TUE AM News: Tech Council backs Evers’ call for new $100 million venture capital fund; PSC to require utilities to publish diversity numbers in annual reports

— The Wisconsin Tech Council is backing Gov. Tony Evers’ call for a new $100 million venture capital fund, saying it’s been one of the group’s priorities.

“Wisconsin has the talent, technology, research base and business climate necessary to attract more investment capital,” Tom Still, council president, said. “This fund will make Wisconsin more competitive among its neighbors and well beyond.”

The Main Street Alliance of Wisconsin, a network of values-based small businesses, is also praising Evers’ plan, which also calls for $200 million to help small businesses through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and $29 million for workforce development.

The guv’s plan also includes $1 million in the Fast Forward program to train workers in green jobs, which won RENEW Wisconsin’s support. The organization said the investment would tackle a shortage of trained workers in the rapidly growing clean energy sector.

“The construction of clean energy projects not only creates thousands of good paying jobs, but it keeps billions of our energy dollars right here in Wisconsin,” said Heather Allen, executive director of RENEW. “Without our own trained workforce, many of these clean energy projects may not get built or will be built by out-of-state companies and crews. We can’t afford to let that happen.”

Read the full story at WisBusiness.com: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2021/tech-council-backs-evers-call-for-new-100-million-venture-capital-fund/ 

— The Public Service Commission for the first time will require utility companies to publish workforce diversity numbers in annual reports.

The PSC yesterday announced all utility companies will be required to publish demographic figures on their employees in the annual reports they submit to the agency. The reports will include workforce breakdowns by race, ethnicity, gender, age, veteran status and disability status. The deadline for those reports was extended to June 1, 2021.

“Diversity and inclusion within the utility industry are not just important because of the tremendous impact they have on both employees and the financial health of the utility. Ultimately, diversity and inclusion efforts impact the manner in which utility customers are served,” PSC Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq said in a statement.

A WE Energies spokesman told WisPolitics that the company already provides much of that information in its annual Corporate Responsibility Report.

“We share the Public Service Commission’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” the WE Energies spokesman said in an email. “We will work with the commission to ensure they have the data they are requesting.”

PSC will also require utility companies with more than 15,000 customers to publish data and goals about the diversity of their suppliers, including spending reports for the women-, veteran-, minority- and LGBT-owned businesses they work with.

See the PSC statement: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/psc-announces-requirement-for-utilities-to-file-workforce-and-supplier-diversity-affordability-data/

— The Citizens Utility Board applauded PSC’s new economic burden analysis requirement as a “step forward for low income customers.”

For each county they serve, the PSC will require larger companies to publish the average percentage of household income their customers spend on utilities.

CUB announced in a statement that the new requirements will help with understanding which areas in the state are paying a higher than normal fraction of their income on utilities.

“Having more data about the magnitude of the problem across the state will be critical to help utilities gain insights on areas that need a closer focus,” Executive Director of CUB Tom Content said in the statement.

WE Energies, Madison Gas & Electric and Wisconsin Public Service are already working on energy burden analyses under CUB negotiated rate settlements, the statement said.

See the statement: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/02152021_CUB.pdf

— UW-Platteville recently got approval to build a 2.4-megawatt solar array —  pegged as the largest such renewable development owned by a state agency. 

The array, to be operational by the fall, will make the university the sixth-highest on-site producer of renewable energy among higher education institutions in the nation. 

It will feed directly into the main electricity meter connected to the 32 campus buildings, generating all electricity in real-time, rather than sending it back to the grid. It is anticipated to offset electricity by 17 percent, saving an annual $217,000 and reducing carbon emissions by 2,300 tons per year.  

Plans for the solar array stemmed from a 2018 petition, signed by more than 300 UW-Platteville students, asking the university to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. In a May 2019 student referendum, more than 82 percent of UW-Platteville students agreed with moving toward this goal. 

This array will be on five acres of a south-facing hill just west of Pickard Hall on campus surrounded by a chain-link fence. It’s expected to have a 30-year life and is designed to accommodate future battery storage. 

— For more developments in green energy, environmental issues and related policy proposals, visit WisBiz Green in the right-hand column at WisBusiness.com. 

To get a weekly feed of WisBiz Green highlights, sign up here: https://forms.gle/D9UncD3ee3j6nWZ2A

— Wisconsin potato and ginseng growers have until April 1 to submit nomination forms to serve on their respective boards. 

Forms should be submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. DATCP will mail nomination papers to eligible growers. If a producer does not receive a nomination form by March 1, contact the agency.

