WED AM News: WEDC expects up to 30 percent business closures statewide; Citing COVID-19, Verso Corp. to idle Wisconsin Rapids and Duluth paper mills

— Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. leader Missy Hughes expects up to 30 percent business closures in the state if reopenings are stalled by a virus surge. 

“I have seen numbers anywhere from 20 to 30 percent anticipated closures and I think that’s really tied into the duration of the `Safer at Home’ order,” she told reporters. “Lots of businesses that I have talked to could withstand an initial wave of being closed, but are very concerned about continuing.”

Hughes said that if there is a virus surge in the future, and small businesses are asked to endure another closure or low confidence from consumers and employees that would keep them at home, Wisconsin would see more closures.

“That’s why it’s critically important that we all continue to think about… the social distancing, and the hand washing and wearing masks because this is all going to be critical for regaining momentum in our economy.”

WEDC is watching data from daily consumer transactions, UW-Oshkosh business surveys and regional economic development directors on the ground to understand the pandemic’s impact and what’s happening at Main Street business statewide. 

Hughes noted that credit card transactions are a helpful number to track. In reviewing that data, she said it appears that there continues to be an uptick of businesses reopening. 

— The Department of Workforce Development announced it has more than 500 “work-share’’ plans with almost 18,000 participants in Wisconsin.

The program is designed to help employers keep employees during slow business periods by reducing worker hours. It allows employees to file for partial unemployment benefits while keeping benefits from their employer, therefore avoiding financial challenges associated with a total loss of work.

According to the department’s release, prior to the COVID-19 public health emergency, between 2016 and March 15, 2020, DWD reported only 20 total work-share plans involving 899 participants. Between March 15 and June 8, 2020, the state saw a dramatic increase, with 17,986 workers participating in 520 work-share.

“Wisconsin businesses are encouraged to consider DWD’s Work-Share Program to keep their employees on the job who otherwise would be laid off,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said in a release. “We have almost 18,000 workers participating in Work-Share plans with their employers; this means nearly 18,000 people are still employed, they continue to earn a paycheck, and they keep their employer-sponsored benefits.”

See the release: 

— DNR Secretary Preston Cole says the department will follow the science as it relates to high-capacity well permits.

In early May, Attorney General Josh Kaul issued a letter to the DNR withdrawing a 2016 letter of opinion concerning the DNR’s authority to consider the environmental impacts of certain high-capacity well applications. According to Cole, the approach is to follow what the state Supreme Court ordered before the 2016 opinion. 

“Attorney General Kaul says that the DNR has an obligation, if not a duty, to pay very close attention to the science,” Cole said. “So, staff will be paying very close attention to the science.”

He noted that the science has to be indisputable relative to impacts on waters, headwaters, drinking waters and wetlands — the headwaters of the Plover River for example, that Cole said people in those communities tend to worry about. 

“Our approach is to be open, honest and transparent as it relates to that, work with permittees and allow them to make a case,” he said, adding that the DNR will not look backward on several hundred cases that have gone through since 2016. 

— The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Apartment Association say it’s critical for the survival of rental housing that tenants who are able to pay rent, do so. 

“If tenants either choose not to or are unable to pay their rent, landlords may have issues paying their expenses, of which the largest is their mortgage,” said Chris Mokler, legislative director for the WAA. He explained that of every dollar of rent collected, only about nine cents or less go into the landlord’s pocket. 

Both AASEW and WAA fear if rental housing doesn’t work with tenants who are suffering financial hardship due to the pandemic’s economic pressure, it could lead to a housing crash resembling post-2008.

“If landlords are unable to survive, there will be more foreclosures of properties and increased costs will increase rents, none of which will be beneficial to tenants,” Mokler told

The statewide moratorium on filing evictions ended May 27. But the apartment associations warn that many tenants are still waiting for federal stimulus checks or unemployment insurance.  

“Those Wisconsinites who have applied for state and federal UC are due to receive payments, especially the $600 weekly special federal benefit, which they will be able to apply to past and current rent,” said AASEW and WAA in a statement. “Governor Evers’ recently announced $25 million Rental Assistance Program is ramping up and will also enable tenants to catch up on past rent and stay current in coming months.”

The associations recommend to landlords that late fees be waived, mediation services be made available, and eviction filings be delayed if  a tenant can show an unemployment claim is pending or has submitted a claim for relief under Evers’ rental assistance program. 

“We are in the midst of an economic crisis, the impact of which has been unseen in our lifetimes,” the associations said in a statement. “We want to approach our tenants with the same compassion as we would expect to receive from others.”

