WED AM News: Farm groups applaud USMCA panel decision; Business community leaders highlight labor shortages, COVID-19 in 2022 forecasts

— The head of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative says he’s hopeful Canada will “right the ship and come into compliance” with the USMCA after a dispute settlement panel found Canada is breaching elements of the agreement. 

After the United States requested in May 2021 that the panel be established, its final report was issued last month showing Canada is reserving a percentage of the in-quota quantity in its dairy tariff-rate quotas for “the exclusive use” of Canadian processors. Because a tariff-rate quota applies a preferential duty rate to a certain quantity of imports, the panel found that Canada “has been undermining the value of its dairy TRQs for U.S. farmers and exporters.” 

That’s according to a release from U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who says the panel’s findings will “help eliminate unjustified trade restrictions” on U.S. dairy products. 

Brody Stapel, president of the Green Bay-based cooperative, says the efforts of Tai’s office will ensure that “our dairy farmers see the full benefits” of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Edge is one of the largest dairy co-ops in the country. 

“When NAFTA was renegotiated and the USMCA was implemented, we were hopeful the new agreement would bring opportunities to our dairy farmer members, but that is only possible if both sides play by the rules,” Stapel said in a statement. “We are pleased to see that dispute settlement mechanisms put in place through the agreement are working, and hope that our trusted trading partner and neighbor will right the ship and come into compliance.”

Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Kevin Krentz says the group hopes the panel’s decision “emboldens the Biden Administration to continue to open additional export markets and trade partners,” arguing the state’s dairy products can “compete with anyone” on the global stage. 

“Consumers across the country have picked Wisconsin dairy products when given a choice and we welcome news that our neighbors to the north will finally be given the same choice,” Krentz said in an email. “We look forward to additional Wisconsin dairy products making their way to Canadian shelves.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind calls the panel’s decision a “historic win” for U.S. dairy farmers. He had signed onto a letter in May calling on federal officials to move forward with enforcement measures under the USMCA related to Canada’s dairy tariff-rate quotas. 

“This decision will ensure American dairy farmers and producers are able to compete on the even playing field they deserve,” the La Crosse Democrat said in a statement. 

Under USMCA rules, Canada has 45 days from when the final report was issued on Dec. 20 to comply with the findings of the panel, the release shows. 

Canada is the third largest export destination for U.S. dairy products, and the top export destination for Wisconsin agricultural products. The state exported $1.2 billion in ag products to Canada in 2020, according to DATCP. 

See the release from Tai: 

See the panel’s report here: 

— Leaders in the state’s business community say labor shortages and issues related to COVID-19 will continue to define Wisconsin’s economy in 2022. 

That’s according to a collection of sector forecasts published in the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s Wisconsin Economic Report. 

WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels says loan demand last year was relatively weak, and expects that trend to continue through the first half of this year “and perhaps longer.” She notes bankers in the state saw a 23 percent decline in commercial and industrial loan portfolios in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of 2020. 

“This is largely attributed to factors, such as workforce shortages and supply chain issues, that will persist into 2022,” she wrote in the report. “These two factors alone have stunted growth in the business sector as many retail businesses are forced to alter their hours of operation and manufacturers to cut back production, all of which results in lower loan demand.” 

Construction Business Group Executive Director Robb Kahl says the top concern for the construction industry is the availability and cost of building materials, with steel prices increasing 133 percent over the past year and a half and prices for copper, aluminum and lumber rising between 40 and 65 percent over the same period. 

Though he notes construction is faring better than many industries, Kahl says worker shortages “remain a concern” as 74 percent of contractors are planning to hire in the coming year and 90 percent are “already seeking skilled craft workers.” 

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Krentz says the agriculture industry “needs an immigration system that works here in Wisconsin and across the United States.” He notes the dairy industry in particular is faced with a serious labor shortage that could be addressed in part by “strong foreign policy” being implemented at the federal level. 

At the same time, growing reliance on temporary nurse staffing agencies in the health care field is contributing to “skyrocketing labor costs and rapid wage inflation” in the industry, according to Wisconsin Hospital Association President and CEO Eric Borgerding. He notes these agencies are “charging double or more their typical price” amid fierce competition for the limited number of traveling workers. 

“While labor comprises 60 percent of hospital operating costs, hospitals cannot limit their hours or scale back production in response to worker shortages or wage inflation,” Borgerding wrote. “They must be there 24-hours a day, every day.” 

WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer notes “far fewer Americans, including Wisconsinites, are working today” than before the pandemic. 

“Some of the federal stimulus is to blame, especially the American Rescue Plan passed last spring when the economy was already on the mend,” he wrote. “Incentives matter and when you pay people not to work by supplementing state unemployment benefits, don’t be surprised when some don’t.” 

Still, he added employment figures from late 2021 “appear to show people returning to work, albeit slowly.” 

