THU AM News: LAB says Foxconn should only get tax credits for work inside the state; Wisconsin’s nine ethanol producers to get up to $3.25M from state

— The Legislative Audit Bureau is again recommending WEDC make changes to how it determines job tax credits for Foxconn to ensure the agency is complying with the law.

The audit, released yesterday, recommends WEDC change written procedure to explicitly require the awarding of credits to the company only for wages paid to employees for services performed in the state. It also wants changes to written policies to ensure WEDC is awarding credits for the wages paid to all employees for services performed in Wisconsin, regardless of where they live.

According to the audit, the company wouldn’t receive credits for wages paid to an employee who lives in Indiana but travels to Wisconsin to work in the Electronics and Information Technology Manufacturing Zone Program, which was created for the company. The audit says that doesn’t comply with the law.

To date, WEDC hasn’t awarded any credits for Foxconn, which fell short of the minimum number of jobs created during the first year of its deal with the state to qualify. The Tawainese company also wasn’t awarded any credits in the second year because the Evers administration contends the manufacturer isn’t living up to the parameters of the original contract.

The audit is the second time LAB has recommended WEDC change written policies to comply with the law regarding the project.

WEDC CEO Missy Hughes wrote in response to the audit that the “WEDC will continue to pursue practical remedies for these matters which may occur via contract amendment and/or changes and modifications to WEDC procedures.”

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— The final report of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change is calling for a reduction of carbon emissions from utilities.

The report calls for a net reduction of at least 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and 100 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

In all, the report lists 46 top-tier recommendations from the task force.

Others include the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice to design climate policies that reduce emissions and address impacts within communities of color and low-income areas.

It also calls for increasing investment in Focus on Energy. A similar proposal was included in the PSC’s budget request. The program funds energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through a requirement that investor-owned utilities put 1.2 percent of operating revenues toward the effort. The proposal would double that to 2.4 percent of operating revenues, an addition of $100 million.

Other proposals include supporting the low-cost debt refinancing of clean energy projects and the state leading by example through reducing its own emissions.

The report also includes what it calls “tier 2” policy options that were discussed during the process, but drew concern from some task force members.

Those items included avoiding new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state and divesting the state from fossil fuel stocks and other interests. The latter proposal would apply to both the State of Wisconsin Investment Board and the UW System Foundation.

See the release: 

— The environmental advocacy group Wisconsin Conservation Voters hailed the report and demanded swift action on its recommendations.

WCV Executive Director Kerry Schumann, who sat on the task force, called it heartening to see the plan, put forth by 14 months of study and public input.

“We heard over and over at all of the public hearings that people want to see the state move as quickly as possible to 100 percent clean energy and significantly reduced carbon emissions,” she said. “And they want to ensure the transition is done in a just, equitable way.”

And Doug Rebout, with Wisconsin Corn Growers, said he too was pleased with the report. Rebout also sat on the task force.

“There are some good things coming out of there, good education recommendations, things that will help farmers,” he said. “We’re doing a good job with what we’re doing, but there’s always room to improve.”

Rebout said fellow farmers have so far all been on board with the task force’s recommendations, such as creating a farm carbon storage incentive program through DATCP and allocating funds for a statewide grazing program. But he added that as the report only came out yesterday, many people have yet to read it and establish an opinion.

He said he felt confident at least some of the provisions would make it through the GOP-controlled Legislature in the coming session, though with the 2021-23 biennial budget looming “you can never guarantee” what will happen.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce spokesman Nick Novak declined to comment on the report, saying his organization had yet to finish analyzing its findings. But he did note that overall emissions in Wisconsin and the United States have been on the decline in recent years.

“And that hasn’t been due to government mandates or restrictions on businesses,” he said.

See the WCV release: 

See the task force report: 

— Wisconsin will be making up to $3.25 million of federal CARES Act dollars available to Wisconsin’s nine ethanol producers. 

The support aims to help offset some of the significant losses experienced by the industry earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, Evers announced yesterday.

“Ethanol production is extremely important to a number of supply chains in our state and will be especially critical as we finalize and implement our vaccine distribution plans,” he said. “I’m proud to support our state’s ethanol producers and continue our commitment to innovation in biofuels.”

In addition to producing a renewable source of fuel, ethanol plants in Wisconsin help drive demand for high-value corn crops, which provide the raw material for ethanol production. Additionally, carbon dioxide, one of the byproducts of ethanol production, is a critical component of food and beverage packaging and the creation of dry ice.

Erik Huschitt, president of the Wisconsin BioFuels Association, said Wisconsin’s ethanol producers commend the governor for his leadership and support for state farmers and the industry.

“We are proud of the ways our state’s ethanol plants have adapted in order to keep running during COVID-19,” he added. “These grants will be extremely helpful as we continue our important work.”

