THU AM News: WEDC expects significant business failures, opportunities in 2021; WMC to open new litigation center challenging government overreach

— Following WEDC’s comments on Foxconn negotiations, the technology group said it too is optimistic an amendment to its contract is within reach.

Foxconn said it came to the table with WEDC in August in response to market conditions that were unforeseeable three years ago. The tech giant is looking to lower taxpayer liability in exchange for flexibility to explore new growth opportunities with incentivized future business development and job creation in Wisconsin, according to Foxconn.

“Foxconn is optimistic that an amendment to the WEDC Agreement is within reach,” the company said.

See the previous story on WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes’ comments on Foxconn negotiations: 

— Hughes says Wisconsin will see significant business failures but also opportunities in 2021.

She said WEDC was able to track real-time data through credit card transactions and sales tax payments to get an idea of what was happening to businesses throughout the pandemic.

When asked how many businesses will be gone for good as a result of COVID-19, she said unfortunately, she thinks it’s going to be a significant number.

“I think we’re really going to see it in the hospitality industry, the tourism industry, the restaurant industry, and with the pandemic continuing into the winter months, it’s going to make it even harder for those businesses,” she told a Press Club luncheon on Tuesday.

In the late fall, the third phase of the “We’re All In” grants were specifically targeted at food, beverage and amusement businesses with annual revenues between $1 million and $7 million, with each qualified business receiving $20,000. More than 2,000 businesses received these grants. Hughes said the money was meant to keep restaurants in businesses during the dark months of the year when outdoor dining was disappearing. 

— Looking ahead to 2021, Hughes said the state has work to do in order to retain and attract businesses, such as improving workforce housing, broadband, child care and health care. 

She said challenges are an opportunity to bring women, people of color and those who have been incarcerated into the workforce. 

Hughes also said she’s encouraged by the second round of federal stimulus, including the next round of the Paycheck Protection Program.

Hughes called for greater capital access within Wisconsin for startups and entrepreneurs in order to attract and retain young companies.

“It’s critical that we also start to really think in Wisconsin about investing in ourselves and investing in our companies so that they will stay here,” she said.

Wisconsin currently has the Badger Fund of Funds, a partnership formed a few years ago by the state to invest in Wisconsin venture capital funds that will in turn invest in Wisconsin-based new ventures. Other Midwest states, such as Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, also created both private and public funds. 

“We’re trying to look at those different opportunities and think about what would most serve the Wisconsin entrepreneurs given the dynamics that we have in Wisconsin and perhaps coming forward with an idea around that,” Hughes said. “Wisconsin’s entrepreneurs deserve that.”

Watch the event:

— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is opening a new litigation center to challenge what it views as overreaches of government regulations.

Lucas Vebber, who will serve as the litigation center’s executive director, said the new effort’s charge will also focus on separation of powers issues and defending the free enterprise system.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty has filed a series of lawsuits against the Evers administration on a range of issues, including actions impacting businesses. Vebber said the two efforts may overlap at times. But the WMC effort won’t represent third parties, instead representing its members’ interests.

“WMC like WILL is a mission-based organization,” Vebber said. “Our mission is to make Wisconsin the most competitive state in the nation to do business.”

Vebber was WMC’s general counsel and director of environmental and energy policy before leaving in 2018 to join the WILL. He returned to WMC this fall.

See more: 

— Cocktails-to-go could be another tool that restaurants can use to stay afloat during a capacity-limiting pandemic that restricts indoor dining.

The bill, which is circulating the Capitol for cosponsors, would allow a “Class B” licensed retailer — most commonly taverns and restaurants — to sell a cocktail or wine by the glass for consumption off-premise. The restaurant or bar would have to seal the container with a tamper-evident seal before the cocktail is removed from the premises.

A version of to-go drinks is currently permitted in 33 states and Washington D.C. in response to COVID-19, according to bill cosponsors Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Tomahawk, and Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard.

Currently, the only option is for restaurants to get a cocktail mix ready and sell a factory-sealed bottle of liquor separately as a kit. Then, patrons make the drink at home. It’s not necessarily the same quality drink as the one you get when it’s mixed behind the bar, explained Wisconsin Restaurant Association President and CEO Kristine Hillmer.

