WED AM News: Music education supplier faces continued slowdown, uncertainty around school openings; Fiserv Inc. powers “Alexa, pay for gas”

— A Wauwatosa-based supplier of music education resources is facing a sales slowdown as educators grapple with how to teach music during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When schools closed in the spring, Plank Road Publishing saw a significant decline in sales, according to owner Teresa Jennings. Although business has picked up again in more recent months, she says “it continues to be very hand-to-mouth.” 

In a recent interview, she said the uncertainty surrounding this school year and whether  students will be instructed in-person has been a drag on her company. 

“Most of the music we produce is for classroom and performance purposes,” she told “If there are no programs, concerts, performances or gatherings, the need for our resources is diminished.” 

Plus, health experts have identified singing and playing certain instruments as risk factors for the spread of the virus. As for singing while wearing a mask — “it’s not exactly practical… nor is it even necessarily safe to try,” Jennings said. 

Her experience is one of many Wisconsin business stories emerging from the pandemic, and a recent survey offered a way for those stories to be told. See more on the survey results in an earlier story below. 

In a typical year, late summer signals the start of the busy season for Plank Road Publishing as school music programs begin purchasing and planning for fall and winter concerts. The business creates and publishes music resources for elementary and middle schools, with most customers being music teachers. 

“The revenue from August to November is usually large enough to get us through lighter months. Not the case this year. At least not yet,” she said. 

Read the full story at 

— Beginning this week, consumers with Alexa-enabled vehicles, devices or the smartphone app can ask Alexa to pay for gas when they fuel up at an Exxon or Mobil station, Fiserv Inc. announced yesterday.

Fiserv’s digital commerce technology powers the geo-location at Exxon and Mobil stations as well as pump activation, payment processing and payment data protection.

“Changing consumer expectations and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are accelerating demand for contactless payment interactions that span digital and physical worlds,” said Devin McGranahan, senior group president, Global Business Solutions at Fiserv. “The age of omnicommerce is here, and voice-activated smart devices are playing a pivotal role in enabling people to make purchases with speed, ease and convenience.”

When customers say, “Alexa, pay for gas,” Alexa will confirm the station location, pump number and then activate the pump. The customer can then select the fuel grade on the pump and begin fueling. The payment is completed automatically after fueling. The payments are made digitally via Amazon Pay through the payment method associated with the customer’s Amazon account.

— Waterloo-based BCycle, a traditional bike and e-bike sharing system, found a national bike boom from 2019 to 2020 as ridership increased in cities it serves.

Some of the key markets where BCycle and parent Trek Bicycle saw the increases:  Madison, which had a 20 percent increase over last year in bike riding; Des Moines, a 29 percent increase; San Antonio, a 75 percent increase; and Las Vegas, a 186 percent increase. 

Madison BCycle recently released a comprehensive annual report revealing that e-bikes were driving ridership in 2019 and 2020. The report also showed that about 50 percent of the time, e-bikes were replacing driving or carpooling for 75 percent of BCycle members that own a car. 

Now during a pandemic, when social distancing is the new normal, BCycle reports that the trend is growing nationwide as people look for alternative ways of travel in place of public transportation.

“At the beginning of 2020, we never could have predicted our current situation and the massive demand we’re seeing within our bike sharing network across the nation,” said Morgan Ramaker, BCycle executive director. “The bike boom is real for personally owned bicycles as well as bike sharing, with no signs of slowing down.”

Trek Bikes launched #GoByBike in May 2020, encouraging people to choose to ride a bike at least one trip a week, replacing other modes of transportation, for the health of the planet and people. 

“BCycle’s mission has always been to change the world by getting more people on bikes, and we’re embracing the momentum and cultural shift as consumers seek out bike riding for essential transportation as well as for mental and physical health benefits,” Ramaker said.

— Nicole Rakobitsch will head a new centralized sustainability department for Organic Valley, the nation’s largest farmer-owned dairy cooperative. 

Rakobitsch lives and works on her wind- and solar-powered Wisconsin homestead. In this new role, she will develop climate-smart farming programs and move Organic Valley into a more sustainable future through targeted work on-farm and throughout the co-op.