— The newly approved enterprise zone for Molson Coors will move 377 new jobs to Milwaukee and retain 1,290 jobs in Wisconsin for at least the next eight years, the state recently announced. 

In addition to the new jobs, which will have an average hourly wage of roughly $57 an hour, the company expects to invest $2.8 million to expand its Milwaukee Brewery campus in downtown Milwaukee.

“We have been brewing our iconic beers here for 165 years, and today our future looks brighter than ever,” said Gavin Hattersley, CEO of Molson Coors.

Evers and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. said the company’s Milwaukee expansion project will be eligible for up to $25 million in performance-based tax credits over the next eight years if the company meets hiring and capital expenditure targets.

The WEDC Board approved the plan on Nov. 17. Under state law, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has 14 days to review the creation of a new enterprise zone or it will automatically take effect. The review period ended Tuesday.

WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes said Molson Coors’ decision to move forward with this project during these challenging times is a testament to Wisconsin’s “can-do” spirit and reinforces the state as a national leader in the food and beverage industry, home to the nation’s top breweries.

WEDC has 24 other active enterprise zone designations throughout the state, which are expected to result in over $3.9 billion in capital investment, the retention of over 28,700 jobs and the creation of over 20,200 new jobs.

— Fond du Lac-based C.D. Smith Construction, Inc. is building a carbon-negative facility that turns corn stover biomass — leaves, stalks and husks — into CornBoard, a pressed board product used to make pallets.

The facility, to be located in Iowa, is for a Texas-based company called Corn Board Manufacturing Inc. 

“The leading-edge nature of this project appeals to us,” C.D. Smith President and CEO Justin Smith said. “Our involvement speaks to our desire to be on the forefront of innovation and an industry leader in environmentally sustainable construction. We’re excited to be part of this transformational effort.”

The construction company likens cornfields to a renewable forest. Corn stover is available after harvest each year. If 20 percent of the available corn stover in Iowa was pressed into 4-by-8-foot boards that were one-half inch thick, it would cover over 251,000 football fields or over 332,000 acres, according to C.D. Smith.

C.D. Smith spokeswoman Mercedes Tucker said Corn Board Manufacturing’s plan is to expand this model to other rural communities across the Midwest, including Wisconsin. However, she said she doesn’t have details on those plans at this time. 

“As demand grows for a green alternative to pressed wood products, so will the opportunity to bring manufacturing plants like this one to rural communities across the Midwest,” she said.

— The Department of Health Services has recently launched “Be an InFLUencer,” a more than $197,000 campaign to help promote flu vaccination within Wisconsin’s communities of color.

A record 42 percent of Wisconsinites got a flu shot last year. But the vaccination rates were much lower among communities of color, such as Blacks (26 percent), Hispanics (30 percent), American Indians / Alaska Natives (27 percent), and Asians (32 percent).

Consequently, communities of color have the highest rates of the flu, said DHS Secretary Andrea Palm. She attributed the statistics to historical barriers in Wisconsin, including a lack of trust in the health care system.

Dr. Kevin Izard, a physician at Paladina Health in Milwaukee who is featured in the $197,123 campaign, said past experiments done on people of color, limited access to resources and care, and cost of care add to the suspicions communities of color have of the health care system.

“As our agency focuses on improving health equity, we must actively work to address these barriers and help all of our residents know how important the flu vaccine is to protect them and their communities from serious illness,” Palm said.

This education and awareness campaign, funded through a CDC grant, includes several social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, as well as broadcast and digital radio ads, including ads in Spanish. 

The flu is most active between November and April. Last year, Wisconsin reported almost 36,200 cases resulting in 183 deaths, including three children.

“It is not too late to get the flu shot to protect yourself and everyone around you from serious illness,” said DHS Influenza Surveillance Coordinator Tom Haupt.

See the campaign webpage: 

See the Vaccine Finder: 

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— Two UW-Madison teams, out of 400 applications, have taken top honors and $10,000 for the 2020 WARF Innovation Award.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation awarded Prof. Jenny Gumperz and scientist Dana Baiu for their work, “Killer Combination: Multicell Conjugates for Activating Antigen-Specific T Cell Responses.” 

By combining two kinds of cells found in the body, their technology could open up a new approach to treating cancer, one that is faster and more specific than current methods. The duo hails from the Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology.

The other winning team is biomedical engineering Prof. Randolph Ashton, post-doctorates Gavin Knight and Nisha Iyer, and undergraduate Benjamin Knudsen. Their work, “Superior Neural Tissue Models for Disease Modeling, Drug Development and More,” involves stem cell-derived models of human tissue. 

This technology provides a step toward bioengineering brain and spinal cord organoids (simplified organs) with applications such as toxicology screening. 

See Killer Combination: 

See Superior Neural Tissue Models:

See the other four finalists: 

— The Madison Region Economic Partnership Board announced outgoing state Rep. Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee, as its new president and CEO.

Fields will succeed Paul Jadin.

See the release: 


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