FRI AM News: Expanded Milwaukee-Twin Cities Amtrak service may start later this year; New fund of funds proposal seen as ‘strong step’ in the right direction

— Expanded Amtrak service from Milwaukee to the Twin Cities could start sometime later this year, even as prospects for new routes to Madison, Green Bay and Eau Claire remain uncertain, Wisconsin’s top rail official says. 

A new passenger rail line, to be named the Great River route, will offer a second daily round trip between Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, in addition to the one provided now by Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder, says Lisa Stern, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s railroads and harbors chief. 

Great River trains will follow the current Empire Builder route west from downtown Milwaukee, with Wisconsin stops in Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Tomah and La Crosse. Unlike the Empire Builder, the Great River also will stop in Sturtevant and at Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport, and it won’t continue past St. Paul to Seattle and Portland. 

At a top speed of 79 mph, the Great River will take about six hours to travel from Milwaukee to St. Paul. That’s the same as the Empire Builder, but Great River service could be more reliable because the eastbound Empire Builder is plagued by delays on its way back from the Pacific Northwest. 

The Great River is projected to carry 124,400 riders in its first full year of operation. 

Federal money is covering $31.8 million of the Great River’s $53.3 million capital cost, matched by $10 million from Minnesota, $6.5 million from Wisconsin and $5 million from Amtrak. Canadian Pacific, which owns the tracks, has agreed that service can start before work is finished on track upgrades in La Crosse and Minnesota, Stern says. 

See the full story here: 

— The head of the Wisconsin Technology Council says Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to establish a $75 million fund of funds is “definitely a strong step in the right direction.” 

Gov. Tony Evers’ 2023-25 budget proposal recommends establishing this venture capital program under the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to invest these dollars into other venture capital funds. 

“There’s always room for improvement on where it could go over time,” Tech Council President Tom Still told “Certainly by the money not really being available until 2024, that allows some time to take a look at the overall budget situation and decide, could it be a bit stronger? Could we do some things that truly put Wisconsin on the map? That’s something I’m always enthusiastic about.” 

This concept is similar to the existing Badger Fund of Funds, which was originally created in 2013 with $25 million in state dollars, Still noted. 

Under the new proposal, the $75 million fund of funds could invest up to $18.75 million per recipient venture capital fund, according to Evers’ executive budget. Those recipient VC funds would have to commit to investing that total in Wisconsin, with a private matching fund requirement “such that the program as a whole attains a required match rate of two private dollars for every state dollar invested,” per the budget document. 

At least 20 percent of the total funds under management would be required to be invested into minority-owned or women-owned firms, or those located in underserved areas. And the guv is calling for the creation of an oversight board that would help manage the program. 

Evers’ new fund of funds wouldn’t be required to repay the state’s investment. Similarly, the guv is also recommending removing the existing requirement that the Badger Fund of Funds must repay the state. But Still explained “it would have been hard to project a date” for that repayment to happen anyways, given the uncertainty inherent to startup companies. 

“This is, I think, an important step because the state wins with successful angel and venture capital investments either way,” he said. “They hire employees, they work through a supply chain, they usually have higher than average salaries. Those people pay sales taxes and income taxes themselves, so the state wins indirectly simply by all that economic activity.” 

The Tech Council had previously called for another $100 million fund of funds after the success of the original Badger Fund of Funds. But with the matching fund requirement in the proposal, Still says “it would probably still get there.” 

While the Badger Fund of Funds was originally created in 2013, Still noted it didn’t really get started until around 2017. With private matching funds over time, he said it’s now grown to around $80 million. Five recipient funds make up the larger fund: Rock River Capital, the Winnow Fund, the Idea Fund of La Crosse, the Winnebago Seed Fund and Gateway Capital. 

Those funds have collectively invested in about 36 companies, Still estimated. 

“From a policy perspective, it makes sense to put eggs in a larger number of baskets, and you want different funds that might have different strengths, different areas of interest. So that’s a healthy piece,” Still said, referring to the $18.7 million limit per recipient fund in the new proposal. 

While most of the nation’s venture capital still goes into the top four states — California, Massachusetts, New York and Texas — Still estimated Wisconsin is likely in the top 25 for investment activity. Although he conceded it’s “maybe not very far” into the top half, he noted funding totals have been rising in Wisconsin. 

Wisconsin saw about $454.4 million in total investment in 2019, $483.7 million in 2020 and a record $868 million in 2021, according to figures provided by Still. That large increase was in line with the national trend, he noted. 

