WED AM News: Experts discuss cryptocurrency trends, outlook in Madison event; Regional survey exploring gaps in child care services

— An executive with Horicon Bank urged business community members to “pay attention to the utility, not the price” when weighing the pros and cons of cryptocurrencies. 

Bob Van Kirk, the bank’s vice president of treasury and commercial payment solutions, spoke yesterday during a Wisconsin Technology Council luncheon in Madison. He gave an overview of cryptocurrencies alongside AmpliPhi founder Spencer X. Smith, a cryptocurrency investor and social media consultant. 

Both speakers explained how these largely decentralized currencies differ from traditional currencies as a virtual medium of exchange rather than a physical one. Bitcoin, which Van Kirk said makes up around 40 percent of all cryptocurrencies, supposedly cannot be manipulated by regulators such as central banks. All transactions conducted with the virtual currency are logged in an “immutable ledger” maintained by many networked computers. 

“This is a very, very big security feature for Bitcoin and other networks like it,” he said. “And so it’s complicated, but at the same time, when you think about it from a simple level — that we’re trusting a group of people to provide us with good data rather than one central authority that could manipulate the data much more easily — it becomes one of these really big revolutionary things.” 

The value of Bitcoin has varied widely in recent years, reaching a peak of over $60,000 last year before falling to under $50,000 later in 2021. Changes in the currency’s value are tied to a variety of global factors, the panelists explained. But they put a greater focus on the various ways that people around the world are using cryptocurrencies. 

Smith explained these currencies are particularly useful in less stable economies, as their value isn’t tied as closely to government policies. 

“Look, if I have this money and it’s denominated in my local currency, it could entirely wipe out my savings if they decide to change their monetary policy,” he said. “So it’s this wonderfully empowering idea if somebody can actually own money that the government can’t touch, that’s a really, really big deal for them.” 

As another example, he pointed to female cryptocurrency owners in places like Afghanistan. 

“If I’m an Afghan woman, and I own Bitcoin, it cannot be taken away from me,” Smith said. “That empowers her as well as the people with whom she works, her family.” 

Van Kirk noted some people are viewing cryptocurrencies as an investment, betting that the value of these virtual tokens will rise as they’re used more widely. He said others working in the United States use online crypto marketplaces to send money home to their families, bypassing traditional services like Western Union. 

He added cryptocurrency is “still so much in its infancy” that variations in value remain linked to changes in traditional markets. 

“People are hoping for that bifurcation between traditional markets and crypto, and it’s not there yet,” he said. “The market will continually show us and give us that feedback, right? We’ll see how people react over time. But I think it’s going to be a while before we see that decoupling.” 

— A regional survey spearheaded by Envision Greater Fond du Lac aims to identify gaps in child care services. 

Lisa McArthur, director of economic and workforce outreach for the group, says results will help economic development groups understand “the scope of the issue” and its ramifications for the workforce. She noted in an email that as many as 50 percent of classrooms in Fond du Lac child care centers are not being used because they don’t have enough workers to staff them. 

“We have anecdotal evidence in the gap of child care for the Northeast WI workforce, but we need to quantify this to apply for state or local funding resources,” she wrote. “Also, is it a gap in infrastructure, is it the child care workforce? Each county has slightly different issues they are dealing with.” 

The survey is being sent to about 150 businesses across five counties: Calumet, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Outagamie, and Winnebago. Each of the county’s identified 30 businesses with large numbers of employees to be targeted with the survey, provided through a virtual link and physical copies. It’s also being made available to the general public to reach unemployed and underemployed residents. 

Tricia Rathermel, president and CEO of the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation, says the initiative will compare what’s available in the region to the actual needs of employers. 

“We need to identify the gaps so we can help funnel programs and funding to the right solutions,” she told “We also know that child care businesses are facing the same staffing challenges as so many employers and need to assist them with proper training and funding to meet the needs of the community.” 

She added that a lack of affordable child care has “long been identified as a hurdle/barrier” to employment, with some people leaving the workforce when faced with a lack of options. McArthur also underlined the importance of this issue. 

