TUE AM News: Wisconsin’s pre-pandemic economy a long road ahead; Hospitality, entertainment industries hit hardest during COVID

— The state has a long road ahead before the economy returns to pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest report from Forward Analytics.

Forward Analytics is the research arm of the Wisconsin Counties Association. “The COVID Economy: The Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Wisconsin” examines the economic damage wrought by the pandemic in Wisconsin from March through November 2020.

“Wisconsin, like the rest of our nation, has been battered from all directions by COVID-19,” said Forward Analytics Director Dale Knapp, who authored the report.  “This latest report quantifies the impact it has had on workers and businesses, including loss of jobs, reductions in GDP, the closing of small businesses, and increased household reliance on the FoodShare program.”

The hit to Wisconsin’s economy in the first half of 2020, particularly during March through May, was enormous, according to the report. Wisconsin’s GDP fell 11.4 percent, and the unemployment rate soared from 3.5 percent in February to 13.6 percent in April, the highest it has been since the Great Depression.

Historical federal assistance helped lessen the economic damage — the federal CARES Act injected nearly $20 billion into the state economy via $1,200 cash payments to individuals, $600 per week of additional unemployment benefits and forgivable loans to small businesses designed to keep workers on the payroll. 

Without that federal help, Wisconsin’s total personal income would have declined significantly in the second quarter. Instead, it rose 8 percent, according to the report.

The sharp economic decline was short-lived as employers began rehiring significant numbers of workers in May and June, Knapp said. However, the pace of job gains slowed during July through September, and employment declined in October and November. The unemployment rate confirms the slowing of the recovery. By November, the rate had fallen to 5 percent — still well above February 2020’s rate.

— While nearly all industries have been affected by the pandemic, Knapp said the travel, food service, and arts and entertainment industries were hardest hit. 

“As of November, employment was 25% below February levels in hotels, restaurants, and bars and 36% below February levels in the arts and entertainment industry,” he said. 

Forward Analytics cited a November survey showing 37 percent of Wisconsin restaurant operators felt they would be out of business in six months without federal help.

The recently passed stimulus bill that includes assistance for struggling businesses and unemployment compensation through mid-March, and the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine are reasons to be hopeful, Knapp said. 

“However, recently discovered mutations of the COVID virus in Great Britain and South Africa are significantly more contagious than the original virus,” he added as a caveat. “In just under a month from the date the British strain was identified in mid-December, cases there more than tripled. Should those strains take hold in the United States, cases could spike in late winter or early spring and further stall economic recovery.”

See the Forward Analytics report: https://www.forward-analytics.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2021-FA-Report-Final-Covid-and-the-Economy.pdf 

— UW-Platteville expanded its Women in Engineering, Mathematics and Science program to become the Women in STEM program to impact more female students on campus. 

The program added majors including construction management, industrial technology management, agriculture, geography and forensic investigation, among others to double the number of women on campus it serves to roughly 1,000. Women in STEM offers a number of learning, mentorship and professional services and events to support them. 

The retention rate of women in STEM at UW-Platteville is among the highest on campus, with an estimated 90 percent from the first to the second year. The number of women enrolled in STEM programs at UW-Platteville has steadily climbed over the years, with an estimated 60 percent increase in the past decade, due in part to a focus on supporting a pipeline of incoming students through K-12 outreach programs, according to the university. 

College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science Dean Molly Gribb said women remain underrepresented not only in STEM fields but in corporate leadership roles as well.

“In 2020, only 40 of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies were women. Leading technical companies, and employers of our graduates, like Trane Technologies, are actively working to increase gender parity in their leadership team through their involvement in the Paradigm for Parity consortium,” Gribb said. “Providing these experiences for students before they graduate will position them well to take advantage of leadership opportunities when they join the work force.” 

— The city of Superior is getting a $250,000 state grant to help in the construction of a 60-unit Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in downtown Superior.

The money from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will support the partnership between the city of Superior and Superior Hotel Group, LLC in completing the 36,800- square-foot, four-story hotel by the end of this year.

“A vibrant downtown is vital to a community’s overall economic success, and the new Cobblestone Hotel & Suites will play a key role in bringing more visitors to downtown Superior to enjoy the many amenities the city has to offer,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC.

The addition of Cobblestone Hotel & Suites will allow business travelers and tourists to stay in the heart of downtown within walking distance to restaurants, breweries, retail and specialty shops. The location also offers more lodging options for visitors to UW-Superior and to the nearby Superior Amateur Hockey Association.

City officials estimate the project will create more than 30 construction jobs and a total of 35 full- and part-time jobs after the hotel is up and running. They also project an assessed value of $8 million after the project is completed, which constitutes an increased tax base for the city.

— The Department of Health Services and WEDC are looking for input from businesses to determine how to best support employers with resources to encourage or facilitate COVID-19 vaccination in the workplace.

Access the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FGYYD3M 

— The latest episode of “WisBusiness.com: The Show” spotlights Dr. Timothy Nelson, the research and innovation director for the Mayo Clinic in northwest Wisconsin.

Nelson works to foster R&D opportunities for students and faculty at UW-Eau Claire.

Also in the episode, Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still presents “Tech Metrics,” which chart key indicators and events in the Wisconsin economy.

Watch the show: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/wisbusiness-the-show-features-may-clinics-dr-tim-nelson/ 

— José Delgado, the founder of the Pewaukee-based American Transmission Company and a UW System regent, passed away Sunday. 

“Regent Delgado was a champion of higher education as a way to improve lives and communities in Wisconsin while holding the UW System accountable,” said UW System President Tommy Thompson and Regent President Andrew Petersen. “He was continually looking for ways to stay involved in his community and his state. We will all miss his charm and grace at our meetings and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family.”

— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is again urging the Department of Health Services to add 381,000 manufacturing workers to the second phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Last week, the state’s medical advisory committee approved a recommendation for the second phase that included food chain workers, non-frontline health care workers, teachers and those in congregate living, including prisoners, among others.

WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer argued that Wisconsin manufacturers have been essential in making personal protective equipment for hospitals and businesses, but the state has still put prisoners over workers.

“It is simply unacceptable that the state would tell manufacturers that they do not deserve to be part of the next phase of vaccination but prisoners do,” he wrote in WMC’s letter to new DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake.

The federal advisory committee recommended including manufacturing employees in the second phase, but the state committee only included 84,800 food processors, WMC noted. Bauer called the state’s rejection of that guidance disheartening.

“We ask you to reverse this decision, and include manufacturing workers in Phase 1B,” he wrote. The letter followed a series of written and verbal requests made by WMC throughout the recommendation process, including in the public comment period that ended Jan. 18.

Evers said Timberlake can edit the plan offered by the state committee in making the final decision on who is included in the next phase. DHS spokeswoman Jennifer Miller told WisBusiness.com the agency expects to provide information on the next wave of recipients today. The department is holding a health briefing today at 1:30 p.m.

Read the full letter: https://www.wmc.org/wp-content/uploads/COVID-19-Vaccine-Priority-Letter-Jan-2021.pdf

Watch the DHS briefing live on YouTube tomorrow: https://www.youtube.com/user/dhswi/videos

Read the latest Health Care Report: https://mailchi.mp/wispolitics/mon-health-care-report-wmc-urges-dhs-to-include-381k-manufacturing-workers-on-vaccination-list

<i>For more of the most relevant news on the coronavirus outbreak, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin and links to top stories, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com.

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