TUE AM News: More employers raising wages, WMC survey reveals; Supreme Court hears oral arguments in WMC suit

— More business leaders in the state are planning to raise wages this year, according to the latest employer survey from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. 

Thirty-four percent of surveyed businesses said they will be raising wages by more than 4 percent in 2022, marking an increase from the previous WMC survey conducted about six months ago. At that time, about one-fourth of respondents said they’d be raising wages in hopes of attracting talent. At this point last year, just 9 percent had planned to boost wages. 

“Unfortunately we’re seeing this persistent workforce shortage that only seems to be getting worse,” WMC Vice President of Communications and Marketing Nick Novak said in an interview yesterday. 

The winter survey found 88 percent of respondents are having trouble hiring, which is up slightly from the 86 percent of respondents in the summer survey. Because many companies are looking to expand but can’t find workers to fill positions, wages are being increased in hopes of attracting talent, Novak said. 

But while WMC notes in its survey report that rising wages signal a strong economy, economic confidence among respondents has declined from the previous survey. 

“Based on conversations with employers leading up to this survey, it’s not a huge surprise that we’re seeing a downtick in optimism among the business community,” Novak said. “The workforce shortage is not going away … inflation is a significant cost driver for businesses.” 

Fifty-three percent of responding businesses rate the state’s economy as strong, versus 58 percent in the summer survey. And 39 percent rated the national economy as strong, for a larger decrease from 53 percent about six months ago. 

Looking ahead to the next six months, 65 percent of respondents said they expect growth to be good or moderate, while about a third expect growth to “remain flat.” Over 80 percent said they expect good or moderate growth in the prior survey, while 13 percent predicted no growth. 

Even as confidence levels have diminished, 68 percent still expect to add employees in the next six months. But that’s fallen from 79 percent in summer 2021. 

In a statement included in the report, WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer said the business community is “cautiously optimistic” about the state economy. 

“While employers are still confident in their own businesses, historic inflation, supply chain challenges and a persistent workforce shortage are clearly impacting their outlook in 2022,” he said. 

The report includes results from 265 employers collected over the last three weeks of January through physical and digital surveys. Novak explained the survey pool includes a significant number of manufacturers, as well as other employers in construction, retail, agriculture, technology and other sectors. 

“The wage increases we’re seeing are across the board in Wisconsin; there’s no industry in the state that’s not dealing with the workforce shortage,” he said. 

Aside from “significant wage hikes,” he noted many of these businesses are offering sign-on bonuses, compensation for moving expenses for out-of-state workers and greater workplace flexibility. 

Respondents pointed to labor availability and supply chain problems as the top business concerns facing their companies. Other issues include health care costs, the national economy, excessive regulation, COVID-19 and other factors. 

WMC’s report yesterday highlighted survey results related to the state and national economies. Coming reports will focus on supply chain and inflation questions, and state and federal policies. 

See the full report here: https://www.wisbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/WMC-winter-2022-employer-survey.pdf 

— Justice Pat Roggensack questioned whether the state’s largest business group has any power to challenge the release of records on businesses that had at least two employees test positive for COVID-19 or had come in close contact with someone who had.

Meanwhile, fellow conservative Annette Ziegler raised concerns over requiring individual employees to file lawsuits to prevent the release of information.

The court heard oral arguments yesterday in a suit Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and two affiliates filed seeking to block the Evers administration from filling an open records request that sought the names of all businesses with 25 or more employers that had at least two workers test positive or had close contacts that were investigated by tracers.

The business groups argued some of the information came from medical records, and a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge blocked the release. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Evers administration appealed, and the Waukesha-based 2nd District reversed the ruling. The appeals court sent the case back to circuit court with directions to dismiss the suit and vacate the injunction.

Roggensack told the business groups’ attorney she doesn’t see anything in state law that shows they have an avenue to challenge the release of the records.

“I feel your pain for your members in not wanting to release the documents. But I don’t see where WMC has a right to have a declaration made about medical records,” Roggensack.

See more from the oral arguments at WisPolitics.com: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/mon-pm-update-schmaling-says-hes-forwarding-charging-recommendations-to-elections-commissioners-home-counties/ 

— Despite the state setting a new record for agricultural exports last year, DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski says the future success of the state’s ag industry “is not set in stone.” 

