FRI AM News: DWD to use federal grant to start modernizing UI system; ‘WisBusiness: The Podcast’ features Wisconsin School of Business

— DWD says it will use a $2.4 million federal grant to begin the process of modernizing the unemployment insurance computer system.

That includes an upgrade that will allow access to a 24-7 call center.

Gov. Tony Evers earlier this year called on the Legislature to approve a special session bill to begin the process of updating the system with a request for $5.3 million in state money to get the project rolling. Lawmakers approved giving the administration the power to begin the process, but directed the administration to first seek and exhaust federal funds before coming back to the Joint Finance Committee for state dollars.

DWD said the grant will allow the project to move forward without funding from the Legislature.

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— The new episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Wisconsin School of Business Dean Vallabh “Samba” Sambamurthy with a status report on the school.

The business school’s undergraduate program is seeing a huge demand, a 15 percent increase in applications. The full time MBA and specialty masters programs are also seeing growth up to 10 percent.

“Even in a pandemic, quality and reputation speaks for itself,” Sambamurthy said. 

His focus coming into the business school in 2019 has been preparing students for the digital economy — where change is a constant and where there’s a continuous need for new skills in technology. The pandemic accelerated this need. 

The School of Business has been resilient in the last 18 months, including moving 400 courses completely online in a week. Now the school is looking at what can be learned from the past year, including developing hybrid MBA courses — half in-person instruction and half online. 

“The most important thing in a digital economy … is education must be convenient, it must be accessible and it must be customizable, meaning you learn what you want to learn so we are paying attention to that,” Sambamurthy said. “Think about the best companies today; that’s what they do. So the same principle applies to our education.”

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— A panel of experts from across Wisconsin said they expect digital trends in health care to continue.

The group expects telehealth to be integrated into a hybrid virtual and in-person health care system moving forward.

Wrapping up the 2021 Wisconsin Technology Summit this week, the experts took part in a virtual discussion about the rise of televisits and telemedicine over the last year as a result of the pandemic. 

“In 2019 there were a little less than a 100 million televisits,” said Dr. Asif Naseem, the president and CEO of health tech company PDS. “In 2020 there were over 1 billion.”

Read the full story at 

— Milwaukee County has relaxed capacity regulations for eateries and lessened restrictions at care facilities.

Restaurants and bars will be allowed to further increase capacity along with an easing of the restrictions on the movement of patrons inside the establishment. Sporting and recreation events can now host 750 fans indoors or 1,000 fans outdoors, as long as physical distancing can be accommodated. 

“Approved safety plans can allow larger crowds, and that’s exactly what happened with the Bucks and the Brewers,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a county health briefing. “They came to us with a safety plan, and the health department approved it. That’s why you will see larger numbers there.”

In addition, the new order no longer restricts visitors to long-term care facilities.

However, the city is ready to reverse or partially dial back the new health order if positive cases begin to rise. Health officials do not expect that to happen. 

“We are watching the data very carefully,” said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson. “We were on track to release a new order two weeks ago and [we] actually held it as we wanted to make sure that the data trend we’re seeing was going to continue in a downward trend.”

— As the Milwaukee Public School system plans a return to school buildings for four days a week, Barrett holds that teachers will be vaccinated and ready for in-person instruction.

MPS teachers are scheduled to begin teaching in person next month: early elementary students will return by April 12, third through eighth graders by April 19, and high schoolers by April 26.

Educators and child care workers became eligible for the COVID-19 shot on March 1 and received priority from the state.

“The city of Milwaukee worked closely with the superintendent [and] with others in the school system to make sure that every single Milwaukee public school teacher that wanted to receive a vaccination, received that vaccination,” Barrett said. “We’re extremely proud of that partnership because we did feel it was important to give them that opportunity.”

— While Wisconsin’s vaccine rollout has improved dramatically and the state remains near the top of the distribution list, manufacturers are left to wonder why they aren’t eligible for the shot.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has sent multiple letters to DHS and the state advisory panel prior to the final decision on the second phase eligibility. The CDC recommended manufacturing workers be included in the second phase with other “essential” workers that are at higher risk for workplace exposure, but the state did not. 

The organization reached out again prior to the third phase. The state has not included manufacturing workers in the third phase, made up of those 16 and older with chronic medical conditions, which is slated to start getting vaccinated on Monday. That population adds more than 2 million people to the pool in line for a shot.

“As I’ve talked with our friends at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, I’ve said make sure you let your employees know in manufacturing that many, many of them are going to be eligible for vaccine come Monday because many of them will have one or more of those conditions,” DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said in a health briefing yesterday. 

The rest of the manufacturing workers will have to wait until May 1, when the general public is expected to start getting vaccinated. 

Willems Van Dijk defended the state’s decision. Wisconsin’s robust manufacturing industry was too big a population to include in the first phases because it would have delayed getting other at-risk groups a vaccine, she explained. Moving into the third phase, and knowing the general public would be soon after, she said it was “confusing” to break down eligibility by occupational group.

WMC spokesman Nick Novak said Willems Van Dijk’s comments ignore the fact that DHS decided to add several groups to the list this week, including clergy, restaurant workers and judges, among others. 

“WMC continues to urge DHS and Gov. Evers to include manufacturing workers in the eligibility phase beginning on Mar. 22 as recommended by medical experts at the CDC,” Novak said. “Simply, manufacturing workers and other essential employees who have no ability to work from home should have access to the vaccine sooner rather than later because they are at higher risk.”

