FRI AM News: Despite downsized DNC, Visit Milwaukee still anticipates economic lift; WisBusiness podcast features Mike Thirtle, Bethesda

— Yesterday was supposed to mark the end of the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee — and a wave of economic impact to the city. While the postponed virtual convention will be smaller come August, Visit Milwaukee still anticipates an economic lift.

“I still think there’s going to be an energy in the city,” said Peggy Williams-Smith, CEO of Visit Milwaukee. “The city will absolutely be highlighted, and I’m hopefully our citizens will have a chance to walk down the street and feel the energy with their masks on, walking six feet apart from each other.”

Williams-Smith told a Milwaukee Press event that Milwaukee will still be able to benefit economically despite the downsizing of the DNC; it just won’t look the same. 

“There’s not going to be 50,000 people here; there’s not going to be the parties that there once were going to be,” she said. “But there will be opportunities for us to showcase what a great city we are to come and visit or to host your convention in. And we hope that that’s what we’ll be able to convey while the DNC is here in Milwaukee.”

The convention is still “based” in Milwaukee, and Visit Milwaukee is working to give it “Milwaukee flavor” by creating 30-second videos, essentially a highlight reel, on the unique things to do and see in the city. 

Williams-Smith’s team is excited to share those videos with delegates, the livestream or on television coverage. The broadcast of those videos is not yet finalized as Williams-Smith said that Visit Milwaukee is still having conversations with the Democratic National Convention Committee. 

Williams-Smith also noted that people still want to be in Milwaukee for the convention that will “hopefully” fill the city’s hotels as well as lodging in the surrounding areas. She said the county is running at 30 percent occupancy, higher than downtown’s 20 percent occupancy.   

“Right now it’s an educated guess versus what’s actually going to happen,” she said. “What’s going to depend on what it looks like locally is where we are in terms of the virus, the spread, the number of cases and whether or not we’ve gone back to a place where we’re seeing a decrease in cases versus an increase in cases.”

Visit Milwaukee has high aspirations. Williams-Smith noted conversations about having the RNC and DNC occur more often.

“That’s my hope based on the amount of attention we got when we first booked the convention and the national attention we continue to receive,” Smith said. “There’s conventions that have called us in last year that would have never considered us prior to the DNC choosing us to host this year.” 

See a previous story on Milwaukee tourism: 

— This week’s “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Mike Thirtle, president and CEO of Bethesda, a nonprofit focused on supporting adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Thirtle noted that COVID-19 fatality rates for people with disabilities are up to seven times higher than the rest of the population. Bethesda has been working since early March in its 75 geographical locations to make sure that people are kept safe. 

“We’ve lost four people in the last five months,” he said. “We wish we didn’t lose anybody, but our projections could have been a lot worse.”

Thirtle said that the pandemic has amplified the challenges that Bethesda has in Wisconsin: its expenses are going up and Medicaid reimbursements are going down. He suspects all states will be making cuts in their Medicaid beginning with intellectual and developmental disabilities in order to pay for COVID-19. 

In Wisconsin, he called for a reroute for managed care organizations or MCOs that are a hindrance for Bethesda. Thirlte argues that MCOs are not an efficient economic model for the state.

“If the state could pass those funds along to providers like us, we’d have a much higher probability of success,” he said. “Over the next year, COVID is going to put organizations like ours out of business… because they don’t receive enough funding.”

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— DWD says the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent in June from 12.1 percent in May.

The dip reflected the national rate improving last month as well, going down to 11.1 percent.

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— Business economists concur that Wisconsin is in good shape to get “back to normal,” but it will take a few years. 

Thomas Walstrum, senior business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago explained his “best predictor” for unemployment is the size of the coronavirus outbreak. He told a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce briefing that the more deaths that a state has due to COVID-19, the lower the employment is likely to be. 

“It’s not a perfect correlation,” he noted. “But there is clearly a negative correlation between the number of deaths and employment. Wisconsin is right in the middle as of May 15 — middle deaths and middle decline in employment.”

But Wisconsin is in better shape than other states in the Midwest in terms of handling the pandemic financially, as told by Rick Matoon, senior economist and economic advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. 

“Wisconsin is in better shape in terms of the expected tax revenue shortfall,” Matoon said. “This is both a combination of what the industry mix is in Wisconsin and also what the tax base is.”