Wisconsin ag exports reached a record high of $3.96 billion in 2021, exceeding the previous record of around $3.8 billion from 2014. The release notes dairy product exports increased 14.6 percent over 2020 levels, while meat exports rose 10.4 percent and crop product exports rose 20.4 percent over the year. Last year’s total for state ag exports was $3.4 billion. 

In a release from the agency, Romanski pointed to challenges for exporters including tariffs and container shortages. But he said the record-breaking year “presents an incredible opportunity and the momentum needed to strengthen our state as a leader for agricultural exports.” 

He also touted the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee recently releasing funding for a state effort to boost agricultural product exports, and said the agency’s International Agribusiness Center can now begin working on initiatives to achieve that goal. Over $500,000 has been released for 2021-22. 

“This funding will help Wisconsin agribusinesses build on the success of the strong export year they had in 2021, and will assist as they enter in new markets over the next five years,” he said. 

See more on the plan: https://datcp.wi.gov/Documents2/12312021DATCP%26WEDCAgriculturalExportPlan.pdf 

See the release: 

— Dane County will no longer be requiring masks indoors starting March 1. 

In a release, Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich notes letting the current face mask emergency order expire “doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over.” 

“Rather, it signals that we have made it through the Omicron surge and are entering a new stage of the pandemic,” she said yesterday. “The most important thing you can do now is to stay up-to-date on our vaccines as they have proven to be highly effective in protecting you from becoming severely ill, ending up in the hospital, or dying from COVID-19.” 

Just ahead of the statewide trend, new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Dane County have been declining since early to mid-January. While the seven-day average for cases in the county is less than one-fourth of the peak level seen on Jan. 12, the average for hospitalizations has fallen by around 44 percent, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard shows. 

At the same time, PHMDC adds high caseloads in the latest peak caused by omicron never resulted in very high levels of hospitalizations, as was the case before vaccines were widely available. The county estimates 58 percent of residents have received all recommended COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. 

Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon, who has criticized PHMDC in the past for repeatedly extending its mask order, says the announcement is “welcome news.” 

“For months, we sought greater clarity on the metrics and decision-making behind continued government orders,” he said in an emailed statement. “For more than 600 days, our businesses dutifully followed and enforced public health orders, and they encouraged workforce vaccinations when they became available. Dane County’s business community has stepped up throughout the pandemic.” 

Dane County continues to have the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state. As of Feb. 9, the latest day for which figures are available, 82.2 percent of county residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 77.5 percent had completed the vaccine series. 

By comparison, 63.5 percent of state residents had gotten one dose by Feb. 9, and 59.7 percent had completed the series. 

Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s mask mandate is also set to expire March 1. 

See Dane County’s release: https://www.publichealthmdc.com/news/dane-county-face-covering-order-to-expire-march-1 

See the latest emergency order: https://publichealthmdc.com/documents/2022-01-26_Order_23.pdf 

See a recent related story: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2022/covid-deaths-generally-higher-among-counties-with-low-vaccination-rates/ 

— The American Lung Association in Wisconsin will be providing free flu and pneumococcal pneumonia vaccinations for at-risk individuals in the state through the end of March. 

A release shows the vaccination program is being supported by a grant from UnitedHealthcare, supporting vaccines for those aged 65 or older and others at higher risk of developing these illnesses. 

Community partners helping to administer the vaccines include health departments for Bayfield, Clark, Cudahy and Oneida counties, as well as the Muslim Community Health Center, Bread of Healing, Aurora Walker’s Point Community Clinic and NorthLakes Community Clinic.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is even more important to protect the health of people who are particularly vulnerable of complications from the flu and pneumonia,” said Megan Cordova, executive director of the Lung Association in Wisconsin. 

See the release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/lung-association-provides-wisconsin-patients-with-free-flu-pneumococcal-pneumonia-vaccinations-301481057.html 

— Dane County estimates planned upgrades to the Alliant Energy Center in Madison will result in thousands of additional visitors and millions more dollars in direct spending. 

