THU AM News: Economist argues for boosting ‘homegrown’ businesses over attracting out-of-state companies; WPF report explores property taxes, state aid to towns

— An economist with UW-Madison argues the state should focus more on developing “homegrown” businesses rather than recruiting companies to move to Wisconsin. 

“Going out and trying to recruit that business is not a good use of their time,” Prof. Steven Deller said yesterday during a rural innovation event held in Beloit. “Much better off working with the businesses that are already in your backyard and the entrepreneurs that are thinking of starting a business.” 

Deller pointed to research he and colleagues conducted showing 97 percent of all businesses in the state “are in the same place as they were last year.” What’s more, the “vast majority” of companies remain in the same location where they started, he said. 

Panelists during yesterday’s event — held at the Irontek co-working space — discussed ways to support innovation and business growth in rural areas. Sam Rikkers, deputy secretary and COO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., said rural innovation in the state “is not in a happy place.” 

“I think that’s why we’re all here,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we can do. … At WEDC we’re doing pretty well, we tell ourselves, but still … 8.2 percent of our entrepreneurial investments are going to rural counties and communities.” 

Deller described innovation as the “engine of economic growth,” but said efforts to stimulate it are often focused on industry disruption rather than the “mom and pop” end of the spectrum. That’s despite the fact that these local, often rural, businesses are far more common in Wisconsin than those that redefine an entire industry or market niche, he said. 

“It could be in rural Wisconsin when they now have reliable, affordable broadband, they set up a social media marketing campaign,” he said. “For these businesses, that’s new, that’s innovative … I think maybe we need to spend a little more time with these ‘mom and pop’ businesses, in terms of them being more profitable and more efficient.” 

Phil Fonfara, president of Beloit-based Blue Line Battery, highlighted the city as an “incredible example” of local investment leading to innovation and success. 

“You’ve got a million-square-foot building here at the old Beloit Corporation headquarters,” he said. “This space was abandoned for a very long time. It’s taken a tremendous amount of capital to build what you see here today, but there is an incredible amount of startups that are headquartered here and have found funding here and other resources.” 

He applauded Hendricks Commercial Properties and billionaire founder Diane Hendricks for their impact on the city, pointing to investments in apartment buildings, sports facilities and restaurants. 

“Without that capital and commitment to a community and this city … you’d drive right by it and not stop unless you needed gas,” he said. “Now it’s becoming a destination, not only for tourism, but also for startups. It’s a great place to grow a business.” 

— A new Wisconsin Policy Forum report shows Wisconsin towns are relying more than ever on property tax levies and borrowing as state aid stagnates.

The report found Wisconsin’s 1,248 towns received $56 million in shared revenue payments from the state by 2020, down from $76.2 million in 1990, or $151 million adjusted for inflation. According to the report, increased dependence on property taxes has made state limits on tax levy increases more consequential for towns.

The report found by 2020, property taxes made up 48 percent of general revenues for towns, with state aid at 30 percent. That’s a flip from 1990, when property taxes made up 37 percent of general revenues with 45 percent state aid.

See more at 

— The state Office of Children’s Mental Health is calling for a number of policy changes aimed at reducing childhood lead poisoning. 

In a fact sheet released by the Department of Health Services, the office is urging policymakers to raise housing and rental safety standards, strengthen prevention efforts and take steps to boost testing rates. 

Children across the state are at-risk of lead poisoning, the fact sheet shows. Those living in neighborhoods with older homes, lower housing values and more rental properties are at greater risk, according to DHS. 

Lead exposure typically comes from paint, soil and water, and can cause damage to children’s brain, kidneys and nervous system, as well as learning disabilities, behavior issues, seizures and death. The agency says many children who experience lead poisoning aren’t diagnosed, and resulting intellectual or behavioral problems can be “misunderstood, misdiagnosed, or ignored.” 

According to the fact sheet, lead exposure is particularly dangerous for children under age 6 because they absorb more lead than adults and are more susceptible to the negative health impacts. 

