THU AM News: MadREP report shows certain diversity metrics improving while inequities remain; State to use $80M in federal funds to update unemployment insurance system

— A recent report from the Madison Region Economic Partnership found certain measures of diversity and inclusion among companies in south central Wisconsin continue to improve. 

Still, four out of five of the company boards represented in the latest survey included no people of color, and nearly a third of the boards had only male members. 

The survey was completed by 270 businesses, nonprofits and government organizations in the region with 10 or more employees. More than half of that number are based in Dane County. About 80 percent of respondents have between 10 and 49 employees, and 17 percent have between 50 and 249 employees. 

Compared to previous surveys conducted for MadREP since 2016, the proportion of women on company boards of directors has been trending upward, the report shows. And representation of people of color on boards has been “substantially higher” in the past two surveys than in those conducted between 2016 and 2019. 

“It is encouraging that the gender and racial/ethnic diversity of boards of directors in the MadREP area expanded or at least did not decline substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” report authors wrote. 

And the report notes that women and people of color among responding companies did not appear to have “suffered disproportionately from layoffs” associated with the pandemic. 

Over 80 percent of responding businesses in this year’s survey had no racial minorities in top leadership positions. Women made up 42 percent of all leadership positions among these companies, but about 31 percent said they have no women in top leadership positions. 

Compared to previous surveys, the percentages of women and people of color holding leadership positions in the region have been increasing since 2016. Report authors point to a “continuation of positive trends” for these and other metrics. 

The report was created by the UW-River Falls Survey Research Center on behalf of MadREP. 

See the full report: 

— DWD will use $80 million in federal funds to upgrade the state’s unemployment insurance system after GOP lawmakers earlier this year rebuffed Gov. Tony Evers’ attempts to use state funds for the work.

As part of yesterday’s announcement, DWD officials said Madison-based Flexion has been selected for its UI modernization contract, which will entail phased software upgrades and other enhancements over time. The effort is aimed at improving how the state handles UI claims and customer interactions without interrupting claims processing.

Excluding hardware and software that will be implemented to support the transition to the new system, the state will be paying Flexion approximately $16.5 million over the four-year contract period. That’s according to Stacia Jankowski, DWD’s UI modernization project manager.

“Two of the first steps in the project involve developing a modern data model and establishing an application program interface, or API, that will reduce the amount of system downtime,” Jankowski said. “This will free up staff time and increase the capacity for processing claims.”

DWD struggled to process unemployment insurance claims during a deluge that was prompted by the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Evers sought $5.3 million in general purpose revenue through a special session as a down payment on the work to overhaul the system, but the Legislature rejected the call.

Evers then put $79.5 million in GPR into his budget request to modify the system, but that was rejected as well. The Joint Finance Committee also shot down Evers’ budget request for $15 million toward UI general administration.

Joint Finance Co-chair Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said he was happy to see Evers “finally” take action after the Legislature has pushed him to act for more than a year, while fellow Co-chair Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, accused the guv of a lack of leadership.

“Republicans have been saying for months that Governor Evers can use federal funds for the project and, finally, he woke up and is using the resources available to him,” Born said. “Governor Evers said there is no time to waste on the issue, yet it took him almost a year to simply select an IT provider — three months after the project was supposed to begin.”

Near the end of last year, DWD had reduced the backlog of UI claims to seasonal pre-pandemic levels and either resolved or assigned remaining issues over 21 days old to an adjudicator.

The backlog has remained relatively low since then, the DWD site shows. For the week ending Sept. 18, the total number of adjudication issues pending scheduling was 7,116. At the same time last year, that number was 89,538. Meanwhile, the current number of appeals pending scheduling is 12,526.

A Legislative Audit Bureau report in July found that DWD failed to resolve appeal decisions “in a timely manner” between June 2020 and May 2021. The agency attributed the delays to an “unprecedented surge” in claims during that time as well as “legacy underinvestment” in technology infrastructure.

During yesterday’s webinar, DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek explained the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the significant increase in claims. She emphasized that DWD’s existing system is built on an “antiquated technology” framework.

“A new system, it will allow us to be able to more quickly implement new programs that may come from the federal government if there is another pandemic or economic downturn,” she said. “We won’t have those extended programming delays that we saw working with a mainframe that was over 50 years old.”

Neeraj Kulkarni, chief information officer for DWD, says the new system will rely more on automated processes including “chatbots and virtual agents,” freeing up more staff and improving the agency’s ability to prevent fraud.

“We will be working with Flexion together to introduce, create and define the roadmap for modernization,” he said. “Claimants will be able to experience those changes very soon. That’s our goal.”

