MON AM News: Milwaukee business survey shows optimism for 2022; Discussion on white bagging highlights concerns of hospitals, employers

— In a recent survey of Milwaukee-area business leaders, two-thirds said they expect to add jobs in 2022. 

Bret Mayborne, economic research vice president for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, notes the local economy has recovered about 70 percent of the jobs lost during the pandemic. While the metro area lost 112,400 jobs early in the pandemic, about 77,900 have been regained. 

“Businesses remain optimistic that this recovery will continue through 2022,” he said in a release. “Nonetheless, there are concerns. Businesses surveyed see price inflation and labor shortages as potentially troublesome as the new year progresses.”  

Eighty percent of surveyed businesses said they expect to see sales increases this year, marking an improvement over the 70 percent that predicted higher sales at the start of 2021. 

And 69 percent of respondents to the latest survey expect to see higher profits, up from 63 percent around this point last year. 

The MMAC survey found manufacturers are more optimistic about 2022, as 88 percent expect sales to rise compared to 77 percent of all other businesses. And 74 percent of responding manufacturers expect to add jobs this year, compared to 63 percent for non-manufacturers. 

Meanwhile, 48 percent of surveyed companies expect to boost capital expenditures this year, while 7 percent expect lower capital spending and 44 percent expect no change. In last year’s first quarter survey, 36 percent expected to increase capital spending in 2021. Large employers are more likely than small ones to predict higher capital expenditures, with 53 percent versus 46 percent, respectively. 

MMAC’s Business Outlook Survey includes responses from 97 businesses in the area that collectively employ more than 21,000 people 

See more survey results: 

— While hospitals are backing legislation to prohibit a method for sourcing medications known as “white bagging,” some employers say this practice saves money for them and their workers. 

White bagging refers to insurers requiring patients with complex, chronic or rare conditions to obtain certain medications from specialty pharmacies. 

Walker Forge CEO Will Walker — who prefers to call the practice “alternative sourcing” — says it has saved his business about $170,000 in 2021. He appeared Sunday on “In Focus: Wisconsin,” a program hosted by Spectrum News. 

“We adopted free market principles and applied them to health care,” he said. “By doing this, we were able to reduce costs to a point where today we are actually able to provide free health care to our employees.” 

He clarified employees still contribute a portion of the premium, but Walker Forge covers the rest of the cost for care “as long as employees go to high-value providers.” He says white bagging is “a really important part” of his company’s strategy for keeping costs low. 

But critics argue that because medications are often shipped in from an outside pharmacy, delays in transportation can disrupt treatment schedules. Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, appeared on the program to tout his bill aimed at stopping white bagging, called Koreen’s Law. He pointed to examples of patients with chronic conditions like psoriatic arthritis and cancer as particularly vulnerable. 

“If those treatments aren’t done on time, you can actually have worse outcomes,” he said. 

Vanessa Freitag, vice president of pharmacy and lab for Ascension, also expressed concern about white bagging on the show. She highlighted an “emergence in interest” among insurance companies as the practice has become more common in recent years. 

“What white bagging introduces is that the medication has to be shipped from another pharmacy that is not part of the health system,” she said. “This is very disruptive to our patients. What it means is that patients really serve as their own navigator … they are accountable to work with a third-party pharmacy to make sure that medication will be dispensed to the hospital so it can be administered.” 

Walker argued that because shipment of these drugs is regulated under the Federal Drug Supply Chain Act, “any suggestion that these drugs aren’t going to be handled properly … it doesn’t really hold much water.” 

Two of the state’s largest lobbying interests, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Hospital Association, are on opposite sides of the issue. While WMC says stopping white bagging in Wisconsin would result in higher health care costs for employers and employees, WHA has been highlighting related patient stories about delayed drug shipments and incorrect dosing. 

See the bill text here: 

— An Assembly committee has approved a hotly debated bill related to electric vehicle charging infrastructure that opponents say would limit the role of local government in transportation innovation. 

The Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities recently passed the legislation during an executive session after adding several amendments. In its amended form, the bill would prohibit cities, villages, towns, counties and school districts from owning, operating, managing or leasing a charging facility. 

The bill, designated as AB 588/SB 573, creates an exception to the state’s definition of a public utility specifying that owners and operators of these facilities should not be regulated as such as long as certain criteria are met, related to how fees are assessed and other factors. 

Jim Boullion, director of government affairs for Renew Wisconsin, explained the bill allows municipalities to authorize a utility or other private entity to operate an EV charger on their property. But he says that leaves “numerous areas” that won’t get EV charging services. Renew Wisconsin is opposed to the bill in its current form. 

“We agree with the idea that private businesses should always be the first option for any EV charging solution, but there are many areas of the state that will need EV chargers where the economics of that location prevent private investment in them,” Boullion said in an email. 

Supporters of the bill say it’s needed to ensure Wisconsin can keep up with the pace of electric vehicle development as more residents and visitors decide to drive these vehicles. 

But Boullion also said the group is concerned with a requirement to only allow chargers to use energy purchased from the local utility, arguing that will “eliminate public EV chargers that utilize solar power because the owner would not be able to charge a fee to offset the cost of the system.” 

One of the bill authors, Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, addressed the concern during a recent panel discussion in Madison moderated by Boullion. 

