— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Ben Kossow, president of Riley Construction.
This Kenosha-based firm has offices in Waukesha and Waukegan, Ill., and provides construction services for projects across health care, pharmaceutical, industrial, manufacturing, education and other markets in the corridor between Chicago and Madison.
“There’s been a lot of growth in that Milwaukee, Waukesha area, and it’s starting to spill over recently into that Madison area,” he said. “Which has been really exciting for me, right, opportunity is great and that bigger, broader area gives you better and different clients to go after and work with.”
While its work on health care facilities helped the business extend from Racine and Kenosha into the Milwaukee area, industrial growth has been driving its more recent expansion into the Madison region, Kossow said.
“We are right in the infancy of that,” he said. “We’ve done probably five or six projects out there over the last couple of years, and we’re going to be starting an office up probably in the next couple months … We’ll actually have an official office in Madison.”
Kossow discusses how AI is being used in the construction industry for virtual design applications, resolving potential conflicts before they can disrupt the building process.
“That’s the coolest thing from a tech standpoint with AI, but then there’s some neat little things like in marketing,” he said, noting the technology can help generate a finished image faster. “Something that used to take our interior designer two days to edit can take an hour. Saving time on that front, and gives us the ability to be more creative.”
He also shares his perspective on the environmental factors Riley Construction and other developers are considering as they design and construct new facilities. Because producing concrete is such a carbon-intensive process, new building materials are being explored to improve sustainability.
— December home sales in Wisconsin declined 6.2% over the year as home prices continued to rise, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association.
The state’s median home price rose 8% over the year, from $251,000 in December 2022 to $271,000 last month. Over the same period, home sales fell from 4,918 to 4,615, the report shows.
Still, the number of total statewide listings saw a slight increase over the year, rising 0.9% from 13,167 to 13,285. And Mary Jo Bowe, chair of the WRA Board of Directors for 2024, noted this marks the third month in a row that new listings have increased year-over-year, with a 6.3% increase in December.
“Although this is still a strong seller’s market, there are opportunities for buyers during the winter season since there is less competition, and sellers who list their homes during the winter are often more highly motivated to sell,” Bowe said in the report.
The report also shows total existing home sales in 2023 were down 17.5% over the year, declining from 77,979 in 2022 to 64,330 last year.
But WRA notes the sales trend shows improvement over the year, as last year’s fourth-quarter sales were 4.3% below the fourth quarter of 2022. That’s a much smaller gap than during the first nine months of 2023, when sales were 21.1% lower compared to the same period of 2022.
— President Joe Biden touted $1 billion in federal funding for a bridge connecting Superior to Duluth, Minn., as part of an effort to rebuild American pride, not just an investment in critical infrastructure.
Biden yesterday told elected officials and others in the northwestern Wisconsin community that he hoped they would have a renewed sense of pride when they see shovels in the ground, cranes in the sky and people hard at work to rebuild the Blatnik Bridge.
He called the American people “the real heroes in this whole story,” saying they’re doing the work to bring their communities back.
“That’s what America does. That’s why I’ve never been more optimistic about the future,” Biden said.
Biden visited the bridge two years ago, touting the potential it could be rebuilt with federal funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. He returned yesterday to tout the $1.06 billion in federal money that had been approved for the project as part of a larger announcement of $5 billion in federal money for projects around the country.
The president, making the eighth stop of his presidency to this critical swing state, said his administration has invested $6.1 billion in Wisconsin and $5.7 billion in Minnesota. That money is going to projects such as the bridge, as well as increasing access to high-speed internet and replacing lead water lines.
See more coverage at WisPolitics.
— The state Department of Health Services has issued a standing order making it easier for BadgerCare Plus members to get contraceptives.
Under the order, previewed by Gov. Tony Evers in his State of the State address earlier this week, BadgerCare Plus members can obtain over-the-counter emergency contraception from any Wisconsin Medicaid-enrolled pharmacy without a prescription or paying out of pocket, according to a release from the guv’s office.
While over-the-counter emergency contraception and daily contraception are currently covered by BadgerCare Plus with a prescription from a provider, the standing order serves as that prescription, the release shows.
Pharmacists will submit claims for covered contraceptives to Wisconsin Medicaid, the release shows. DHS says it will work with pharmacists across the state to implement the order, but DHS Medicaid Director Bill Hanna noted “the process for members is simple.”
“They’ll be able to go to any Medicaid-enrolled pharmacy, checkout with their ForwardHealth card, ask their pharmacist any questions, and walk away with the medication they need with no out-of-pocket costs,” he said in a statement.
The FDA has approved two types of emergency contraception for preventing unplanned pregnancies: levonorgestrel, which is sold under multiple brand names; and ulipristal, sold under the brand name Ella, the standing order shows. Because Ella isn’t sold over the counter, it won’t be covered by the order and will still require a prescription.
In his State of the State address this week, Evers argued “every Wisconsinite should be able to access the health care they need when they need it. And, yes, that includes contraception.”
Top headlines from the Health Care Report…
— A total of 266,327 people in Wisconsin signed up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov during the latest open enrollment period, state officials announced.
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— Northwestern Mutual President and CEO John Schlifske plans to retire at the end of this year, the Milwaukee-based financial services business announced.
The company’s Board of Trustees has selected Tim Gerend to take over as CEO starting in 2025, according to yesterday’s release. Meanwhile, Gerend will transition from executive vice president and chief distribution officer to president, and Schlifske will remain chairman of the board through January 2025, when Gerend takes over that role.
Schlifske has spent 37 years with the business, including 14 years as its CEO, the release shows.
“I have a deep sense of pride and gratitude for Northwestern Mutual, our dedicated employees and field force of advisors, and a noble mission that plays such a critical role for our clients’ financial well-being,” he said in a statement.
He also praised Gerend, who joined the company in 2002, as a “strategic, principled, and mission-driven leader.”
See the release.
— The new 2024 WisPolitics Directory & Government Guide has arrived.
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