FRI AM News: Survey of Madison businesses highlights impact of labor shortages; WisBusiness: the Podcast with Ross Bjella, CEO and co-founder of Alithias

— A survey of Madison-area businesses shows labor shortages having a big impact on future growth.

In the survey, nearly one-third of respondents said they were held back from expanding their workforce this year due to talent shortages. 

The Fall 2021 Business Survey, which got responses from 305 businesses in the greater Madison region, found more respondents are pointing to limited access to talent and increased operating costs as barriers to business success. The survey is done by a coalition of business groups in the Madison area.

Of that number, 65 percent said limited access to talent is the top barrier to their business — more than double the 32 percent saying that in the spring survey. And 59 percent listed increased operating costs as a significant barrier, compared to 43 percent in the spring. 

The survey highlights a number of pandemic-related issues businesses are facing, including the impact of Dane County’s mask mandate, employees working from home and getting workers vaccinated. But Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon says the region is on the path to recovery despite these challenges. 

“With a wider availability of vaccines, consumer confidence on the rise, and many businesses experiencing revenue growth or looking to expand their workforce, there are reasons for optimism heading into 2022,” he said in a statement. 

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said their workforce is at least three-quarters fully vaccinated. 

Meanwhile, opinions are evenly split among for-profit businesses on Dane County’s indoor mask requirement, with 44 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed. And of those who said the mask requirement has impacted their business either positively or negatively, 71 percent said it has hurt their business. The county’s mask mandate was recently extended through Jan. 3. 

Thirty-four percent of respondents said government regulations represent a barrier for their business, while 30 percent pointed to a “lack of clarity in local government reopening plans.” 

About 65 percent of respondents reported revenue growth in 2021, although the 24 percent that reported revenue losses were “disproportionately” small businesses, a release shows. Madison Black Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Camille Carter says a lack of support for small businesses “remains a significant challenge.” 

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Destination Madison, Downtown Madison, Inc., the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Chamber of Commerce released the results of the survey, which was conducted online via email in partnership with the DeForest Windsor Area Chamber of Commerce, Fitchburg Chamber Visitor + Business Bureau, Middleton Chamber of Commerce and Verona Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Eighty percent of responding businesses have 50 or fewer employees, a release from these organizations shows. Ninety percent are headquartered in Dane County, while 74 percent have locations only in the county. Twenty-two percent are owned or led by someone who is part of an ethnic or racial minority, and 49 percent are owned or led by someone who identifies as a gender other than male. 

See more results here: 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Ross Bjella, CEO and co-founder of Alithias. 

After working as a life sciences industry executive for years, Bjella founded the Madison-based company in 2011. Alithias develops health care claims analytics technology aimed at helping employers reduce care-related costs and employees better understand their health benefits coverage. 

The company has over 200 client businesses, with an average workforce of between 200 and 400 employees. His largest client is La Crosse-based gas station chain Kwik Trip, which has over 8,000 employees. 

Bjella explains the program typically costs employers between $3 and $4 per employee per month, depending on the services offered. Some clients pay up to $10 per employee per month to get access to population health analytics, predictive modeling and other extra services. 

“For me it’s a mission,” he said. “It isn’t about another $75 a month, or $150 a month or something, it’s really how do we help employees get the best value from their benefit plan, and how do we encourage the local health systems and providers to compete based on both price and quality.” 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See a full list of podcasts: 

— State health officials say partnerships with clinical laboratories and providers will help identify cases of the new omicron variant of COVID-19 when it arrives in Wisconsin. 

“We’ve developed a lot of infrastructure to do this, and we are searching actively and we will continue our surveillance activities,” Department of Health Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard said yesterday during a press briefing.

No cases of the variant have yet been identified in Wisconsin, but the Minnesota Department of Health recently identified its first case of the variant. Because the genome sequencing process for identifying variants of the virus can take up to several weeks, Westergaard said it’s “possible, perhaps even likely” that the new strain is circulating more widely in the country. 

Early findings from South Africa suggest the omicron variant is more transmissible than the dominant delta variant, though the severity of disease caused by this variant is still unknown. The omicron variant presents a novel combination of mutations, but Westergaard explained that “it’s very difficult to predict how the virus behaves in the body” based on analyzing the mutations alone. 