— Wisconsin will open a second federally supported mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at UW-Eau Claire’s Zorn Arena on April 8, Gov. Tony Evers says.

FEMA will coordinate staff and support services to run the center, as it currently does with the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.

Wisconsin has committed to providing at least 3,500 weekly vaccine doses from the state’s allocation for the site. The Milwaukee site is getting 7,000 weekly doses because of the higher demand for vaccines. Willems Van Dijk said Wisconsin is expecting another boost in doses in early April. With that increase, the state would be able to give up to 7,000 doses per week to the Eau Claire site. 

The site will have the capacity to vaccinate 1,200 people per day. 

See the release:  

— Willems Van Dijk expects enough COVID-19 vaccine supply to achieve herd immunity by the end of June, but that doesn’t mean all Wisconsinites will want a shot.

Herd immunity would need about 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated, health officials say. The June estimate is based on dose allocation numbers from the federal government, Willems Van Dijk explained.

“Supply is one thing and then administration and demand are the other two important legs of the stool,” she said, adding the state continues to expand vaccination clinics around the state.

“All we’ll need over the next few months is the public raising their hands and saying, ‘I’m ready, I want to protect myself, I want to protect my family with these very safe vaccines, and I want to protect my neighborhood and my community.'” she said. “Wouldn’t that be a wonderful Fourth of July celebration to have hit 80 percent community immunity in the state of Wisconsin?”

Twenty-three percent of Wisconsinites have at least started their COVID-19 vaccine series and 13.4 percent are fully vaccinated, according to DHS’ vaccine dashboard.

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— Just in time for the German candy maker’s 100th anniversary, Haribo has begun construction on its 130-acre plant in southeast Wisconsin.

Haribo, founded in 1920, announced in October its plans to build a gummi production campus in Pleasant Prairie. It’s the largest project in the company’s 100-year history. 

The company says a U.S. location was necessary to help eliminate the nearly three months it takes for its products to arrive on store shelves. The state-of-the-art facility is expected to produce 132 million pounds of gummies annually.

Under the company’s enterprise zone agreement with the state, Haribo is eligible for up to $22.5 million in tax credits, based on the $239.6 million capital investment and 385 jobs created. The company chose Pleasant Prairie over several other locations in Illinois due to its proximity to the interstate, utility costs and quality of life for employees, according to WEDC.

— Window and door manufacturer Weather Shield Manufacturing Inc. is expanding its facility in Park Falls — a $3.6 million project expected to create 40 jobs over the next three years.

WEDC is supporting the project by authorizing up to $225,000 in state income tax credits over the next three years. The actual amount of tax credits Weather Shield will receive is contingent upon the number of jobs created and the amount of capital investment during that period.

“We are excited to expand our operations in Park Falls,” said Mark Schield, president of Weather Shield. “The greater Park Falls community has a tremendously talented workforce who are skilled, experienced and highly capable of supporting Weather Shield’s growing business. We look forward to welcoming new associates to our work family.”

Medford-based Weather Shield plans to expand its operations at its Park Falls location to support the addition of a new product line of windows and specialty patio doors that targets the luxury custom home and premiere hospitality markets. 

In addition to the 40 jobs expected to be created by Weather Shield, an economic modeling study estimates the project could indirectly generate 23 additional jobs in the region, according to WEDC. The 63 total new jobs are expected to generate $106,579 in state income tax revenue annually.


# Dane County health officials: Fully vaccinated can get close, ditch the masks

# Larger gatherings, dance floors allowed under Milwaukee’s new order 

# Gov. Evers Hosts Roundtable on Economic Recovery with Small Business Owners, Farmers, and Ag Producers



– Farmers, vendors appreciate in-person dairy event 

– DATCP to Celebrate National Ag Day on March 23 

– Dairy Calf & Heifer Conference Returns to Wisconsin 


– Tech colleges recognize, celebrate agriculture industry 


– Wisconsin Invasive Species Council Seeks Invader Crusader Nominations 


– Andy Petran Named 2021 Compeer Financial GroundBreaker of the Year 


– gener8tor announces social impact cohort for spring 2021 

– Northwestern Mutual and Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin announce ‘Reverse Pitch MKE’ competition winners 

– Milwaukee’s Socialeads joins latest cohort for top fintech accelerator 


– With WEDC help, Tattersall opening Wisconsin distillery to bypass Minnesota liquor laws 


– 330 Kilbourn office towers being sold to New York investor 

– Common Council meeting tomorrow to fix issue with Couture contract 


– Victims identified in Roundy’s distribution center shooting 

– Restaurant industry praises upcoming Covid-19 grant program 


– Frozen Four: UW Women Face Ohio State In Semifinal 


– Milwaukee World Festival prepares for September festival with new grounds features 

– Grand Geneva Resort experiences strong transient demand as area occupancy improves 


– State Regulators Will Lift Moratorium On Utility Shutoffs In April 


– InsideWis: Connecting emerging firms and big companies: Advice from a pro 


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

– Dane County, Madison Children’s Museum: aunch Trash Lab mobile exhibit

– Ogden & Company, Inc.: Announces New President, Board of Directors

– DCEDC: Launches “Beacon for Business” Program

– Catholic Financial Life: Appoints Sara Walker as Vice President of Investments