“Parents need to feel secure that when they drop their kids off at a childcare facility, they are being cared for and the facility is adequately staffed,” McArthur said. “Without adequate child care, some parents will choose to stay home. It’s incumbent upon us to ensure that there is adequate childcare to support those parents that want to be part of the workforce.” 

The survey is being conducted by the UW-Oshkosh Center for Customized Research and Services. 

See more in a release, including the link to the survey: 

— Dem Gov. Tony Evers is calling for using the projected $3.8 billion surplus the state now expects through mid-2023 to help Wisconsinites struggling with costs at the checkout line and businesses facing supply chain issues.

But GOP legislative leaders urged caution, saying the boost to the state’s bottom line was driven by one-time federal stimulus funds and should be largely reserved until the next budget — when they’re hoping to have a Republican in the East Wing.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, told he opposes using the money for any new spending initiatives this year or doing additional tax cuts. Instead, his preference is to wait until next session to decide how to use the money.

“Now is not the time to go on a spending spree,” LeMahieu said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters the surplus will be used “to do a massive tax cut,” but didn’t provide details. He also said in a statement the money puts the state in position to “fill in any gaps when federal funding at the governor’s disposal is used up.”

See more at 

— WHEDA says demand for affordable housing tax credits among developers in the state “continues to outpace” available state and federal resources. 

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority says it received applications for 49 housing projects in 37 communities for the 2022 award cycle. Applicants are seeking over $49 million in state and federal housing tax credits to build 2,952 rental units, 2,685 of which qualify as affordable. 

But WHEDA says it will be allocating around $31 million in tax credits for the 2022 cycle, after previously allocating $35.1 million last year. A release from the agency attributes this decrease to a lower allocation in federal 9 percent tax credits following the expiration of a policy that boosted allocations over the past three years. 

See the release: 

— UW-Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business is getting $900,000 from the Kemper Foundation supporting a new scholarship program for underrepresented students. 

The Kemper Scholars Program, which launched in fall 2021, will be funded with the donation. It provides $5,000 scholarships to qualifying juniors and seniors studying risk management and insurance, actuarial science, finance, or accounting and information systems. 

Recipients must be a member of an underrepresented group or population as well as a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a minimum 3.0 grade point average. They must also demonstrate a financial need for the scholarship. 

Some of the donation will also go toward the Kemper Foundation Multicultural Directorship position at the school’s Multicultural Center, providing $50,000 per year over three years. The current director, Arturo “Tito” Diaz, will be working with each year’s scholarship cohort. 

“As one of the few business schools to have a dedicated multicultural center, we are well positioned to foster business students who value diversity and will enter the workforce as inclusive, trusted leaders,” Diaz said in the release. 

See more: 

— The Medical College of Wisconsin has announced Mortenson will be the construction manager for the planned MCW Cancer Research Building. 

The college says the selection “comes at a timely point in the design planning phase” for the new research center. This process began in fall 2021 and will continue into this year, a release shows. 

“Mortenson shares our vision of developing and building a space that will have significant, positive impact on the advancement and availability of cutting-edge cancer treatments for all people in our community,” said Dr. Joseph Kerschner, provost and executive vice president of MCW. 

Mortenson previously worked with the research building’s architect, CannonDesign, on expanding Froedtert & MCW’s Center for Advanced Care in Wauwatosa. 

See the release: 

— Vaccines and prescription drugs would be exempt from Wisconsin’s minimum markup law under a bill the Senate approved via voice vote.

The Great Depression-era law bans selling products for below costs.

SB 357 would exempt vaccines, prescription drugs and physical items whose costs are qualified medical expenses under federal law. Those qualified expenses include items that can be purchased by a Health Savings Account such as wheelchairs and walkers, according to the office of co-author Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville.

See bill details: 


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

UW-Madison: The Kemper Foundation makes five-year pledge to support Wisconsin School of Business Diversity Office, Undergraduate Program Office

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