MON AM News: Student loan relief plan to wipe out $4.14B in debt in Wisconsin; Expert points to quality of life as key to economic development

— An expert with the Student Borrower Protection Center estimates the Biden administration’s student loan relief plan will eliminate $4.14 billion in federal student loan debt in Wisconsin. 

Ben Kaufman is the director of research and investigations at the nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. In an email, he said the plan will provide “at least some relief” for 660,000 borrowers in the state while “totally wiping away” the debts of 320,000 Wisconsin residents. 

According to data provided by Kaufman, the number of Wisconsinites with federal student loan debt would drop from around 720,000 to about 400,000. And the total amount of their debt would be trimmed from about $23.5 billion to about $19.36 billion. 

Kaufman’s estimate comes after the White House last week announced the plan to cancel up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 in debt for non-Pell Grant recipients. Qualifying borrowers must make less than $125,000 in individual income, with a cap of $250,000 for married couples. 

Along with the loan forgiveness plan, the Biden administration also extended a pause on student loan payments through the end of the year, as well as making other changes such as capping monthly payments for undergraduate loans at 5 percent of the borrower’s discretionary income. 

See details on the debt relief plan: 

See more from the SBPC on the plan’s impact: 

See a recent story on this topic: 

— An expert with the University of Akron in Ohio argues economic development efforts should improve quality of life to attract residents rather than focusing on employers. 

“Is it jobs or people, which one comes first? That kind of chicken-or-egg question,” Amanda Weinstein said during a recent webinar hosted by the UW-Madison Division of Extension. “And really what we find is, it’s people … thinking about people first, and jobs follow.” 

In her remarks last week, she noted researchers have found many people are willing to accept lower wages in order to live somewhere with high quality of life. While that’s a wide-ranging concept, her presentation highlighted factors such as access to health care, local amenities, high-quality food options, diverse arts and culture, low crime rates, proximity to recreational areas like beaches and parks, and more. 

Weinstein discussed a recent study she helped conduct that focused on trends in “micropolitan areas” with smaller population levels. She said they found higher quality of life ratings in these areas were associated with higher population growth and more job growth, with a stronger correlation seen in the Midwest. 

She spotlighted Walworth County, where UW-Whitewater is located, as having particularly high ratings for quality of life. College towns in general tend to be rated higher under this metric, she said, giving the area greater potential for economic growth. 

She also explained many highly rated areas for quality of life are effectively leveraging environmental features. 

“So if you take the hills you do have and you have ski slopes, if you have bike-and-hike trails,” she said. “It could be on all the lakes, so now we’re thinking fishing, boating activities. Now you’re building on the natural amenities that you do have.” 

Steven Deller, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at UW-Madison, agreed with Weinstein. During last week’s webinar, he said most economic development research until recent years has concluded that people follow jobs. Now, that may be changing. 

“The economic development implication of that is that to promote growth, we should really focus on businesses … but more recently, particularly post-COVID with the advent of remote work and telecommuting, the data seems to be suggesting that that relationship has flipped, that jobs follow people,” he said. “If that’s true, it kind of turns economic development policy on its head.” 

Rather than “focusing narrowly” on attracting businesses, he said officials should aim to develop their communities into “the best place to live and work as possible.” Still, he added: “It’s not either-or, it’s a balance of the two.” 

— Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin is highlighting record-high enrollment figures in its apprenticeship program. 

According to a release from the group, the program currently has 1,961 active apprentices this month and is adding 540 new enrollees this fall. Fifteen years ago, the program had 650 apprentices, the release shows. 

“We are at a point in time when more individuals are realizing the value of apprenticeship as an excellent higher education option,” Leigh Emrick, ABC of Wisconsin apprenticeship director, said in the release. 

As the state’s largest provider of apprenticeship training, the group’s program offers 11 trades at 12 technical colleges in Wisconsin. Currently, 542 companies in the state have apprentices taking part in ABC’s program. 

See the release: 

— The USDA has announced about $90,000 in new infrastructure investments in the state, going toward several solar projects and more efficient LED lighting. 

In a statement, USDA State Director for Wisconsin Julie Lassa says the funding will “strengthen our energy security, create good paying jobs, and save people money on their energy costs.” Funded projects are expected to collectively deliver about $70,000 in annual energy savings, the agency’s release shows. 

Recipients include: Barron Electric Co-Op in Barron; Lapacek’s Orchard of Poynette; Jerry Coleman, a livestock producer in Crawford County; Karavan Trailers of Fox Lake; The Metal Ware Corporation, a Two Rivers-based manufacturer; Cynthia Kusilek, a small business owner in River Falls; HWI, a car dealership in Sheboygan; and TSWI, another Sheboygan car dealership. 

