FRI AM News: WisBusiness: The Podcast features Joe Kirgues, Gener8tor; State unemployment rate in line with national trend

— Medical systems around the state are cutting workers’ hours while at the same time ramping up to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

Those seemingly contradictory actions have raised questions from unions and others.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said yesterday the state did not require hospitals to stop elective procedures. 

“They all assessed where they were, they thought about their surge plans, they worked through those details at the local level, and certainly made decisions based on that,” she told reporters in a DHS briefing. 

But according to the Wisconsin Hospitals Association, hospital operating costs are rising from being on the front lines of the pandemic. That means health entities need to lower expenses to keep the doors open. 

The direction of the U.S. Surgeon General to postpone elective procedures and appointments comes at an underappreciated cost, Mark Grapentine, vice president of communications for WHA, told   

“Our analysis shows that Wisconsin hospitals and health systems are losing at least $150 million in revenue every week,” he said. “Wisconsin hospitals carry about $275 million/week in labor expenses alone, and it’s not easy for hospitals that we count on to be there for us in our greatest times of need, to dial down the expenses of being on the front line 24/7/365.”

Read the full story at

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” is with Joe Kirgues, co-founder of Gener8tor, a platform that connects startup founders, universities and investors through several different programs.

While COVID-19 stifles in-person meetings and events, Gener8tor continues to connect people through an emergency response program with American Family Insurance and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation to put on a series of webinars to assist businesses with navigating coronavirus relief programs. 

Gener8tor’s regular programming such as its gBeta, social impact and accelerator programs have gone virtual. 

“It’s not to say they’ve been going as well as they went before, in part because the venture markets are locking up, the angel markets are locking up,” he said. “We are finding that startups are having a harder time raising capital from the private markets.”

While the current market is impacting everyone’s capacity for investment, there’s hope for startups that can benefit from this digital world. 

“We have seen companies that have had years of growth in just a month,” said Kirgues noting Eatstreet, Brightcellars and Zoom. “It speaks to the importance of having a diversified economy — because that diversity in moments of difficulty can be your resilience.”   

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— In line with the national trend, unemployment insurance applications in Wisconsin have dipped from their peak about three weeks ago but still remain much higher than previous years.

Last week, 56,038 initial unemployment claims were made in Wisconsin, according to the Department of Workforce Development’s website. That’s down from the week of March 22-28, in which 116,129 initial claims were logged by DWD. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s highest number of weekly claims came near the end of 2001, when 49,267 claims were made in a week. 

This week’s numbers are down slightly from the same point last week, with 34,065 applications filed as of Wednesday. 

On the national level, claims peaked near the end of March with nearly 6.9 million applications made in the week of March 22-28. The weekly total has fallen steadily since then, but more than 4.4 million claims were filed last week across the country. That brings  the total for the past five weeks to more than 26 million. 

The state DWD is still bogged down by a “significant backlog” of work caused by the massive increase in applications, according to agency spokesman Tyler Tichenor. 

He explained that if an initial application is filed online with accurate answers and wage data from employers for the past 18 months, benefits can be determined within two to three days of filing the initial claim. But that process is complicated by the current overload and other factors, such as the need for additional follow-up.  

“That adds time to the process since parties must be given a certain amount of time to respond to the department’s request for information before the department can move forward,” Tichenor said in an email. “And, since we do have a significant backlog of work at this time, those additional steps could add several weeks to the timeline.” 

To deal with that increased workload, DWD has reassigned 106 state employees to the Unemployment Insurance Division, 79 of which came from within the agency. Tichenor said DWD is looking to recruit 200 more workers and has requested help from other agencies. 

He also said the agency is in the process of contracting for a general unemployment insurance call center with 600 employees plus another call center that will help with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims. That temporary federal program provides benefits to some individuals who aren’t eligible for regular UI benefits, including those who are self-employed and certain independent contractors. 

Wisconsin counties hit hardest by unemployment claims include Menomonee, Sauk, Trempeleau, Forest and La Crosse, a report from BizTimes Milwaukee shows. These counties had relatively high numbers of claims compared to the average, and their total claims made up a larger share of their total employment than other counties. 

See the latest totals for initial UI claims:

See more in headlines below. 

— The state’s largest business group today is set to propose a formula to determine whether a company could reopen, according to an overview obtained by

That formula from WMC would take into account factors such as local infection rates of COVID-19 and population density.

The proposal also would look at health care capacity and how much people interact in a business to determine when businesses could open and what mitigation factors they would need to take to avoid spreading COVID-19.

The proposal calls for beginning the approach May 4, which is more than three weeks before the Evers administration’s latest stay-at-home order expires.

