WED AM News: Online retail helped drive surge in entrepreneurship; Experts say child care issues pose challenge to growth

— Economic development experts say a recent surge in entrepreneurship in Wisconsin was driven in part by businesses reaching new customers online. 

“In terms of those business applications that we were looking at, the surge of entrepreneurial activity, the largest component of that is online retail,” UW-Madison Associate Prof. Tessa Conroy said yesterday during the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s Wisconsin Economic Summit in Appleton. 

She said greater numbers of business applications seen in Wisconsin in recent years “signals all of this entrepreneurial intent in the state” despite the challenges of the pandemic. 

An earlier UW-Extension report found business applications in the state reached the highest level on record during the pandemic, rising 21 percent from 2019 to 2020 and 23 percent from 2020 to 2021. 

“In March of 2020, we had every reason to worry that this was going to be really bad for entrepreneurs … and it was. It was pretty bad for about four months,” she said. “We saw self-employment plummet, particularly for Black and African-American entrepreneurs, but by the end of that first summer, self-employment had more than recovered.” 

Conroy explained that “in Wisconsin, business owners of color are more likely to own their businesses in the sectors that were really vulnerable to COVID.” That includes the arts, retail and creative industries. Still, she noted minority groups in the state “saw the strongest recovery” in entrepreneurship, exceeding levels seen before the pandemic. 

Jeff Sachse, the director of UW-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research and Services, said many of the entrepreneurs looking to digital markets understand the importance of building relationships with customers and crafting a virtual community.  

“A lot of it has to do with the customer experience,” he said. “I think that you’re seeing a lot of businesses that reach their audiences online through more customized or curated experiences just continually expanding their sales.” 

Conroy added the pivot to online retail shows startup founders have “renewed enthusiasm, even more enthusiasm than there was before for those technology-based strategies for success.” 

See the UW-Extension report here: 

See a previous story on new business formations: 

— Panelists at the WEDC summit pointed to child care challenges as one of the greatest drags on economic development and growth in the state. 

Their comments came after state Department of Revenue Chief Economist John Koskinen highlighted inflation, upward wage pressure, the “wild card” of international conflict and rising energy prices as among the greatest threats to the state economy as a whole. 

He warned attendees to keep an eye on energy price fluctuations as the state moves into the winter months, highlighting the rising prices for natural gas in particular. 

“In the state of Wisconsin, about 37 percent of our electricity is generated by natural gas,” he said yesterday. “If that’s the feedstock for electricity, and you get the pass-through costs, you’re looking for increasing electricity bills as well.” 

But the economic development specialists said the issue of limited child care options is one of the top worries at the local level coming out of the pandemic. 

“The labor shortage seems to be continuing, when it comes to child care, the margin is especially tight,” Conroy said. “And the spots are limited, which makes it hard for us to fill those jobs … so that is one of the places I look with some concern.” 

While she said the child care industry is doing better as the pandemic wanes, she highlighted “an opportunity to do better, and to figure out some support.” 

And the limited options for child care have pushed many entrepreneurs and private sector workers to pass up opportunities for advancement, UW-Oshkosh’s Sachse said yesterday. 

“If I find a child care provider … I’m not taking a new job because I don’t want to lose that child care provider,” he said. “So just thinking about this perspective and the linkage between what’s best for your children but then maybe foregoing other things as a consequence.” 

See a story on the child care shortage from earlier this year: 

— About 685,100 borrowers in Wisconsin are expected to be eligible for loan forgiveness through the Biden administration’s student debt relief plan, federal officials announced. 

That includes 412,700 Pell Grant recipients in the state, according to a White House fact sheet provided by the U.S. Department of Education. 

The White House last month announced the plan to provide up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt relief to Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for other borrowers, provided they meet certain income requirements. In yesterday’s release, the DOE said nearly 90 percent of the relief funds will go to people earning less than $75,000 per year. 

See more: 

— About 312,000 Wisconsin residents don’t have health insurance, according to a new report from the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. 

The report estimates Wisconsin had an uninsured rate of 5.5 percent in 2020, with low-income residents and ethnic and racial minorities “substantially more likely” to be uninsured. 

It also shows insurance rates differ by geography. While Clark and Menominee counties have the highest percentage of residents without insurance, at over 20 percent for each, the greatest numbers of uninsured people are found in the state’s most populous cities. Report authors found the numbers of uninsured Milwaukee residents “far exceed” those of any other county. 

“Generally, Wisconsin cities — Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Kenosha — all have larger numbers of uninsured residents than all the Wisconsin counties that rank in the top ten in terms of percentage of residents uninsured,” they wrote. 

The report also includes analysis of Affordable Care Act health insurance plans in the state, showing the ACA-compliant individual market has grown 8 percent between 2018 and 2021 with similar increases in five of the six regions of the state. 

OCI found 212,209 consumers in the state selected plans through the ACA Marketplace during the open enrollment period for plan year 2022, and 88 percent of those consumers qualified for premium subsidies. 

Report authors note this increase reflects higher premium subsidies provided by the American Rescue Plan Act. OCI adds these have been extended for another three years through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, signed into law last month. 

The agency says consumers point to affordability issues as their main concern with getting insurance coverage, along with lack of eligibility, limited choices, a lack of desire for health insurance, not knowing how to find information and being confused by the enrollment process. 

In a survey, over half of uninsured adult respondents said they know “a little or nothing at all” about marketplace coverage options and related financial assistance, the report shows. 

See the full report: 

— State officials have announced about $32 million in grant funding has been awarded to emergency medical services providers in Wisconsin. 

According to a release from Gov. Tony Evers, this EMS Flex Grant funding is going to 442 EMS providers across the state. The guv previously announced $12 million in funding for the EMS Flex Grants in his State of the State address, according to Evers’ office, and yesterday’s announcement includes another $20 million for the program. 

The increase is based on the “substantial need” for EMS support, per the release, as the providers applying for funding requested more than $63 million in total. 

Evers says local EMS providers have “been asked to do more with less” with communities around Wisconsin cutting back on services such as public safety efforts. In the release, he says these providers have been “stretched thin” in recent years. 

“This funding is going to provide much needed support to our EMS providers across the state to help ensure they have the tools and resources they need to meet the needs in their communities and continue their life-saving work,” he said. 

See the release: 

See the full list of recipients: 

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— Harvesting of Wisconsin oats is running slightly behind last year but ahead of the five-year average, according to the latest USDA report. 

The report from the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service shows 97 percent of grain oats were harvested at the end of last week, which is five days behind last year but four days ahead of the average. 

Meanwhile, 45 percent of potatoes were harvested — three days behind last year and two days behind the average, the report shows. 

Winter wheat planting and growth is also lagging, per the report. Twenty-one percent of winter wheat was planted as of the end of last week, which is five days behind last year and four days behind the average. And 5 percent of winter wheat had emerged, which is 10 days behind last year and five days behind the average. 

NASS notes warm temperatures last week helped farmers make “good progress” on harvesting corn silage and hay, and seeding fall crops and starting fall tillage. 

See the report: 


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– Rain event discharged 756 million gallons of wastewater into waterways


– Lake Country restaurant Red Circle Inn purchased by Hendricks subsidiary


– Froedtert & the Medical College partner with ThedaCare for specialty services

– Evers stops in Chippewa Falls, touts grants to EMS across state

– Early onset of flu season, more infections anticipated


– Red Circle Inn & Bistro now under new ownership


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– Johnson blames proposed budget cuts on drop in state support, pension payments


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