THU AM News: WEDC staff ‘working through the process’ of determining essential businesses; Unemployment claims soaring

— WEDC chief Missy Hughes says agency staff are “working through the process” of determining which businesses are essential after a spike in related web traffic contributed to the agency’s site crashing. 

“This is a hard conversation,” she said yesterday during a webinar viewed by business leaders. “Everybody wants to be essential, and everybody is essential.”

After the order was announced, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. website received an “extraordinary spike” in traffic and crashed for several hours. WEDC spokesman David Callender said nearly 2,000 information requests about essential business status have been received by the site, and noted agency staff are “swamped” by the workload.

“I’m going to say honestly that the turnaround time right now is rough, because we have gotten a number of inquiries,” Hughes said.

On a typical day, Callender said the WEDC site logs around 1,000 sessions, each of which can include multiple page views and interactions. Callender said Tuesday’s session number “may have cleared 100,000 by the end of the day.” The agency is asking businesses that find they are essential not to reach out for confirmation.

Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order includes a long list detailing which businesses qualify as essential and which must close down until April 24, when the order expires.

In yesterday’s call, Hughes acknowledged the order “came fast and furious yesterday.” She said the agency based the list of essential businesses on a model developed in Ohio, focusing on critical companies that “need to stay standing” for the economy to keep working.

She encouraged any businesses to “take the time to read the order” if their status is uncertain.

“It is a rare instance where someone who can’t find themselves in that list of businesses in the order is going to be deemed as essential,” she said.

See more: 

— Jobless claims are soaring since Gov. Tony Evers issued a public health emergency related to the coronavirus outbreak on March 12.

Since March 12, more than 120,000 unemployment insurance claims have been made with the state, according to preliminary figures from the Department of Workforce Development. About 9,500 unemployment insurance claims were made during the same time frame in 2019. 

“This is not unexpected given the shutdown of the economy,” said Steven Deller, professor of agricultural and applied economics at UW-Madison. “How long this lasts is anyone’s guess.”

He noted the challenge is that the unemployment system is not set up to handle this spike as it overwhelms the computer system, an issue that organizations like the WEDC have already experienced.

A large class of workers can’t afford a short-term financial hit, and the number of people living paycheck to paycheck is “alarmingly high,” according to Deller. He predicts frustration and delays in getting those initial unemployment benefit checks to people.

“A key will be the willingness of landlords, banks, credit card companies to ‘forgive’ missed payments with the understanding that the amounts are still owed but a grace period offered to make the payments,” said Deller. “The federal stimulus will provide some short-term relief, but it will take time for the relief to get into the hands of the people that need it.”

Dan Olszewski, director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at UW-Madison, acknowledged that these numbers “are some of the worst we have ever seen in such a short period of time.” Still, he noted certain sectors are hiring fast to better respond to the crisis. 

“If you are involved in food distribution, online retail or production of medical devices you need to hire significant numbers to meet the new demand,” he said. “For the good of the economy and the fight against COVID-19 it is important that we fill those jobs very quickly.”

See the latest claims figures: 

— Public health officials have announced Dane County’s first death from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to six in Wisconsin. 

As of yesterday afternoon, 585 have tested positive in 33 counties, according to the Department of Health Services’ website. The agency did not hold a telephone briefing yesterday. 

Milwaukee, Dane, Ozaukee and Fond du Lac counties have experienced deaths from COVID-19. And Milwaukee, Dane and Waukesha counties have the most positive test results with 290, 88 and 42 respectively. 

Wisconsin has reported 10,089 people have tested negative. 

Click here for links to coronavirus resources: 

— Wisconsin Hospital Association President Eric Borgerding says health care providers in the state are facing serious shortages of testing materials and protective equipment needed for front-line health workers. 

In a call with business leaders hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, he said “we’re still very low on most things,” but noted the state is starting to get equipment deliveries from the federal emergency stockpile. Still, he said that process has been slow so far. 

“A lot of these materials are going to states where they really are under siege right now,” he said, describing the situation as “understandable but frustrating.” 

At the moment, he said WHA is focused on preparation and collaboration with emergency response units. The current goal is to improve the “surge capacity” at hospitals and health systems, so they can handle escalating cases of the virus. 

At the same time, he said hospitals in Wisconsin are developing their own testing capacity to augment the state laboratories, which he said were “quickly overwhelmed.” 

“We have got to get a sense not only of what is the rate of pace of spread in Wisconsin, but what is the effect of some of the mitigating steps that have been taken,” Borgerding said. 

He noted the “biggest problem” for hospitals is a lack of supplies for collecting and processing tests for COVID-19. 

“We continue to have a very frustrating limit and supply of both of those materials, and that is causing a slowdown in testing in Wisconsin,” he said. 

Listen to the call here: 

— Eric Ness, the state’s district director for the Small Business Association, says payments for disaster loans are being deferred until the end of the year. 

In a webinar with business leaders, Ness noted many businesses in the state affected by floods in recent years have taken out disaster loans. He also said any recipients of SBA microloans should contact their lender about potential deferment of payments. 