Rakobitsch has championed projects such as a unique life cycle assessment, which tracks the impact of emissions on Organic Valley farms, providing a glimpse into the environmental impact of and solutions for farmers. Projects like the LCA will inform regional climate-smart farming plans and improve how Organic Valley approaches sustainability and climate change. 

“In 2019, CROPP reached its ambitious goal to be powered with 100 percent renewable electricity in our owned facilities. As an organic farming cooperative rooted in environmental stewardship and continuous improvement, we recognized that we could not stop there,” Rakobitsch said. “Having one unified voice for sustainability will ensure we accurately track our impact and focus our energy where we can do the most good.” 

— Modine Manufacturing Company of Racine will upgrade HVAC technologies for the company’s major school projects to ensure high-quality indoor air quality for students returning to in-person classes. 

Modine has partnered with Global Plasma Solutions to deploy an auto-cleaning, needlepoint bipolar ionization — technology that combats airborne pathogens and particles for a healthier classroom. 

“Indoor air quality is a critical subject as schools reopen this fall and students return to their classrooms,” said Kimberly Raduenz, spokesperson for Modine. “Modine is committed to providing the best commercial HVAC solutions, and with this technology we’re offering educational facilities managers a crucial tool in the ongoing effort to keep students safe.”

Currently, it can be installed in existing Modine school products. A factory installed option will be available soon, according to the release.

— Gov. Tony Evers announced Kenosha businesses damaged in unrest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake would be eligible for up to $20,000 in loans to help cover repairs.

Evers said up to $1 million in loans will be handed out through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s Disaster Recovery Microloan program.

WEDC spokesman David Callender told the loans will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until the $1 million is used up. He said the Kenosha loans operate like disaster relief loans have in the past, with the money going to small business applicants based on eligible expenses.

Evers in a press release said the money is a “first step” toward rebuilding the city and healing divisions.

“The people, businesses, and community of Kenosha are hurting, but they are strong and we are looking to move forward united,” he said. “We are prepared to be right there with them every step of the way as we rebuild the physical damage and address the critical issues of equity and justice in our communities and state.”

WEDC will partner with the Kenosha Area Business Alliance to help administer the loans, according to the release.

Each loan has a two-year repayment period after an initial six-month deferment upon receiving the loan.

See the release:

See the program’s eligibility requirements:

— For the seventh consecutive year, WEDC earned national recognition for outstanding financial reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada.

WEDC received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence from GFOA for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year 2019. 

The certificate is the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting, and its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management, according to the organization.

“Transparency and accountability are core values of WEDC, and this certificate is recognition of WEDC’s ongoing commitment to provide the public with thorough and accurate information about our operations,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC.

GFOA said WEDC’s financial report “has been judged by an impartial panel to meet the high standards of the program, including demonstrating a constructive ‘spirit of full disclosure’ to clearly communicate its financial story.”

See the release: 

See WEDC’s 2019 financial report: 

— Wisconsin reported 981 new COVID-19 cases yesterday — the most in one day in over two weeks — and eight deaths.

The seven-day average of daily confirmed cases rose slightly from 678 to 727 and the seven-day average for percent positive tests rose to 8.5 percent from 8.2 percent after the state received 11,844 tests.

The new cases bring the cumulative case count to 76,584, with 67,902 recovered. Meanwhile, 1.5 percent of patients have died with the death toll now at 1,130.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (493), Racine (90), Waukesha (75), Kenosha (63), Brown (58), Dane (40), Washington (29), Walworth (28), Rock (26), Winnebago (21), Outagamie (19), Ozaukee (18), Grant (17), Waupaca (17), Marathon (14), Fond du Lac (9), Sheboygan (9), Clark (8), St. Croix (7), Eau Claire (6), Jefferson (6), Marinette (6), Dodge (5), Pierce (5), Forest (4) and Richland (4).

Adams, Barron, Door, Sauk, Taylor and Wood counties report three deaths each. Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Columbia, Kewaunee, Langlade, Manitowoc, Monroe, Oconto, Polk, Trempealeau and Waushara counties report two deaths each.

Ashland, Bayfield, Green, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Lincoln, Marquette, Portage and Rusk counties report one death each.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 

— COVID-19 hospitalizations number 290, down 47 from last week, but still above early July lows of around 240 patients, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s coronavirus data dashboard. 

