WED AM News: BioForward CEO discusses state’s workforce shortage and new international partnership with BIOQuébec

— The COVID-19 pandemic put the spotlight on Wisconsin’s biohealth industry as companies came together to play a key role in fighting the disease.

Lisa Johnson is CEO of BioForward Wisconsin, which represents the state’s biohealth cluster of more than 220 member organizations. In an interview this week with, she talked about the state of the industry just a year after the pandemic started. 

Biohealth spans between biosciences and health, encompassing research institutions, companies in health research, therapeutics, diagnostics, devices and digital health, as well as the state’s health care systems. During the pandemic, companies made personal protective equipment and testing kits, developed therapeutics and ran clinical trials. 

“Having that broad a spectrum of sectors within a state is very unusual,” said Johnson. “You don’t see really that huge spectrum of power that we have sitting in Wisconsin.” 

Read the full story at 

— COVID-19 also brought collaboration to the biohealth space.

Johnson said connections between companies and institutions just didn’t happen before. But when the pandemic hit, entities had to do everything they could to fight the disease. On an international, national and local stage, major competitors came together, which has boded well for everyone, including the biohealth industry.  

“For just us in the biohealth industry, all we’re seeing now is expansions,” Johnson said.

“That’s why we as an association have to keep up with that. We need to help them as much as we can to get messaging out there … We have to do as much as possible so that they can continue to grow here,” she said. 

— BioForward and BIOQuébec, Québec’s largest network of biotechnologies and life sciences, will sign an international partnership next week.

This is BioForward’s first step towards greater international partnerships and collaborations.

“Our universities are very good about being global and doing collaborations with researchers all over the world, but we also have to open up our markets for our companies to international bases and partnerships, different types of collaborations,” Johnson said. “You definitely see this more out of the coasts. I think the Midwest is a little slower about doing that.”

Johnson said Québec is home to an outstanding life sciences base. The international partnership between Wisconsin and Québec aims to advance research, manufacturing and development. The signing will take place during a virtual event, “Québec and Wisconsin: Two Thriving Life Science Ecosystems Sharing Strengths and Opportunities,” on March 25 at 1 p.m.

“The priorities of both associations are aligned and there is a joint commitment to improving the quality of life of the population and to achieving the objectives of our mission, making this an ideal partnership,” said BIOQuébec Executive Director Anie Perrault.

The memorandum is expected to highlight the relationship between both Canada and the U.S. and the role that biotechnology and life sciences will play in the two countries’ future. 

“This is the first of many that we see. We want to set up additional European collaborations, possibly Australia, something in Asia, just to have better connections for our member companies as potential partnerships as they expand their businesses or look for different partnerships to grow their businesses.”

Register for the event: 

— The Department of Workforce Development cut the number of fraudulent overpayments in the unemployment program last year even as the state paid out nearly 12 times as much in claims during 2020 as it did in 2019.

The agency’s annual report showed 0.1 percent of the $4.8 billion in unemployment payments it sent out last year were the result of fraudulent activity. That includes 3,561 cases.

In 2019, 1 percent of the $409.5 million the state paid out was the result of fraudulent activity. That includes 4,734 cases.

The program was plagued in 2020 by delays in processing claims, leading some applicants to wait months before they received benefits. The report released yesterday is the annual update on fraud within the program.

According to the report, eight cases were referred to county DAs for prosecutions. The report didn’t include any details on those cases.

DWD Secretary Amy Pechacek noted some states temporarily suspended benefit payments due to fraudulent activity.

“While Wisconsin has not experienced a level of activity requiring such drastic measures, the battle against scams and fraud continues to be a focus, and we have committed many resources to this effort,” she said.

Read the report: 

— People age 16 and older with certain medical conditions will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine shot beginning Monday, a week sooner than expected.

Originally, the group’s vaccine eligibility was slated to begin March 29. The date was moved up due to increased vaccine supply and availability of appointments as earlier groups complete vaccination, the Department of Health Services told

“Opening up earlier allows vaccinators in places that have nearly completed these groups to move on,” said DHS spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt. “As we have said all along, we want to keep a good steady stream of folks available to vaccinate people as quickly as vaccine is available.”

She added that Wisconsin is seeing daily numbers of COVID-19 variants tick up, meaning it is not the time for the state to leave any vaccine appointments unused. The state reports 32 confirmed variant cases.

