FRI AM News: Locast local TV streaming service launches in Madison; ‘WisBusiness: The Podcast’ features DWD Secretary Amy Pechacek

Note to subscribers: There will be no products on Monday due to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Products will resume Tuesday.

— Local broadcast TV streaming service and app Locast makes its Wisconsin debut today, launching 34 local channels to more than 650,000 people in the Madison area.

The free, nonprofit service includes local FOX channel 47 in the Madison area, which airs the Green Bay Packers-Los Angeles Rams playoff game Saturday afternoon. Locast uses the internet to provide local stations on phones, tablets, laptops or other streaming devices. 

It aims to help people with weak television signals: rural residents, people with basement apartments, and those impacted by disruption, such as a tower antenna replacement. And for Madison’s college students, Locast can provide a link to local broadcast news, emergency information, weather, sports and entertainment. 

“There are always places that are not reached by that free, over-the-air signal,” said Locast founder David Goodfriend, who is originally from Madison and currently resides in Washington D.C. “Locast is just designed to make sure that everybody, especially in rural areas, can get their free, local, over-the-air broadcast signal.”

As a nonprofit, it’s allowed to rebroadcast local stations without receiving a copyright license from the broadcaster. To cover the cost of operations, Locust asks viewers to donate $5 per month. The request, which pops up every 15 minutes, is not required.

The Madison designated market area is the first market in Wisconsin. With Madison as his wheelhouse, Goodfriend joked there was no way he would launch Milwaukee first. The first Badger State market joins 25 others where Locast has launched nationwide: 17 of the top 20 media markets, plus a few of the smallest, such as Sioux City, Iowa and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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— The outdated unemployment insurance system is likely the first thing on the agenda in Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed modernization plan, according to the new head of the Department of Workforce Development.

“Our mainframe is so outdated … that if a claimant needs to get documentation to the unemployment division to help support their claim, they either have to mail it or fax it,” DWD Secretary Amy Pechacek said. “I’m not even kidding. I don’t know who owns a fax machine anymore. It’s unbelievable.”

Evers’ plan to modernize the state’s unemployment system would give DWD more than $5.3 million to immediately begin work. The first half-million would go toward hiring consultants and selecting a vendor for the overhaul.

GOP legislative leaders quickly rejected Evers’ call, insisting he could work with existing funds to begin addressing the system.

Pechacek was the deputy Corrections secretary when Evers announced she would lead the department as it transitioned to a new leader following the forced resignation of Caleb Frostman. At the time, nearly 100,000 people were still awaiting checks. The backlog has since been cleared under Pechacek’s leadership.

In the latest “WisBusiness: The Podcast” episode, she said her strategy encompassed listening to the employees on what’s not working and sitting in on public hearings. From there, she mandated overtime for the unemployment division, created more positions, hired more people and expanded contracts with staffing vendors.

“It was pretty clear to me at that point … that this was not a problem that just people power alone was going to solve,” Pechacek said. That’s when she initiated a partnership with Google, which had worked with other states to reduce their backlogs.

DWD has also partnered with Google for other technological advances, including a way to digitally upload documents, such as identity or wage verification. The agency also plans to launch secure messaging as a way to communicate virtually with claimants versus scheduling calls. Finally, Google is helping automate back-end processes, such as streamlining manual data entry, until the system undergoes full modernization.

“We take for granted how simple some of those things are with modern technology, but those things didn’t exist 50 years ago when mainframes came on board,” Pechacek said. “It’s sort of getting at those systemic, root cause problems that we hope will ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— The new year brings a new addition to WisBiz Green.

WisBiz Green will follow developments in green energy, environmental issues and related policy proposals in Madison and DC.

UW-Milwaukee is the main sponsor of the new venture. Gregg Hoffmann, a veteran Wisconsin journalist who runs M&T Communications and has contributed often to and over the years, will maintain WisBiz Green. He says the future is now for green business practices.

