WED AM News: WEDC optimistic about Foxconn deal; Evers calls for UI system overhaul, $200 million investment in broadband

— Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary Missy Hughes said she’s optimistic about a new deal with Foxconn, but dodged on the details.

WEDC asked to work with Foxconn on a new agreement that aligns with the company’s plans for development in southeastern Wisconsin. WEDC ruled Foxconn was not eligible for $3 billion in tax credits this year after the company scrapped a plan to build a massive fabrication factory.

Ahead of a Milwaukee Press virtual panel yesterday, Hughes said WEDC’s practice is not to comment on current conversations it’s having with businesses, including Foxconn. But that didn’t stop reporters from trying to get the details of the current negotiations between the agency and the tech giant.

The factory would have brought around 13,000 jobs to the region’s economy and ripple effects on the supply chain throughout the rest of the state, Hughes said. But despite that massive project deal never arriving in the region, Hughes said the economic activity in southeastern Wisconsin is exploding.

“Southeastern Wisconsin is a powerhouse unto itself,” she said, adding that the attention to the I-94 corridor and geography has helped boost the region’s economy.

“Foxconn will be able to add to that,” she said. “We anticipate that that growth will continue and we continue to work with the communities there and the businesses there to make sure we are doing everything we can to help them grow.”

Hughes, who had last visited the Foxconn facilities in October, said she’s optimistic the tech company and WEDC will reach a new agreement through their “fruitful” conversations. But she was unable to share a timeline. She added that with a new administration in the White House, WEDC looks forward to exploring new opinions, thoughts or opportunities.

In addition to talking with Foxconn, WEDC has been in contact with Mount Pleasant and Racine County, including about the land that had been cleared of houses for Foxconn’s facilities.

“Not only is it prime real estate, it has had the infrastructure brought to it now that we have to take advantage of that,” she said. “One of the conversations that we have with the locals … is what can we do to help develop that? We want to make sure that land gets developed, nobody wants to see it sit there after having moved homes off of it. It’s incumbent on us to make it a successful piece of property and well utilized.”

That land is still a part of the Foxconn project and is a part of the conversations that WEDC is having with the company, Hughes said.

Watch the event: 

— Gov. Tony Evers, delivering Wisconsin’s first virtual State of the State, announced he will call the Legislature into special session to take up legislation to modernize the unemployment system after a backlog of claims plagued his administration for much of the past year.

Evers also declared 2021 the “Year of Broadband Access,” promising to include another $200 million to help provide access to high-speed Internet to more corners of the state.

And he pledged to put the squeeze on GOP lawmakers in the upcoming redistricting process with a provision in his state budget that would require them to draw “our maps in the light of day, in the public eye, and with public input by requiring public meetings for the map-drawing process.” 

Evers is expected to veto the maps Republicans draw with the courts most likely having final say in what the state’s political boundaries look like for a decade.

Rather than standing before the Assembly chamber to address a joint session of the Legislature, Evers delivered the annual speech — his third –via his YouTube channel and Facebook. Evers sought to make light of the unusual circumstance created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“That means there’s good news and bad news: the bad news is there won’t be any applause or boos here tonight, but the good news is that means tonight’s speech will take a heckuva lot less time and since you’re watching at home, you can be as rowdy as you’d like from the comfort of your couch,” Evers was to say, according to his prepared remarks.

See more:

— Wisconsin’s export markets are expected to recover to pre-recession levels by the middle of this year for goods, but services won’t fully recover until 2023, said a Department of Revenue economist.

The unemployment rate has fallen “fairly consistently” since it peaked at 13.6 percent for Wisconsin in April, said John Koskinen, of DOR. The rate has since dropped to 5 percent as of November. 

The GDP has also been steadily recovering since October, Koskinen said. He added that unemployment numbers will likely recover to pre-recession levels by late 2022, bolstered by steady economic recovery from two of the state’s top three export markets: China and Canada. 

Even though the economy is improving, Koskinen said he predicts another recovery package will come out shortly after the Biden administration takes office. He expects “intense focus” on that in the first 100 days President-elect Joe Biden is in office.