Also, he noted deferments are being extended for long-term loans provided through the SBA’s economic injury disaster loan program. The program started with payments being deferred for four months, and that’s now been increased to 12 months. 

Ness explained these loans are meant to serve as working capital to help keep small businesses open during difficult times. That includes making debt payments, payroll, accounts payable and “any bills that cannot be paid because of this disaster,” he said. 

Meanwhile, SBA Wisconsin will be hosting daily webinars on loan programs for small businesses. 

See more loan details here: 

— Eleven experts from the Madison region came together to give practical advice to entrepreneurs in a webinar version of WARF’s “Entrepreneurons” event series. 

The webinar speakers provided updates on coronavirus relief grants and loan programs, and how to pursue them.

“Consider applying for the Small Business Administration program and get involved as quickly as you can,” said Joe Kirgues, co-founder of Gener8tor. Gener8tor is already having one-on-one meetings with startups and small businesses applying for programs such as federal disaster loans and WEDC’s Small Business 20/20 . 

He added that civic and state programs should be top of mind for startup and small business owners. He said to watch groups such as the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, Kiva and local banks for loan opportunities.

“A loan is not a grant, but it keeps business going,” said Kirgues. 

As far as preparing to apply for relief programs, Andy Richards, director of Discovery to Product at UW-Madison, says to have thorough documentation. 

“We don’t know what a lot of these programs are — (so) keep track of your expenses, where your revenue is, your employees, etcetera,” he said. “It’s likely that with programs, you’ll have to document what you’re doing.”

Kirgues echoed Richards to carefully document business activity as he is already anticipating a “large change of plans” with federally mandated requirements in the next few days. 

The series was produced by WARF, D2P, the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, the Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic and the Office of Business Engagement with assistance from

Watch the webinar here: 

See the list of resources mentioned in the webinar here:  

— The Small Business Administration’s website went down as a result of the “sheer volume” of calls that were coming in for the SBA Disaster Loan program. 

“I don’t have a sightline as to when that’s going to be stable again,” said Anne Inman, consultant at the Small Business Development Center, said late yesterday afternoon.

As a solution to reduce overloading the website, Inman recommends having information ready, logging in during “off hours” and just being patient. 

“Everyone is working as quickly and as fast as they can to make that available,” she said.

— AG Josh Kaul and 15 attorneys general are urging President Trump to order the manufacture of masks, respirators and healthcare supplies under the Defense Production Act.

The AGs’ letter highlights that states “are on the brink of catastrophic consequences” related to the COVID-19 pandemic if the current supply shortage continues.

“Medical professionals and first responders need resources now,” Kaul said. “The president must act without further delay and use his broad power to address the ongoing shortages in critical supplies.”

The Defense Production Act is a federal law that, among other things, gives the president wartime mobilization power requiring private industry to manufacture products needed for national security.

See the letter:

— The Milwaukee Rotary Club has released a video of a virtual meeting about the importance of “severe” measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The program video can be found here:  

— has updated its coronavirus resource page with a timeline of events during the outbreak and response.

Check it out:


# Coronavirus pandemic underscores need for more doctors, nurses in Wisconsin

# Local organizations form “Maskforce” to provide nurses, doctors with personal protective equipment

# Can I still sell my house? Order take-out? Vote? What’s considered ‘essential’ by Gov. Tony Evers?

# Sendik’s Food Market among grocers installing partitions at checkout lanes



– Governor’s ‘Safer at Home’ order exempts farms, ag businesses


– With key government offices closed, Milwaukee crafting methods to prevent disruption of construction projects


– Move fast and help people: How area companies are changing their operations to fight the coronavirus

– What’s an ‘essential business’? In Wisconsin, many workplaces qualify

– Some services for elderly, most at risk for COVID-19, continue in Madison


– PDPW webinar to focus on spring weather outlook


– Amid new death warning, Evers clamps down on businesses

– Hospitalization demand in Wisconsin could exceed capacity in 3-5 weeks

– Here’s what Wisconsin health departments consider before releasing details on confirmed COVID-19 cases

– Health officials report first Dane County COVID-19 death–death/article_e0afa877-3baf-5018-9148-2f51ca29c46e.html


– Walmart looking to hire more employees in Wisconsin


– Disinfectant wipe manufacturer to move from Saukville to Milwaukee

– Guy & O’Neil acquires Minnesota-based manufacturer


– FarmFirst Dairy urges Congress to help dairy farmers

– Wisconsin Legislature not ready to come back for virus


– Coronavirus effects felt in all aspects of real estate


– Wisconsin businesses flood state seeking clarity on ‘essential’ services under Evers order


– Menards, Walmart among 16 retailers to receive DATCP price-gouging letters


– Milwaukee sees 25 events canceled and 41 postponed, resulting in millions in lost spending


– Virus outbreak halts damaged Wisconsin refinery rebuilding


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

WBA: Banks essential under Gov. Evers’ orders

BBB Tip: How to support small businesses during coronavirus