FRI AM News: Panel: STEM is growing, but minorities still underrepresented; ‘WisBusiness: The Podcast’ features Jeanine Burmania, WARF

— Growth and innovation in STEM has become a guiding force in the economy, but minorities continue to be underrepresented in these fields, according to a Milwaukee business panel. 

Leaders from Northwestern Mutual, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Jet Constellations and IC Stars spoke at a virtual event put on by Fuel Milwaukee to discuss the importance of diversity in science and technology.

The failure of corporate leaders to properly integrate diversity into their hiring strategies is the root cause of low numbers of women, African Americans and Hispanics in the industry, they said.

“It’s time that we hold leadership, executives and people who are in positions of power accountable,” said Nadiyah Johnson, founder and CEO of Jet Constellations. “I think the barrier that currently still exists, is that there are far too many [people] in positions of power that…are just woefully ignorant around the impact of diversity.”

It was pointed out by several speakers that children need to be exposed to STEM careers at a young age to foster interest in the field. Leia Ferrari, talent placement manager for IC Stars, stated that companies should be responsible for taking part in fostering student talent to improve recruitment numbers later on.

Read the full story at 

— The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation has seen the pandemic influence research happening on campus over the past year.

“In support of that, we actually put together a challenge that we called our Accelerator COVID-19 Challenge where we actually provided funding to campus to help innovate in this space and develop new technologies that ranged from respirators to different diagnostics,” said Jeanine Burmania, senior director of IP and licensing at WARF in the latest “WisBusiness: The Podcast” episode.

Earlier this year, WARF announced a surgical shield design is available for a royalty-free commercial license. The shield is meant to protect doctors in the operating room from COVID-19. It’s currently still available. The royalty-free license is one way that WARF is working to provide personal protective equipment and new technologies related to therapies and diagnostics during the pandemic. 

But WARF is still seeing technologies outside of the COVID space. Every year, WARF has up to 60 license agreements ranging from research models to agricultural software. Some interesting things in the pipeline this year include 3D metal printing technology and a new method for making sparkling wine. 

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— Gov. Tony Evers has signed legislation that would match two dozen state tax laws to federal code, including a change that ensures businesses that accepted PPP loans aren’t taxed on the expenses they covered with the money.

The overall impact of the tax changes is more than $594 million through mid-2023.

The bulk of that is the PPP provision, which will save businesses $444 million. In signing the bill, Evers also touted a provision he pushed to boost the Earned Income Tax Credit that benefits low-income Wisconsinites. That change will save them more than $30 million.

“This past year has been challenging and unrelenting for so many, but since the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve been committed to providing economic relief to the folks who’ve been affected by the pandemic,” Evers said. “We know business and families across Wisconsin need help now, so I’m proud to be able to deliver $480 million in tax relief for folks across our state.”

— The Department of Health Services is launching a vaccine registry service March 1, when the next eligible groups can start scheduling a vaccination.

The Wisconsin COVID-19 Vaccine Registry will help people know where and when they can get vaccinated, and let them schedule an appointment. The registry will be used by those who opt in and will not be a comprehensive resource for all vaccination options. Health care systems, pharmacies, and local health departments may already have their own registration and scheduling software.

The vaccine registry will require people to answer several questions to determine if they are in one of the groups eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and help them schedule an appointment. If they are not eligible, or if no appointments are currently available, they will be placed on a waiting list. Appointments can only be made through this system in communities with vaccinators who are using the vaccine registry.

The registry can also send reminders for the second dose and help monitor vaccinated people for side effects. Applicants without internet access can contact a call center.

The software is possible through a $1.2 million partnership with Microsoft, according to DHS. The money is coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, otherwise known as FEMA.  

— The next phase, made up of food chain workers, bus drivers and teachers, among others, will cover about another 700,000 people, according to DHS’ deputy secretary.

Julie Willems Van Dijk said she expects vaccinations to half of that group by mid to late April. That’s when DHS will look at announcing the next eligible groups, which may include people with comorbidities, she said.

— DHS’ goal for herd immunity was June, now officials are hoping for the end of summer.

About 13 percent of Wisconsinites — 761,000 people — have gotten at least the first dose. The goal for herd immunity is 80 percent coverage. 

“I’m not sure when we’ll be there. Our goal is by June. I don’t think we’re going to have enough vaccine supply to get there by June. So it’s really largely linked to when we’ll have vaccine supply. Hopefully by the end of the summer,” Willems Van Dijk said.

