— A panel of industry experts says issues with the U.S. immigration system exacerbate existing labor shortages in Wisconsin.
During a virtual event held yesterday by WisPolitics.com, WisBusiness.com and the Wisconsin Technology Council, panelists also offered some solutions that could improve the state’s workforce outlook.
Ankit Agarwal, president and CEO of Imbed Biosciences in Madison, discussed the difficulties he’s had with hiring new graduates of Wisconsin universities that hail from other countries. Because the number of H1B employment-based work visas is capped at 65,000 per year, he said most of the 200,000 annual applicants are unable to stay and work in the United States after graduation.
“On one hand we talk about growth in businesses, growth in startups, hiring more highly educated workforce — but on the other hand, this 65,000 number has been around for the last 20 years,” he said. “How can we grow workforce and grow the education system … but not increase the H1B visas which is the only way for them to become part of the American workforce?”
Kelly Fortier, an immigration attorney with the law firm Michael Best & Friedrich, agreed with Agarwal that the cap for H1B visas should be expanded, calling it “a really easy solution” to address shortages in industries that require highly skilled workers. She noted the cap was temporarily increased to over 200,000 during the “dot-com boom” of the late 1990s, but was then reduced back to its current level.
Earlier this year, President Biden proposed the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which Fortier explained is focused on expanding green cards and enabling long-term employment for immigrant workers. If passed, provisions of the law would increase the number of green cards available, which would likely decrease wait times. But she said the proposed bill wouldn’t have much of an impact on temporary work visa categories.
“Expanding, for example, a temporary dairy visa, which we’d love to see — it doesn’t have anything like that,” she said.
— The latest episode of “WisBusiness.com: The Show” features Matthew Kee, who manages Green Bay-based Tundra Angels.
Kee’s passion for working with young companies led him to see the need for the investor group while working for the Greater Green Bay Chamber. In addition, Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still talks about plans for a Wisconsin “Fund of Funds” and outlines coming events.
— The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority plans to create new support networks for developers who are veterans, women and people of color through training programs and grants.
The group’s CEO, Joaquin Altoro, spoke on a panel yesterday hosted by WHEDA with Gov. Tony Evers and Secretary of the Department of Administration Joel Brennan. The event invited new developers to discuss ways to address Wisconsin’s affordable housing crisis and increase diversity in land development.
It was held at America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee.
“The way that we want to participate with emerging developers, we’re calling it the bear hug approach,” Altoro said. “What that means is continuous support of the Associates in Commercial Real Estate Program.”
ACRE is a Milwaukee-based initiative that recruits and trains people of color for careers in commercial real estate. Some developers requested programs like ACRE be available across the state to make access to training more accessible and equitable.
“We are at a crossroads in Wisconsin,” Altoro said. “We believe the way forward requires innovative thinking, new energy and new voices in the development process. We also need an ecosystem of people, partners, programs, policies and practices to address the long standing affordable housing gap.”
As a part of the Wisconsin Qualified Allocation Plan, WHEDA has granted $3.5 million in tax credits to developers to help build 2,300 affordable housing units, Altoro said. Each development could receive a maximum of $800,000 in tax credits. QAP was designed to create housing with services for low-income families, seniors and veterans in urban and rural areas.
The affordable housing crisis is a statewide issue, Brennan said. Wisconsin spent $30 million on rental assistance during 2020, and the Evers administration is looking for short-term solutions once the eviction moratorium ends June 30.
“Now is the time to address the affordable housing gap, and workforce housing shortage,” Evers said. “All across the state of Wisconsin, we know that access to safe affordable housing is key to greater equity. Opportunity is also critical, frankly, for dismantling systemic racism … and improving quality of quality life here in the state of Wisconsin.”
— A new report from UW Health shows eating disorders in adolescent and young adult patients have nearly doubled since 2019.
According to a release, the number of eating disorders among young patients in Wisconsin and nationwide has been increasing at a steady pace. But Dr. Paula Cody, adolescent medicine specialist for UW Health, says last year’s pandemic worsened this trend.
She identifies a number of related factors such as young people spending more time in front of screens during the pandemic, a lack of in-person group activities to keep them busy, and overall stress from the pandemic.
“This is a national trend we are seeing locally as well with patients between the ages of 12 and 18,” she said in a statement. “It will be important for parents to look for warning signs.”
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— A training program in northwestern Wisconsin called SOFTEC Education is getting a $47,100 grant from WEDC for a new entrepreneurship mentoring program.
SOFTEC offers a six-week course based in Burnett County that uses simulation technology to teach students how to operate heavy machinery like excavators. A release shows the funds for the new program are coming from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneurship Support Grants program.
The new entrepreneurship program will provide students with one-on-one mentorship opportunities as they create their business plans. Participants will be attending entrepreneurship classes as well as financial literacy courses provided by local banks. Northcentral Technical College will also provide managerial courses to participating students.
According to the WEDC release, the program is known for working with the state’s Native American tribes. Conrad St. John, who was recently elected to the St. Croix Chippewa Tribal Council, graduated from SOFTEC at the end of May.
“Coming into this class with zero machine operating experience, I was very skeptical about learning this trade or even finishing the course,” he said in a statement. “The program was overwhelming the first couple of days, but the mixture of the simulator experience and online computer curriculum really helped me in the learning of this trade.”
See more on the program: http://www.softeceducation.org/
# Wisconsin Dells sees chance at record tourism season as people plan post-vaccination vacations
# Milwaukee companies team up to train veterans in high-tech manufacturing
# Snap-on CEO sees economic boom, predicts service-sector workers will shift to manufacturing jobs
– Wisconsin part of USDA cattle farm survey
– Renter, landlord advocates hope to avoid waves of evictions with help of federal aid
– Madison’s new equity division aims to ‘shift the culture’
– Heads of Wisconsin’s largest school districts ‘dismayed’ federal aid at risk
# HEALTH CARE
– UW-EC vaccination site closing June 30
– With eviction moratorium ending soon, Milwaukee County officials consider Right to Counsel Initiative
– 8 Republicans face off in Assembly special election primary
– Wisconsin Republican calls Speaker Vos foolish for his skepticism of Arizona ballot audit
# REAL ESTATE
– Humboldt Boulevard is a treasure to those in the Riverwest neighborhood, but a construction project may put it at risk
# SMALL BUSINESS
– Out on the water this summer? Okauchee Lake’s ice cream boat called Pops on the Lake has launched
– Reds cool off Brewers, 10-2
– Milwaukee startup accelerator The Blueprint expanding to Green Bay
– Wisconsin Dells sees chance at record tourism season as people plan post-vaccination vacations
– Shortage of drivers forces MCTS to cancel all special State Fair, festival service
# PRESS RELEASES
<i>See these and other press releases: