TUE AM News: Progressive farmer-processor relationships key in 2021, beyond; 2020 brought record home sales, costs to Wisconsin

— Strong working relationships between farmers and processors establish clear expectations of the product and please consumers, says a supply chain expert at Grande Cheese Company.

Greg Siegenthaler, vice president of milk marketing and supply chain at the Fond du Lac-based cheese company, will be a panelist at this year’s Dairy Strong conference. The virtual event, put on by the Dairy Business Association, starts today and runs through Thursday. Siegenthaler presents Wednesday at a panel called “Building relationships: Farmer and processor insights.” 

DBA spokesman Jamie Mara said the topic stemmed from a Dairy Strong presentation last year that envisioned the farmer of the future. One of the points was the need for a more transparent and collaborative relationship between farmers and the processors. Part of that need is driven by customers’ desire to know where their food comes from and whether it’s being responsibly produced.

“The disruptions from COVID only made this need more apparent,” Mara said. “Communication is so important. It builds trust and mutual understanding.”

Those supply chain disruptions were a challenge for Grande Cheese, Siegenthaler told WisBusiness.com. Restaurants are a large part of Grande’s business. When eateries closed down, it forced the cheese company to pivot and redirect their milk into other channels, such as retail. 

Read the full story at WisBusiness.com: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/progressive-farmer-processor-relationships-key-in-2021-beyond/ 

— The year 2020 proved to be a tale of two halves for the housing market, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association. 

The pandemic-induced economic lockdown ushered in a national recession that hurt home sales over the first six months of the year. But home sales surged in the second half to set new records for both sales and prices, according to the WRA’s year-end analysis of existing home sales. 

The past year marked the highest annual sales numbers recorded in the state since 2005 with 88,685 homes sold, according to the WRA. The previous record was set in 2017 when sales totaled 83,984. Median prices also set a record in 2020. The annual media price eclipsed $200,000 for the first time, rising to $220,000.

“To suggest that this has been an up and down year would be a significant understatement, but it’s great to see us closing out 2020 with such strong growth,” said new WRA Board Chair Mary Duff, a realtor with the Stark Company of Madison. 

December home sales increased 22.5 percent compared to December 2019. Median prices rose 9.7 percent to $215,000 over that same period. WRA attributed the rise to record-low mortgage rates.

— The economic lockdown caused home sales to slide. Once the economy began to reopen, home sales grew robustly. 

“Relaxing the restrictions was part of the reason for the surge in sales, but a huge factor is the historically low mortgage rates in 2020,” Duff said. 

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell to a record low 2.68 percent in December. That’s a full percentage point lower than 12 months earlier and almost 2 percentage points lower than two years ago. 

All regions of the state experienced an increase in sales during 2020. The strongest growth was seen in the north region, up 14.7 percent. Four regions — central, south central, southeast and west — saw home sales grow up to 7.4 percent. The northeast region grew by 4.6 percent in 2020.

The sales growth has put a strain on inventories, said WRA President and CEO Michael Theo. In December, statewide inventory levels dropped to 2.2 months, the lowest level since WRA began tracking the indicator in 2009. 

As housing inventory drops, record home sales cannot continue indefinitely, according to the WRA. In December, Wisconsin recorded 7,117 home sales, but only added 3,994 new listings to the overall inventory of homes for sale. 

“Eventually overall inventory gets so low that it leads to flat or even falling home sales,” Theo said. He added that another consequence of strong demand and weak supply is higher prices, which is what Wisconsin saw in 2020.

The record-low mortgage rates have kept housing affordable. 

“We’re still in good shape on the affordability front, but we can’t expect mortgage rates to continue to fall, especially once the economy has fully recovered,” he said. 

— The prospect of economic recovery is tied to the successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, says Marquette University economist David Clark. 

Nationally, the labor market had shown consistent signs of improvement after the economic lockdowns were relaxed beginning in May 2020, he explained. But nonfarm payroll employment fell unexpectedly in December as the virus spiked in the last two months of 2020. 

“The good news is that vaccines are now being administered to the most vulnerable, and widespread COVID vaccinations are on the horizon, which should generate a significant boon to the economy,” said Clark, who is also a consultant to the WRA. 

The latest Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank survey indicates the economy likely contracted 3.5 percent in 2020, but predicts a 4 percent growth in real GDP in 2021, he said.

— With a $30,000 grant from Spectrum, the Urban League of Greater Madison announced an initiative to further local employment and training programs.

During a virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, Urban League leaders noted the money will be used to enhance and support the organization’s COVID-19 Workforce Recovery Initiative, designed to prepare community members in underserved neighborhoods with job readiness activities, advanced training, and enhance digital literacy through activities and classes.

According to the Urban League of Greater Madison, prior to the pandemic, Dane County was averaging 325 new weekly unemployment claims. Despite some stabilization, the number of new weekly claims, at 1,100, is still more than triple the pre-pandemic numbers.