The county is set to receive $3.2 million in state funds for upgrades to the event center through the state’s Tourism Capital Grant Program, according to a release. The funds are meant to help offset the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many planned events in 2020 and 2021 were canceled or postponed. 

A number of livestock and agriculture events are held at the center every year, including the World Dairy Expo and the Midwest Horse Fair. According to the county, events like these generate more than 70,000 hotel room stays, 100,000 visitors coming to the area, and an average of $16 million in annual direct spending each year. 

Show spaces at the facility are currently usable about 260 days per year, and have an average occupancy of 76 percent. The planned upgrades being funded with the tourism grant aim to add more occupancy dates by reducing the impact of weather and other factors on usability. 

The county estimates these upgrades will support adding five more livestock shows each year of various sizes. This new business is expected to bring in 10,000 additional visitors, add 400 hotel nights and result in between $2 and $5 million more in direct spending.

Upgrades include adding more than 600 electrical installations in stalls used for these events, air heating and cooling equipment, new fans, a fire suppression system for areas housing bedding and animal feed, and upgraded air filters. These improvements are expected to be completed in about one year from the grant award date. 

“Thanks to the creation of this statewide grant program, the Alliant Energy Center will be able to make necessary upgrades and continue to safely host top events, as our community rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in the release. 

See the release: 

— The president of Menasha Packaging Company says the acquisition of Color-Box will help the manufacturer reach new markets and offer more products. 

The Menasha-based manufacturer of corrugated packaging products announced yesterday an agreement to acquire the assets of Color-Box. This subsidiary of Georgia-Pacific employs about 550 workers and has operations in Indiana, Mississippi and California. 

“Color-Box will expand our geographic footprint and provide additional graphics, design, and structural packaging options for our customers,” Mike Riegsecker said in a release. 

The acquisition is expected to close early this summer. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. 

See the release: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/menasha-packaging-signs-agreement-to-acquire-georgia-pacifics-color-box-business-301481651.html 

— The Green Bay Packers say the team has so far raised about $64 million and secured 194,000 new shareholders during the team’s stock sale that ends Feb. 25.

“It really was and is a survival story,” said Jennifer Ark, director of stadium services for the Packers. She appeared Sunday on WISN’s “UpFront,” which is produced in cooperation with WisPolitics.com. 

The new money raised will be used for concourse renovations and new scoreboards.

The team had set a goal of 300,000 new shareholders, and team officials are leaving the door open for another sale down the road.

“A few years ago we had quite a few questions come in where people were interested,” Ark said. “The last one was 10 years ago, so maybe that’s a benchmark, but we’re never locked in.”

See more from the show: https://www.wisn.com/upfront 


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– Fed survey indicates Wisconsin farmland soared in 2021



– CCI wins project of year from ABC for stadium project

– Construction to begin on two spec industrial buildings in Mount Pleasant


– Wisconsin GOP education proposals include ‘parent bill of rights’



– DNR recruiting 2023 class of state conservation wardens


– Sturgeon spearing opening weekend had 716 successful spearers



– WMC Report: 80% of companies in Wisconsin planning to raise wages by 3% or more this year

– Good Works: Creating a space ‘where people can grow, learn and make mistakes’



– WI DNR responds to recent court ruling on wolf protections


– Wisconsin wolf advocates, hunters react to court decision restoring federal protections for gray wolves



– HACM secretary-executive director resigns

– Rodney Jones-Tyson named chief HR officer for Baird


– Zurn to acquire Elkay Manufacturing in $1.56 billion deal


– Milwaukee’s acting mayor calls on state to use budget surplus to help address public safety issues


– Rep. David Steffen ends effort to dissolve Lambeau Field stadium district



– Downer Avenue work could further lift a corridor that’s already generating optimism



– New ownership group takes over Eau Claire Express



– Tyrannosaurs exhibit opens this Friday at Milwaukee Public Museum


<i>See these and other press releases: 

https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>

Dane County: Awarded $3.2 million state tourism grant to fund Alliant Energy Center upgrades, promote economic recovery

Port & Resource Development Department: Don’t miss the boat!

WEDC: Wisconsin’s Workforce Innovation Grant to allow YMCA to expand child care and youth programming in Green County