Walstrum chimed that Wisconsin is one of the most concentrated states for manufacturing, which he noted was not a sector where economists saw declines in employment and activity. 

“That’s because of the consumption-driven recession,” he said. “But for many manufacturers, they found a way to keep capacity up and keep their workers safe.”   

Matoon estimated Wisconsin’s fall in revenue by about $1.7 billion, which relative to all states ($130.4 billion) is significantly less. However, Wisconsin faces an unanticipated increase in spending including Medicaid and unemployment.  

“While the federal government has increased the matching percentage… Wisconsin is still exposed to having to take up a larger share of spending in Medicaid at about $627 million in expenditures that the state wasn’t expecting,” he said. 

Matoon noted that the combined fiscal shock is $2.3 billion for Wisconsin — slightly better than most of the Midwest states and the U.S. as a whole which is at $157.8 billion. Matoon attributes the good news for Wisconsin to the “significant” funds in the rainy day fund, which gave the state cushion for uncertainty and the state’s liu of pension liability. 

“Wisconsin is one of the best funded states if not the best funded states when it comes to pensions,” Matoon said.

Terry Fitzgerald, vice president and assistant director of economic analysis at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis argued that even though Wisconsin is looking fit for success on paper, it largely comes down to the path of the virus and the consumer’s response.

He said that it will take a few years at least to get back to previous unemployment rates. 

Walstrum pointed out that the U.S. is looking to be headed for a “W recovery” because last week, the economic index came down slightly after having been rising up. 

“I think that’s in line with what we’ve been seeing in the news in terms of states, especially in the south and the west, having to shut down some parts of the economy that had been reopened because of rising positive covid cases,” he said. 

— UW-Madison will have a three-part testing program in place when students return to campus in the fall, according to Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

Blank told a Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce briefing yesterday that the university will first be setting up free testing sites around campus for anyone to use. Then, it will conduct wide-range surveillance testing in the surrounding community to monitor for potential hotspots or outbreaks, as well as practice targeted testing for students in dorms or sports.

“We want to be able to tell students that campus is actually a safer place for them than the outside world,” Blank said. “Our goal is to make sure the university stays that safe for the entire semester.”

Targeted tests in dorms and sports facilities will be conducted at least once every two weeks, with immediate containment and quarantine protocols in place in the case of a positive test.

Blank said she did not take the decision to reopen on a hybrid model of instruction lightly, but that it is necessary to have a “properly functioning flow of thought” in the university. She said that much learning on campus happens when peers collaborate, and that online school does “students a disservice” by not offering those opportunities.

Blank also noted the university was looking for ways to change itself to become more “welcoming and open” for students of color.

UW-Madison has already mandated a new “Diversity Framework” course for all incoming students, similar to the alcohol and drug courses required, that will “promote shared values of diversity and inclusion” among other issues. The university has also begun a $10 million fundraising campaign that will provide scholarships and financial aid to students and faculty of color.

— Blank warned of a tough financial future, saying short-term cash flow issues may be exacerbated if fall sports are postponed or canceled.

“Short-term, we are going to have a few problems,” Blank said. “To make it worse — though I can’t say with certainty — if I had to guess there is under a 50 percent chance sports play in the fall.”

Even if Badger sports are on the schedule, fan attendance would be heavily restricted, if allowed at all.

However, Blank said the university could probably withstand a year of very low revenue, because of rainy day funds and loans already borrowed from banks. The real problem, she said, is the state and federal budget cuts to higher education.

“Once we’re finally starting to get out of this next year, we will be right back in the middle of (a) financial crisis,” she said. “State budget cuts are going to put us significantly in the red, and we do not have the power to take out loans without the Legislature’s approval.”

Blank said it could lead to faculty cuts or other programs losing a significant amount of their funding.

“The best thing the state can do is to deregulate the university; we have a long road ahead and it would prevent a lot of financial hardship.”

— The Department of Health Services announced six confirmed cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in Wisconsin — a condition in children that may be related to COVID-19. 

The multisystem inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C is a rare, but serious condition where different parts of the body can become inflamed, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

“It’s not known exactly what causes MIS-C, but it appears to be triggered by COVID-19 infection, and it’s possibly related to an abnormal reaction of the immune response to the virus,” he said.

DHS has been working with the CDC and medical providers statewide to determine cases in Wisconsin children. 