“Drinking a beer after work with friends at a bar, furthermore, is likely a higher risk than working in a manufacturing facility where there is little interaction with others,” the overview states. “The

risks are different, but they are also manageable. The key is to manage them correctly to ensure

workers and customers are protected. That is the essence of this plan.”

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce declined to comment on what it’s calling the “Back to Business” plan.

The proposal is one of several that’s been floated in the past week as Republicans have called on Gov. Tony Evers to begin reopening the state and sued to prevent enforcement of a new stay-at-home order. 

Evers’ administration last week announced the extension of its stay-at-home order through May 26. The guv then followed up with a three-phase process to reopen the state.

Evers’ process includes benchmarks before moving from one phase to the next that include additional testing capacity and an increased ability to do contact tracing for those infected.

The documents on the WMC plans don’t mention testing capacity or contract tracing.

Read the full story in Thursday’s WisPolitics PM update: 

— The Association of Builders and Contractors is calling for the Legislature to take up a bill to reform commercial plan reviews to ensure construction gets “up and running” as soon as the state’s stay-at-home order is through. 

“This legislation that was introduced at the end of session would allow more commercial plans to not be reviewed by the state, therefore they could be built faster,” said John Schulze, director of legal and government relations at ABC. “This will be the step after the reopening. We are advocating that this be part of any subsequent restart (of) the economy legislation.”

The bill, LRB 5307, would exempt from review certain single-story commercial buildings aside from schools, health care facilities and factories as well as churches, concert venues and other places where people gather. This exemption would require the building to be overseen by a licensed engineer, designer or architect. 

“After the safer at home order ends, there is going to be a real push to get construction done in Wisconsin,” said Schulze, noting that excavation or roofing needs to get done before it gets too cold in the late fall.

Schulze also predicts a push to not only finish projects that were delayed, but to bring manufacturing and storage back to the U.S. because of the uncertainty of having facilities overseas.

In Wisconsin, most commercial building plans are reviewed by the Department of Safety and Professional Services before construction can begin, to which Schulze is concerned that means another backlog when “Safer at Home” is lifted. See a previous story on backlogs with the link below.

The bill, introduced earlier this year by Sens. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, and Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, as well as Reps. Jesse Rodriguez, R-Oak Creek, and Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, would also exempt plumbing plans with fewer than 26 fixtures from the review process if they’re supervised by a licensed master plumber. Under current law, plumbing plans with 15 or fewer fixtures aren’t reviewed by DSPS.

And it would only allow developers to receive 50 percent of their fee back if they withdraw their plan from the queue.

Read a previous story from WisBusiness on the DSPS backlog:

— A recent survey created by Startup Milwaukee and Skills Pipeline highlights the persistent gender disparity among tech workers in Wisconsin’s largest city. 

The Milwaukee Tech Census report got responses from 324 individuals, more than a third of which are software developers or architects. Of that number, nearly 79 percent are male, 20 percent are female and around 1 percent identify as non-binary. 

Report authors say this imbalance could be improved by teaching computer science in every K12 school in the Milwaukee region. And they highlight local organizations such as Lift Up MKE, Women in Technology Wisconsin and WePivot, which support women pursuing technology careers. 

Eighteen percent of the survey respondents are startup founders, while service providers and corporate executives made up other top categories. Other respondents included startup investors, sales staff and data analysts. 

A large portion of these workers work in healthcare technology, followed by IT and infrastructure, analytics and big data, financial tech and insurance. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are expected to see the most growth over the next five years, the survey shows.  

See more survey results: 

— Racine is putting $650,000 into its Small Business Emergency Fund to help more companies survive the COVID-19 crisis. 

According to a release, these funds are in addition to the $250,000 allocated in the first round of funding, which went out in early April. For-profit businesses with 20 employees or less in Racine can apply for up to $6,500 in grant funding in this second round. 

Eighteen companies benefited from the fund the first time around, the release shows. 

“Given that we had more than 100 applicants, we know we needed to do more,” said Racine Mayor Cory Mason. “It is our hope that this additional $650,000 will help more businesses be able to pay their rents and their employees during this very difficult time.” 

See details here: 

— According to DHS Secretary Andrea Palm, even if Wisconsin doesn’t meet every goal in the Badger Bounce Back plan, the state can still move forward in “turning the dial on Safer at Home.”

DHS reported Wisconsin’s lab capacity at 10,937 tests per day. That’s just over 1,000 shy of the 12,000 tests per day or 85,000 tests per week goal, which Palm says is “significant progress.” 

In yesterday’s DHS briefing, Palm told reporters the Evers administration was clear in the order and Badger Bounce Back plan that the trajectory on cases, symptoms and hospital capacity can be balanced to provide flexibility within the order to move forward.  