The cocktail-to-go bill would allow restaurants to make the entire drink, place it in a container and put on a tamper-evident seal.

“This is a very common practice with craft brewers and growlers — this extends this practice for mixed drinks,” Hillmer said. “In the case of a growler, there is a plastic seal placed over the cap, then heat treated to seal it making it evident when the seal has been broken.”

She noted other containers on the market that restaurants can use to seal, such as individual cans or pouches. A D.C. deli has called the Capri Sun-like pouches of cocktails “Fauci Pouchy.”

For wine, it would allow the restaurant to sell a single glass of wine in a sealed container, versus having to sell the whole bottle.

“Ultimately, this practice has better margins for restaurants, greater flexibility in what they can offer, and more choices for consumers,” Hillmer said.

Chris Wiken, WRA chair and second-generation owner of Milwaukee’s The Packing House Restaurant, said he envisions the cocktail to be just like you’d get it in a glass, but in a bottle that would show evidence of tampering. It could come on the rocks or not, depending on the customer’s willingness to risk having a watered-down drink after arriving at home.

The Packing House already uses such bottles in a variety of sizes for catering events and its cocktail kits that include drink mix and booze in separate containers.

“We rely on higher-margin bar sales to counter the higher cost of food and labor,” he said. “The carry-out part, that’s great … but then what we miss is serving those cocktails. That’s where a good part of our overall profit comes from — it’s not on the fish fry, it’s the folks having an Old-Fashioned or two with their Friday night fish fry.”

The bill would not change current in-person purchasing requirements. Sales would be face-to-face, giving bars and restaurants the opportunity to check IDs.

“I’m glad that Wisconsin is finally taking this up. I think we’re a little bit behind in coming up with this idea,” Wiken said. “This will definitely help Wisconsin restaurants — one more piece to bring revenue into their building to help them survive through this.”

— GOP legislative leaders have rebuffed Evers’ call for a special session to pass legislation modernizing the unemployment system, arguing he already has available resources to start the process.

To back up their argument, the GOP leaders released a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo that outlined possible funding sources and noted the option of asking the Joint Finance Committee to reallocate existing agency funds.

“We are always open to passing necessary legislation, but unfortunately, this Special Session call is about politics; not about policy,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

Evers announced he had signed an executive order calling a special session to begin Tuesday to take up legislation that would allocate $5.3 million to begin the process of modernizing the unemployment system.

Overall, the administration projects it would cost $90 million over 10 years to complete the overhaul.

The bill also includes a proposal to make mandatory the use of electronic communications in the program going forward unless the employer or applicant can demonstrate good reason they’re unable to do so.

The proposal comes after Republicans have knocked Evers for the backlog in processing claims that plagued his administration last year.

See the bill draft:

See the GOP release:

See the LFB memo:

— Rep. Tip McGuire, D-Kenosha, has joined the Tech Caucus, replacing former Milwaukee Dem Rep. Jason Fields.

The Wisconsin Technology Caucus was launched in October in partnership with the Wisconsin Technology Council to promote access to technology and tech jobs in the state. The Tech Council will work with Tech Caucus leadership on educational events and legislative briefings, among others.

McGuire joins three other veteran state lawmakers and caucus co-chairs who have served as leaders on bills advancing Wisconsin’s tech-based economy — Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, and Sens. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, and Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville.

“From Governor Evers naming 2021 the year of Broadband Access, to the opportunities across the state to bring in family-supporting, high-tech jobs, Wisconsin has a bright future ahead if we invest in technology,” McGuire said. “I am excited to get to work as a member of the Wisconsin Technology Caucus, in order to use technology to strengthen our state’s economy and improve the lives of the people of Wisconsin.”

The goal of the caucus, which is not a formal committee of the Legislature, is to work together along bipartisan lines to bring ideas and information to the attention of state policymakers.

— UW System President Tommy Thompson is “absolutely certain” campuses will return to normal by August.

Thompson also told a virtual Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce briefing that universities will work towards providing a meaningful return on taxpayers’ investments through 2021. 