Four of the six children with MIS-C are under the age of 10, and two were between ages 10 and 15. All the children were hospitalized when they were first diagnosed; two remain hospitalized at this time. The others returned home after their conditions improved. 

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome has features similar to Kawasaki disease, a rare disease that causes multi-organ failure and shock. The World Health Organization reports that children and teens in Europe and North America have been admitted to intensive care units because of the syndrome.   

The range of symptoms can include prolonged fevers, abdominal pain, breathing trouble, red eyes and inflammation of organ systems such as the heart, lungs, GI tract or brain. 

According to the CDC, people who may be suspected to have it are under the age of 21 with a fever for more than 24 hours, inflammation of organs, and illness requiring hospitalization; no alternative plausible diagnoses; and had or is positive for SARS or COVID-19 exposure prior to the onset of symptoms.

— The state reports 900 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the seven-day average for daily cases to 817, a new record that has continued to rise.

The percentage of positive tests per total tests is 6.3 percent, up from 5.9 percent Wednesday.

The new cases bring the cumulative case count to 39,627 and active cases to 8,236.

The number of recovered patients number 30,555 or 77.1 percent, while 2.1 percent of patients have died. Active cases are defined as those still in a 30-day waiting period of symptom onset or diagnosis and account for 20.8 percent of the confirmed cases — a growing percentage as daily new cases rise.

The state received 14,271 total tests yesterday — “not enough,” according to Dr. Ryan Westergaard. Wisconsin has a capacity for 24,362 tests per day. 

Right now, DHS recommends getting a test if an individual has symptoms or may have been exposed to COVID-19. As cases increase among the younger population, it raises a red flag. Normally, the younger population has little or no symptoms, indicating that there may be a vast amount of asymptomatic people spreading the virus.

“That gives us reason to worry that we’re actually not testing enough people, that we’re testing the tip of the iceberg,” Westergaard said. “The news is bad and potentially getting worse.”

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 

— COVID-19 deaths in the state rose by four, bringing the total to 831.

Grant, Marathon, Outagamie and Racine counties each reported one new death.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (403), Racine (66), Kenosha (47), Brown (44), Waukesha (40), Dane (33), Rock (24), Washington (19), Walworth (18), Ozaukee (16), Grant (14), Winnebago (14), Waupaca (13), Outagamie (10), Clark (7), Fond du Lac (6), Dodge (5), Jefferson (4), Richland (4) and Sheboygan (4).

Door, Forest, Marinette and Sauk counties report three deaths each. Adams, Buffalo, Calumet, Marathon, Polk and St. Croix counties report two deaths each.

Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Columbia, Eau Claire, Green, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Langlade, Manitowoc, Marquette, Monroe, Rusk and Wood counties report one death each.

— As some hospital data is removed from the CDC website, DHS says the process of reporting its information to the federal government will not change.

“We were reporting that information on behalf of hospitals to the federal government and that process will not change,” said Stephanie Smiley, interim Division of Public Health administrator and state health officer. “We believe that is information that folks need to understand. That’s something we’ve done here in the state and we will continue to do so.” 


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– Romanski: Wisconsin Farm Support Checks ‘In the Mail’ 

– State Christmas Tree Growers Planning Summer Convention 


– A resurgence of the virus, and lockdowns, threatens economic recovery 


– Black business owners had a harder time getting federal aid, a study finds 


– Covid-19 testing devices drive revenue in Abbott Labs’ second quarter 


– Gov. Tony Evers Issues 18 More Pardons 


– Briggs & Stratton receives extension on credit agreement, postpones possible default 


– Journal Square project approved for $1M in city funds; construction to start in August 

– Town of Sheboygan creates 500-acre tax district to attract development


– City of Milwaukee could remain in restricted phase for some time 


– Windy City-Fox Motorsports acquires New Berlin Harley-Davidson dealership 

– Toppers partners with Milwaukee chef on vegan menu 

– Kohl’s, Target to join Walmart, Kroger, Starbucks in requiring face coverings for customers 


– Fall sports delayed at UWM, UW-Green Bay after league announces decision 

– More people golfing in Wisconsin during the pandemic this year than last year, association reports 


– Milwaukee County Zoo expands to 50% capacity 

– Milwaukee hotels reach almost 40% occupancy 


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