“The workforce displacement that has resulted from COVID-19 has been unprecedented, and its impact on the African American community has been disproportionate,” said Rueben Anthony, the league’s president and CEO. “Spectrum’s support will allow us to help hundreds of individuals and families who have been impacted find their way back into the workforce, while simultaneously helping employers find work-ready, diverse talent.”

Through two years of consecutive grants, Spectrum has provided $55,000 to help further the Urban League of Madison’s Digital Inclusion and Literacy programs.

“It’s crucial for broadband providers like Spectrum to play a role in bridging the digital divide so that individuals have access to the training and resources needed to succeed,” said Rep. Samba Baldeh, D-Madison. “By providing support through the Spectrum Digital Education Grant, impactful organizations can continue to offer programs that help meet the demand for digital education and access to technology.”

— Madison Gas & Electric expanded its Green Tier participation with DNR, including a new Tier 2 contract that began Friday.

The customized contracts enable significant environmental improvements and regulatory flexibility. The agreement includes all operations in southern and central Wisconsin, expanding from its previous participation contract for MGE’s Blount Street facility.

“We are pleased to see this Green Tier partnership grow,” said Greg Pils, DNR Environmental Analysis & Sustainability director. “This Tier 2 contract will further support efficiencies that will benefit both the company and the environment.”

MGE’s contract provides flexibility in its annual compliance audit schedule, allowing for all operations under the agreement’s scope to be audited over a three-year cycle as defined in the contract.

“MGE is committed to environmental stewardship and continuous improvement,” said Jeff Jaeckels, director of safety, sustainability and environmental affairs at MGE. “We continue to work to reduce environmental impacts across all areas of the organization, and we look forward to working with the DNR as we expand our Tier 2 Green Tier participation to include all MGE operations.”

MGE has a goal to reach net-zero carbon electricity by 2050.

— Checks are in the mail for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, DWD says.

The payments are made available through the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act or CAUWA. CAUWA extends many of the provisions included in the previously passed federal CARES Act, including FPUC, while also containing numerous new programming requirements.

“DWD staff have worked diligently to rapidly code, test and implement the FPUC extension, which provides an additional $300 per week in benefits to claimants who are receiving at least $1 in benefits from another program, and are otherwise eligible,” said DWD Secretary Amy Pechacek. “More assistance is needed to help the workers who have bore the brunt of the COVID pandemic, but I am happy that we are able to provide this much needed benefit in a timely manner.”

— The public is invited to comment on the impact of worker classification during a task force meeting Thursday on payroll fraud and worker misclassification.

“Governor Evers is interested in receiving public input ahead of releasing his 2021 biennial budget,” said Danielle Williams, task force chair and DWD assistant deputy secretary. “The Task Force would like to share with the Governor and, ultimately, the State Legislature more about how the practice of misclassification is directly affecting individuals in our communities ahead of their budget deliberations.”

Wage fraud and worker misclassification occur when employees are independent contractors so the employer can avoid paying taxes and fees, such as social security, Medicaid, workers compensation and unemployment. The practice also results in millions of dollars in losses to state government and taxpayers. In addition, employers who misclassify workers gain an unlawful competitive advantage that allows them to under-bid and out-compete law-abiding employers.

The task force, created by Gov. Tony Evers in 2019, issued several recommendations in its last report that aimed to protect workers and educate employers about the harms of misclassifying workers as “independent contractors” when, under law, they should be classified as employees. 

Williams explained that the significance of the programs and protections afforded under the employer-employee relationship became even more clear in the wake of the global pandemic.

“Some essential workers exposed to the virus at work had to access worker’s compensation benefits to cover their treatment. Hundreds of thousands have had to claim unemployment benefits when they were laid off as part of the statewide effort to keep everyone safer at home. And still others had to claim family medical leave protections in order to stay home to care for family members,” she said. 

While the federal government provided some short-term protections for those who might otherwise not be covered, such as unemployment benefits to gig workers, Williams said it is imperative that the state makes sure workers are properly classified going forward.

Register: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/misclassification/meetings.htm

See a recent WisBusiness.com story on payroll fraud and worker misclassification: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/construction-groups-support-proposals-to-combat-worker-misclassification/ 

— The Wisconsin Technology Council board of directors has voted to urge broad public acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use by the FDA.

In a resolution adopted by 49 board members who come from diverse segments of Wisconsin’s tech-based economy, the Tech Council noted the rigorous clinical testing and regulatory process and urged public bodies in Wisconsin to avoid actions that would undermine public confidence. 

The resolution also stressed the importance of widespread public vaccination to speed economic recovery.

Individual board members who voted for the resolution have pledged to be vaccinated when federal and state protocol schedules allow them to do so.

See the resolution: https://www.wisbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/210114-Wisconsin-Technology-Council.docx 

— Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm, who has been one of the leading figures in Wisconsin’s fight against COVID-19, is joining the Biden administration.

