THU AM News: Former ambassador sees opportunity for Wisconsin ag amid supply chain disruption; Hotel business travel revenue remains below 2019 levels

— As the war in Ukraine disrupts supply chains for fertilizers, grains and other agricultural products, the head of the Wilson Center sees a chance for Wisconsin ag industries to step in. 

Mark Green is president, director and CEO of the nonpartisan Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. and a former state lawmaker, congressmen, ambassador to Tanzania and US AID director. His remarks came yesterday during a virtual trade policy luncheon hosted by, and the Wisconsin Technology Council and featuring ambassadors from Wisconsin.

“Russia and Ukraine have been the source for so many of those inputs, chemicals and fertilizers in particular, so I think that is an opening for Wisconsin agribusiness,” he said. 

When asked “how much is enough” when it comes to imposing sanctions on Russia’s economy, the ambassadors agreed sanctions should be maintained or even expanded. 

Richard Graber, a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic who now heads The Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, said “you can’t appease” Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“I would be in favor of ratcheting up those sanctions tougher than where they are right now,” he said. “Cut off his energy revenue and ultimately bring an end to this guy and his rule.” 

Tom Loftus, a former U.S. ambassador to Norway and former speaker of the state Assembly, added sanctions “are the new containment strategy. They’re not going to go away.” 

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg and former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expressed “guarded hope” that the international community can mitigate impacts of the conflict on fuel supplies and energy prices globally. He also said sanctions have “clearly” had an economic impact on Russia. 

“The more we can just keep our foot on the gas pedal with these sanctions, I think that that’s very, very important,” he said. 

Green agreed with Barrett and said he’s impressed with how President Biden has rallied allies within NATO and Europe more broadly. But he noted countries imposing sanctions on Russia represent just 15 percent of the world’s population, pointing to countries like China and India — as well as most African nations — that haven’t sided with the United States on this issue. 

“We have work to do if we’re going to expand this, because right now, it’s still a very small part of the world that is fully on board with us,” he said. “The parts that are, it’s impressive … but I think there’s a long way to go before we can say that this is, you know, somehow bringing Putin to his knees.” 

Green also noted Russia’s economy is projected to contract between 7 and 10 percent this year, while Ukraine’s economy is expected to shrink 45 percent. 

Loftus said the United States and allies getting more energy supplies such as natural gas to the European Union is essential “so Russia does not have a chokehold” on member nations. Panelists agreed the issue of limited energy reserves and reliance on Russian energy is a problem throughout Europe. 

Graber underlined the difficulty with unifying EU member nations, noting the various histories, languages and cultures pose a challenge for finding areas of agreement. 

“But I think the Europeans are seeing really clearly that this dependence on Russian energy is a mistake, and really has them in a very tough spot right now,” he said, noting the Czech Republic imports about 86 percent of its gas and up to 50 percent of its oil from Russia. 

The impact of the conflict in Ukraine is compounding the persistent effects of COVID-19, Green noted, forcing businesses and policymakers to rethink how they approach trade and supply chains. 

“Oftentimes trade and commerce moves to the lowest-cost supplier,” Green said. “Well maybe now it moves to a low-cost supplier but one that’s reliable, one that’s predictable, one that’s sustainable … so that also creates opportunities.” 

Watch a video of the discussion here: 

— Hotel business travel revenue in Wisconsin is projected to be around $807 million this year — 17.2 percent below pre-pandemic levels. 

According to a report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, that number was around $974 million in 2019. This year’s projected figure is about $168 million lower. 

Meanwhile, U.S. hotel business travel revenue is projected to be 23 percent below pre-pandemic levels this year, or about $20 billion lower. An earlier report found U.S. hotels lost about $108 billion in business travel revenue over 2020 and 2021. 

Report authors note that while leisure travel is expected to rebound this year, business travel will “take significantly longer” to recover. 

“While dwindling COVID-19 case counts and relaxed CDC guidelines are providing a sense of optimism for reigniting travel, this report underscores how tough it will be for many hotels and hotel employees to recover from years of lost revenue,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. 

Much of the country is seeing similar trends, with just five states expected to see business travel revenue exceed 2019 levels this year.

The report notes business travel is expected to “fully recover” by 2024. 

See the state-by-state breakdown here: 

— Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, during a hearing on her bill to legalize medical marijuana asked speakers to focus on the legislation at hand and not on legalizing the drug for recreational use.

During the Senate Committee on Insurance, Licensing and Forestry hearing, co-author Rep. Patrick Snyder, R-Schofield, said lawmakers should focus on medical marijuana first.

“If you try to do it all at once, then it would get shot down and we wouldn’t be able to get this through. So let’s work on this first, and take up those other kinds of concerns later,” Snyder said.

The Legislature has already gaveled out for the session, so it’s too late to send the bill to Gov. Tony Evers for action. Felzkowski, who chairs the Insurance, Licensing and Forestry committee, said Republican legislative leadership did not want to hold a hearing on the bill because it was introduced late in the session.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LaMahieu, R-Oostburg, has expressed opposition to legalizing medical marijuana without FDA approval.

