FRI AM News: Hospitality leaders say federal COVID relief only way to prevent economic pain; WisBusiness podcast features Rose Oswald Poels

— Business leaders in Milwaukee’s hospitality industry urged the federal government to pass additional COVID-19 fiscal relief as the only way to prevent long-term pain to the local economy. 

In a Milwaukee Press Club virtual event, hosted in partnership with, Rodney Ferguson, CEO and manager of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, Omar Shaikh, restaurateur and VISIT Milwaukee chair, and Gary Witt, CEO of the Pabst Theater Group, all told viewers their businesses have seen substantial revenue loss this year compared to previous years. 

Witt said his group has made only a little over 10 percent of the revenue this year that it made over the same period in 2019. He said he’s laid off all part-time employees and about 25 percent of full-time workers, too. 

He slammed bar owners who aren’t following city occupancy limits and neighboring municipalities with only COVID-19 guidelines instead of regulations as partial reasons why the pandemic has stretched on. 

“The difficulty is the federal government are the ones who turned us all into a ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘Hunger Games’ situation by not funding businesses that definitely need to be closed during a time when there is a pandemic,” he said, placing the blame squarely on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and his reluctance to spend additional federal dollars. 

Read the full story at 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Wisconsin Bankers Association President Rose Oswald Poels. 

Prior to the pandemic, Wisconsin bankers predicted a thriving Wisconsin economy for 2020. But Poels said the banking industry has fared well this year due to the stimulus that banks’ customers have received.

“Whether it’s an individual who borrowed money or whether it’s a business that has borrowed money, we have not seen yet the real impact of the pandemic on the balance sheets of our customers,” she said. “Looking ahead in 2021 we will start to see that as stimulus money gets spent and there isn’t any new stimulus money coming at least quickly on the heels of what was already distributed.”

Poels had predicted bank merger activity to decrease in 2020, but it had decreased far lower than she had expected. Last year was high for bank merging with 16 announced mergers. The pandemic caused a question on the future health of banks’ balance sheets, she said. Wisconsin has seen four announced mergers this year. 

“Banks in a way are a lagging indicator to know the health of our customers, and as more start to default, it will start to impact the banks’ balance sheet,” she said. 

WBA is looking forward to a COVID-19 vaccine to get people to return to their pre-pandemic lives, and the industry expects more merger and acquisition activity in 2021. 

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— The governor yesterday ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to honor nursing professor and firefighter captain Kelly Lynn Raether.

Raether, of the Town of Ixonia Fire & EMS, passed away Nov. 26 after contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty as she responded to the emergency medical needs of a COVID-19 patient. 

“While our first responders are always prepared to run towards danger, let this be a reminder to all of us how critical our actions are in helping to keep them safe during this pandemic,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a release. 

— Evers told the president and Wisconsin’s congressional delegation it’s unlikely state GOP lawmakers will support a bill using state resources to address COVID-19 as he asked for additional federal money to continue paying for the state’s effort.

In the letter, Evers outlined $466 million that he says is needed — “at a minimum” — to cover costs in the first quarter of 2021 for things like testing and contact tracing. It’s the same amount he included in a bill he proposed to lawmakers last month to address the ongoing pandemic.

The $466 million includes:

*$255 million for testing kits and lab diagnostics;

*$105 million for hospital surge capacity and ongoing costs of the state’s alternate care facility;

*$58 million for COVID-19 testing sites;

*$36 million for contact tracing;

*$10 million to prepare infrastructure to distribute a vaccine;

*$2 million for public health guidance and awareness. 

Read the letter: 

— If the federal government does not give money to the state and state lawmakers do not act, Evers said “we will find the resources.”

“We’ve been in a pandemic for eight or nine months, and the last thing that your governor will be telling the people of Wisconsin that ‘we’ve got the vaccine but we’re not going to give it to you because we don’t have the money,’” he told reporters in a health briefing. “Clearly that’s not going to happen. We will get the vaccine out.” 

DHS Secretary Andrea Palm added that the state has about $3 million from the CDC that does not lapse at the end of the year. The agency is currently finalizing an application for an additional $2 million that also wouldn’t lapse. 

— In other coronavirus-related action, Evers sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking that Wisconsin be prioritized to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine shipments.

In the letter, the guv asked for quantities large enough to vaccinate all 450,000 members of the state’s health care workforce and to begin vaccinating Wisconsinites who are high-risk. 

“Wisconsin is uniquely facing challenges that other states are not,” Evers told reporters in a health briefing on Thursday. “While other governors are working to turn the dial as their state surges, our statewide mitigation efforts have been struck down.”

He added that the state’s basic tools — public health emergencies and mask mandates — are currently the subject of ongoing litigation.

“Wisconsin has been unable for odd reasons, like political, to put mitigating opportunities in place that would help us keep the virus from surging the way it has,” he said.

