majority of the increase in the contribution of agriculture came through recent strong growth in food processing,” he said in the report. 

The challenge for Wisconsin farmers, he says, is that on-farm activity and food processing are deeply connected, with each supporting the other’s growth and success. 

“The continued weak net farm income may put the food processing industry at risk,” Deller wrote. “There is a clear balancing act between ensuring a healthy farm economy while continuing to promote growth in food processing.” 

Although the impact of farming continues to swell in Wisconsin, Deller says the contribution of dairy, particularly on-farm dairy operations, “is more modest than in previous studies.” 

He adds: “This is not to say that dairy is weakening but rather other non-dairy related parts of Wisconsin agriculture are growing, particularly processing, and dairy is facing depressed commodity prices.” 

On-farm production only covers one-third of dairy’s impact, the report shows, with dairy processors contributing the other two thirds. 

In his report, Deller found dairy in Wisconsin supports 157,000 jobs in the state, and generates $1.26 billion in state and local taxes. All ag activity, covering both farming and food processing, supports more than 430,000 jobs — nearly 12 percent of all jobs in the state. 

He also found the state exported more than $2.5 billion in ag products in 2017, with dairy products making up the second-largest category, with $451 million in exports. 

The report shows dairy adds $9 billion to labor income, making up 4.5 percent of the state’s total; and $15.1 billion to total income, for 4.7 percent. 

See the full report: 

— Businesses from 24 Wisconsin cities are registered to attend Thursday’s Day on Campus event at UW-Madison. 

According to a release from the university, event organizers expect about 90 attendees from more than 55 companies at the event, which aims to foster partnerships between academia and industry. 

Registered companies will be coming from Wausau, Stevens Point, Kenosha, Janesville and elsewhere. 

The event will feature presentations from university leaders, including Amy Achter, managing director of the university’s Office of Business Engagement, which is putting on the event. She says attendees can meet with folks from across Wisconsin, as well as some other states including Illinois and California. 

“This is the place to be if you want to learn more about how you can engage with UW-Madison,” she told in a recent interview. 

A panel of company reps will discuss how their businesses worked with the university on various efforts. Scheduled companies include Foxconn, Lands’ End, American Family Insurance and Morningstar. 

The event will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at UW-Madison’s Memorial Union, in the Great Hall. 

See more event info: 

See a recent story previewing the Day on Campus event: 

Listen to an earlier podcast with Achter: 

— Gov. Tony Evers is urging the state’s largest business group to embrace a diverse workforce to meet future needs, saying the chances of attracting 67-year-old white guys — like him — to move to Wisconsin and fill job vacancies are “pretty slim.” 

Speaking at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce’s Policy Day yesterday, Evers said the state’s workforce needs keep him up at night as CEO of the state’s largest employer. 

In meeting with CEOs across the state, Evers said he’s talked about the need to embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace to help make Wisconsin an attractive place to relocate. 

“We just have to make sure we as a state are ready to embrace that change,” Evers said. 

WMC spent $1.1 million on TV ads backing his former rival Scott Walker during last fall’s gubernatorial election, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks spending by independent groups. While Walker often enjoyed an enthusiastic response from the group’s annual event, only a couple of people at the luncheon address stood to applaud before Evers began his remarks. 

The guv said making Wisconsin an attractive place to move to included investments in quality of life priorities such as health care, natural resources, clean drinking water and infrastructure. He also recounted for the crowd campaigning last year and meeting with millennials while visiting northern Wisconsin and asking why they chose to live there. 

He said while their answers included work, it also was about natural resources and quality of life. 

“If we fail as a state to connect those dots among those things that are important to our future workforce or a workforce that can come in, we will fail as a state,” Evers said. 

See WisconsinEye video of Evers’ speech: 


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