Three seats on the nine-member Wisconsin Potato Industry Board are up for election in District 1, which represents 31 northern counties; District 2, representing the six counties in the central and eastern part of the state; and District 3, representing 35 counties in the south part of the state. 

WPIB collects and allocates about $1.3 million in annual assessment fees paid by Wisconsin potato growers to support the industry through research, market development, and consumer education.

Three positions on the seven-member Ginseng Board of Wisconsin are also up for election. DATCP will conduct both WPIB and GBW elections by mail from May 15 to June 15. Elected board members will serve from July 1 to June 2024. 

— The Department of Workforce Development has unveiled an online tracker for Wisconsinites to see when they can expect Continued Assistance Act program benefits..

In late December, Congress passed the Continued Assistance Act, creating new unemployment programs and provisions in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. DWD has since been working to launch these new federal programs in Wisconsin. The first of those, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, was implemented last month.

DWD explained in a release that its outdated computer system does not allow these programs to be launched all at once, so some new benefits are still weeks away. The agency has prioritized each program by the number of Wisconsinites who could potentially qualify.

“We appreciate the impact these timelines have on people who have filed claims, and we’re working to implement these programs as quickly as possible despite our technological challenges,” said UI Division Administrator Mark Reihl.

See the tracker here: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uiben/caresact/tracker/ 

– Moores on Main in downtown Ashland has been named the winner in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s annual Main Street Makeover Contest.

The Ashland clothing store will get personalized technical assistance and up to $10,000 to implement changes identified in the makeover process, which will include interior improvements to improve customer flow and the shopping experience, as well as exterior enhancements to increase visibility and pedestrian engagement.

In a competitive shopping climate, the business hopes to use the makeover to offer an inviting shopping experience that entices customers to return regularly.

A team made up of WEDC staff and professionals from Retailworks Inc., a Milwaukee-based interior commercial design firm, will work closely with the Moore family and stakeholders from Ashland Main Street over the next few months to develop the shop’s new look. The improvements will be made during a 48-hour makeover event later this spring.

See more information on the Wisconsin Main Street Program: https://wedc.org/programs-and-resources/main-street/ 

— Wisconsin has administered over 976,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Nearly 241,000 of those doses were booster shots, meaning nearly 241,000 Wisconsinites have completed a two-dose vaccine series and are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Almost 40 percent of individuals age 65 or over have received at least the first dose. The group accounts for about 700,000 of some 5.8 million state residents.

Both Gov. Tony Evers, age 69, and First Lady Kathy Evers received their first dose last week.

“I encourage every Wisconsinite to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them — that’s how we are going to kick this pandemic to the curb for good and get back to our Wisconsin way of life,” the guv said. 

He added Wisconsinites should continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing and staying home to stop the spread of the virus. 

— DHS is giving more than $6 million to help community-based groups raise awareness and access to COVID-19 shots.

Due to various social factors and systemic barriers, communities of color have experienced higher rates of infection, hospitalizations, and death during this pandemic, according to DHS. In Wisconsin, COVID-19 vaccine data show rates of vaccinations have been disproportionately lower for Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other underserved populations. 

Over $3 million of the investment will fund efforts to activate organizations to serve as trusted messengers to build vaccine confidence and reduce barriers that may impede vaccinations in urban and rural areas. The remaining $3 million will supplement current vaccine equity work being done by Federally Qualified Health Centers and others.

DHS Interim Secretary Karen Timberlake explained that while COVID-19 shots are available statewide, people without access to the internet or a health care provider may not know how to get vaccinated. She added that some people may not trust information about the vaccine due to a history of racism and mistreatment experienced by many communities. 

“This grant will help close gaps in access to information and address some of those drivers of vaccine hesitancy by investing in partners that are in the best positions to promote vaccination efforts in their communities.”

Organizations that engage in work to reduce socioeconomic or health inequities across Wisconsin are encouraged to apply here: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/contracts/covid-19-vaccination-community-outreach.htm 

— Georgia-Pacific and engineering firm Mead & Hunt are joining the list of larger firms looking to meet with emerging companies at the Wisconsin Tech Summit. 

Other firms attending the March 17 event include: 3M, American Family Insurance, AT&T, Findorff, Johnson Controls, Kimberly-Clark, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Northwestern Mutual, Promega, Rockwell Automation, Schreiber Foods and TitletownTech, among others.

Appy by Wednesday: https://wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/wisconsin-tech-summit 

— Two major state business groups are on opposite sides of Evers’ budget plan to allow counties and many municipalities to increase the sales tax.