“That’s something that we can’t do experiments on. We just need to observe,” he said. “I think in the coming weeks, I believe that within the next month, we’ll be able to observe enough people who’ve gotten sick with this variant around the world to see … whether it seems to be causing more severe disease.” 

The White House has rolled out new details of its plan to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming months, including implementing more travel-related restrictions, launching new vaccination clinics and reimbursing insured Americans for at-home COVID-19 tests. 

DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said state officials will be studying the details of that plan, including elements related to promoting booster doses for older adults, and “lining up our strategies” with the Biden administration’s approach. 

— Hospital capacity in Wisconsin continues to be stretched thin by the pandemic, with 97 percent of ICU beds and 98 percent of intermediate care beds currently in use. 

“With so many hospitals and health care workers already stressed by caring for COVID-19 patients, it becomes increasingly difficult to treat patients that need to come in for other reasons,” Timberlake said during yesterday’s briefing. 

Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Green Bay-based Prevea Health, said nearly 20 percent of the health system’s beds are occupied by someone who’s being actively treated for COVID-19 or is still hospitalized due to long-term effects. 

“No health care system is designed to have 20 percent of extra capacity just sitting there waiting for something,” he said on the call. 

He said one Prevea hospital recently turned away 28 patients in a single day, including three that had experienced strokes. 

“Those families unfortunately had to have their family members transferred over to one 200 miles away just to get basic care that they needed,” he said. “This wouldn’t happen if we had those beds and the staff available to take care of them, which are now being occupied by COVID patients.” 

The Wisconsin Hospital Association site shows 1,406 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 408 ICU patients. That number has been escalating rapidly since the end of October. 

The latest seven-day average for new cases in the state was 3,015 cases per day, as the number of daily cases being added to the system has reached levels not seen since late November 2020. 

See the latest case numbers here: 

See the WHA dashboard here: 

— The state Public Service Commission is now accepting applications for Wisconsin’s Broadband Expansion Grant Program. 

The PSC expects to award up to $100 million in early summer of 2022, and applications are being accepted through March 17. Funding for the program comes from the 2021-2023 biennial budget, which provided $129 million over the biennium to support expansion of broadband internet service in the state. 

Federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and American Rescue Plan Act has also been allocated to this effort by Gov. Tony Evers. He authorized the PSC to award over $105.3 million from these sources for 94 broadband expansion projects. 

According to a release from the agency, state-funded grants and federally funded projects “have provided or are going to offer access to new and improved broadband services” to over 300,000 businesses and homes in the state. 

In considering applications for the state broadband grant program, the PSC takes into account the impact on underserved areas, availability of matching funds from applicants, economic development, scalability and other factors. 

See the release: 


# Doctors say more women are seeking treatment for ‘long-haul’ COVID-19. Some say more research is needed to know who’s most affected.

# Surge in COVID-19 cases impacting access to health care in Juneau County

# Milwaukee’s Character VC firm raised $30 million to apply Google Ventures lessons to early startups



– New regional cover crop field guide released

– Bremmer serving as American Agri-Women national officer


– Gov. Evers announces $110M in additional funding for schools

– Madison School District to receive more than $3.5 million in federal funds

– UW System names committee members tasked with replacing outgoing UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank


– Frank Productions plans indoor music theater near Summerfest to compete with local venues

– Indoor music venue complex planned near Summerfest grounds


– Despite county supervisor’s efforts, Board of Health kills resolution to repeal local mask mandate

– UW-Milwaukee, Marquette will require all employees to get Covid shots to comply with Biden order

– More Wisconsinites on ventilators now than at any other point of COVID pandemic


– What will it take to get Wisconsin’s Black entrepreneurs the funds they need?

– Capital Midwest Fund closes on $41 million fund


– Competing health systems not matching Advocate Aurora’s $18 minimum wage


– Center for Black Excellence and Culture raises $5 million toward $36 million goal


– Bill would advance planning for UW-Madison engineering building that missed state budget funding 


– Surfacide lands $45 million ECAT contract


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

UW System: UW-Madison Chancellor Search and Screen Committee named

UW-Green Bay: UW-Marinette County Foundation consolidates with UW-Green Bay Foundation