WED AM News: Report highlights impact of hiring Wisconsin workers for solar projects; Dairy groups applaud Assembly for passing bill to boost ag exports

— A report from Forward Analytics finds that hiring local workers to construct new solar energy projects could generate twice as much economic activity in the state as relying on out-of-state labor. 

Using the example of a 150 megawatt solar farm being built in rural Wisconsin, the report estimates that hiring local workers would generate about $11.8 million in economic activity in the region. If that same project were constructed by workers from out of state, the total economic activity would be between $4.6 million and $6.8 million, according to the report. 

The report was commissioned by Wisconsin Infrastructure Investment Now, a construction industry lobbying organization that’s backed by construction companies and various labor groups. In a release, the organization notes that solar projects require few workers for long-term operation and maintenance once they’ve been built, meaning the “vast majority” of the economic impact from the project’s workforce occurs during the construction process. 

“The study quantifies what has long been assumed, that infrastructure projects built by local workers are significantly better for the local economy,” said Dale Knapp, Forward Analytics’ director of research and analytics. 

Wisconsin currently has 19 solar projects that have either been approved by the state Public Service Commission or are in the queue, the report shows. If all of those projects are built with a completely local workforce, the report estimates the total economic impact would be $195.5 million. If the workforce for those projects isn’t locally sourced, the impact is estimated at between $75.8 million and $112.9 million. 

“The 19 solar farms planned for Wisconsin will cost in excess of $2.6 billion. This is a much-needed capital investment as aging electric generation plants are retired, but it is Wisconsin residents that will pay for the projects through their utility bills,” said Robb Kahl, executive director of WIIN and the Construction Business Group, in a release. “Since Wisconsin is paying for the new infrastructure, it should be Wisconsin contractors and workers that build it.”

Much of the local impact results from workers on the project spending their income in the local area, since many of the materials used in the construction process aren’t produced locally and therefore have a “negligible” economic impact. Report authors note the local impact might differ if out-of-state workers on these projects are paid at a different rate than local workers, since a lower pay would result in a smaller economic impact overall. 

Despite recent growth in the industry, solar energy is a relatively small piece of the state’s energy mix, making up about 4 percent of Wisconsin’s renewable net generation in 2020. And about three-fifths of the solar power generated in the state was from small-scale solar facilities, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

But if all 19 of the projects recently approved and currently in the queue go online, the state’s solar energy capacity would increase by more than 400 percent, according to the report.  

See the report: 

— Dairy groups in the state are applauding the Assembly for unanimously passing legislation that aims to boost state exports of agricultural products by 25 percent over the next five years. 

The bill, AB 314, would put $5 million toward that effort, with half of that amount reserved for dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee passed the bill last week in a unanimous vote. It was introduced by Sen. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, and Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc. 

“This targeted investment will provide dairy processors with the support they need to navigate the logistics of export endeavors and grow their global customer base, building a stronger, more stable dairy industry,” said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. 

Under the bill, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would work with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to boost ag exports. Dairy Business Association President Amy Penterman says she’s encouraged by the broad support for the bill, and praises the collaborative approach the bill would establish. 

“It is an investment not only in our dairy farmers and processors but our rural communities as well,” she said in a release. 

Under the bill, WEDC and DATCP would need to submit a joint plan to lawmakers by the end of next year for how they plan to achieve the goals outlined in the legislation, including a plan to award grants for at least 15 percent of the funds allocated to the effort to Wisconsin exporters. 

The bill would need to be passed by the state Senate before going to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk. 

See the bill text: 

See the WCMA statement here: 

See the DBA statement here: 

— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has downgraded Dane County’s COVID-19 community transmission level from “high” to “substantial,” making it the only county in the state that’s not seeing high levels of transmission. 