Racial and ethnic minorities in the state are more likely to experience lead poisoning, the fact sheet shows, with Black children being affected more than three times as often as white children. 

“We know how to prevent lead poisoning and we must prioritize preventative measures to protect Wisconsin’s children,” Linda Hall, the office’s director, said in the DHS release. 

The office is calling for policymakers to allow municipalities to manage proactive rental inspection programs, and for the repeal of a state law that “blocks local rental licensing and certification programs, and restricts the fees collected to recoup programs costs.” 

It’s also calling for: more funding for prevention efforts, with targeted funds for communities with higher rates of lead poisoning; a new grant program for in-home child care providers to reduce lead hazards; free blood lead level tests for all children in the state; and a statewide outreach campaign directing pediatric care providers to screen and test at-risk children. 

See the report: 

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— Black Arts MKE has announced the third annual Milwaukee Black Theater Festival will be held Aug. 10-14. 

According to Cory Nettles, the organization’s board chair, the festival is being held across multiple venues for the first time to “expose more of the city to rich cross-disciplinary artistic and cultural activity” from Black artists in Wisconsin’s largest city. 

“We’re proud to produce Milwaukee Black Theater Festival to share more of our stories and put a spotlight on emerging young Black playwrights and professional theater organizations,” he said in a release. 

The theme is “The Black Family: Generations Speak!” with events including full-production and staged reading plays, an R&B and gospel fundraiser concert, poetry and dance performances, and panel discussions.

See event details here: 

See the release: 

— Applications are now being accepted for this year’s Pressure Chamber competition, which takes place Aug. 16 as part of Forward Festival in Madison. 

The event is hosted by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, with this summer’s competition marking its ninth year. 

“Pressure Chamber began with two primary objectives, and it has been successful on both counts: providing a platform for growing early-stage companies to connect with investment opportunities and potential customers, and amplifying the innovation occurring in Greater Madison by creating stronger connectivity with key coastal investment hubs,” Chamber President Zach Brandon said in a statement. 

Applicants must be a member of the chamber or support local entrepreneurial partner organizations, be located in Dane County or plan to be located by Aug. 16 and have raised at least $25,000, excluding personal investment by company founders.

Applications are due by 8 a.m. on Monday, July 11, and can be found here: 

See more at Madison Startups: 

— and the Wisconsin Technology Council are hosting a virtual event June 29 on what the Biden administration’s new Asian trade framework means for Wisconsin businesses. 

Tech Council President Tom Still will moderate the discussion, which will feature: Katy Sinnott, vice president of Global Trade and Investment with WEDC; John Ohnesorge, George Young Bascom Professor at UW-Madison and director of the East Asian Legal Studies Center at the UW Law School; and Ralph Inforzato, CEO of the Japanese External Trade Organization in Chicago. 

Register for the free event here: 

See more at the Trade Policy page: 


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– Wisconsin FFA Foundation raises over $500,000


– Wonder Bar project greenlighted by Madison Plan Commission


– Inflation, rising interest rates, bear market likely to affect commercial real estate deals – but how?

– Metro Milwaukee export growth ahead of other Midwest metros in Q1


– Alliant Energy set to begin construction on 6 solar projects

– Wisconsin’s PFAS standards are on track to take effect. What happens next?


– Milwaukee’s Black Theater Festival returning for third year


– Former Advocate Aurora exec Mike Lappin joins Network Health

– Children’s Wisconsin celebrates opening of clinic on Milwaukee’s near south side


– Sen. Bernie Sanders is coming to Mount Pleasant on Friday to speak with CNH Industrial workers who have been on strike since May 2


– Ban on conversion therapy stands in La Crosse


– De Pere developer proposes to turn K-C South property in Neenah into apartments and townhouses

– New Milwaukee apartments planned near Downer Avenue under agreement with St. Mark’s congregation


– Wonder Bar project greenlighted by Madison Plan Commission


– Allouez Rare Coin has a new home in Green Bay and is reopening soon


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