“And I’m absolutely certain we’re going to be back to normal, we’re going to be playing football with fans, with fans in the stands,” Thompson said, pounding his fists on his desk for emphasis. 

But the schedule is contingent on the UW System schools getting vaccines and helping distribute them as effectively as they had run their testing facilities, he said.

He added that his work as interim president will also focus on modernizing infrastructure, such as computer systems and procurement regulations to help universities continue to give back to the state and continue to offer “a really good investment.” 

Thompson is requesting an additional $100 million in the new system budget to pay for the improvements, but those dollars will be invested into a higher education system that he said produces graduates who stay and work in Wisconsin 90 percent of the time after graduation. 

“Those are the individuals that you hire,” he told viewers. 

Involving members of the business community is key to providing employers with good candidates and providing students with an education system that gives them the resources they need to work in available fields, especially in health care, he said.

Moving forward, Thompson said he wants the UW System to start providing higher education to inmates in state prisons in an effort to reduce the reincarceration rate and the cost of the Department of Corrections. In turn, it would provide Wisconsin with a skilled workforce.

Universities should prepare for a likely boom in the cybersecurity job market after the recent SolarWinds hack, he said, adding it was evidence that virtually every business, including universities, is at risk of a cyberattack. Thompson said he could not comment when asked if the UW System was affected by the Solar Winds hack.

— DATCP has awarded $750,000 in watershed protection grants to more than two dozen groups. 

The grants support producer-led conservation solutions by encouraging innovation and farmer participation in on-the-ground efforts to improve Wisconsin’s soil health and water quality. 

Chris van Someren of the Western Wisconsin Conservation Council said the cost-sharing part of the program motivates members to experiment with and implement practices that protect soil and water health. 

His council received a $30,000 grant. The amounts ranged from $6,250 to $40,000. 

“Beyond the capacity for funding, the program brings the added benefits of education, communication, and collaboration between farmers across the state,” said Someren, also a farmer of Jon-De Farm. “This kind of cooperation between government and farmers will be a critical part of Wisconsin’s conservation efforts moving forward.” 

For more information about current producer-led projects, visit:

— Southwestern Wisconsin’s Organic Valley appointed three senior leaders as vice presidents of the nation’s largest organic, farmer-owned cooperative. 

The newly promoted leaders are: Kate Campbell, vice president of Business Insights and Data Science; Jaclyn Cardin, vice president of Integrated Brand Marketing; and Jennifer Lilla, vice president of Accounting and Financial Reporting.


# ‘Cocktails To Go’ bill looks to help Wisconsin restaurants 

# Minocqua Settles Tax Dispute With Walmart

# President Trump impeached by bipartisan vote for ‘incitement of insurrection’ in Capitol siege



– USDA Releases 2020 Crop Production Totals for Wisconsin 

– 37 Wisconsin Farmers Markets Receive Grants from Compeer 

– On-Farm Grain Storage Capacity Stays at 380 Million Bushels 


– Air cargo construction is booming, thanks to Amazon 


– More than 175K vaccine doses administered in Wisconsin; 7-day positivity rate continues to drop

– Experts worry that new COVID variant ‘will make an already-bad situation even worse’

– States told to vaccinate everyone 65 and over as deaths surge 


– Wisconsin Supreme Court focuses on redistricting


– Sellars Absorbent Materials raises $20.5 million 


– ‘A horrible precedent for future administrations:’ Rep. Bryan Steil votes against second Trump impeachment

– ‘We need to make sure he can never run for office again:’ Rep. Mark Pocan to vote to impeach Trump

– A Madison woman found the RNC pipe bomb in D.C.

– State Senate working on Capitol security bill amid threats

– Middleton Rep. says remote participation in committee hearing was denied by GOP


– Milwaukee to loosen restrictions on restaurants, bars with safety plans 


– Walgreens plans to launch credit and debit cards 


– Milwaukee Bucks to support Black entrepreneurs through new partnership 


– Southwest rescinds furloughs and layoffs following federal PSP extension 


– Homeowners Offered Bottled Water After Elevated PFAS Levels Found Near La Crosse Airport 


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