TUE AM News: Marcus Corporation CEO doesn’t expect ‘full recovery’ until 2024; Thousands of Wisconsinites on unemployment losing extra federal benefit

— Marcus Corporation President and CEO Greg Marcus says the company is seeing signs of financial resurgence from last year, though he doesn’t expect a “full recovery” until 2024. 

“I don’t know who said ‘this too shall pass,’ but I’m certainly looking forward to it passing,” he said during a Newsmaker Luncheon hosted last week by WisPolitics.com and the Milwaukee Press Club. “Truthfully, it actually is passing. Things are getting better, but we’re not done yet.” 

The Milwaukee-based business is the fourth-largest film exhibitor in the country, with 88 locations across seven states and operates 19 hotels and resorts and a number of restaurants. 

During the luncheon event, Marcus noted the company was losing $10 million per month about a year ago with $30 million in “negative cash flow” at the end of the second quarter of fiscal year 2020. 

At the same time this year, he said the company’s earnings before interest, taxes and other calculations were within $1 million of breaking even. He noted the company overall was “cash flow positive” in June 2021 while its hotels were making money throughout the second quarter. 

“I think a full recovery is going to take until 2024, but like this summer, we were already back this summer to 2019 numbers,” he said. “So in a way, you’ve seen some recovery. But now we’re not going to see as much of a recovery as we go into the fall and winter, because we’re not going to have the business travel as much.” 

Still, he noted Milwaukee’s hotels and restaurants will likely benefit from the Ryder Cup golf competition and Summerfest this fall before the typical winter slowdown. 

He also praised the Evers administration for providing financial support to the industry, noting “that help was so badly needed.” Gov. Tony Evers has allocated millions of dollars in federal funding over the past year to the entertainment, hospitality and leisure sectors, which were among the hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Marcus said vaccine requirements represent the best “way out” of the economic hardship caused by COVID-19, pointing to Summerfest requiring proof of vaccination and other businesses requiring workers to get vaccinated. But he stopped short of saying his own company would follow suit, saying that “we’re following what the industries are doing” and each business group is treated differently based on the industry standard. 

“We’re a company that wants to do the right thing, and it’s not always clear what the right thing is to do,” he said. 

Watch a video of the discussion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lynTgI5ovZ0 

— Thousands of Wisconsinites on unemployment will lose the extra $300 weekly benefit after the federal unemployment supplement ended over the holiday weekend, though opinions differ on how much the change will impact employment. 

While some reports suggest the states that ended the federal unemployment benefit early saw an increase in employment, others found that few people who lost the extra benefit actually found jobs in the following months. 

Republican lawmakers attempted to override Gov. Tony Evers’ veto of a bill to end the enhanced federal benefits in July but were unsuccessful. GOP lawmakers and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, have argued the benefit incentivizes people not to work. Democrats have supported the extra benefits, and Evers wrote in his veto message that ending the federal benefits early would harm “the entire state economy.” 

One study from economist Noah Williams at UW-Madison’s Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy found 22 states that ended the enhanced federal benefits in June saw a “positive impact” on their labor markets. 

“Across all indicators I find that the terminating states experienced improved labor market outcomes relative to the rest of the U.S.,” he wrote in the study, published Aug. 20. “Employment growth accelerated by more in these states in both the household and payroll surveys, and the labor force grew more rapidly.” 

Another study from economists with the University of Massachusetts and University of Toronto found that among states that ended benefits early, about 26 percent of people who had been receiving unemployment payments in late April were working in early August. In states that continued the benefits, that number was about 22 percent. 

But the same study also found that among the 1.1 million people who lost benefits in 19 states that ended the benefits early, only about 145,000 had found jobs by early August. And a New York Times report found that the five U.S. states that saw the fastest job growth in July — Vermont, Hawaii, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Alaska — had all retained some form of extra federal unemployment benefits. 

Unemployment claims in Wisconsin have decreased dramatically from the peak in 2020, but 6,781 people still filed initial claims in the week ending Aug. 28, figures from the state Department of Workforce Development show. And 47,832 people filed a regular weekly claim during that period, which is lower than the 149,573 regular weekly claims seen during the same period of 2020. The maximum state weekly benefit is $370. 

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in July, while the national unemployment rate was 5.4 percent for the month. 

See the latest numbers on unemployment claims in the state: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uistats/ 

— A Milwaukee startup called Bright Cellars has closed on an $11.2 million investment round led by Cleveland Avenue, a Chicago-based venture capital firm that focuses on the food and beverage industry. 

Existing investors Northwestern Mutual and Revolution Ventures of Washington, D.C. also participated in the round. 

