THU AM News: VC experts advocate for state investment fund; WMC stresses workforce shortage issue in Wisconsin

— Talent retention should be the state’s main focus in its effort to create a Wisconsin fund of funds, according to a panel of venture capital and investment experts.

MadREP President and CEO Jason Fields, Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, eCourt Reporters Founder Karen Renee and WEDC Deputy Secretary Sam Rikkers joined the Wisconsin Technology Council for a virtual event yesterday. 

The group discussed a state budget proposal by Gov. Tony Evers that would invest $100 million to create a privately matched program to provide capital for companies, start-ups, and corporations.  

Such a program would promote Wisconsin businesses and provide opportunities to women-led and minority-owned businesses in the state.  

“We don’t want to go to the coasts. We want to grow here, we want to bring our staff and employees and we want them from the Midwest,” Burlington-based entrepreneur Renee said. “Something like the fund of funds would mean a world of difference.”

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— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is stressing the need for state leaders to address the ongoing workforce shortage.

As unemployment falls, Wisconsin businesses are again raising concerns about the lack of qualified workers available for current job openings. In a recent WMC survey, when asked what the top concern faces the company, Wisconsin CEOs said labor availability. COVID-19 was second.

“Our policymakers need to understand that the economy is already bouncing back in Wisconsin, and we cannot be disincentivizing work,” said WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer. “Extending supplemental benefits and once again repealing the one-week waiting period for unemployment will slow our recovery and hurt our economy.”

Bauer added that manufacturers, construction companies and other industries have job openings for family-supporting careers. He said lawmakers should be incentivizing work and find ways to attract more people to the Badger State.

— Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he wants to focus the state’s share of the federal relief bill on increasing Wisconsin’s workforce to fill empty job positions. 

He said one way to do that is by increasing benefit programs for people who are working at least part-time.

“I certainly would rather see programs like that to allow, you know if a business only needed somebody for 20 hours a week because their sales were slower, I would rather them work 20 hours a week and get some sort of subsidy as opposed to just going on all unemployment where it is entirely borne on the system,” Vos said.

He and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said they want to increase research and development tax credits to help businesses attract and retain a high-quality workforce in Wisconsin.

Vos and LeMahieu said they have to be careful about increasing tax cuts this year because provisions in the federal pandemic relief bill prohibit states from using that money for tax cuts. But they are interested in looking for ways to increase the existing 10 percent research and development tax credit this year.

LeMahieu said the high number of jobs going unfilled and lack of workforce housing are some of the biggest problems Wisconsin faces. He added he wants to use the relief money to improve schools around the state, not just in Milwaukee and Madison, and increase access to high-speed internet.

— President Biden has extended the special enrollment period again.

The special enrollment season will now last until Aug. 15. The special enrollment period was originally slated to end May 15. The announcement came on the Affordable Care Act’s 11th anniversary.

The Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services has released initial data on the first week of enrollments from Feb. 15-28 showing 3,045 Wisconsinites enrolled during that time. That number is higher than the usual enrollments during this period, according to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance spokeswoman.

In 2019, 1,777 Wisconsinites enrolled between Feb. 15-28 and in 2020; 1,877 people enrolled between Feb. 15-29, Smith said.

“We do expect that those increased numbers are due to the impact of the pandemic,” she said. “We are also continuing to communicate about the opportunities that enrollees have to get even more affordable coverage after April 1st thanks to the American Rescue Plan. That may lead to a further increase in enrollments during the rest of this period.”

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— Ho-Chunk Nation Vice President Karena Thundercloud said it was “almost surreal” to hear Gov. Tony Evers had signed off on the tribe’s proposal for a Beloit casino after dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic upending daily life for more than a year.

Evers’ support is one of the final steps needed before the tribe can move forward with the $405 million project that includes a 300-room hotel with more than 45,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, along with a 40,000-square-foot indoor waterpark. The tribe also plans to develop additional businesses on an adjacent property.

The project is expected to create 1,500 long-term jobs at the casino and hotel-water park complex with another 2,000 construction jobs. It would be Wisconsin’s first new casino since 2008, when the Ho-Chunk converted a convenience store in Wittenberg into a casino.

“We look forward to the day when we can celebrate everybody who helped this project along,” Thundercloud said. “We’ve been focusing so much time and effort on our COVID-19 response that it’s almost surreal to have this great news of the Governor’s concurrence today.”

Now, the next steps include the Department of the Interior issuing its final determination on whether to take the land into trust. The guv and the Ho-Chunk Nation would then need to complete an amendment to the tribe’s gaming compact. 

See the release: 

— WEDC chief Missy Hughes says she intends to continue working with Evers and administering grants to promote business in the state.

WEDC’s We’re All In grant program gave $240 million to nearly 55,000 businesses to help them through the pandemic.

During a Senate Economic and Workforce Development public hearing, Hughes said in hindsight the state erred in labeling businesses as essential or non-essential in the early days of 2020. But she said Evers followed much of the strategies other states and foreign nations were using before people gained a better understanding of the pandemic’s economic impact.

“What we learned quickly was the essential-nonessential question was not the right question,” she said. “Other states and other countries were taking on this question, and I remember thinking this was not going to end well. But if it had to land someplace in state government, to me it had to be in the agency that handles business the best.”

She added WEDC received over 5,000 inquiries within 10 days of Evers’ first order, crashing the agency website.

— Join this afternoon for a virtual lunch hour event featuring a trio of hospitality sector representatives.

The hospitality industry was hit the hardest during the pandemic after forced shutdowns to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 resulted in a sharp economic downturn.

Even after the economy reopened, Wisconsin’s favorite eateries and alehouses continue to struggle as they’re faced with local capacity regulations and as people wait to get their COVID-19 vaccine before going out.

Wisconsin Restaurant Association President and CEO Kristine Hillmer, Tavern League of Wisconsin President Chris Marsicano and Wisconsin Brewers Guild Executive Director Mark Garthwaite will discuss the state of the hospitality industry in Wisconsin and policies from a new administration that could make or break what the state’s wine-and-dine scene looks like coming out of a global pandemic.

The program, “Hospitality industry stirs after year of COVID,” is set to run via webinar from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday. The event will begin with a moderated panel discussion and then shift to questions from the audience. We will send you a link to access the webinar on the morning of the event.

This event is sponsored by Madison Gas and Electric Company, University Research Park, Wisconsin Technology Council and The Phelps Hamus Group.

Register here for this free event:


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