See the release: 

— Verso Corporation says it will indefinitely stop production at its paper mills in Wisconsin Rapids and Duluth in order to offset market decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic, laying off more than 1,000 workers.

“The decision to reduce production capacity is driven by the accelerated decline in graphic paper demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Verso said in a statement. “The stay-at-home orders have significantly reduced the use of print advertising in various industries, including retail, sports, entertainment and tourism.”

The company stated that North American printing and writing demand fell by 38 percent year-over-year in April.

“It is critical that we maintain a healthy balance sheet and focus on cash flow, while balancing our supply of products and our customers’ demand,” said Adam St. John, Verso’s president and CEO. “We expect the idling of these facilities to improve our free cash flow. The sell through of inventory is expected to offset the cash costs of idling the mills.” 

While the paper mills are idling, Verso said it will explore viable and sustainable alternatives for both mills whether that is restarting if market conditions improve, marketing for sale or closing permanently. Verso expects to idle the Duluth Mill by the end of June and the Wisconsin Rapids Mill by the end of July.

The Wisconsin Paper Council said yesterday that Verso’s decision “is disappointing news for our entire industry.”

Read the full story at 

See Verso’s announcement: 

See WPC’s release: 

See Wisconsin Rapids lawmakers’ response: 

— and are hosting a virtual panel discussion on issues affecting state agriculture this Thursday beginning at noon.

The one-hour lunchtime event, “COVID-19, Trade Tensions, Turbulent Markets — Trouble for Wisconsin Ag,” will be led by veteran farm broadcaster Pam Jahnke. 

This discussion is part of the East Asia Now series of the Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Panelists will include UW-Madison Economist Ian Coxhead; Dan Smith, president & CEO of Cooperative Network; Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville; Cal Dalton, member of the board of United Wisconsin Grain Producers; and Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City.

Event sponsors include the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, CEAS, the Wisconsin BioFules Association and the Wisconsin Academy of Global Education & Training. The Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Services is a partner.

Register for the free online event:

— Wisconsin’s top health officials indicate that asymptomatic spread is a continued threat, despite a World Health Organization statement that asymptomatic spread is “very rare.”   

WHO later walked that statement back following criticism from infectious disease experts. 

“People who have COVID-19 can spread the virus to others early in the course of their illness, even before they develop symptoms,” according to Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer with the Bureau of Communicable Diseases. 

Westergaard said that based on multiple reports of people spreading the virus while not showing symptoms proves that asymptomatic transmission can and does happen. But he also said there is not enough research to know how often or the precise level of risk. 

“It might be true that most new cases of COVID-19 resulted from transmission from a person with symptoms,” he said. “But the possibility (of) asymptomatic spread, even if it accounts for a minority of cases, is still a very important issue that requires an aggressive approach to stopping the spread.”

Dr. John Raymond, president of the Medical College of Wisconsin, said in a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce briefing that the WHO statement was premature. 

“All of us are waiting for good news, especially the type of news where we can say ‘you know what, if you feel fine you can go out and do what you want’ — I think it’s premature to make that kind of a leap,” he said. “And (WHO) didn’t do a particular good job in defining whether they were talking about people that were presymptomatic and then later could spread the disease or were truly asymptomatic.”

Both Raymond and Westergaard encourage people to wear masks and to practice physical distancing and hand washing.

— DHS reports 270 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, bringing the cumulative case count to 21,308. But Raymond indicates the increase is not due to spreading from statewide gatherings of protesters.

“Obviously, if people are interacting with each other and shouting, there’s a likelihood that somebody that’s got COVID-19 might spread it to someone else,” said Raymond in a MMAC briefing. “We really won’t know for another week or so.”

While thousands of people interacted with each other during protests and were unable to maintain social distancing, his concern is for the people that they will go on to interact with later.  

“The thing we need to understand is it may not even be the people that were protesting, many of them were young and relatively healthy, and if they get COVID-19, they may be some of the folks that we would call asymptomatic spreaders,” Raymond said.

Those asymptomatic spreaders can cause secondary infections from interactions with elderly relatives or people that are older in the workplace.

“We need to think that it might even be another week or two after that when the secondary infections come,” Raymond said. 

Despite a rise in confirmed cases — the most in three days — the positive tests as a percentage of total tests fell to 1.9 percent from 2.7 percent. That’s the lowest the state has seen since started calculating the rate on April 11. 

— The state’s COVID-19 death count is at 661, 15 new deaths since Monday and the highest in one day since May 30.

