FRI AM News: Wisconsin banks backing call for more flexibility in ag lending; WisBusiness: The Podcast with Nick Higbee, bb7

— The Wisconsin Bankers Association is backing an effort from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin to give financial institutions more flexibility in lending to farmers. 

Baldwin and Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota urged financial regulators in a recent letter to relax certain regulations that limit loans to agricultural businesses. 

“The letter encourages regulators to listen to the judgement of local bankers who obviously know their customers well, and know the cycles well and have a lot of experience with it,” said WBA President Rose Oswald Poels in a recent interview. “Providing greater deference to bankers is always a positive.” 

Oswald Poels told that WBA discussed the issue with Baldwin’s office before the letter was sent. She noted many banks in Wisconsin and the Midwest work with ag customers, arguing that enforcing an “arbitrary concentration limit” for ag loans in their portfolios needlessly punishes these businesses. 

“The agriculture industry is very important to the state of Wisconsin,” she said, noting her support for “anything that can be done to remind regulators that bankers have a lot of expertise in this area.” 

A map provided by WBA shows that most of the country’s banks serving farmers are clustered in the Midwest, with the largest concentration in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas. According to Oswald Poels, the changes Baldwin is proposing would impact those states more, but Wisconsin has its fair share of banks with mostly ag customers.

See more: 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Nick Higbee, director of industrial design and user research at bb7.

Started in 2000, bb7 is a product development, design and engineering consulting firm. In this week’s interview, he discusses innovation in products for the growing elderly population.

“If we think of all of the baby boomers and older folks that are aging, that represents both a huge challenge and also a huge market for our clients,” Higbee said. 

One of those products is a bracelet that bb7 designed for a company called Accutech that helps caretakers keep tabs on the location of elderly patients. The device is meant to be a more subtle replacement for the previous style, which he says looked like the patient was “on house arrest.”

Higbee explains the steps bb7 needed to take to develop the bracelet including user research, engineering and design.  

Listen to the podcast here: 

See a full list of podcasts, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— Fourteen people are now being tested for COVID-19 in Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Health Services website. 

The state still has only one confirmed case of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and that individual has fully recovered. Twenty-four other people have tested negative. 

State health officials recently announced the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at UW-Madison is now conducting tests for the COVID-19 virus. According to a release, Milwaukee’s health department lab can also perform the test. 

Any positive test results identified by Milwaukee or the state are sent to the CDC for confirmation. 

See the DHS outbreaks page: 

See the release: 

— Nearly 80 percent of Wisconsin banks were more profitable last year than in 2018, according to a release from the state Department of Financial Institutions. 

Over 98 percent of state-chartered banks were profitable in 2019, while 78 percent had higher earnings than the previous year. 

“The stability of outstanding loans was the most significant factor in the strong growth in net income,” said DFI Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld. “Overall, Wisconsin’s state-chartered banks are financially stable with a positive outlook.”

A table from DFI shows the number of Wisconsin banks has decreased in recent years from 166 in 2016 to 146 in 2019. 

Total assets for these banks were $56.3 billion at the end of last year. Their net income increased 3.6 percent over the year, exceeding $644.7 million. 

See more on Wisconsin banks’ 2019 performance: 

— Wisconsin gained under 3,000 jobs in the private sector between September 2018 and September 2019, according to the latest federal employment figures.

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages shows Wisconsin had more than 2.5 million private-sector workers at the end of September with about 0.1 percent growth over the year.

Over the previous 12-month period — September 2017 to September 2018 — Wisconsin gained more than 20,000 jobs for a 0.8 percent growth rate.

Several Midwest states fared better than Wisconsin during the more recent period, though Iowa lost around 300 jobs and Illinois lost nearly 9,000 jobs. Michigan gained 4,700 jobs with a 0.1 percent growth rate, Minnesota gained nearly 9,200 jobs for a 0.4 percent growth rate, and Indiana gained 9,300 jobs for 0.3 percent growth.

But Wisconsin experienced 3.3 percent growth in private-sector wages during that time frame, a release from the state Department of Workforce Development shows. Education and health services jobs saw a 4.8 percent increase in wages, while construction wages rose 4.7 percent and manufacturing wages increased 2.3 percent.

See the latest numbers:

— Madison and Milwaukee have been named two of the top 10 Midwest cities for women in STEM careers in a recent report from CommercialCafe. 

Across the country, women make up around half of the country’s college-educated workforce, but they hold just 28 percent of science and engineering jobs. The areas with the highest level of representation for women in STEM are largely clustered in the western and southern United States. 

In the Midwest region, Madison was ranked 8th and Milwaukee was 9th. The top Midwest city for women in STEM was Detroit, which experienced a 19 percent increase in the share of women working in STEM since 2014. 

Madison was recognized for having the lowest regional unemployment rate for women, at 2 percent. The STEM sector covers 13 percent of local Madison jobs, and women make up 31 percent of that sector. Plus, Madison had the highest Midwest rate of working women with health care coverage, at 74 percent. 

Meanwhile, the report notes that 55 percent of local management jobs in Milwaukee are held by women. Other bright spots for Milwaukee include housing affordability and educational achievement. 

Median earnings for Madison women working in STEM is just under $50,000, while Milwaukee’s median pay for female STEM workers is around $56,000. Over the past five years, median earnings in this space increased 8 percent in Madison and 22 percent in Milwaukee. 

See the full report: 

— A Madison startup called Fiveable was one of the winner’s of this year’s SoGal Global Pitch Competition Finals, and walked away with $25,000 in prize money. 

The recent event, held in San Francisco, was focused on elevating female founders and other diverse entrepreneurs. More than 1,700 startups from around the world participated in this year’s competition. 

See event details:

See a recent story on the company: 


# Supporting pillows and boosting gelato: Rural entrepreneurs get free legal help from UW Law School

# State crop values fell by 10 percent in 2019

# Miller brewery restarts production, works toward full operation

# Briggs & Stratton plans new battery plant in Georgia



– Jersey Spring Spectacular to be held in May

– February Class III milk price dips to $17.00


– Contractor Miron moving local office to downtown Milwaukee

– Miron moving office from Wauwatosa to downtown Milwaukee


– Wisconsin cheese production starts the new year lower


– As spring river flooding nears, Wisconsin communities deal with high groundwater


– Milwaukee Brewing Co. launches new venture with Boston hard seltzer producer


– Milwaukee-area companies limit corporate travel amid spread of coronavirus

– Public health emergency not needed ‘at this time’ for COVID-19 coronavirus, state says


– Everbrite closing South Milwaukee facility


– Helwig Carbon Products acquires J. Ream Manufacturing product line

– Molson Coors resumes operations at Milwaukee brewery

– Molson Coors: Brewery operations restarting intentionally slow

– Brewery shooting survivors fund exceeds $1M


– Milwaukee sports-talk station among media outlets courting Packers fan favorite John Kuhn


– Some Wisconsin counties struggling to recruit census workers


– 5Wise Workshop on National among projects putting new spin on real estate development


– Madison task force looking for public input to help decide future of city golf courses


– The Hop, New Berlin beer distributor to host streetcar-themed pub crawl in April

– Federal grant will help create bypass route for freight trains through Milwaukee


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

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Rebate Bus: Announces new software release

Old National Bancorp: To present at the 2020 RBC capital markets financial institutions conference