Bright Cellars has a subscription wine service that offers customers a personalized selection of wines each month as well as “introductory-to-expert level wine education.” The company’s algorithm tweaks the wines selected based on customer feedback. 

“Every year since we’ve launched Bright Cellars, ratings on the platform have increased — leveraging the data we get from direct feedback is fueling a better wine experience for our members,” said Bright Cellars CEO and co-founder Richard Yau.

A release shows the funds will be used to further develop the data platform and wine education program, as well as expanding the company’s portfolio of wines. Bright Cellars says it’s launched about 600 different wines and offers about 50 varieties on the platform at any given time. 

See the release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bright-cellars-leverages-its-data-platform-to-curate-in-house-wine-production-301367901.html 

— The eligibility deadline for the state’s COVID-19 vaccine reward program has been extended to Sept. 19. 

Since the program opened Aug. 20, more than 65,000 people in the state have gotten their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a release shows. Anyone who gets their first vaccine dose between Aug. 20 and Sept. 19 will be able to claim a $100 U.S. Bank rewards card. 

“I’m glad to be able to extend this program to give others the opportunity to take advantage of this great offer, and to do their part to help protect our state and stop the spread of the delta variant,” said Gov. Tony Evers in a statement. 

As of Friday, 55.1 percent of the state’s population have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 51.7 percent have completed the vaccine series. On the national level, 62 percent of the U.S. population have gotten at least one dose and 52.7 percent are fully vaccinated. 

See details on the reward program: https://100.wisconsin.gov/ 

— Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk will retire on Sept. 10. 

Gov. Tony Evers announced the retirement in a release Friday, thanking her for decades of work in the medical field and as a public health leader. 

Willems Van Dijk said in a statement that “it is time that I recommit to the needs of my family.”

“It has been an incredible honor to serve in the role of Deputy Secretary,” she said. “I am especially proud of the way our staff across DHS and all of state government came together to protect the people of Wisconsin during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Her position at DHS will be filled by Deb Standridge, who was the executive director of the state’s alternate care facility at State Fair Park. She previously worked as the regional president of the north region for Ascension Wisconsin and was on the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s board of directors. 

See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/gov-evers-dhs-announce-deputy-secretary-willems-van-dijk-to-retire/ 

— Milwaukee County has announced plans to require county employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting in October. 

“A requirement for all employees to be vaccinated, aside from those with reasonable and approved exemptions, is consistent with our vision and our responsibilities as public servants,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said in a statement. 

The vaccine mandate will be considered by the County Board at a meeting on Sept. 23. County Communications Director Brandon Weathersby said in an email that “we are confident the board will vote in approval.” 

If approved, county employees would be required to submit documentation of vaccination status or a medical or religious exemption request by Oct. 1. The policy does not apply to county employees who are represented by public safety unions, Crowley said Friday during a call with reporters. That includes sheriff’s deputies and firefighters. 

The release highlights potential consequences for county employees who don’t comply with the mandate including up to 10 days of unpaid suspension and “consideration of non-compliance as a factor when making decisions about promotions.” 

Starting on Oct. 11, Crowley explained that employees that don’t comply with the mandate will be ineligible for voluntary overtime or risk recognition pay. And starting next year, employees covered by the county’s health plan that don’t comply will have to pay a $20 surcharge per pay period, he added. Employees who fail to comply may also be fired. 

Kelly McKone, director of organizational performance for the county, says the county has received “a lot of praise for going this route” from employees, though others are unhappy with the move. 

“They have expressed that, but I think that was to be expected,” she said during Friday’s call. “It’s what we’ve seen throughout the pandemic on any number of topics including face masks, vaccinations and that conversation is continuing with this mandate as well.” 

— The Medical College of Wisconsin’s Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment is taking applications for $8.5 million in new funding going to health equity projects in the state. 

Both MCW faculty members and community-based health care organizations in the state can apply for six funding opportunities, ranging from workforce development efforts to collaborative research. Applications are due by 5 p.m. on Nov. 1 through AHW’s online grant application system. 

A total of $1.5 million is allocated for community-led projects aimed at policy or systems change, while $2 million will go toward basic science and clinical/population science research collaboration projects at MCW. Another $1.5 million is for population health community projects, and $1 million is meant for MCW-led population health research. 

Meanwhile, about $2.5 million in grants will go to workforce development projects from both community organizations and MCW faculty. 

“Through these funding opportunities we are seeking out Wisconsin’s innovators, collaborators, and problem-solvers who share our goal of making positive changes in health possible across the state.” said Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, director of the endowment and senior associate dean MCW. 

A release shows AHW has provided more than $310 million for more than 515 health projects since 2004. 

See details on the grant funding: https://ahwendowment.org/AHW/Funding-Center/Award-Opportunities.htm 


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