THU AM News: Business execs pitch solutions to end ‘workforce emergency’; ‘Talking Trade’ features Port Milwaukee director

— Ending the federal unemployment bonus is just the first step in addressing what business association leaders are calling a “workforce emergency.”

More than a dozen business executives came together with GOP leaders at the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce building for a roundtable discussion on workforce. Ahead of the conversation, WMC President Kurt Bauer said the biggest issue prior to COVID-19 was a labor shortage, but now that issue has ballooned into a “workforce emergency.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he feels the pressure of the labor shortage, too, as a business owner. The Rochester Republican owns RoJos Popcorn Company in Burlington. He said he’s been using gift cards as an incentive for people to come to interviews and show up on time every week. 

State Senate and Assembly Republicans have introduced bills to end the state’s participation in the federal program. And U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Allouez, has introduced a bill to convert the federal unemployment benefit into a sign-on bonus for new hires. 

“I think it’s wrong that my employees who go to work every day, are putting in 40-50 hours a week, many of them making somewhere between $15 and $25 an hour — that’s our payscale — are working every week and other people are not,” Vos said. 

Read the full story at 

— The city of Manitowoc is getting $98,000 to investigate and ensure the environmental health of a 7.7-acre site on a Manitowoc River peninsula in the city’s downtown.

The money from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will help prepare the site to be redeveloped as part of the larger 20.1-acre River Point District Redevelopment Plan. 

The dollars will cover soil and groundwater investigation and reporting expenditures necessary before the Department of Natural Resources allows redevelopment to move forward.

This grant is the fourth WEDC award for the overall River Point District. The district has been awarded $524,550. 

The site assessment is expected to be completed in December of 2021. Then plans can move forward for new streets, utilities and lighting. The largest part of the planned projects is a six-story, 87-unit apartment project. 

— Adam Tindall-Schlicht, director of Port Milwaukee, talks with Sandi Siegel and Ian Coxhead of “Talking Trade” about new port developments.

He also talks about the port’s role in Midwest trade and how possible rail mergers may impact Wisconsin. 

He will also be part of a World Trade Association panel discussion on June 30, “Port Milwaukee Project & Its Effects on Global Agriculture.” 

Watch the latest episode: 

— The Public Service Commission has released application instructions for the first round of broadband access grants, funded through the federal COVID-19 relief package.

PSC will give up to $100 million for projects that will expand high-speed internet to unserved and underserved locations statewide. Applications are due July 27. PSC expects to make award decisions in the early fall. 

Internet service providers, telecommunications utilities, cooperatives, local governments, and for-profit and nonprofit organizations are eligible. Approved projects must be completed by Dec. 31, 2024. There is no minimum or maximum amount of money an applicant may request.

PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq said the pandemic exacerbated the disadvantage of people without broadband access.

“These federal funds, along with those in the Governor’s budget, will help our state recover from the pandemic by allowing Wisconsin businesses and families to participate in our economic recovery,” she said.

See the application instructions: 

Register for a grant program webinar on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.: 

— Clearwater Paper Corporation is closing its Neenah facility, a decision that will put its 290 employees out of work.

The Spokane-based company intends to vacate the mill by the end of July. Acquired by Clearwater Paper in 2010, the facility had a total paper production capacity of approximately 54,000 tons.

“Despite the best efforts of our dedicated employees, our Neenah location and assets cannot cost effectively compete in the markets that we serve,” said President and CEO Arsen Kitch in a tweet. “This was a difficult decision, because it affects our people, their families and the Neenah community.”

The Clearwater Paper closure came nearly a year after Verso announced it would stop production at its Wisconsin Rapid’s mill on June 9, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic driving down demand for graphic paper. Verso was the largest employer in Wisconsin Rapids with more than 900 employees. A bill is circulating in the state Assembly and Senate to help in the purchase of the mill. 

The Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association has been working with UW-Madison to form a cooperative entity which would purchase the mill and return it to operation as a soft/pulpwood plant, the Portage County Gazette reported less than a month ago.

— Workers at Hufcor Manufacturing will rally at noon today to demand that their Janesville plant stay open.

The Industrial Division of the Communication Workers of America Local 84811, a labor union that represents some manufacturing workers at Hufcor, said Hufcor and its private equity parent company OpenGate Capital intends to ship production and over 150 jobs to Mexico.

Union members will be on the sidewalk outside Hufcor at 2101 Kennedy Road in Janesville. 

“We will do everything in our power to fight for these jobs,” said IUE-CWA Local 84811 President Tom Casey. “The closing of the Hufcor Janesville plant not only affects these employees but also affects our local suppliers and businesses in the surrounding area. We need to keep good union jobs in our community. OpenGate Capital is promoting a race to the bottom to exploit low wages in Mexico. It’s a strategy to squeeze profits over people.”

See the petition:

— The 2021 Milwaukee Air & Water Show was canceled for a second year due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

The annual military and civilian show featuring US Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron was scheduled for July 24-25. 

“This was a hard decision that impacts so many involved with the Milwaukee Air & Water Show, but it is the right decision during this unprecedented time,” said Milwaukee County Parks Executive Director Guy Smith.

Although Milwaukee’s mask mandate was lifted this week, organizers need six months to plan the event properly, said Paul Rogers, this year’s show president. Additionally, the Milwaukee County Board limited events to 1,000 attendees.  

“With such a short amount of time, it didn’t make sense to hold the event for 1,000 people,” Rogers said. 

The show is performed on Milwaukee County land and facilities, so it cannot open at full capacity the way locations like American Family Field in the city of Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Air & Water Show is set to return in 2022.

— Modern Hire, a hiring platform with roots in Delafield, released an artificial intelligence program that aims to remove bias from interviews, creating a more diverse workforce.

The video feature, Automated Interview Scoring, records the interview and evaluates the candidate based on only the transcript of the meeting. Things like tone and facial expressions will not be considered.

The program focuses on the job-relevant responses of the interview and compares them to pre-programmed standards. Hiring managers and candidates are both given rating information to ensure transparency. Before AIS is used, candidates will be informed and can decide to opt out.

“Interviewing is a traditionally subjective and biased process,” said the company’s chief science officer, Mike Hudy. “For the first time, our AIS solution ensures that interviews can be automatically scored in a way that replicates trained expert human raters increasing the fairness, consistency and transparency of interviews.”

— RSVP for the June 15 – – Wisconsin Technology Council “From dairy to tech: How smarter immigration policy can help the Midwest workforce” virtual event.

Four speakers will talk about the prospects for immigration reform under the Biden administration and within Congress, and how bipartisan changes might help solve workforce problems in some of Wisconsin’s largest economic sectors.

Participants are Reid Ribble, a former Republican member of Congress from northeast Wisconsin and chief executive officer for the National Roofing Contractors Association; Ankit Agarwal, president and CEO of Imbed Biosciences Inc. in Madison; Jay Heeg, of Heeg Brothers Dairy in Colby and a former president of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin; and Kelly Fortier, an attorney with the Michael Best law firm. Tom Still, president of the Tech Council, will moderate.

The program is set to run via webinar from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 15.



# Vos looks to crack down on those who skip job interviews

# Nekoosa lawmaker asks for 50 million dollar loan for restarting idled papermill in Wisconsin Rapids 

# GOP Proposals Would Prohibit COVID-19 Vaccine Passports, Employer Requirements



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