Felzkowski ahead of the hearing said she was “totally clueless” it was scheduled for the unofficial international day celebrating cannabis. Felzkowski and Snyder said the hearing would allow them to get feedback and introduce the bill next session.

The GOP bill would create a program allowing registered patients to use medical marijuana and for “producers, processors, dispensaries, transporters, and laboratories” to conduct business in Wisconsin. The bill would also create a five-member Medical Marijuana Regulatory Commission under the Department of Revenue.

If signed into law, health care professionals could only recommend medical marijuana in the form of a liquid, oil, pill, tincture or topical application. In addition, anyone with a prior drug conviction would be ineligible to operate a medical marijuana-related business in the state or to work in a dispensary.

In her testimony, Felzkowski said GOP lawmakers she spoke with when she started circulating the bill four years ago cited concerns about people smoking marijuana around children.

“This is the start of this piece of legislation — not the end of it. But that is the reason that we came up with what we did,” Felzkowski said.

Some speakers later in the hearing said they wished marijuana plants had been included under the bill.

During the hearing several praised the bill as an important step towards larger change and highlighted the importance of providing alternative treatments to patients. Others voiced concerns about the exclusion of marijuana plants and racial inequality in the potential future medical marijuana industry.

See more at 

— Alliant Energy has announced its first customer-hosted rooftop solar installation is now operating. 

Located on the roof of the Law Enforcement Center in Dodgeville, the 702-panel installation will be providing enough energy to power the equivalent of 47 homes, according to a release. 

Alliant Energy will own and operate the solar facility while providing Iowa County with monthly lease payments for 20 years. The release shows the project comes at no cost to the county, and Alliant will operate and maintain it. 

The company has several other rooftop solar installations underway through the Customer Hosted Renewables program. These are located at the Kohler Co. headquarters in Kohler, at the Sheboygan Business Center and at Iowa State University. 

See photos of the new project here: 

See details on the other projects: 

See the release: 

— The Milwaukee County Transit System now says it will continue to require riders to wear masks. 

The move comes after the transit system initially announced on Twitter that masks would no longer be required on buses. That followed the nationwide public transportation mask mandate being struck down by a federal judge.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley says the decision aims to keep residents and drivers safe as COVID-19 cases in the area have been increasing in recent weeks. 

“Some of the most vulnerable, high-risk residents rely on our buses to travel throughout the County each day,” he said in a release. “We are still in the midst of [a] pandemic, and it is incumbent upon local leaders to do our part to keep residents safe and stop the spread of the disease.” 

In announcing the mandate will remain in effect, MCTS pointed to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing using public transportation increases the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. 

Milwaukee County Chief Health Policy Advisor Dr. Ben Weston notes COVID-19 cases in the county have doubled over the past three weeks. 

“That number is rising each day due to a combination of factors,” he said. “The emergence of new, more transmissible variants and low vaccination rates throughout the County means we must remain vigilant to slow the spread of the disease.” 

The county and transit system say they will “continue to monitor the data and follow the scientific guidance” to determine when the mask mandate for buses will be lifted. 

See the release: 

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# Wisconsin prioritized supporting small businesses, public health when allocating federal funds

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– Championship Cheese Auction raises record $333,000


– Metro Milwaukee apartment rents down nearly 10% in March year-over-year

– As La Crosse’s homeless population grows, city expects more people in Houska Park this year


– For Milwaukee students, the return of the annual World Fair marks another milestone: Field trips are back

– MMSD adds asynchronous learning time to make up missed days


– European goldfinches makes themselves at home in southeast Wisconsin

– Rehabilitator, DNR advise people to leave baby wild animals alone


– SuperCharge! Foods to bring smoothies to shared spot on State Street


– Buttigieg pays visit to Local 139’s training center to talk infrastructure bill on ‘Externship Day’


– Michelle Obama’s brother and his wife sue elite Milwaukee private school for terminating their sons’ enrollment

– Lakefront Brewery offers premium parking option to prevent car thefts


– Baird’s Mary Ellen Stanek receives top Morningstar award for portfolio managers


– Meet 10 Milwaukee-area execs in manufacturing that you need to know


– ‘Half-baked’: Republicans give marijuana bill 4/20 hearing; Democrats say measure not enough


– New North Avenue apartment development to offer car-free lifestyle

– Packaging maker planning to expand in Menomonee Falls

– Macellum launches criticism, details plans for Kohl’s in 168-page presentation

– Standard Process building 10,000-square-foot expansion

– New east side apartment complex aimed at people who don’t own cars


– Ag backers send letter of notice to Polk Co. Town of Laketown


– Trek Bicycle Corp. buys 21-store bike retail chain in Florida

– Fleet Farm buys land in Muskego for store planned near I-43


– Go inside National Railroad Museum’s newly restored hospital car


– Fox Cities’ renewable energy projects help to reduce carbon footprint


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