Wisconsin’s second-biggest export market, Mexico, has seen a slow economic recovery as government officials have failed to enact effective policies and measures, said international economist Byron Shoulton.

The two were speakers at a virtual forum held by the Madison International Trade Association. 

Shoulton, with the national insurance group FCIA, said the Mexican government’s “inadequate response” to the pandemic has caused job losses and a slow economic recovery. Furthermore, he said the government’s support for the economy has been almost ineffective. 

This could impact the U.S. and Canada because of the nation’s role in the USMCA, a free trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

The USMCA and a shift in the currency exchange rate favoring the U.S. dollar have helped bring Wisconsin’s export market with Canada nearly to a full recovery, Koskinen said. 

China has also seen a relatively strong economic recovery, but tariffs and restrictions from the U.S. will likely deter China from taking on more investments in U.S. securities, Shoulton said. He added China will likely continue investing in foreign infrastructure in African and Asian-Pacific nations.

He added that China’s focus on dominating international markets and technology has placed the country in a strong position for recovery. 

“China has become pretty much the industrial breadbasket for much of the world over the last 20 years,” Shoulton said. 

He warned if the U.S. doesn’t take advantage of foreign trading opportunities, other countries will fill those gaps, putting the U.S. economy in some trouble. He added that the U.S. can bolster its position by investing in new technologies over the next few years. 

While other leading economies around the world have taken on more debt to help deal with economic issues caused by the pandemic, the U.S. has not done as much, Shoulton said, adding that now is “the perfect time” to take advantage of low interest rates and take on more debt to deal with problems the nation is experiencing right now. 

— Wisconsin’s effort to become carbon-free by 2050 will mainly focus on work by two state agencies — the Department of Administration and the Public Service Commission — to make renewable energy a profitable industry.

DOA Secretary Joel Brennan said “it’s high time” that the state joins the push toward renewable energy. He added that the ideas to lead that push are coming from energy industry experts.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Brennan said working with utility providers and consumers to promote renewable energy will help bridge the gap between people who think renewable energy and business profitability are at odds.

The two were panelists in a virtual conference held by RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit that promotes renewable energy. 

PSC Commissioner Tyler Huebner, a former RENEW executive director, said loans to remove defunct power plants and build new solar farms are evidence of action towards the goal of increasing renewable energy. 

“A clean energy future means endless opportunities for Wisconsin,” said Barnes, who leads the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. “It means new technologies, job creation and a means for families to provide for themselves.”

Huebner said turning renewable energy resources and energy efficiency into profitable areas for utility companies gives energy providers an incentive to make more ecologically friendly decisions in the future. 

In addition, he said creating incentives for customers and providers to switch to renewables and energy-efficient products will drive down the demand for traditional coal-powered plants.

Brennan said the work RENEW and PSC are doing to bring utility companies and consumers together to work toward renewable energy benefits everyone involved because they’re all stakeholders. 

“All that is an effort to make this be about whether you stand for a sustainable future or you stand for what’s good for business,” he said. “There is absolutely a place in between there that’s good for everybody and I hope that we can continue down that path.”

Brennan added that new state and congressional legislators provide an opportunity for progress towards sustainable energy, especially when reviewing Gov. Tony Evers’ latest budget.

Huebner said changing Wisconsin’s policy on interconnectivity is an opportunity to create rules that look toward what future technologies will bring. It can also address regulations that have become outdated as technology has advanced since rules were last changed in 2004, he concluded.

— As the public comment period begins today, a state committee has selected groups comprising approximately 1 million people who could be eligible for the next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations. 

The vaccine subpanel of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee met yesterday morning to finalize the draft for public comment of who would be included in the second phase. The 17-member panel advises DHS regarding medical ethics during a declared disaster or public health emergency, taking into consideration guidelines from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The committee’s discussion listed those eligible as people ages 70 and older; public-facing essential workers, such as first responders, education and child care workers, and non-frontline health care personnel; mink farmers; and congregate living residents and staff. 

This totals roughly 1 million people, according to the committee’s draft.