The guv said that the difficulty in convincing some political leaders about the importance of mitigation has put people at great risk.  

“As a result of that risk that happened because of political machinations, that our state is in a shape that we need some help, and that means we need more vaccinations,” he said. “The sooner the better.”

See the letter: 

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— The Winnow Fund has begun a unique partnership with Concordia University Wisconsin, delivering experienced mentoring, networking opportunities and potential investments to the university for access to a pipeline of potential startups.

The woman-led, seed-stage venture capital fund’s investing strategy includes sourcing investment opportunities from Wisconsin colleges and universities.

Concordia, an investor in the fund, has begun a renewed focus on strengthening its entrepreneurial ecosystem. In 2019, Concordia moved its Batterman School of Business into a new home in the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, which also provides incubator space for student and community-led startups.

Richelle Martin, the Winnow Fund managing director, will be present on campus where students, faculty and staff can meet with her to discuss ideas and strategies. In addition to advising campus entrepreneurs, Martin will participate in school-sponsored events, including Concordia’s annual CU Launch Business Plan competition. 

“I believe there’s untapped entrepreneurial potential at colleges and universities across the state of Wisconsin,” Martin said. “I’m looking forward to meeting with Concordia University’s entrepreneurs to leverage that potential and together build successful, high-growth companies here in the state.”

— Collaboration amongst businesses, nonprofits and community members is the key to economic stability and growth after the pandemic, economic experts said. 

President and CEO of United Way of Dane County Renee Moe said her organization has adapted to foster economic growth by building relationships between groups in Dane County rather than just collecting donations and distributing funds. 

She said community leaders can take steps to protect their own communities from the expected loss of 30 percent of businesses by June of 2021. The figure comes from a recent Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce survey. 

Moe said working together towards solving community problems has become their main focus as her group approaches its centennial anniversary. 

“How we come together to solve community problems is really in the spirit of what we need to do, and we want to help ratchet up young people who are interested in becoming community leaders,” she said in a GMCC virtual event. 

Black- and Latino-owned businesses are being hit harder by the pandemic with 50 percent more Black- and Latino-owned businesses losing half their revenue than other businesses, according to the survey. 

GMCC President Zach Brandon said the potential for a 30 percent loss of local businesses in Dane County is “staggering.” 

“If we don’t, as a community, start to figure out ways to help these businesses, and that can be through regulation change, microtuning our health orders, more consumer confidence, more spending and more intentionality in how we spend our dollars, we can stop that from happening,” he said. 

Moe added that businesses need to work together and with other groups in their communities to build trust among community members. 

“When families are strong, neighborhoods and schools are stronger, when schools are strong, we know the workforce and society are stronger,” she said. 

Investing in young community members who need help will also pay dividends, she said. 

“We need to be as concerned about which babies aren’t starting school ready to learn as we are about the kids stealing our cars, because we could get them earlier, when it was $4,000, versus later, when it costs $108,000 to put them in juvenile detention.”

United Way has advocated for government aid to address main gaps in funding among nonprofits and other community groups, especially as this year has been especially difficult for fundraising, Moe said. 

— The state awarded grants to 663 hotel, motel and bed and breakfast operators whose facilities have been negatively affected by COVID-19.

The grants aim to provide stabilization to the state’s lodging industry as it continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and related reductions in travel across the nation. Grantees were awarded an average of approximately $350 per eligible room in Wisconsin.

“The folks in our hotel and lodging industry have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as folks have reduced their travel this year to help stop the spread of the virus,” said Gov. Tony Evers in his announcement yesterday. “The tourism industry will be core to our state’s economic bounce back, and these funds will help provide some economic stabilization now so visitors … enjoy their favorite destinations later.”

In 2019, visitors to the state spent $3.7 billion on lodging but recent surveys by the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association indicate that nearly half of Wisconsin hotel and lodging properties will close within six months without loan or grant assistance.

The grants were funded by the federal CARES Act and administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration.

A full list of grant winners is available here: 

— The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection invites Wisconsin dairy processors to apply for the next round of Dairy Processor Grants through Jan. 15. 

Funding from these reimbursement grants can be used to address a wide range of dairy business needs such as food safety, staff training, plant expansion or modernization, and professional consulting services. 

Eligible applicants must operate a licensed dairy processing plant in Wisconsin which is engaged in pasteurizing, processing, or manufacturing milk or dairy products.

DATCP will award the money for projects up to $50,000 and up to two years in duration. The processor is required to provide a match of at least 20 percent of the grant amount. Grant recipients will be announced in February. In 2020, 11 companies received a total of $200,000 in grants.

Apply by 5 p.m. on Jan. 15:


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– Nursing Homes Continue To Face Critical Shortages 


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– Port Milwaukee strikes lease agreement with Pearl Seas Cruises 

– Wisconsin disburses $18M to lodging operators as hotel occupancy stays low over Thanksgiving 


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