“Green business has grown in Wisconsin and elsewhere over the last decade, but we believe it could really take off in the next four years and beyond,” said Hoffmann. “We have communicated about it for too long as something in the future. But climate change and environmental issues are obvious now. Entrepreneurs, enlightened leaders of corporations and business in general can play big roles in addressing these issues. We want to report on such efforts and related news in Wisconsin.”

You can find his reports in the right-hand column at

To get a weekly feed of WisBiz Green highlights, sign up here: 

— Experts say Wisconsin is one of the leaders in the gene-editing technology CRISPR, which could bring more resilient crops and fight diseases more effectively than gene modification. 

CRISPR, short for clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats, is a genetic tool used to alter specific genetic codes within organisms to achieve desired changes. It differs from genetic modification, which replaces genes or genetic pairs. 

But the scope of areas where CRISPR could be effective is relatively narrow compared to genetically modified organisms or GMOs, according to UW-Madison professor Krishanu Saha. 

Saha and Jo Handelsman, director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, presented at a recent Wisconsin Technology Council virtual luncheon the possibilities surrounding CRISPR. This came after three Wisconsin groups received grants from the National Institute of Health to fund CRISPR research. 

One group is working on methods to safely deliver CRISPR cells to the human brain to potentially treat Alzheimer’s disease, but Saha said it could be used to treat other brain diseases if proven successful. 

Another group is using the grant to develop models of human eye tissues so other CRISPR models designed to treat eye diseases and blindness can be quickly tested. 

Saha said the third grant went to the Medical College of Wisconsin to fund a coordination effort between 20 groups nationwide that received similar CRISPR grants from NIH.

Handelsman said the gene-editing technology could be especially effective in treating sickle cell disease because the edit necessary to reverse the effects is much simpler than modifying the entire gene like older technologies.

CRISPR could also play a vital role in providing drought- and pest-resistant crops as the effects of climate change ramp up in the future. 

“All of a sudden perhaps CRISPR plants will be more appealing in places that they’ve been banned, it’ll be a matter of survival,” said Handelsman.

Many of the gene therapy products on the market today are fairly expensive due to their high value for patients, Saha said. But these older products aren’t as effective as CRISPR could be in some cases, he added.

Other therapies using gene addition, akin to GMOs, add a gene “randomly” into the genome, he said. “And what the CRISPR tool allows us to do is much more precise modifications in specific spots in the genome.”

— Governments should help keep the economy growing after the pandemic by limiting the number of new regulations placed on emerging and changing industries says the CEO of Forbes.

“The key thing is to make sure, both on the national level and state level, we don’t suffocate this massive economy, this recovering economy, with massive new regulations,” Steve Forbes told viewers of BizTimes Media’s first monthly 21st Century Business Forum.

Maintaining a competitive environment for business is crucial to building the strong businesses of the future such as Apple and Facebook, and removing tax and regulatory obstacles fosters that environment, Forbes said. He also said he supports another relief spending package from the federal government to help the U.S. economy. 

He added Republicans in Congress will have to fight to get what they want out of the package now that they are the minority. 

“Hopefully we have leverage to make sure we get a real relief bill instead of a political giveaway,” he said.

While he said big federal spending is “absolutely in order” in times of crisis, comparing big spending during World War II and “saving civilization” with coronavirus relief packages, he also said he wants “arbitrary obstacles and barriers” to the Paycheck Protection Program to be removed in the next package. 

Forbes said the pandemic-induced recession had investors letting their emotions get the best of them, causing many to withdraw from the market.

“Put it in something that’s broad-based and ignore it. Over time, this country always recovers, stocks always recover,” he assured. “If you’re a young person just do that and you’re going to do better than most money managers.”

The health care industry shows particularly good promise for growth over the next few years as it currently takes up about 18 percent of the U.S. economy, he concluded.