“So 2022, we’re still collecting the data, but we already know that will be north of $500 million,” he said. “And maybe considerably north — we don’t know yet for sure, but more than a couple dollars north. And that’s good, because 2022 had so much economic uncertainty wrapped around it.” 

See details on the new fund of funds proposal in the Budget in Brief: 

See the full executive summary for Evers’ budget proposal: 

— The nonprofit network LeadingAge Wisconsin says provisions in Evers’ budget proposal would bolster the state’s long-term care system. 

John Sauer, the group’s CEO, says a proposed permanent payment standard for nursing homes and a new fee schedule for family care providers would help these organizations strengthen their workforces and address the needs of residents. 

“These investments are critically necessary to sustain the future viability of Wisconsin’s nursing facilities and long-term care communities,” he said in a statement. 

The group’s release also spotlights: Evers’ proposal to fund a pilot program aimed at caring for “complex hospital patients” that need post-acute care placements; a provision expanding the WisCaregiver Careers program for certified nursing assistants; another creating workforce incentive grants for the field and more. 

“Workforce shortages and funding limitations are the reality facing long-term care and assisted living providers throughout the state,” Sauer said. “The budget initiatives acknowledge these challenges and help to strengthen our State’s long-term care system and ensure quality care for all residents”.

See more reactions at the press release page: 

<br><b><i>Top headlines from the Health Care Report … </b></i> 

— AARP Wisconsin is applauding Gov. Tony Evers for including an income tax credit for family caregivers in his budget proposal. 

<i>For more of the most relevant news on COVID-19, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin, links to top stories and more, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from and</i>

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— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Maurice Thomas, president of Forward 48. 

This growing leadership development program recently announced it’s taking applications for its spring cohort, which includes 120 spots reserved for emerging leaders in Wisconsin. Thomas discusses the program’s history, goals and outlook for the next few years. 

Participants get connected with established executive leaders in the community through a series of group meetings over a six-week period. The program is active in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, Kenosha, the Fox Valley and parts of northeastern Wisconsin.

“Those new leaders don’t have to learn the hard lessons over and over again, and we can make true progress within our community,” Thomas said. 

With the help of an in-house facilitator, these discussions focus on aspects of their leadership journeys that aren’t often shared with the general public, he explained. 

“Some of those hidden and more personal stories,” he said. “When we’re able to do that, and we’re able to have those senior leaders be vulnerable, we’re then able to translate that within our participants’ ranks as well.” 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See a recent story on the program:  

See the full list of podcasts: 

— In the latest episode of “Talking Trade,” Armada Corporate Intelligence Chief Economist Chris Kuehl discusses a recent shift in the global economic outlook. 

“If people were listening to the commentary even a few weeks ago, it was pretty doom and gloom,” Kuehl said. “It was looking at 2023 as a year of serious recession, maybe starting in first and second quarter and extending through the year.” 

But in the past several weeks, several new data points have helped to challenge that assumption, Kuehl explained. For one, he noted some information suggests global inflation had peaked in November or December of 2022. 

“We started to see a decline in commodity prices, we started to see a decline in shipping rates,” he said. “We saw a little bit of a decline in factory gate pricing — not like it’s gotten back to where we were prior to the pandemic, but considerably less than what we saw earlier in the year. And less than what had been anticipated for the coming year.” 

He also discusses expectations for China’s role in the global industrial community, touching on the country’s COVID-19 response, competition from India and other Asian nations, and more. 

Watch the latest episode here: 

“Talking Trade” is now available in audio form on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Subscribe and find more episodes here: 

— A renewable energy advocacy group called the Clean Grid Alliance has launched a state-focused effort called Powering Wisconsin. 

This nonprofit group, based in Minnesota, says a “coalition of renewable energy producers” formed the new organization to advance clean energy in the state, improve sustainability, spur economic development and protect private property rights. 

Clean Grid Alliance Regional Policy Director Peder Mewis says renewable energy solutions create jobs, drive innovation and strengthen the economy to make Wisconsin “a key player” in the Midwest renewables landscape. 

“The Powering Wisconsin coalition looks forward to advancing renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and storage right here at home,” he said in a statement. 

See more on the effort here: 

— Competitive Wisconsin later this month will host an “action accelerator” event focused on workforce housing. 

The Feb. 27 event will be held at 8 a.m. at Moraine Park Technical College West Bend, with speakers from the Wisconsin Realtors Association, UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Counties Association and other organizations. 

See event details and register here: 


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

Coalition of Renewable Energy Producers form “Powering Wisconsin”

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