The president-elect announced he selected Palm to serve as Health and Human Services deputy secretary.

Gov. Tony Evers said she will leave his administration later this week for the new job. He appointed Karen Timberlake, who served as DHS secretary under former Gov. Jim Doyle, the interim leader of the agency. Timberlake, a partner at Michael Best Strategies, begins next week.

Palm had worked at HHS during the Obama administration, and Evers praised her as a “critical part of our administration and a consummate professional who has done an extraordinary job helping lead our state during an unprecedented public health crisis.”

In that effort, Palm has drawn criticism from some GOP lawmakers for her role in the various administration orders to restrict businesses, and some Republican senators have called for her nomination to be rejected in response. She is one of three members Evers appointed to his cabinet early in his term who still hadn’t been confirmed by the state Senate two years later.

See the guv’s statement: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/gov-evers-statement-on-dhs-secretary-designee-palm-nomination-announces-dhs-interim-secretary-karen-timberlake/ 

See the Biden release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/president-elect-biden-announces-additional-key-administration-posts/  

— Before the announcement, DHS announced the awarding of nearly $9 million to 23 county agencies and five tribal nations to provide treatment services for the harmful use of opioids.

Opioids include prescription pain relievers, heroin and fentanyl, or stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

“The problem use of opioids and stimulants is an epidemic in Wisconsin,” Palm said. “These grant awards enable our county and tribal partners to expand access to help those who need it most, giving them hope and healing, as we continue our collective work to build healthy communities.”

More than 2,100 people are expected to receive treatment services as a result of these grant awards.

The amount is based on the level of need for treatment services in the county or tribe and the types of treatment services to be provided by each county or tribe. All counties and tribes were invited to apply for funding to support unmet treatment needs in their communities through Sept. 29, 2021.

The recipients are connecting people struggling with opioids to medication-assisted treatment. Medication-assisted treatment involves one of the three FDA-approved medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder, such as buprenorphine products, methadone and naltrexone. It also includes therapy and other supports. 

Research shows medication-assisted treatment is the most effective way to treat opioid use disorder, according to DHS.

Thirteen of the grant recipients also are connecting people struggling with stimulants to services that have shown strong evidence of reducing stimulant use, including cognitive behavioral therapy and a treatment practice known as the Matrix Model.

The dollars come from Wisconsin’s share of the State Opioid Response Grant Program managed by the HHS. In addition to providing funding for unmet treatment needs, Wisconsin’s program includes investments in prevention activities, harm reduction strategies, and other efforts to expand access to treatment services and recovery support services.

<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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– Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic celebrates 60th anniversary https://www.midwestfarmreport.com/2021/01/17/wisconsin-agribusiness-classic-celebrates-60th-anniversary/ 


– University of Wisconsin President calls for more extension agents https://brownfieldagnews.com/news/university-of-wisconsin-president-calls-for-more-extension-agents/ 


– PPP roundup: Milwaukee-area lenders ready to process applications https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/18/ppp-roundup-milwaukee-area-lenders-ready.html 


– Advocate Aurora’s updated code of conduct makes employees accountable for social media posts https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/18/advocate-aurora-updated-code-makes-employees.html 

– SSM Health now vaccinating local public safety agencies https://www.channel3000.com/ssm-health-now-vaccinating-local-public-safety-agencies/ 


– Volume and value of Wisconsin venture capital deals increased in 2020 https://biztimes.com/volume-and-value-of-wisconsin-venture-capital-deals-increased-in-2020/ 


– Wisconsinites’ Income Dropped 14.5 Percent Between July And September https://www.wpr.org/wisconsinites-income-dropped-14-5-percent-between-july-and-september 


– Bemis Manufacturing Co. acquires bidet manufacturer https://biztimes.com/bemis-manufacturing-co-acquires-bidet-manufacturer/ 

– Rockwell’s CEO expects a good year as manufacturers build resilience https://biztimes.com/rockwells-ceo-expects-a-good-year-as-manufacturers-build-resilience/ 

– MobCraft loses $11,000 every week with Covid-19 but plans for more locations in future https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/16/mobcraft-loses-11-000-every-day-with-covid-19-but.html 


– Expected Protests In Madison Fizzle 2 Days In A Row https://www.wpr.org/expected-protests-madison-fizzle-2-days-row 


– New York IT services company plans to double workforce in Milwaukee, Madison https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/18/new-york-it-services-company-plans-to-double-work.html 


– In-person performances part of Milwaukee Ballet’s modified plans for rest of season https://biztimes.com/in-person-performances-part-of-milwaukee-ballets-modified-plans-for-rest-of-season/ 


– Delta posts $15.6B pre-tax loss for 2020. Airline’s CEO ‘optimistic’ about business travel. https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/01/18/delta-air-lines-business-travel-pandemic.html 


<i>See these and other press releases: 

https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>