She said the federal government has upped Wisconsin’s weekly first-dose allocation to 115,000 doses. That’s a 64 percent increase from mid-January. The new allocation amount will continue for at least the next three weeks. In addition to that allotment, 18,000 doses per week are available through Walgreens. But it still falls short of the 350,000 doses that Wisconsin vaccinators requested last week.

— Meanwhile, Willems Van Dijk said Wisconsin is “on a roll” as it has administered over 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

It took 48 days to administer the first 500,000 doses. It took 18 more days to administer the next 500,000 doses. 

About 289,000 of the more than 1 million doses were booster shots, meaning about 289,000 Wisconsinites have completed a two-dose vaccine series and are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

More than 43 percent of individuals age 65 or over have received at least the first dose. At that pace, Willems Van Dijk expects to reach 50 percent by March 1.

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— The Village of Hixton is getting a $233,000 state grant to build a new commercial building in downtown Hixton.

The Community Development Investment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will support the demolition of a condemned building and construction of a new shop and showroom for Sampson Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. to be completed this year. 

The proposed project will save 10 full-time jobs in the business district; increase the square footage of the building with a larger showroom, warehousing and truck shop; and help create two to three new full-time positions soon after project completion.

The Village of Hixton is working with Sampson to redevelop the property, which was damaged during a snowstorm in 2019. In order to rebuild, the business needs to adhere to the recommended village downtown aesthetics, such as a brick façade, which puts an additional burden on the project. The state grant will help with the costs.

— Forward BIOLABS, a life sciences coworking lab, is honoring its sponsors, which have committed $4.5 million in investments, for impacting startups in the biotech space.

Currently, 16 startups are using the Forward BIOLABS space, and five have graduated to continue growing their companies in their own spaces.

Founding sponsors — MGE, Promega, University Research Park, WARF and WEDC — and “platinum” sponsors — Findorff, Gilson, UW-Madison and WiCell — have invested cash, equipment and in-kind services to the company. 

“Forward BIOLABS fills a gap in Madison’s startup ecosystem, radically reducing the amount of capital it takes to launch a new life-science company or prove out a new concept,” said Aaron Olver, Forward BIOLABS board president and managing director at University Research Park. “It offers a unique platform in the Midwest.”

See a recent story about Forward BIOLABS at 

— Former President and CEO of HSHS East Wisconsin Health System Therese Pandl will keynote UW-Green Bay’s Institute for Women’s Leadership kickoff event on March 5.

Pandl’s keynote will highlight the morning’s kickoff event, which coincides with International Women’s Day. UW-Green Bay is establishing the institute as a comprehensive leadership resource for women in northeast Wisconsin. 

Recognizing the region’s growing need for a pipeline of women leaders and the distinct challenges faced by professional women in the workplace, the institute aims to eliminate barriers that narrow opportunities at all stages in their professional careers, from rising women of promise to woman executives. 

“In my opinion, companies, organizations and our country perform better when women leaders are at the decision-making table,” Pandl said.



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– Baldwin Still Pushing to Make More Farmers Eligible for PPP Loans 


– Tommy Thompson: 75 Percent Of UW’s Fall Classes Will Be In-Person 


– Physical work on American Family’s Milwaukee office on pause 


– Health leaders ask state of Wisconsin to consider delay in expanding vaccine eligibility 


– Johnson Controls commits $2 million to National Urban League and its Milwaukee affiliate 

– Briggs & Stratton extends Summerfest sponsorship 


– GOP budget committee chairs shed some light on what Republicans may support, oppose in Tony Evers’ budget proposal

– Organizers more than halfway to fundraising goal for Vel Phillips statue at Capitol


– Homebuilding numbers up in four-county Milwaukee metro 


– Panel approves outdoor seating for Milwaukee restaurants extension through summer 


– Retail sales jumped 5.3% in January, far higher than expected 


– As more fans are allowed into Fiserv Forum, here’s how the Milwaukee Bucks screen for Covid 


– Milwaukee museums announce March reopening plans 


– We Energies planning new steam district operations HQ 


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

– Wisconsin Technology Council: How planned $100-million state venture investment can help Wisconsin

– Northwestern Mutual: Delivers record results; company is exceptionally strong and growing

– Dept. of Justice: AG Kaul Announces Settlement with 3 Facilities Requiring $190,000 in Payment for Water Pollution and Wastewater Violations

– UW Madison: Engineering Alum Left Mark on Mars Mission