Under the CDC’s definition, a high transmission rate means the number of new cases in the past week exceeds 100 per 100,000 people, or the percentage of positive diagnostic tests for the week is above 10 percent. As of yesterday, the county’s weekly case rate was 93.65 per 100,000 people, and its percent positivity rate is 3.13 percent, the CDC site shows. 

With 74.4 percent of its population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 71.8 percent having completed the vaccine series, Dane County has the highest vaccination levels of any Wisconsin county. 

The county has a mask mandate in place that’s due to expire Nov. 5, though the county’s health agency has already extended the emergency order several times. The CDC says areas with high or substantial levels of community transmission should require masks in public, indoor settings. 

“Dane County is both the county with the highest vaccination rate in the state and the only county in the state currently utilizing the added protection of requiring masks indoors,” said Public Health Madison & Dane County Communications Coordinator Morgan Finke in an email. “We have always said we believe a layered approach is what will help us slow the spread of illness.”

See the CDC map of county transmission levels here: 

— Racial and ethnic minority groups in Wisconsin continue to see a greater impact from COVID-19, with most experiencing higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death than white residents. 

The latest data from the Department of Health Services show Hispanic or Latino residents have experienced about 18,684 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 14,929 for American Indian residents, 14,401 for Black residents, 11,742 for white residents and 10,155 for Asian or Pacific Islander residents. 

Black residents have the highest rate of hospitalization in Wisconsin, at about 1,191 per 100,000 people. That number is 1,074 for American Indian residents, 880 for Hispanic or Latino residents, 630 for white residents and 477 for Asian or Pacific Islander residents. 

Meanwhile, American Indians in the state have the highest death rates from COVID-19, at about 190 per 100,000 people. That’s compared to 156 for Black residents, 145 for white residents, 108 for Hispanic or Latino residents, and 89 for Asian or Pacific Islander residents. 

Vaccination rates in these communities tend to be lower as well, the DHS site shows. 

The agency says it’s been working to promote vaccine equity and reduce disparities by prioritizing vaccine orders for providers in underserved areas, providing contact tracing in multiple languages, and offering testing sites for largely minority communities. 

See more from DHS on COVID-19 disparities in the state: 

— The state Department of Administration is accepting applications through Nov. 30 for the $50 million Healthcare Infrastructure Capital Investment Grant Program. 

Local and tribal governments as well as nonprofit health care organizations can apply for the funding, with grants up to $20 million being provided, a release shows. The funding is meant to increase access to “safe, secure, and affordable healthcare facilities for underserved and vulnerable communities” in the state, and can support expansion of existing facilities or construction of new facilities. 

DOA Secretary Joel Brennan says a “longstanding lack of investment” in certain communities in the state has led to health disparities. 

“The pandemic has laid bare how important it is to make sure all Wisconsinites have access to safe and affordable healthcare options, and this latest investment will help us address critical healthcare needs as we continue our pandemic recovery,” he said in the release. 

The grant program is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act and will be administered by DOA.  

See more on the program here: 


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– State egg production slowed in September


– College enrollment declined again this year in 2- and 4-year colleges


– Areas of Wisconsin (finally) see first hard freeze of 2021


– Dane County now has the lowest level of COVID community transmission in Wisconsin

– UW Health: Stress from the pandemic and skipped doctor appointments contributing to sicker patients


– Milwaukee Tool transforming downtown site with bright-red branding, lots of glass


– Wisconsin GOP targets Medicaid coverage for transgender health procedures

– Assembly Republican proposals on homelessness, housing shortages headed for votes


– Historic rehabs on Milwaukee’s lower east side advance

– Milwaukee-area office market loses ground over the summer despite uptick in activity


– Wisconsin wolf hunt delayed by federal judge ruling


– Culver’s sells 136,000 Curderburgers on Cheese Curd Day

– Wonderstate Coffee livens up a ‘dead corner’ of downtown Madison

– Crumbl Cookies coming to Bayshore early next year


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

Dairy Business Association: Export program would boost Wisconsin dairy community

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