Milwaukee County had six new deaths, while Racine County had four, Kenosha County had two, and Dane, Washington and Waukesha counties had one new death. 

The number of recovered patients continues to rise, now at an estimated 68 percent, while 3 percent of patients have died. Twenty-eight percent are still in a 30-day waiting period of symptom onset or diagnosis.

Counties reporting deaths include: Milwaukee (331), Racine (51), Brown (38), Kenosha (36), Waukesha (34), Dane (30), Rock (21), Walworth (17), Ozaukee (13), Grant (12), Washington (10), Outagamie (8), Winnebago (7), Fond du Lac (6), Clark (4), Dodge (4) and Richland (4).

Door, Jefferson, Marinette, Sauk and Sheboygan counties report three deaths each. Buffalo and Forest counties report two deaths each.

Adams, Bayfield, Burnett, Calumet, Columbia, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marquette, Monroe, Polk, Waupaca and Wood counties report one death each.

Click here for more coronavirus resources and updates: 

— Raymond expressed optimism for a vaccine by January. 

“It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that we could have a vaccine by January,” said Raymond in a MMAC briefing.

While it usually takes about 12 years to get a vaccine marketed, according to Raymond, the work speed, investments and removal of regulatory barriers is allowing the U.S. to compress 12 years into 12 months. 

But there’s a risk associated with cutting corners, warns Raymond. 

“We’re all going to have to accept that whatever vaccines might come to market before then will not have been safety tested and quality control tested to the standards that we’ve enjoyed up to this point,” he said. “We’ll all be taking a calculated risk in some ways if we agree to take a vaccine.”

— COVID-19 hospital patients statewide number 331 and are on a steady increase over the last three days.

According to Raymond and data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the state’s hopstilizations peaked about a month and a half ago. They dipped significantly right before the “Safer at Home” order was overturned, and then came back up — “but not to the levels we were at before,” Raymond said. 

“I want to stress we’re in a comfortable place in terms of (the) capacity of our health systems,” he said in a MMAC briefing. “No one has had to deploy a surge capacity or redirect their resources to deal with an overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients.”

Of the state’s confirmed cases, 14 percent have been hospitalized and 3 percent have received intensive care, according to DHS. But even what seems like a small percentage is a “significant number of patients,” Raymond said.

About 73 percent of the state’s COVID-19 patients — 241 — are in southeastern Wisconsin. DHS also reports that 41 or fewer patients are in each of the six other public health regions of the state.

WHA data show the state’s number of COVID-19 ICU patients is at 117, only seven more than Monday, but still down from last week. COVID-19 inpatients with pending tests number 176, down 30 from Monday and last week.


# No Warrens Cranberry Festival in 2020

# Milwaukee County issues universal face mask policy when entering county-owned facilities, recommended at airport 



– Some Wisconsin Dairy Groups Find Ways To Celebrate Amid COVID-19 Pandemic 

– Dairy Prices Slow Down as Supply Catches Up 

– “It’s an Industry That We’re Missing Out On”- Dairy Farmer Focuses On A2 Market 


– Uncertainty and optimism in Manpower’s latest employment outlook survey

– Milwaukee jobs outlook plunges. Some U.S. employers think hiring will never return to pre-pandemic levels 


– Lone Candidate For UW System President Addresses Program Cuts At Current Institution 


– Advanced Pain Management reopening clinics amid business-structure challenges 

– State of Wisconsin Investment Board partakes in $40M funding round for cancer treatment company 


– Legal Action’s Eviction Defense Project Helps Tenants 


– Telsmith plant in Mequon to close starting Aug. 14 


– Mining-Related Exploratory Drilling Begins Near Wolf River, First In Wisconsin In Years 


– Day 12 Of Wisconsin Black Lives Matter Protests Marked By Severe Weather 

– Milwaukee Muslims On Protests And Reopening Plans   

– Evers: Policymakers Should Find Ways To Respond To Protests 


– National Guard’s Role In Responding To Protests Is Over, Governor Says 

– Milwaukee bars, restaurants could face hefty fines for not following reopening guidelines 


– Food, retail hall planned for former Associated Bank branch on North Avenue

– confirmed to take over part of J.C. Penney’s former Wauwatosa warehouse 


– Brady Corp. invests $6 million in Seattle-based startup 


– Twisted Path Distillery waits to reopen tasting room, offers cocktails to-go 

– Milwaukee Public Market reopens to customers Wednesday  

– La Crosse Interstate Fair postpones to 2021, exhibitors allowed extra year of eligibility 

– Green County Fair Not Happening This Year 


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