Other leaders in the report highlight trends related to real estate, retail and the impact of evolving technologies on the economy. 

Read the full report here: 

See a recent story on WBA’s year-end bank CEO survey: 

— Six months into the budget, the Department of Health Services is projecting the Medicaid fund to finish the 2021-23 biennium with a surplus of $184.9 million in general purpose revenue.

That’s up from September’s projection of a $39.4 million surplus.

In a letter to the Joint Finance co-chairs, DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake attributed the projected surplus to several factors. The most significant was the federal government extending the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration.

That action extends until March an enhanced federal matching rate for Medicaid expenditures.

It also requires the state to provide continuous coverage to individuals in the program even if they, for example, temporarily have income that exceeds normal eligibility requirements or fail to respond to a notice seeking information. Even with the higher enrollment numbers, the net impact is a surplus of $116 million.

See the letter: 

— Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Eckmann has been appointed the new chair of the board of advisors for the Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Executives. 

The WCCE, run by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, is a professional association of full- and part-time executives and staff for local chambers spread across the state. The prior chair, Waukesha County Business Alliance President and CEO Suzanne Kelley, had held the position since 2020. 

Eckmann says he’s honored to be chosen for the position. 

“I can’t wait to continue collaborating with local chambers and banding together to ensure that we’re helping businesses and local communities thrive all across Wisconsin,” he said in a statement. 

See the release, including the full list of the 2022 WCCE Board of Advisors: 

— The state Public Service Commission is now accepting applications for the 2022 Nonprofit Access Grant Program, which helps support broader access to telecommunications services. 

“These grants will play a critical role in ensuring nonprofit organizations can expand their reach and help get people connected,” said PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. 

Applications are being accepted from nonprofit groups with projects aimed at providing affordable “essential telecommunications services” for low-income households, people with disabilities, or customers living in areas with high costs of service. 

The PSC is providing up to $500,000 in grants with a 25 percent match required, according to the agency website. Applications are due by 4 p.m. on March 1 and must be submitted using the online PSC Grants System. The agency will be holding a webinar on this system and the application process Jan. 12. 

See webinar details here: 

See more on the grant program: 

See the release: 

— WEDC is providing an $88,800 grant to support the renovation of a historic building in Milton into a classic car showroom and parts dealership. 

The building originally housed an agricultural business, and was placed on the National Register and State Register of Historic Places in 2015. But a release from the agency shows the site “fell into disrepair” since that time. The nearly $180,000 renovations will include flooring and exterior repairs, as well as replacing the roof, windows and doors. The project is slated for completion in the spring. 

401k Properties owner Bob Rippberger purchased the space in 2020 and plans to use it for his vehicle restoration business called TLC Restorations. Rippberger has previously bought and upgraded five blighted or underused properties in the city, according to WEDC. He says the agency’s Community Development Investment Grant made this project “workable.” 

“The buildings across from us have upgraded their facades,” Rippberger said in the release. “The change in this downtown has been remarkable. The impact goes beyond what we are doing.”

See the release: 


# Airline travel in Wisconsin picks up but not to pre-pandemic levels

# American Family Ventures led $60 million funding round for Boston fintech

# Nino’s Italian Bakery cites labor shortage among reasons for closing after five decades



– DATCP offering more dairy processor grants

– Wisconsin Ag Outlook Forum set for January 25


– Work gets underway on $100M ThedaCare project in Neenah 

– Wellpoint Care Network, formerly SaintA, plans to renovate northwest side campus, consolidate employees


– Great Lakes ports see shipping rebound in 2021 after COVID-19 downturn

– COVID-19 surge, omicron variant forcing changes for Wisconsin businesses and events


– Chick-fil-A moving forward with Glendale restaurant at different location


– Milwaukee’s overcrowded COVID-19 testing sites will now be monitored by police

– Advocate Aurora leaders cope with highest Covid hospitalizations of pandemic

– COVID-19 testing at South Side clinic expanding, 1,700 appointments added

– La Crosse hospitals still strained by COVID cases, testing demand high

– Janesville Plan Commission grants conditional-use requests to heart attack/stroke rehab facility


– Manager accused of stealing more than $6,500 from McDonald’s in Mount Pleasant


– Black Holocaust Museum to reopen with $10 million donation


– Riverside land sells for downtown’s next mass timber apartment development

– Rojahn & Malaney Co. warehouse in downtown Milwaukee sold to developer planning mass timber project

– Developer buys Third Ward parking property as part of redevelopment of downtown Johnson Controls complex


– Kwik Trip fuel payment change now in effect, requiring guests to either pre-pay or pay at the pump


– Ascent timber tower turns to online crowdsourcing to raise $5 million


– Kohler expanding in clean energy management with acquisition


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

Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative: Applauds U.S. trade officials in Canada TRQ dispute

Working Families Party: Progressive political group announces first round of 2022 WI endorsements

Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Executives: Announces new chairman and officers on Board of Advisors