“It does ban microgrid EV charging infrastructure, direct generation to infrastructure EV charging station, which I know you don’t like that, but it’s what we have to do to get this bill done,” he said. 

A number of organizations have registered in support of the bill, including: Dairyland Power Cooperative, Kwik Trip, Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Automobile and Truck Dealers Association, the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and WPPI Energy. 

But more than a half-dozen others have registered against it. These include: the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Counties Association, the Wisconsin Towns Association, Renew Wisconsin, and both Madison and Milwaukee. 

Several of those groups had supported the bill in its original form but changed their stance due to the amendments. Another Green Bay Republican, Rep. David Steffen, acknowledged during the executive session that the bill “went through a lot of evolution and certainly complicated” by the time of the committee’s vote. 

“But it’s indicative of the seriousness and creativity that the members of this committee and others have applied to the issue, so I’m thankful for all those who worked with the author on this committee to make this a better bill,” he said. “While it has certainly created additional effort and hoops on our end to get it through, it shows that we have done our job.” 

During a event last week in Milwaukee, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway argued the bill would “severely limit the ability of local governments to participate in this EV revolution.” She said it would disrupt Madison’s efforts to advance EV charging development along with its electric vehicle fleet and a partnership with Pierce Manufacturing to lease the nation’s first electric fire truck. 

“We can’t let the Legislature get in the way of that and stifle innovation,” she said. 

The bill’s committee passage comes as Wisconsin is set to receive $75 million in federal infrastructure funding over the next five years for electric vehicle charging stations. 

See more on the bill: 

See more coverage of last week’s event on federal infrastructure funds coming to the state: 

— Milwaukee-based Hayat Pharmacy will be paying the state around $700,000 as part of a $2 million agreement resolving allegations of false claims being submitted to Medicare and Medicaid. 

That’s according to a release from the state Department of Justice, which says the pharmacy allegedly submitted claims to Medicaid for a topical cream that “was not medically necessary and/or dispensed without a valid prescription.” The release says the pharmacy was reimbursed over $6,000 per tube of the cream on average. 

And the pharmacy was alleged to have submitted similarly false claims to Medicare for a multivitamin called Azesco. DOJ says the pharmacy allegedly switched Medicaid and Medicare patients who were on lower cost medications to these products. 

“Pharmacies cannot submit claims to Medicare or Medicaid for medications that aren’t medically necessary or when there’s no prescription,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in the release. “Pharmacies must dispense medications when it’s medically appropriate, not for the sole purpose of increasing their profits.”

The pharmacy will be paying a total of $2,050,000 to the United States and Wisconsin, with $702,189.86 going to the state, the release shows. 

Hayat Pharmacy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

See the release: 

— Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed a bill that would have expanded working hours for minors in the state. 

SB 332 would have expanded the work hours allowed minors under 16 not covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The bill would have allowed minors to work as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 9:30 p.m. before school days and as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m. on days before non-school days. 

“I object to creating two separate systems of work requirements for employers, which would increase the amount of administrative work for businesses when determining the permissible hours and days they are allowed to employ minors,” the guv said. 

Evers said lawmakers must work to find “meaningful, sustainable, and long-term solutions to the workforce challenges that have long plagued our state.” 

— Groups spent $17.4 million to lobby the state Capitol over the last half of 2021, a bit higher than the same post-budget period two years earlier. 

Lobbying groups are also spending at a slightly higher pace over the first full year of the session with $35.4 million spent in 2021. That compared to $34.5 million in 2019, according to filings with the Ethics Commission this week.

The biggest spenders during the last half of 2021 were largely unchanged from the first six months of the year.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association led the way with $371,698 spent, followed by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce at $337,960 and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau at $283,465.

See more lobbying numbers at 


# Amazon plans to build distribution center in Dane County

# Kohl’s turns down $9 billion purchase offer, says it will pursue better opportunities

# Wisconsin still has $1.8B in federal pandemic relief funding to spend



– Crooks, Wiedenbeck appointed to Cattlemen’s beef promo board


– Herschleb tapped as general manager of World Dairy Expo


– ‘I went into panic mode’: Child care providers, parents seek solutions for struggling system


– Wisconsin college graduation rates improve, surpass national average

– Wisconsin’s college graduation rates improve, but gaps exist


– Dane County board accepts grant to protect lakes from invasive species


– Evers vetoes bill that would have allowed teens to work late

– Record number of Wisconsin businesses named best places to work for LGBTQ equality


– Evers vetoes bill increasing marijuana penalties

– Former Milwaukee entrepreneur Egbon to plead guilty to wire fraud, accused of bilking investors out of $6M

– CEO of Milwaukee-based Exit 7C pleads guilty to wire fraud


– Food coloring company Oterra will move into industrial building in Mount Pleasant

– Twin Disc faces labor challenges to meet demand as oil and gas market returns


– Evers signs bill allowing MMSD to build $100M pollution clean-up storehouse 


– $120 million Goerke’s Corners redevelopment includes hotels, hundreds of apartments

– Major mixed-use development planned near The Corners of Brookfield


– Kohl’s rejects $64 per-share offer, adopts poison pill against hostile takeover

– Activist shareholder derides Kohl’s rejecting takeover bid; vows new board slate


– Adventure, goofiness and trail snacks: Stories from the dog musher’s journal


– Port Milwaukee preps $7 million dock upgrades for larger cruise ships


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