“If we get there and are still not at 85,000 (tests) a week or at 1,000 contract tracers, for example, we would balance that all together,” she said. “That is not a rate limiting factor as we think about turning the dial on Safer at Home.”

— Wisconsin’s COVID-19 death toll hit 257 with 5,052 confirmed cases, a majority from hotspots identified in six counties. 

Using data located in the coronavirus resources page (linked below), found that Milwaukee County is the largest hot spot in the state, with most of Wisconsin’s cases located there — 2,304 — for a ratio of 241.5 per 100,000 people. 

Brown County, now dubbed a hot spot, was driven by a large number of cases at JBS Packerland meat processing plant in Green Bay. Brown County has 402 positive cases, for a ratio of 154.7 per 100,000 population, the second highest case number for any Wisconsin county. 

Dane County has 386 positive cases — third highest after Milwaukee and Brown — but has a lower rate of infection by population, 72.9 cases per 100,000 people. 

Racine County has 198 positive cases but has a higher rate of infection than Dane County, at 101.3 cases per 100,000 people. 

Waukesha County has 278 cases but a lower ratio, 67.2 per 100,000 people.

And Kenosha County has 278 positive cases with the second highest rate of infection by population, 165.2 per 100,000 people.

No other county has more than 100 cases.

— The state had an increase of 11 deaths and 207 confirmed cases since yesterday’s report. 

Of the state’s confirmed cases, 26 percent were hospitalized, 7 percent received intensive care and 5 percent have died, according to DHS.

DHS’s hospital dashboard reports 349 COVID patients in hospitals statewide, a decrease of six from the previous report’s 355 and below the week’s average of 374 patients.

Counties reporting deaths include Milwaukee (150), Dane (21), Waukesha (14), Racine (10), Ozaukee (9), Walworth (7), Kenosha (6), Rock (4) and Washington (4). 

Fond du Lac, Grant, and Sauk counties report three deaths each.

Brown, Outagamie and Sheboygan counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Bayfield, Buffalo, Clark, Columbia, Dodge, Door, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Marathon, Marinette, Marquette, Richland, Waupaca and Winnebago counties report one death each.

Sixty-five of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have experienced confirmed cases.

Patients over the age of 50 account for about 53 percent of confirmed cases, 79 percent of hospitalizations, 83 percent of intensive care patients and 93 percent of deaths.

Nineteen percent of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus are between the ages of 50-59. This is followed by people 60-69 (16 percent), 40-49 (16 percent) and 30-39 (15 percent).

Seven percent of the people infected by COVID-19 live in a long term care facility and 2 percent live in a group housing facility. Fifty-three percent are unknown.

In Wisconsin, women make up 52 percent of the confirmed cases and account for 42 percent of deaths due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, men make up 48 percent of confirmed cases, but account for 58 percent of deaths.

The African American community makes up 25 percent of the state’s confirmed cases, but account for 33 percent of deaths due to COVID-19. 

Click here for coronavirus resources and information:


# Madison hospitals ramp up procedures again as COVID-19 outbreak levels off

# Survey: Commercial real estate experts now predicting longer disruption period from COVID-19

# As Republicans demand looser restrictions, Wisconsin business lobby pushes new plan to reopen state

# Outbreak Wisconsin: ‘Today, I had my first friend die of COVID’



– Food supply changes caused by COVID-19 bring challenges, opportunities for Wisconsin farmers

– State egg production continues to rise

– Green Bay’s JBS meat plant linked to 147 COVID-19 cases


– Milwaukee building near Cathedral Square to be renovated into boutique hotel


– Wisconsin labs nearing testing capacity needed to reopen

– Here are the Wisconsin counties hardest hit by unemployment claims during coronavirus

– Dr. Stephenson: DMC re-enrollment is not necessarily dead


– Bartolotta investment puts Newaukee’s Beacon closer to May start


– Advocate Aurora taking down overflow triage tents

– State reports more than 400 COVID-19 cases in long-term care, group facilities

– Public health contact tracers, often overlooked, in spotlight with COVID-19

– The Latest: Madison hospitals ramp up procedures


– Pandemic fallout: Medical College of Wisconsin furloughs 700 employees, cuts compensation


– Quad/Graphics CEO Joel Quadracci offers inside look at firm’s ‘Safe at Work’ plan


– Reduced spending will mean budget crunch for Wisconsin counties


– Communities build their own financial relief funds for small business


– Ten area golf courses aim to drive business with new membership program


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

Medical College of Wisconsin: Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences partners with St. Norbert College

Marshfield Clinic Health System: Join a new healthcare worker research community