FRI AM News: Hospitality open to increasing minimum wage, but not now; ‘WisBusiness: The Podcast’ features Josh Marron, Park Bank

— The Wisconsin Restaurant Association chief says now is not the time to raise wages in restaurants. 

Association President and CEO Kristine Hillmer was a panelist on the latest virtual luncheon “Hospitality industry stirs after year of COVID.” Yesterday’s lunch hour event featured Wisconsin’s eatery and alehouse leaders a year after the economy shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Mark Garthwaite, the executive director of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, said it’s clear that Wisconsin workers cannot subsist on low wages. The current challenge is that if restaurants, taverns and brewery taprooms can’t be full of people, it makes it difficult to operate on such slim margins.

Hillmer explained restaurants and bars have tight profit margins as low as 3 percent. That means 97 cents of every dollar brought in is already spoken for, whether for labor, food or overhead costs. Add in capacity restrictions, such as the ones currently remaining in Dane and Milwaukee counties, and the state’s favorite haunts are in the red.

“We welcome a conversation on changing the minimum wage; we do not feel that now is the best time at least for our industry because we are so hard hit.”

The minimum wage in Wisconsin is $7.25 per hour. The governor’s budget is calling for a phased increase to $10.15 by 2024. Congressional Democrats almost succeeded in making the federal minimum wage $15, but the provision was removed from the federal stimulus before it went to the president’s desk.

Tavern League of Wisconsin President Chris Marsicano said many of his members are already paying higher than minimum wage to keep good workers. But he doesn’t think it would be fair to pay entry-level workers the same amount as employees that have been working at the business for several years. 

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Watch the discussion here:  

— Despite the hiring flexibilities of the hospitality sector, the wine-and-dine scene is experiencing a labor shortage. 

Hillmer attributed the shortage to several factors: enhanced unemployment benefits keeping people from applying for jobs, other industries scooping up workers that had been laid off, and a general sense that teenagers aren’t working due to extracurricular activities. 

The J-1 Visa ban is another dilemma, she added. The non-immigrant J-1 visas allow exchange visitors to participate in programs such as business training. It primarily impacts resorts and seasonal businesses in Wisconsin. Hillmer used a restaurant association member from Wisconsin Dells as an example of the ban’s impact. The business usually expects 50 J-1 visa workers by March 25, but this year the business only has two.

Garthwaite said brewers have a further limited pool since breweries cannot hire teenagers to make beer. He added that gig economy work — like Uber driving, for example — are opportunities that people gravitate toward that further disadvantages the hospitality sector.

— In the latest episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast,” Park Bank Chief Banking Officer Josh Marron highlights the role community banks play in the state’s economic recovery.

Marron said he’s proud of the efforts put forth by community banks in the past year — administering close to 60 percent of PPP loans, stepping up for minority businesses and getting needed relief out the door fast.  

Processing PPP in addition to other stimulus money that came during the pandemic were responsibilities taken on by banks in addition to adjusting regular services for their clients. Marron explained that with record-low mortgage rates, bankers, while working remote, had to process record amounts of home loans for customers. Frontline tellers still handled cash and other in-person needs while keeping customer safe. 

“It’s our duty almost to make sure that we are supporting the community during the pandemic, but continue to do so on the other end as well,” Marron said.

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— After plateauing at the start of the month, Wisconsin’s seven-day average for daily confirmed cases is rising.

After reporting 537 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, the seven-day average rose to the highest it’s been in nearly three weeks — 459 cases per day. This is the highest since March 5, when the state reported 478 cases per day on average, according to the Department of Health Services.

“We were never at a low level of disease activity,” DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said during a health briefing. “We have come down from an extremely, critically, uber-high level of over 6,000 cases a day to the level we’re at today in the 450 cases per day increase. That is still very high.”

The disease activity for this week shows Wisconsin has a high level of COVID-19 activity.

“We’ve been lulled into a sense of security here in Wisconsin because we had it so bad, that just having it bad doesn’t seem too awful to us,” Willems Van Dijk said.

— Wisconsin is also seeing reports of the COVID-19 variants. The state reports 69 cases of the U.K. variant and one reported case of the South African variant. 

“We also know a number of states in the nation are seeing significant upticks in cases and identified cases of variants including our neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan,” Willems Van Dijk said. “We know that these variants are particularly infectious.”

She added that the variants give younger people a higher level of infection.

The state also added two deaths to its toll.  Wisconsin reports 6,600 active cases, 574,436 cases since the start of the pandemic and 6,599 total deaths.

See the Wisconsin COVID-19 Timeline: 

— Willems Van Dijk indicated moving up the date for the general public to be eligible for a COVID shot will depend on the federal vaccine supply, which is increasing.

