THU AM News: Economist says state exports showing strong recovery; California port director discusses supply chain trends

— The head economist for the state Department of Revenue says exports have recovered “really well” as Wisconsin’s economy rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As of July, the 12-month total for exports is 19 percent higher than in July 2021, according to DOR Chief Economist John Koskinen. He gave an update on state economic activity yesterday during a webinar hosted by state officials. 

“Our ability to compete and export has improved substantially,” he said. “Another factor has been as the supply chain issues have stuck around, there’s been an emphasis on sort of bringing the supply chain closer to domestic production, so that you’re seeing stronger efforts on re-shoring.” 

Meanwhile, total industrial production is above pre-pandemic levels and continues to rise, he said. 

“So we have full recovery … and we’re still getting some gains,” he said. “Part of what’s holding back manufacturing at this point is still issues with supply chain development, particularly in the auto industry, but anything that uses electrical components is facing those same kinds of situations, where you’re constrained by both parts and labor.” 

At the same time, real GDP for Wisconsin manufacturing “hit a new record” in the fourth of 2021, Koskinen said. After reaching a previous peak in 2006, he said this number didn’t recover to that level until 13 years later in early 2019. 

“You can see the sharp impact of the COVID contraction, and now this rather substantial recovery coming out of it so we hit those newer levels in 2021 fourth quarter,” he said, noting that’s been driven largely by exports. 

Koskinen also said the state’s labor force is “more engaged” than the rest of the country. 

“I don’t care how you measure it — whether it’s by gender or ethnicity, our labor force participation rates are higher than the U.S. for 2021,” he said. “If we do it by age group, it’s also true for every age group.”  

He said the state’s younger workers, including teenagers and those aged 20-24 years, are far more likely to be engaged in the labor force. And he said Wisconsin has the sixth highest rate of labor force participation in the country for the prime working age population, including those aged 25-54. 

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— One of the largest ports in the country is seeing major improvements in shipping congestion, according to the port’s executive director and chief operating officer. 

Noel Hacegaba, who oversees the Port of Long Beach in California, spoke yesterday during a webinar hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s World Trade Association. 

He said no ships are currently at anchor at the port, which he said is “a far cry” from earlier this year when 109 ships were held up there in January. 

“Things are a lot better than they were just a few months ago, but we’re not completely out of the woods … We still have more containers on terminal than we’re accustomed to,” he said. “Things are moving, but not as fast as we would like, especially on the rail side.” 

The San Pedro Bay Port Complex — which includes both the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles — accounts for about 40 percent of all container cargo entering the United States each year, Hacegaba explained. 

He discussed some of the factors that contributed to supply chain disruptions, including historically high demand for imports, the rise in e-commerce, a shortage of truck drivers and more. 

“With containers piling up at the terminals, because our warehouses were too full, that basically rendered the ships at anchor as warehouses on water,” he said. “And that’s the reason we had so many ships at anchor at that time.” 

With international supply chains seeing more movement this year, Hacegaba said “there’s a good chance” the port will set a new record for cargo volume for 2022. But he added “it’s not going to be anywhere close to what folks were forecasting and projecting late last year or early this year” as some supply chain troubles persist. 

— Gov. Tony Evers has announced another agreement with other states aimed at securing federal funding for expanding “clean hydrogen” production.

Evers yesterday announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with governors from Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota that details plans to develop a regional “Heartland Hydrogen Hub” to support this industry.

“This agreement is another positive step toward developing a strong network for clean hydrogen producers and consumers, and it will contribute to our critical work to expand economic opportunity, create jobs, reduce emissions, and lower long-term costs as we work to achieve the goals of our Clean Energy Plan,” Evers said in a release.

The announcement comes several weeks after the guv signed a similar agreement with governors of six states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. Last month’s announcement of the “Midwestern Hydrogen Coalition” included plans for developing a regional ecosystem through identifying production pathways, evaluating infrastructure and workers, and more.

The new MOU is slightly shorter than the one signed last month, and provides fewer details. It includes a commitment to develop a proposal for the U.S. Department of Energy for establishing the regional hub. The federal agency last month announced it’s accepting applications for a $7 billion program funding such efforts.

See the release:

See the agreement:

See an earlier story on the previous MOU:

— Researchers at Marquette University are getting a $3 million grant to study factors limiting exercise for pre-diabetic patients. 

The effort will be led by Sandra Hunter, a professor of exercise science, and Christopher Sundberg, an assistant professor of exercise science. Both are in the university’s Department of Physical Therapy within the College of Health Sciences. The $3.02 million grant comes from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institution on Aging. 

Sundberg explains exercise is the “cornerstone of management of cardiovascular risk,” which is of particular concern for pre-diabetic patients. He says exercising is most beneficial in the pre-diabetes stage, as opposed to after it progresses into Type-2 diabetes. But he notes those who are pre-diabetic “are limited by excessive fatigability of lower extremities during exercise, which limits exercise performance.”

By exploring the physical factors that contribute to this challenge, the scientists aim to help develop more effective exercise programs targeted to these patients. The impact of such an endeavor could be wide-ranging, as about 90 million U.S. residents are pre-diabetic, according to Hunter. 

“Both pre-diabetes and Type-2 diabetes are highly associated with cardiovascular disease and among the top five causes of mortality worldwide,” she said in the release. 

The study will investigate blood flow and muscle oxygenation in patients’ legs while they exercise. It will also include a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of resistance training combined with blood flow restriction, which is meant to improve endurance and vascular function in diabetes patients. 

See the release: 

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