FRI AM News: WisBusiness: the Podcast with Mike Semmann, Wisconsin Grocers Association; WMC survey highlights uncertainty among business leaders

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Mike Semmann, vice president of government affairs for the Wisconsin Grocers Association. 

The discussion ranges from inflation and supply chain impacts on prices to efforts to address the workforce shortage. 

“In this day of inflation and wage costs going up, grocers really have to be very sensitive to making sure that they’re keeping their workers happy, that they’re competitive in their marketplace, and yet keeping an eye on price,” he said. “Because ultimately, that’s going to be affecting the consumers.” 

He explains grocery store customers are very price-conscious, given the frequency of their buying decisions. 

“If there’s a one-penny increase on the front end of the production side, and maybe transportation costs are going up, all of those are amplifiers — multipliers, if you will — along that supply chain process that ultimately is felt by the consumer,” he said. “So grocers are very sensitive to that whole supply chain, what those costs are.” 

Semmann also highlights some of the association’s top policy priorities, including repealing the state’s personal property tax. 

“That’s the number one item that Wisconsin grocers hope can get accomplished this legislative session,” he said. 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See the full list of podcasts: 

— Business leaders are feeling increasingly uncertain about the outlook for the state and national economy, according to the latest Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce survey. 

“Heading into 2023 here, there is a lot of uncertainty from the business community,” WMC Vice President of Communications and Marketing Nick Novak said yesterday in an interview. “There’s concern that we will be headed into a recession this year at some point … and when you start to look at the numbers on economic optimism, or how they rate the economy, fewer and fewer businesses are expecting economic growth.” 

While 42 percent of respondents expect moderate growth in the state economy over the next six months, 48 percent expect it to remain flat and 9 percent say it will decline. 

When asked about the U.S. economy, the outlook was even worse. Just 1 percent expect to see “good growth,” while 24 percent expect moderate growth and 48 percent predict it will remain flat. And 26 percent expect the national economy to decline in the next six months. 

Meanwhile, 60 percent of respondents predict the state economy will enter a recession this year, while 14 percent say it won’t. Another 25 percent were unsure. 

Of those who expect a recession, 12 percent say it will happen in the first quarter, 28 percent in the second quarter, 24 percent in the third quarter and 5 percent in the fourth quarter. Thirty-one percent were unsure. 

And while 85 percent of respondents said they’re struggling to hire workers, 60 percent expect to add workers in the next six months. Four percent expect to lose workers and 36 percent expect no change. 

“We are seeing that the economy is slowing down, businesses are concerned about the fact that we might be entering a recession, but … they’re still looking to hire, they’re still having a problem with finding workers,” Novak said. 

He also referenced the state’s demographic problem, noting that if the state economy was booming, the workforce shortage would be even more acute. 

“It’s creating this weird dichotomy where we’re having low unemployment rates, we’re seeing wages go up as businesses are trying to add workers, and it’s causing some economic confusion,” he said. “Are we in a bad economy or are we not in a bad economy? … It’s less of an economic issue, and more of a demographic issue.” 

The survey was conducted online with 164 employers in Wisconsin. Novak noted the companies included in the survey make up a representative sample of WMC’s membership. 

See the full survey: 

— Union membership in Wisconsin continues to decline, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Between 2021 and 2022, the total number of union members in the state fell from about 215,000 to 187,000. This figure was about 7.9 percent of total employed in 2021, but fell to 7.1 percent last year, the BLS report shows. 

Those numbers capture members of a labor union or an employee association similar to a union, the agency notes in its report. It also covers figures for workers represented by unions, which includes both union members and employees with no union affiliation whose jobs are covered by a union or employee association contract. 

That larger figure fell from 251,000 in 2021 to 212,000 in 2022, or 9.3 percent of total employed to 8 percent. 

See the data for Wisconsin and other states here: 

See a story from last year on union membership trends in the state: 

— Wisconsin’s unemployment dipped down to 3.2 percent in December, according to the latest federal figures released by the state Department of Workforce Development. 

The DWD release shows state unemployment fell 0.1 percentage points over the month from November’s rate of 3.3 percent. It remains below the national rate of 3.5 percent. 

But at the same time, Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate ticked down from 64.9 percent in November to 64.7 percent in December. That’s 2.4 percent higher than the national rate of 62.3 percent. 

Meanwhile, the state added 52,600 private-sector jobs over the year, with job gains driven by increases in retail, as well as professional, scientific and technical services employment. The state’s total jobs number remains about 35,200 below the pre-pandemic peak, DWD Chief Economist Dennis Winters said yesterday during a briefing. 

“Companies are hiring people wherever they can, they’re a little reticent to dismiss people because they don’t want to lose them to someone else,” he said. “So far, the economy is going along pretty well. If there’s a slowdown … we’ll probably see some of the layoffs increase.” 

See the release: 

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

— UW Health is spotlighting a “dramatic increase” in the number of pediatric emergency department visits linked to mental health issues. 

<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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