COVID-19 ICU patients number 96, which is 25 fewer patients than last week and eight fewer than Monday.

About 57 percent of Wisconsin’s total COVID-19 patients — 166 — are in southeastern Wisconsin. The association also reports 34 or fewer patients in each of the six other public health regions of the state.

Health care workers continue to account for about 8 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases at 6,218, after adding 377 more cases in the past seven days, according to DHS.

Meanwhile, the WHA data show that one hospital has a seven-day or less supply of goggles, one has limited N95 masks, three have a limited supply of gowns, and one hospital has limited paper medical masks, unchanged from last week.

See the WHA hospital dashboard here: 

— U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher was one of four bipartisan lawmakers to urge House and Senate leadership to put forward a proposal to lower prescription drug prices.

In a letter signed by Gallagher and U.S. Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., and Harley Rouda, D-Calif., the lawmakers laid out a plan that combines the elements from legislation passed by the Dem-led House and the GOP-led Senate Finance Committee to reduce the costs of prescription medication.

“With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic creating both health impacts and economic disruptions for millions of Americans, the time is right to work together on legislation that incorporates common provisions from both the House and Senate drug pricing proposals to bring real relief to Americans struggling with prescription costs,” they wrote. 

Five agreements between the two bills include: capping out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries, mandating documentation and explanation from manufacturers justifying abnormal price spikes, reforming intellectual property regulations for pharmaceuticals, making pharmacy benefit managers’ roles more transparent, and standardizing quality metrics for Medicare Part D.

The bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee has the endorsement of the White House.

Read the full letter here: 

— Life scientists of all skill levels in laboratories of all sizes can now perform Sanger sequencing — a form of DNA sequencing — at a bench, thanks to Promega’s launch of Spectrum Compact CE System.

The benchtop capillary electrophoresis instrument, a DNA analysis tool, was developed in collaboration with Hitachi High-Tech. The instrument supports applications to analyze mutated DNA and mixed samples, conduct forensic analysis and do cell line authentication. 

“The Spectrum Compact CE is personal and that’s one of the huge advantages that scientists will see with this instrument,” said Doug Storts, Promega’s head of research. 

Prior CE instruments have been larger and more expensive than the Spectrum Compact. According to Storts, that put a strain on labs with limited space and capital. Many labs without a CE instrument have to send samples to a sequencing service, which can be expensive and will often delay experiments.

The compact system processes up to 32 samples in a single run and can be controlled by either a touchscreen or by additional software that allows access from any registered computer on the same network. 

“An individual can walk into the laboratory and with minimal training, be able to change all the consumables, select which chemistries they want to use for both DNA sequencing as well as for fragment analysis, and perform the experiment,” Storts said. “Literally everybody has access. It democratizes the use of the instrument in the laboratory.”


# Trump in Kenosha: ‘This is going to heal very quickly’

# Public Health amendment allows in-person instruction for students with disabilities

# Molson Coors invests in Milwaukee brewery

# Schneider National testing electric trucks to increase sustainability within industry 



– Wisconsin Growers Paying More to Rent Farmland 

– Calumet County Ag Stewardship Alliance Hosts Field Day 


– DWD Secretary: New $300 Unemployment Supplement Likely Won’t Get To Out-Of-Work Wisconsinites Before October 


– Madison production startup wins $5K at female founder pitch competition 


– Generac acquires maker of battery-powered turf care products 

– With no new qualified bids, Briggs & Stratton auction canceled 


– Apple and Google announce new contact-tracing tool 


– Fact Check: Trump misstates what happened in Kenosha

– ‘We’re going to work with you’: Donald Trump visits Kenosha and praises law enforcement for quelling disturbances


– Thiensville could support Hawthorne Square mixed-use project with $9.9 million spending proposal 

– Construction begins on Ascent in Milwaukee 


– Everything You Need to Know About 2020’s Hunting Season 


– Town of Brookfield denies extension of Marcus Majestic’s outdoor cinema permit 


– American Airlines adds nonstop roundtrip to Miami from Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport 


– We Energies sues to share Solvay Coke site cleanup costs with TC Energy 

– Alliant Energy cautions customers to be safe during outside work projects 


– Opinion: Cherries, Cows, and Cognitive Dissonance – oh, my! 


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

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