— The Milwaukee Bucks, the Madison Region Economic Partnership and New York-based The Lonely Entrepreneur are teaming up to advance Wisconsin Black entrepreneurs.

The Bucks have begun providing funding for signups of one year of TLE’s entrepreneurial platform to Black entrepreneurs beginning today. Entrepreneurs can sign up through Wednesday at

TLE will make its entrepreneurial platform available to three Wisconsin-based organizations: the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Black MBA Association, MKE Black, and the Madison Region Economic Partnership. Black entrepreneurs from each of these organizations will receive TLE’s foundational business-skill-building tools and resources to help them advance their businesses.

“Systemic inequalities have created a staggering wealth gap for Black Americans,” said MadREP CEO Jason Fields. “While many businesses continue to struggle because of COVID-19, a stunning 41 percent of Black-owned businesses were driven out of business.”

The initiative was created when Fields connected the MadREP, the Bucks and TLE. 

“Connecting my work there with my work at MadREP and then bringing in my colleagues at the Bucks just made sense,” Fields said. “MadREP’s work on this project supports our strategic objectives around leadership, diversity and entrepreneurship while also strengthening the ‘Madwaukee Corridor.”

— Wisconsin will give people a chance to note their interest in a COVID-19 vaccination appointment with a statewide software rollout next month.

Department of Health Services Assistant Deputy Secretary Lisa Olson described the platform as similar to COVID Connect, the registration system Wisconsin uses at its COVID-19 community testing sites. The vaccine registration system would let people “sign up” or voice their interest in getting a shot and then connect those people to a state mass vaccination clinic or local health department vaccination clinic.

The state has contracted with a vendor for mass vaccination clinics, but is awaiting more vaccines before opening, she said. Also when more shots are available, Olson said any location offering flu shots would also offer the COVID-19 shot.

The announcement came as the GOP members in the Assembly Health Committee peppered Olson with questions about the vaccine rollout during a public hearing yesterday. Republicans’ concerns centered around vaccines in Wisconsin that haven’t been administered.

“Our vaccinators are ready, willing and prepared to be able to do the work,” said Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin. “But I think we just have to do a better job of getting it from the state supply hubs to the vaccinators.”

Olson often repeated her assertion that the delay in vaccine rollout is not a demand or system issue, but an issue of limited vaccine supply from the federal government. She said about one-third of the vaccines in Wisconsin are a part of the long-term care pharmacy partnership program, one-third are in transit or on shelves in Wisconsin, and one-third has been administered.

“I can tell you we are not receiving enough at this point to keep up with the demand, even within phase 1a,” she said, referring to the health care workers and residents and staff in long-term care facilities in the first group for the shots. “We have the systems in place; what we need is more vaccine.”

This did not satisfy Republicans, who called the delay “unacceptable.” Out of the 50 states, Wisconsin ranks No. 40 for shots given per population. That’s in line with its rank — No. 43 — for vaccines distributed to the state, according to the CDC.

While Olson had touted DHS’ vaccine efforts, Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego, challenged her on saying the agency is doing a good job, when two-thirds of vaccines have not been put in arms.

“We’re getting the same answers to many questions,” he said after interrupting twice in an attempt to flesh out a direct response. “I’ve been asking specific questions and I’m getting the same answers that we’ve been getting but not to the specific concerns.”

Following yesterday’s hearing, committee chair Sanfelippo released a statement urging the Evers administration to speed up the decision-making process and increase the flexibility with which they respond to new developments and guidance that emerge as the vaccine rollout proceeds forward.

Read more in the latest Health Care Report: 

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# Advocate Aurora hired third-party expert on vaccine security after Grafton incident, CEO said

# Law Enforcement In Madison Prepares ‘Enhanced’ Presence Through Inauguration

# Gov. Tony Evers shares rural priorities for the biennial budget including broadband and meat processing 



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– Wisconsin Center District finalizing deal with a firm that will help it find a naming-rights sponsor for convention center 

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