FRI AM News: WisBusiness: the Podcast with Jim Popp of Johnson Financial Group; Talking Trade with Julie Pojar of Kohler Co

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Jim Popp, president and CEO of Johnson Financial Group. 

Popp offers his perspective on the state’s economic rebound, and touches on the impact of supply chain issues on businesses in Wisconsin. He says the financial service provider’s customers are “chugging along and doing well” amid the ongoing recovery. 

He also explains how the pandemic’s influence on the banking industry has accelerated a move toward the virtual space, for customers that prefer doing business remotely. 

“We still think that branches have a really great place in the industry, but having capabilities in both spaces is really important for us and the pandemic showed us that,” Popp said. 

Johnson Financial Group recently announced a $500,000 donation going to United Way groups around the state. Popp discusses the importance of “giving back to the communities where we live and work and play,” as well as the company’s recent move to a new headquarters in Milwaukee. 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See the full list of WisBusiness podcasts: 

— The featured guest on the latest “Talking Trade” video is Julie Pojar, senior manager of international trade compliance at Kohler Co.

Times are tough for international trade with snarled U.S. ports and, as Talking Trade hosts Ian Coxhead and Sandi Siegel learn from Pojar, a patchwork of changing tariffs poses continued trade barriers.

Watch the show here: 

— Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remained unchanged in September at 3.9 percent, the latest figures from the Department of Workforce Development show.

DWD’s report provided the first look at jobs in the state since expanded federal unemployment benefits ended early last month.

GOP lawmakers and business groups including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce had been calling for Gov. Tony Evers to end those benefits earlier, arguing the extra income was incentivizing people not to work amid the ongoing workforce shortage.

Scott Hodek, section chief of the DWD’s Office of Economic Advisors, said the data for September don’t show an increase in job growth or the state’s labor force following the expanded benefits ending. During a briefing with reporters yesterday, he noted other states that ended the benefits early haven’t experienced “any kind of labor force or jobs surge” either.

Wisconsin’s unemployment has held at 3.9 percent for the past six months, and remains below the national rate of 4.8 percent for September.

Hodek said the total number of nonfarm jobs in Wisconsin remained “relatively flat” between August and September, but added the state’s employment total has rebounded to 96 percent of the February 2020 pre-pandemic peak.

While manufacturing jobs in the state have risen above the level from early 2020, the leisure and hospitality sector is seeing a slower recovery as bars, restaurants and hotels struggle to recoup pandemic job losses.

“It’s important to note that from September 2019, it’s still down about 19 percent,” Hodek said. “This industry was hit very hard during the pandemic, as I think we would all expect, and it’s still trying to hire back quite a few people.”

WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer said he’s heard anecdotally from member businesses that job applications have “gone up slightly” since Labor Day, but points out that DWD’s jobs board currently has more than twice as many openings posted than resumes from people actively seeking work.

“That really encapsulates the situation we’re in,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Despite the expanded federal benefits ending, Bauer argues that other government benefits such as direct stimulus payments, enhanced food stamps and child tax credits are continuing to “incentivize people to stay out of the labor force.” He also highlighted the state’s demographic challenges, noting that “we just don’t have enough people” for Wisconsin’s current and future labor market.

See the DWD release here:

— A coalition of business groups led by WiMC is urging Gov. Tony Evers to allocate additional American Rescue Plan Act funding to a state talent attraction campaign. 

Organizations including WMC, the Wisconsin Builders Association, the Wisconsin Bankers Association, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the Wisconsin Paper Council, more than a dozen chambers of commerce and other groups have signed onto a letter making this request. They’re asking Evers to “expediently utilize” $3 million from the 2021-23 state budget to fund the campaign. 

In the letter, they also urge Evers to use ARPA funds “to further bolster this program in order to provide a robust and comprehensive strategy” for attracting talent to the state. The letter highlight’s the state’s “severe workforce shortage,” and calls for any new talent attraction efforts to be modeled after an earlier WEDC campaign from 2018. 

WEDC’s David Callender says that campaign lasted until the start of the pandemic, and the agency spent approximately $5 million on the effort. 