Wisconsin currently allows counties to impose an additional 0.5 percent tax on top of the state sales tax of five percent. The guv’s plan would allow counties and municipalities with greater than 30,000 residents to increase the sales tax by an additional 0.5 percent each. These additional increases would need to be approved via referendum.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce opposes the plan. It argues that Wisconsin already has some of the highest tax rates in the country. If the plan were to become law, some residents could see local sales tax jump to 6.5 percent, making everyday items more expensive at a time when they can least afford it. 

“Now is not the time to make our national reputation as a high-tax state even worse,” said WMC Executive Vice President of Government Relations Scott Manley.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce supports the proposal.

“For more than a decade, MMAC has been working to find ways to restructure our state and

local tax systems in a way that encourages economic growth,” said MMAC President Tim Sheehy. “Allowing referenda asking local voters for permission to raise additional sales tax revenue increases local taxpayer control of their own communities’ financial destiny and diversifies the revenue options available to local governments.”

Sheehy noted that Evers’ sales tax proposal was similar to the actions former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson took in the 1990s to allow local governments the option of raising

property taxes via referendum.

— State of Wisconsin Investment Board Executive Director and CIO David Villa died Saturday at age 66. 

“For 15 years, David worked tirelessly to build an organization committed to helping Wisconsin’s public sector employees to retire in dignity,” said David Stein, chairman of SWIB’s Board of Trustees.

Villa had been at SWIB, which manages the $120 billion Wisconsin Retirement System, since 2006 as the chief investment officer. He was given the executive director role in 2018. 

“He was deeply committed to innovation and took great pains to remember and remind the talented team he has assembled at SWIB that they have been entrusted with a great responsibility on behalf of Wisconsin families,” Evers said.

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# Prem Meats Keeps It Rolling with Mobile Slaughtering Unit 

# Marquette University Laid Off 39 In January. Staff And Students Fear More Cuts Are To Come 


# GE shrank its U.S. workforce by 20%, unveils first diversity report led by Milwaukee-area executive 




– Baldwin to Chair Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-state.php?Id=158&yr=2021 

– Von Ruden Re-Elected President of Wisconsin Farmers Union http://www.wisconsinagconnection.com/story-state.php?Id=160&yr=2021 

– Cold Weather Causes Slower Runs at Cattle Markets https://www.midwestfarmreport.com/2021/02/15/cold-weather-causes-slower-runs-at-cattle-markets/ 


– Experts Highlight Issues Ahead For Next State Superintendent https://www.wpr.org/experts-highlight-issues-ahead-next-state-superintendent


– Natural Resources Board Sets Harvest At 200 Wolves https://www.wpr.org/natural-resources-board-sets-harvest-200-wolves


– Wisconsin COVID-19 hospitalizations dip below 400 https://www.wrn.com/2021/02/wisconsin-covid-19-hospitalizations-dip-below-400/


– UW-Madison sued for allegedly hiding critical comments from its social media accounts https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/university/uw-madison-sued-for-allegedly-hiding-critical-comments-from-its-social-media-accounts/article_cf61a4d5-248d-587e-8516-34c426f48209.html


– Miro Manufacturing to expand operations with acquisition of Waukesha facility https://biztimes.com/miro-manufacturing-to-expand-operations-with-acquisition-of-waukesha-facility/ 

– Calypso drink maker lands contract for New York distribution https://biztimes.com/calypso-drink-maker-lands-contract-for-new-york-distribution/ 


– JFC co-chair says marijuana legalization doesn’t belong in budget https://www.wrn.com/2021/02/jfc-co-chair-says-marijuana-legalization-doesnt-belong-in-budget/


– Couture developer offers to cover liability for federal grant money on streetcar construction at project site https://biztimes.com/couture-developer-offers-to-cover-liability-for-federal-grant-money-on-streetcar-construction-at-project-site/ 

– Kenosha’s downtown former J.C. Penney to become 42 apartments https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/02/14/kenosha-former-downtown-jcpenney-to-become.html 


– Wisconsin legislature to consider ‘cocktails-to-go’ bill during upcoming session https://www.channel3000.com/wisconsin-legislature-to-consider-cocktails-to-go-bill-during-upcoming-session/


– Wisconsin Center planners schedule visits to four ‘best in class’ convention centers https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/02/15/wisconsin-center-planners-schedule-visits-to-best.html 


– Governor Evers’ Proposed Budget Invests in Agriculture https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/News_Media/20200215RomanskiAgBudgetOpEd.aspx 


<i>See these and other press releases: 

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

– Wisconsin Restaurant Association: Supports workforce development in state budget priorities

– Chippewa Valley Legislators: Applaud HPE Enterprise Zone

– Xcel Energy: Recruiting in Ashland area to fill virtual Customer Contact Center positions

– Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority: Training, research partnership to boost supportive housing statewide