FRI AM News: Biz leader urges cooperation to help state’s economy weather COVID; ‘WisBusiness: The Podcast’ features Angela Damiani, Rev Collective

— Cooperation between people and businesses will lift Wisconsin’s economy out of the pandemic stronger than it was before, says Madison Region Economic Partnership President and CEO Jason Fields.

In a Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce virtual event yesterday, Fields said more cooperation between rural and urban businesses will help achieve goals for both areas and improve the state’s economic outlook. The former Milwaukee lawmaker added he wants to see less fighting over legislation and government funding between businesses with different needs. He argued that initiatives, such as broadband expansion or agricultural support, benefit all areas of the state. 

He also said many businesses are unsure exactly what the post-pandemic future holds. In order to mitigate that uncertainty, he said businesses and organizations should be working together to build more partnerships to support each other and create a more “holistic approach.”

Partnerships will be beneficial even after the pandemic, he added.

“We want to have the people in place, we want to have strategies in place for people to grow, we want to be in a position to attract talent,” Fields said. 

He suggested Wisconsin businesses leverage their connections with each other to attract more workers to fill empty jobs while enticing Wisconsinites already here to stay and continue to grow the state’s economy. 

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— The latest episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Angela Damiani, co-founder of Rev Collective. 

Rev Collective is a community of female and non-binary professionals. Members are placed into curated groups — collectives — of up to eight people with similar professional goals and taught a framework for coaching one another through career roadblocks. The organization recently announced it’s expanding nationally to offer virtual collectives for women and women of color.

“COVID has allowed for the ease of our members to actually get together,” she said. “These are individuals who are high-performing, growth-minded, they have a lot on their plate, and being able to meet up via Zoom … People have been able to really lean in and use their groups to get through the uncertainty and the drama that has been this moment.”

Applications for Rev Collective are live here: This year, Rev Collective has also launched a scholarship fund for those who cannot afford to join due to economic hardships. 

Damiani also helps lead NEWaukee, which connects communities and companies connect with talent. The tech sector is starving for talent, she said. Damiani also provided a perspective on inclusion in the workplace. As the nation experienced unrest over racial disparities, companies pledged to increase their diversity. 

“I’m excited about the gains we’ve seen in this. I think that cultural normalization of it will be the positive peer pressure needed to see real change,” she said. “But I do feel like it’s probably a long road before we’re really where we need to be.”

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— Gov. Tony Evers’ special session bill to overhaul the UI computer system also provides business, schools and others liability protection from COVID-19 lawsuits.

The Dairy Business Association applauded the bill’s signing. DBA President Amy Penterman said the pandemic has created a host of challenges for businesses, which are balancing health precautions and financial survival.

“The priority for our dairy farmers and other members is always to keep employees safe as they do the essential work of producing food. But we know that sometimes things can be beyond our control. Lawsuits seeking to exploit the situation could be damaging for everyone. Our guard against the virus will remain up as we hope to see this extraordinary circumstance come to end,” she said. 

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce also praised lawmakers for the legislation aiming to protect businesses and other organizations from coronavirus lawsuits.

“Wisconsin businesses and many other organizations have spent the last year taking every possible step to keep their workers, customers and the public safe,” said WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer. “While they did everything right to protect the health and safety of others, this legislation will now protect them from costly and predatory COVID-19 lawsuits.”

— Wisconsin restaurants need targeted assistance to survive the ongoing economic downturn as a result of the pandemic, according to the state’s restaurant association. 

The federal RESTAURANTS Act of 2021 supported by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association would provide that aid. The legislation is an updated proposal from the last Congress to establish a $120 billion revitalization fund for relief to food service or drinking establishments that are part of a group of up to 20 facilities. Owners could apply for grants of up to $10 million to cover eligible expenses retroactively to Feb. 15, 2020, and ending eight months after the legislation is signed into law.

“Restaurants have suffered more losses in jobs and revenue than any other sector because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said WRA President and CEO Kristine Hillmer. “We have already lost many unique restaurants in our state that were the cornerstones of their communities. The majority of the remaining restaurant owners believe that it will be seven to 12 months, or more, before business conditions return to normal for their restaurant.”

Dem U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin also championed the legislation saying in a release that many small and independent restaurants are operating at reduced capacity and may be forced to close their doors for good if Congress doesn’t act now.

— From Milwaukee to Eau Claire, eateries have voiced support for the federal legislation.

Dan Katt, co-founder and CEO of Good City Brewing, LLC in Milwaukee said since the restaurant adjacent to Fiserv Forum was forced to close on March 12, revenue dropped 95 percent. And while the Paycheck Protection Program helped the taproom stay in business and keep many of its employees, Good City Brewing still faces hurdles to be able to hire new staff, pay rent and fulfill future debt obligations. 

“We will not be able to operate at 100 percent capacity for many months,” Katt said. “This is a critical piece of legislation that will help a small locally owned business like ours eventually recover from an incredibly challenging time.”

Houligans Steak & Seafood Pub in Eau Claire reopened on June 2 and sales have been reduced by about 40 percent, said owner Jon Seybold. He too said the PPP has helped, but that the restaurant is still playing “catch up.”

“We had to use all of our business savings just to survive the 2 plus month forced shutdown,” he said. “The aid in the RESTAURANTS Act of 2021 could allow us to expand outdoor dining opportunities, which are sure to be in high demand this upcoming season. The aid could also allow us to explore modifying our banquet room into extra dining since banquet business has ‘dried up’ and we believe we will need to keep some type of social distancing well into the future.”

— Education and child care staff should expect receiving vaccines beginning next week and running through early April, the Department of Health Services says.

People enrolled in long-term care programs, some public-facing essential workers, non-frontline essential health care personnel, and facility staff and residents in group living settings can plan to be vaccinated in April and May.  

All the groups will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting Monday, but priority goes to teachers and child care workers. DHS will target school districts with the state’s recent increase in vaccine dose allotment from the federal government. 

Local health departments have coordinated local-specific plans to vaccinate K-12 education and child care staff. To vaccinate these priority groups, DHS will focus allocations each week on the 65-plus group and educators to ensure both groups are getting vaccinated before moving on to other newly eligible populations.

DHS is creating a master plan that ranks school districts based on the percentage of students in the free and reduced lunch program and students of color in order to decide which school districts will be prioritized for doses. DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said all educators and child care workers will have an opportunity to be vaccinated in the next four to six weeks. 

She added that some counties will complete the 65 and older group or their educator population before others. Once that happens, they can start prioritizing the next eligible groups. 

— DHS Interim Secretary Karen Timberlake said everyone in the next eligible group — from food chain workers to bus drivers — will eventually have a chance to get vaccinated. 

She asked everyone to be patient and wait to schedule an appointment in order to allow those at higher risk to get vaccinated first. 

“Workers who are more likely to come in contact with the public or who are unable to avoid close contact with others are at higher risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19,” she said.

There are multiple options for vaccinations, including community clinics, local and tribal health departments, health care providers, and pharmacies. 

Those eligible for a COVID-19 shot can visit the DHS eligibility page to learn more about their options: 

See the more COVID-19 updates in the latest Health Care Report:

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