MON AM News: Building plan review backlog prompts search for solutions; WARF licensing director highlights ways to empower female inventors

45– A persistent backlog of commercial building permits at the Department of Safety and Professional Services has prompted the state’s construction industry and agency leadership to explore solutions to the problem.

For the past several years, the number of plans being reviewed by agency staff has slipped, while the time it takes to conduct these reviews has been rising. John Schulze, director of legal and government affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, says members have been raising concerns about the process, which he says “just hasn’t been working.”

He told that blame has been leveled by Republican lawmakers at Secretary Dawn Crim, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Tony Evers in January 2019. But he noted the problem predates her tenure with the agency.

“I give her credit that she’s tried to address it systemically, rather than just throwing overtime at it,” he said.

In a recent interview, Crim said the agency has been working to determine flaws in the plan review process and fix them.

“We’ve identified some process improvements that we’re implementing now,” she said. “I believe they will make a difference for our customers and our staff.”

Under the Walker administration, Schulze explained that the state’s construction industry began to rebound from the economic downturn of 2008. As building proposals began to pile up, he said former Gov. Scott Walker’s office tried to solve the problem with more overtime hours.

The number of plans being reviewed by agency staff had largely increased between 2011 and 2017 before falling again in 2018 and 2019. In 2011, 6,441 plans were reviewed and by 2017, that number had grown to 8,845. But that number fell to 8,103 in 2018 and 7,408 in 2019.

But at the same time, the agency has recently been taking longer to complete reviews, going from 22 days in the first quarter of 2017 to 38 days in the first quarter of 2018, under the previous administration. Under Crim’s tenure, the average review time has fluctuated from 43 days in the first quarter of 2019, down to 35 days in the second quarter, and back up to 46 days in the third quarter.

See more: 

— The licensing director for WARF says highlighting the diversity of innovators in the startup field could empower more female inventors. 

“Mixed-gender inventor teams produce patents with more impact,” Jennifer Gottwald said last week at a luncheon hosted by Madison Women in IP. “Diverse viewpoints can bring together better thoughts and better innovation.”

Between 1977 and 2010, the share of patents with at least one female inventor increased from 2 percent to around 19 percent, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

“If we leave things as they are, it’ll be 2080 before we have at least one woman on half of the patent applications,” Gottwald said. “Ninety-six percent of applications have at least one man named on them, so getting women on 50 percent is a good start. But I’m not going to say that’s parity.” 

The rate of female inventors is lower than female participation in any of the STEM fields, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

Not only that, but the United States is ranked 16th for women’s share of patents in academia, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization. 

“The U.S. economy could be increased by more patents,” Gottwald said. “If we close the patent gender gap, the U.S. GDP would increase by 2.7 percent. Multiply that by what our GDP is — that’s a lot of money.”

The share of international patent applications with women inventors climbed to around 28 percent in 2015, and the number of female inventors in international applications went from 10,000 in 1995 to just over 80,000 in 2015, according to WIPO. 

“Innovation that’s driven to address diverse needs opens up markets and opportunities,” Gottwald said. “If you’re looking at a much larger market, then you should be getting those people in that market involved in innovation.”

Gottwald’s presentation included several calls to action to help diversify inventorship. These included: creating networks of women inventors; proactively identifying women as inventors; making the patenting process more transparent and predictable; as well as highlighting the diversity of innovators and the non-financial benefits of patenting. 

“We’re making sure that when we’re putting on events we have representation from different groups on speaking panels,” Gottwald said. “At WARF, we want all the inventions we can get out of the university, some of them are going to result in important products for humankind and bring money back to support more research at the university.” 

Listen to a recent podcast with Gottwald: 

— The state’s largest business group is knocking Gov. Tony Evers for not mentioning the state’s workforce shortage in his recent State of the State address. 

In a release, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce applauds the governor for his focus on rural Wisconsin but notes his speech and executive order establishing the Blue Ribbon Commission for Rural Prosperity didn’t reference the state’s workforce. WMC has been holding listening sessions and other events throughout the past year to learn more about rural challenges in the state and plans to release a report on its findings in the spring. 

“The biggest problem in rural Wisconsin according to our listening sessions, townhall and economic summit we had in December is workforce,” WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer said. 

Other top rural issues highlighted by WMC include the state’s housing shortage, substance abuse and a lack of broadband access and other services. 

See the release: 

See coverage of Evers’ State of the State speech: 

— UW Health nurses have been rebuffed by the hospital’s board after asking directors to recognize their representation by the Service Employees International Union. 

In a statement, board members say they “cannot engage in collective bargaining negotiations” due to the 2011 Act 10 legislation, and won’t recognize SEIU as the representative for UW Health nurses or negotiate any agreements. Act 10 took effect at UW Health in 2014, and the board stresses that the law hasn’t changed since then. 

The board insists that “the appropriate forum for this debate is not with the UWHCA Board; it is with the Wisconsin Legislature.” 

In their request, UW Health nurses and representatives from SEIU highlighted concerns including low staff-to-patient ratios, an increasing emphasis on corporate profits and “key nursing departments” being removed. 

The board’s response acknowledges “issues related to staffing and internal communications.” 

“We are listening hard to their concerns and share their commitment to quality patient care,” board members said in a statement. “We will be redoubling our efforts to work with our nurses, through our nursing councils to address them.” 

See the release: 

— UW Health began screening patients Friday afternoon for possible exposure to the coronavirus. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed five cases of the disease in the United States. Over 50 people have died from the virus and more than 2,000 Chinese citizens have been infected since the outbreak began in the city of Wuhan. 

UW Health is now asking patients in emergency departments and urgent care about recent travel history and will also evaluate patients for coronavirus symptoms including fever and acute respiratory illness. 

According to a release, travel screening will be expanded to clinics and other patient care areas starting early this week. 

The five U.S. cases were identified in Chicago, Arizona, California and Washington. 

See the release: 


# American Family Insurance boosts its minimum wage by $5

# Powered for growth: How Milwaukee Electric Tool plans to bring 772 more jobs to Brookfield

# Opioid crisis leads Plumb Pharmaceuticals founders to create better addiction treatment

# Wisconsin farmers encouraged to look to the future of their farms



– Wisconsin milk production drops again during December

– State egg production cracks new record


– UW-Whitewater announces potential layoffs, benefit cuts to fill $12M budget hole


– Pabst taproom to be redesigned, inside and out, to become Captain Pabst Pilot House


– Marquette University gifted $6.3 million for nursing program


– GE Healthcare transferring up to 250 jobs from metro Milwaukee to Chicago


– Former employee sues Sherman Phoenix for not paying her


– Milwaukee Tool to build manufacturing facility in West Bend

– Free weddings, West Allis brewery growth and Leinenkugel’s revitalization: Beer Biz MKE


– America’s Black Holocaust Museum receives $1 million donation, sculpture


– Evers calls for special session on ag bills, Vos says not yet


– MLK Economic Development Corp. to develop mixed-use building at city-owned site near Bader Philanthropies HQ


– Baldwin asking FDA commissioner to join ‘dairy labeling’ fight


– American Family CEO explains strategy behind Brewers stadium naming rights deal


– Madison Water Utility reports ‘amazing’ drop in city’s water use

– Dairyland to close coal-fired Genoa plant, lay off 80


– Plain Talk: Don’t let Trump weaken wetland protections


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

WMC: Gov. Evers’ Rural Prosperity Commission must focus on workforce

UW Health: Starts asking travel history questions in response to Coronavirus in Wuhan, China