“We continue to evaluate and we will keep you posted,” she told reporters when asked if the date could be moved up from May 1. 

On Monday, Wisconsin started vaccinating a new group of over 2 million people with chronic diseases. People 16 and older are slated to start vaccinations on May 1.

She said the state will get about 184,000 first-doses of vaccines next week — the largest allocation from the federal government to date. By comparison, the state received about 70,000 first-doses per week in January and into February. 

Willems Van Dijk told reporters not to compare Wisconsin to the roughly 25 states that have decided to open up vaccine eligibility to the general population ahead of May 1. 

“Every state is making these calculations as they go, and the dynamics in each state are different: we have different avenues for vaccine supply, we’ve had different phasing, we have different populations, we have different numbers of vaccinators,” she said. “It’s an apples to oranges comparison to go from state to state.”

— Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary data shows state unemployment rate held at 3.8 percent for February.

Those numbers also show the national unemployment rate average was 6.2 percent for February.

In addition, the total number of unemployed people in Wisconsin fell by 500 while the labor force increased by 2,500 and employment grew by 3,000 compared to January. The state labor force participation rate increased by 0.1 percent to 65.6.

The total number of non-farm jobs in Wisconsin fell by 4,500 while the total number of private-sector jobs fell by 1,000 from January to February. 

The construction industry saw the steepest decline in jobs with a loss of 4,100 positions since last month. The leisure and hospitality industry grew by 1,100 jobs during the same time, but is still down 61,600 jobs compared to February last year.

See the release: 

— A Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce survey of Madison-area businesses shows 70 percent of participants saw a decline in revenue in 2020 compared to 2019. 

Of those businesses, 24 percent saw their revenue number at least halved in 2020 compared to 2019. GMCC also reported 31 percent of businesses surveyed already closed or expected to close their doors within the next 12 months. And, 60 percent voted consumer and employee confidence is a top need with the need for more customers voted second most important.  

GMCC President Zach Brandon said those numbers show a difficult but navigable path ahead for businesses, adding the speed of recovery relies on strong public-private partnerships and maintaining an equilibrium among economic needs, health concerns and instilling public confidence.

The survey had responses from 368 small businesses and among them, 81 percent have 50 or fewer employees, 89 percent are headquartered in Dane County, 73 percent have locations only in Dane County, 41 percent are owned or led by women or people with other genders and 16 percent are owned or led by an individual who is non-white.

See the release: 

— Dane County announced another $15 million in pandemic recovery funds for small businesses in the county. 

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the funds will help support the Small Business Pandemic Support Grant Program partnered with Dane Buy Local, which will provide funds to small businesses through grants. The new funds come from the federal pandemic relief bill recently signed into law. 

This new round of pandemic relief funds more than doubles the total amount received by the group, which saw about $14 million from the CARES Act passed around the same date last year. 

“Plugging dollars directly into our small businesses and jumpstarting the local economy are incredibly important as we look to recover from the challenges of the past year,” Parisi said. “As this pandemic evolves, we feel these funds, put directly into the pockets of small business owners in our community, offer a real opportunity for a fresh start.”

See the release: 


# Wisconsin health official agrees with Robin Vos about business reopening offices by July

# Sale of Former Dean Foods Milk Plants Completed

# United Airlines adds nonstop flights from Milwaukee to five new destinations 



– Farmer credits “the little things” for 108-bushel soybean yield 

– Heritage Meats Issues Class II Recall of Precooked Meals, Raw Beef 


– Closing Pay Gap ‘Is Both A Gender Equity Issue And A Racial Justice Issue’ 


– In Wausau, Heated School Board Race Centers On Last Fall’s Reopening Debate 

– Charter high school will renovate former Journal Sentinel office in downtown Milwaukee 


– Amid uptick in COVID-19 cases, Wisconsin health official urges masks, preventive measures


– Wauwatosa Police Chief Subpoenaed To Testify In Mensah Case

– Wisconsin prisoner population dropped in 2020 amid pandemic


– Diamond Discs owner advocates for diversity in area’s business community 


– Restaurants top recipients of PPP dollars in Wisconsin during early weeks of lending this year 


– Cashless transactions and no tailgating: Here’s what you can expect at American Family Field 


– Milwaukee hotel occupancy surpasses 40% 


– Streetcar rides, once at 2,100 per day before pandemic, now just 516 


– Rep. Kind Proposing Expanded Rural Internet Legislation 


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

– The Oxbow Hotel and The Lakely: Set to reopen after over a year of closure due to the pandemic

– Main Street Alliance: PPP Extension Critical – and provides opportunity to address sole proprietor needs through retroactive application of current rules

– Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District: Announces upcoming retirement of director Michael Duckett

– Toward One Wisconsin Inclusivity Conference: Request for proposals is open