See details on the funded projects: 

— The energy program manager for Advocate Aurora Health says a new solar array at an Oshkosh facility represents “the next level” in its energy efficiency efforts. 

The solar installation was designed and coordinated by EnTech Solutions of Middleton, a subsidiary of Faith Technologies Incorporated. According to a release, the solar array was installed by staff at the Aurora Medical Center-Oshkosh under the direction of EnTech. 

“This site has really moved the needle from energy efficiency, energy conservation, building optimization, and this is the next level of progression … to generate [electricity] and have less of an impact on the grid,” Jedd Winkler said Friday in an interview. 

The system went online last week after an installation process that began in the spring. EnTech says it was designed to allow for expansion over time. With three rows of solar panels mounted to the building’s south-facing roof, the array can provide enough electricity each year to power seven homes, Winkler explained. 

“It may seem like a small amount, but that’s a small amount that we can redirect toward what our real mission is, within Advocate Aurora Health Care, which is serving our communities and serving our communities’ health,” he said. 

Winkler said the health system has been working on tracking and lowering energy usage over the past 10 years or so at its hospitals and other facilities. The health system in 2019 committed to powering all health care operations with renewable energy sources by 2030. 

See photos of the project and more details in the release: 

— Little change continues to be seen in Wisconsin’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases, which has dipped slightly to 1,466 cases per day. 

Meanwhile, the percent positivity rate for COVID-19 testing in Wisconsin continues to decline, from 15.3 percent on Aug. 4 to 12.9 percent most recently. 

And the map of community-level COVID-19 activity in Wisconsin continues to shift, with 15 counties in the highest level based on new cases, hospitalizations and bed occupancy rates by coronavirus patients. That number from Friday was down slightly from the prior week. Nearly twice as many counties were in the lowest category. 

That improvement is also reflected in hospital figures posted by the state Department of Health Services. The DHS site shows COVID-19 hospitalizations were shrinking by between 14 and 24 percent in the state’s southeast, northeast and northwest regions over the latest two-week data period. At the same time, hospitalizations were rising by 27 percent in the state’s western region. 

See more COVID-19 data from DHS here: 

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— Blackbaud, a cloud software company based in South Carolina, has announced the acquisition of Madison-based startup Kilter.

According to a release, the acquisition will help Blackbaud expand activity-based peer-to-peer fundraising engagement to support activity-based health and wellness initiatives for socially responsible companies. 

Blackbaud President and CEO Mike Gianoni says the acquisition will help the company’s nonprofit clients expand how they engage with supporters and prepare for fundraising events. 

“It will also provide a unique solution for companies as employers take a more active role in supporting their employees’ health and wellness pursuits across remote and distributed workforces,” he said in a statement. 

Terms of the deal were not released.

Entrepreneur Seth Braddock founded Kilter in 2016 to provide travelers with individual and bundled deals to gyms, exercise studios and lifestyle boutiques based on user preferences and location. Since then, it has pivoted to provide customized health and wellness activity-based fundraising challenges.

See more at Madison Startups: 


# Used car, electric vehicle prices skyrocket across Wisconsin

# Half of Wisconsinites with federal student loans could see debt all but eliminated under Biden plan

# Weathering the storm: Consumer products manufacturers hope for best, plan for worst



– State beef checkoff launches local beef directory

– Wisconsin to be part of new Midwest Agriculture Council


– First Business Bank raises $33,000 for nonprofits at annual golf tournament


– MU’s Strigens relies on balance, creativity for campus planning


– Asthma consistently sends Milwaukee kids to the ER. Why isn’t it controlled?

– Wisconsin is the first state to accept Medicaid for Teletherapy


– ABC Wisconsin reports highest apprenticeship enrollment in program’s history


– Marcus Theatres CEO Rolando Rodriguez set to retire


– FPC Live’s $50M downtown venue caters to performers with Deer District views, plans show

– Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County breaks ground on 18-lot subdivision project

– Elevate Inc. moving its Calm Harbor residence to Sheboygan


– Redevelopment project planned for Regency Mall in Racine


– Oklahoma City officials visit Fiserv Forum, Summerfest grounds to learn about city


– Milwaukee County Transit System sees increase in ridership, but numbers still lag behind pre-pandemic levels

– Dane County sees 41% increase in car crashes related to alcohol use


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

Associated Builders and Contractors of WI: Record number of apprentices enter the ABC of Wisconsin Apprenticeship program for this fall

World Dairy Expo: Generous sponsors enhance premiums for junior exhibitors at expo