“WEDC is working to include the talent attraction requirement as part of our overall workforce strategy,” Callender said in an email. “WEDC is in the midst of administering the $100 million Workforce Innovation Grant program as part of its commitment to addressing the workforce challenges facing Wisconsin businesses and communities.” 

WMC notes in the letter that its latest employer survey found nearly three-fourths of respondents are supportive of the state funding a talent attraction campaign. 

“These employers understand that individual talent recruitment programs can be difficult and have little impact, but partnerships with regional and statewide initiatives can bring the next generation of talent to their businesses,” the business groups wrote. 

Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of WMC, noted in an interview that the state had more people working before the pandemic than today, and demographic trends will prevent Wisconsin from meeting labor demand on its own. 

“We’ve got to figure out a way to bring people into our state, otherwise those jobs will go someplace else and we don’t want that,” he said. 

See WMC’s release:

See the letter to Evers: 

— Wisconsin has received a $1 million federal grant to develop a plan for expanding electric vehicle infrastructure. 

The Statewide Economic Development Planning grant comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. It was rolled out yesterday along with grant awards for 23 other recipient states. Funding for the grants comes from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

State agencies including the Department of Administration, Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. submitted a proposal for the grant funding that includes planning for EV charging stations, expanding “electric vehicle manufacturing supply chain opportunities” and other related efforts. 

“This is an investment that has the potential to build on our existing assets as a leader in advanced manufacturing, electric power generation and battery storage, and EV design, and catalyze growth of an exciting new industry,” said Missy Hughes, WEDC secretary and CEO, in the release. 

See more details on the grant funding: 

— The latest seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in the state has fallen to 1,869 cases per day, the state Department of Health Services site shows. 

That number is still about as high as the average from mid-January, but marks an overall decline from the latest peak in September, when the seven-day average reached 2,940 cases per day. 

Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are no longer rapidly increasing, and the Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows the total number of patients hospitalized with the virus has decreased in the past week or so. Still, the number of ICU patients has increased over the same period, and over 57 percent of hospitals in Wisconsin still have ICUs at peak capacity, according to DHS. 

Health experts in the state have cautioned in recent weeks that despite some favorable trends in the data, the surge in cases driven by the delta variant is still ongoing. And high case activity is expected to continue for months even if the trend continues. 

As of yesterday, 57.5 percent of the state’s population have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 54.8 percent have completed the vaccine series. On the national level, 66.2 percent of the U.S. population have gotten at least one dose and 57.2 percent are fully vaccinated. 

Find the latest case numbers from DHS here: 

See the WHA dashboard: 

— An upcoming breakfast event in Washington, D.C. will feature U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Green Bay Republican, as well as a panel of expert speakers. 

The Nov. 2 event will focus on how federal funding can boost research efforts and metro area growth. 

Panelists include Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program; Steve Ackerman, a climate scientist and vice chancellor for research and graduate education at UW-Madison; and Brooke Mayer, an associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at Marquette University.

See more event details and register here: 


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– Wisconsin milk production continued to climb in September


– Building Commission OKs projects at UW-Stout, UW-Oshkosh 

– Good City sees interest from food and beverage companies for more space at Century City


– Wisconsin saw no private sector job growth in September

– Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remains at 3.9%


– DATCP: Don’t let harvest rush lead to manure runoff

– Conservancy group purchases 70K acres of northern forest


– Milwaukee announces second dose COVID-19 vaccine incentive program

– Oneida Nation extends $500 COVID-19 vaccine incentive through March 2022

– Late Redmond Co. founder’s cancer battle moves daughter to launch supplements brand

– Advocate Aurora says it has achieved near full compliance with its COVID vaccine mandate


– Wisconsin firm raises $4.5 million as it aims to disrupt home medical equipment industry


– Hunzinger Construction’s Kevin O’Toole dies of pancreatic cancer

– Northwestern Mutual Foundation names new president


– Milwaukee Tool to open 70,000-square-foot Chicago office for engineers


– Viewpoints: Illinois tech initiative should be wake-up call to Wisconsin


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

UW-Green Bay: Hits 70% threshold for student vaccinations

Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council: 14th Annual Conference announced