DHS has already announced the state’s 30,000 firefighters and police officers are to be vaccinated next week, ahead of when the recommendations will be finalized after public comment. DHS will ultimately decide how to carry out the panel’s final recommendations. 

The education and child care categories include those working in day cares, preschool, K-12 and higher education.

The vaccine subcommittee is meeting Friday to discuss the third phase of vaccine rollout. The panel will meet again on Wednesday to discuss public comment on the second phase. Then, the full SDMAC will meet on Jan. 21 for final review, vote and submission to DHS.

See the document “Recommendations for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services for COVID-19 Vaccine Priority Group 1b”: 

— Including non-frontline health care employees in the second phase drew some concern from panelists. 

This group would encompass health care staff who maintain cybersecurity, and perform cleaning functions, scheduling, and management of care organizations.

Dr. Edward Belongia of Marshfield Clinic Research Institute said there could be an appearance of inequity in including employees such as accountants, programmers, lawyers and human resources staff when they don’t have an occupational risk of exposure. He said that it could result in the impression that health care systems, which have control over the vaccines, are only vaccinating their own people first.

But Dr. Silvia Munoz-Price of the Medical College of Wisconsin and Froedtert, who reviews positive tests among employees, said sometimes the positivity rate shows pockets of people that become a cluster. Those clusters, she said, in key personnel, such as supply chain and IT, may negatively impact the function of health systems.

“If we don’t have … people to do those key duties, we can’t provide health care,” she said. “The policies and procedures written in a piece of paper are great, but that does not mean that one, they’re feasible to operationalize, and two, that people are compliant with it.”

The panel did not reach a consensus, so the team decided to leave the recommendation in for public comment. If there is an outcry in the public comment period, panel co-chair Ann Lewandowski, regional immunization program manager at Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative said they’d revisit the population in the final revisions.

— Wisconsin remains in the middle of the pack for administering COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC’s coronavirus vaccine tracker.

Out of the 50 states, the Badger State is ranked No. 20 for the amount of vaccine it’s received and No. 24 for administering those vaccines.

When it comes to the rate of distribution and administration per population, Wisconsin fares a bit worse. It’s ranked No. 31 for vaccine received per 100,000 people and No. 34 for vaccine administered per 100,000 people.

DHS reports that the state has been allocated 608,000 vaccines. About 197,000 of those have been set aside for the federal pharmacy program, in which CVS and Walgreens vaccinate residents and staff in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 

Just over 373,000 doses of the state’s allocation have been shipped to Wisconsin from the federal government. Of those, 163,371 vaccines have been administered — 104,806 from Pfizer and 58,564 from Moderna.

The Trump administration plans to no longer hold back the second dose of coronavirus vaccine. The decision is part of a host of changes intended to speed up the pace of getting shots in arms. These aligned with the plan unveiled by President-elect Joe Biden to release nearly every available vaccine dose.

National reports indicate reserved doses are to be distributed over the next two weeks.

<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

Sign up here: </i>


# Gov. Evers says he’ll sign Senate’s COVID-19 relief bill if passed by Assembly 

# UW-System becomes first in U.S. to secure Abbott’s BinaxNow Covid test at scale

# Packers Sell Out Home Playoff Game, First Of The Season With Fans



– Extension webinars provide information for beef producers and sheep producers 

– New guide sheds light on organic crop insurance options 


– Wisconsin’s tax burden continued its decline in 2020, report says 


– Elections staff: Strike superintendent candidate from ballot


– DNR: Reduce Salt Use This Winter 


– These businesses received Covid-19 grant funding from state of Wisconsin 


– General public in Wisconsin not likely to receive coronavirus vaccinations until summer

– Ascension to transfer more than two dozen Wisconsin sites to Aspirus Health 


– DOJ: Man arrested in Eau Claire in connection to violence at the Capitol


-Molson Coors launches nonalcoholic energy drink with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson 


– ‘They are loved and missed by many’: Gov. Evers to dedicate State of the State address to those killed by COVID-19


– Hendricks buys St. John’s campus in Delafield 


– Kroger, U.S. Bancorp, GE join companies to halt some or all political contributions 


– Wisconsin State Fair achieves international sanitation standard, plans for 2021 fair 


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