See the list of medical conditions associated with an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19: 

See more in the latest Health Care Report:

— Also on Monday, Milwaukee will further expand vaccine eligibility for all people age 18 and older living in 10 at-risk ZIP codes that rank highest on an index of social vulnerability

Milwaukee health officials used two models, including the CDC social vulnerability index, to identify high vulnerability communities that have low vaccination rates. 

“We saw that the ZIP codes that had the highest social vulnerability index number were the ones that had the lowest vaccination rates,” explained Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “In other words, the people who were in the neighborhoods that needed it the most were the ones who were getting it the least.”

He added that the city of Milwaukee is rolling out a mobile vaccination plan focused on racial equity, bringing vaccinations to those 10 at-risk ZIP codes where eligibility has been expanded. 

See more on the ZIP codes:

— Meanwhile, DHS has clarified current eligibility to include all clergy, restaurant workers and judges, among others.

Now, all clergy, who provide spiritual care to the sick, are part of health care personnel. Restaurant workers were added to the food supply eligibility group. DHS also expanded public safety to include judges, prosecutors and other essential criminal court personnel, in addition to public defenders.

See the list of all eligible populations: 

<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 and

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— Assembly lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill that would prevent insurers from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions.

The bill would cement the Affordable Care Act provision in statute even if Congress repealed the federal law in its totality, as Republicans have promised to do for the last decade. It now goes to the Senate for approval, where its sister bill has yet to make it out of the Committee on Insurance, Licensing and Forestry.

Assembly members last session also passed similar legislation, though it failed to make it through the Senate before session’s end.

The Assembly also sent to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk two bills that would regulate pharmacy benefit managers and authorize dentists to administer COVID-19 and flu vaccines. The former passed 94-0, while the latter passed by voice vote.

— Federal grant dollars are available to help state nonprofit organizations protect themselves from security risks from possible terrorist acts, Wisconsin Emergency Management announced.

The Nonprofit Security Grant Program is a federal grant program from the Wisconsin Emergency Management agency that will provide funding for state nonprofits that need security personnel, training, equipment or exercises for faith-based organizations in the state who face probable risks of terror attacks. 

“We are very excited about the increase in Non-Profit Security Grant funding for Wisconsin this year,” said WEM Administrator  Darrell Williams in a release. “The increased funding will provide a greater opportunity to support the needs of our faith-based and non-profit community.”

The application deadline for Wisconsin nonprofits to apply is noon on April 3:

— Milwaukee-based Lakefront Brewery is releasing a new beer in honor of an employee who died of pancreatic cancer in September.

The popular Milwaukee brewery named the new brew “My Turn: Al” in honor of Al Kluth II who was the brand’s warehouse manager at its Riverwest distribution center for four and a half years.

Lakefront’s “My Turn” line honors a series of quarterly beers that celebrate one of the brewery’s employees. Members of the Kluth family helped the brewery package and process the “My Turn: Al” beverage.

In the announcement, the brewery said $1 from every sale of Kluth’s beer will be donated to the American Cancer Society.


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– Debt Relief Is Coming For Black Farmers 

– Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center Planning Maple Syrup Days 

– Dodge County announces plans for in-person dairy breakfast 


– Wisconsin Senate approves genocide education requirement


– Foxconn considers building electric cars in the U.S. 


– Wisconsin Assembly Approves Prescription Drug, Health Insurance Proposals

– Redox to grow and expand technology for digital health care 


– American Family VC unit leads $1.75M seed round in crowdfunding platform for small businesses 


– 1-Week Waiting Period Back In Effect For Jobless Workers In Wisconsin


– Ron Johnson rules out run for Wisconsin governor in 2022

– Wisconsin Senate To Consider Bill To Prevent Sexual Assault Kit Backlog

– Wisconsin Legislature moves to protect conversion therapy


– Boston Red Sox turn to Waukesha company’s ‘Covid-blasting’ robots for disinfecting Fenway Park 


– Quantum startup ColdQuanta names executive chairman and interim CEO 


– The Wisconsin Department of Tourism increases target markets in 2021 

– Milwaukee World Festival reports $17.2 million loss in 2020 


– Milwaukee County Transit System buys electric buses for BRT line, existing routes 


– We Energies, WPS planning $446 million solar and battery project in southern Wisconsin 


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

– Lakefront Brewery: Releases My Turn: Al In Memory of Employee

– Elmstar Electric Corporation: Earns national safety award

– Ovation Communities: Creates teen advisory board

– SmithGroup: Hires Chris Waible to expand business development in Wisconsin, Midwest