See the latest snapshot of claims and appeals:

See the LAB report:

See more details in a release:

— Rockwell Automation has been reducing shipment sizes and exploring alternative routes and carriers in recent months to respond to ongoing logistics issues. 

“I would actually say that in some cases, our large volumes hurt us,” said Christine Lynne, director of North American logistics for Rockwell Automation. “One of the things we’ve actually done is reduce the sizes to actually be able to operate in those smaller footprints.” 

Her comments came during a recent webinar hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s World Trade Association, focused on delays in shipping and other transportation challenges. Global supply chains have been disrupted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leading to delays and cost increases for many companies that rely on these networks to move their materials and products. 

With headquarters in Milwaukee, Rockwell Automation is a global company with a presence in more than 80 countries around the world. Lynne said recent COVID-19 lockdowns and labor schedule changes at seaports and airports in China have caused issues for the company’s shipments. 

In some cases, fully loaded planes departing from the United States would return from China without being unloaded because the recipient location didn’t have sufficient workers to do so, Lynne said. 

“That’s a heartbreaker, that you think you have the lift and then it comes back to you,” she said.

She noted the “situation changes day-by-day” with shifting restrictions within individual provinces or specific airports. The company has created a tracker to keep an eye on those changes at various key locations, and has been working through transportation backlogs by finding different product avenues. 

“Shanghai was the first airport to really, you know, have the largest impact from the lockdowns, so how do you look at different airports? Where do we have authority to import into different countries, different provinces, where can our brokers support us?” she said. “How do we diversify across the carriers that we use, even across the modes that we use?” 

Others on the webinar also spoke to the importance of finding creative solutions to these issues. 

Craig Grossgart is a senior executive with Illinois-based SEKO Logistics who handles ocean shipping operations. He said the company is relying on charter shipping to less congested “second-tier and third-tier ports” to sidestep some of the more overwhelmed locations. 

“So there’s any number of opportunities out there,” he said. 

Jeanne Heilman, Midwest area manager at the Port of Virginia, noted smaller and mid-size companies are struggling with supply chain problems and finding new ways to send and receive what they need. As with Rockwell Automation, some are splitting shipments and finding ways to transport them by railway or by truck. 

“You’ve got to be open-minded at these times,” she said. “Because I don’t care where you are, there are going to be difficulties out there in the marketplace, and you just have to think out of the box, talk to other people, and just see what else can we do to move our product.” 

— The latest seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the state was 2,532 cases per day, the Department of Health Services site shows. 

Although the average has dropped slightly over the past week or so from the recent peak of 2,932 cases per day, it remains as high as it was in early January as the current surge in cases continues. 

Meanwhile, the seven-day average of deaths from COVID-19 has remained above 11 deaths per day since Sept. 8. Before that, the average had remained below that level since mid-February. A total of 7,979 people in the state have died from the virus. 

The Wisconsin Hospital Association dashboard shows 1,109 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, including 323 ICU patients. Both of those numbers have been on the rise since early July but the rate of increase has been leveling off this month. At latest count, 90.5 percent of the state’s hospital beds and 93.5 percent of its ICU beds were in use. 

As of yesterday, 56.6 percent of the state’s population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 53.6 percent had completed the vaccine series. At the national level, 64.4 percent of the U.S. population have gotten at least one dose and 55.8 percent are fully vaccinated. 

See the latest case numbers here: 


# This northern Wisconsin project looks to slow the flow of runoff made worse by climate change

# Coalition of Milwaukee organizations pushing city to reinstate indoor mask mandate

# Wisconsin signs $17M contract to bring unemployment system up to date



– Wisconsin wins National 4-H dairy cattle judging contest

– Proposed legislative package to invest in Agriculture


– Building blocks: Octopi warehouse 


– Modernization efforts are moving forward for Wisconsin’s outdated unemployment system

– Out of service: What will it take to bring back Madison’s restaurant workers?


– UW official: Cooped up year helps spark big freshman numbers


– Deer from farm with wasting disease wind up in Minnesota


– New Brewery District karaoke bar sparked by visit to Shanghai

– Gathering Place refreshes taproom, MobCraft hosts Mobtoberfest: Beer Biz MKE


– Medical College of Wisconsin selects design firm for planned $100 million research center


– 3rd Street Market Hall makes hiring push ahead of opening


– Generac considered other states, chose Wisconsin for expansion


– State Senate confirms Romanski as DATCP Secretary


– Assembly committee advances bill to exempt projects from DSPS plan review 


– Greater Milwaukee Foundation provides $780,000 in ThriveOn small business loans


– Fiserv plans major expansion in New Jersey


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