TUE AM News: Grocers group CEO points to automation becoming ‘new normal’; Health care, families, taxes & AI among key topics state legislatures expected to address in 2024

— Grocery store customers should expect to see more self-checkout lanes and robots doing stocking and inventory tasks, according to the head of the Wisconsin Grocers Association. 

In a message published recently by the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s Wisconsin Economic Report, WGA President and CEO Brandon Scholz said the pandemic-driven higher inflation rates are “still crushing food and grocery prices” even though inflation has returned to “familiar rates” near 3%. 

In the four years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most grocery store products have seen a price increase of at least 3.2%, Scholz wrote in his message, drawing on figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“Here’s the kicker: consumers expect prices on the shelves to decrease accordingly when they hear reports that inflation has subsided back down to ‘normal’ levels,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen real soon.” 

He notes wages and other workforce factors, as well as energy costs, are playing a role in grocery prices. No “magic formula” exists that shows prices will fall as inflation decreases, according to Scholz. He adds the USDA projects grocery prices could increase by another 1% this year. 

And though every industry is grappling with the same workforce shortage, the retail food sector hasn’t “seen the return of the workforce to the levels needed to operate efficiently,” Scholz says. Plus, he notes the increases in wages and benefits that occurred during the pandemic haven’t reversed at all, putting continued financial pressure on employers. 

As shoppers navigate the higher prices at their local grocery stores, they’re expected to spend less on “indulgent” items and make fewer trips while buying in bulk more often. Aside from special events and holidays, Scholz says consumers are expected to continue to shop based on price throughout 2024. 

As this behavior plays out, they may notice “subtle changes” in stores as the industry reacts to ongoing challenges, he wrote. 

“Without a full workforce, empty checkout lanes will be converted to self-checkout stations and shoppers may start to see robots in the aisles working on stocking and inventory,” he said, adding automation in the grocery industry “has the potential to become a new normal.” 

See the full economic report, including perspectives from other industry association leaders: https://www.wisbank.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/Wisconsin-Economic-Reports-2024.pdf 

— The National Conference of State Legislatures expects lawmakers across the country will spend much of 2024 debating bills related to a host of topics like workforce, families, justice, artificial intelligence, taxes and more.

That is according to its recently issued forecast of 12 overarching issues expected to trend this year based on recent proposals considered or enacted by states in 2023, as well as new federal laws and investments, advancing technologies and the global landscape.

For example, last year, state legislators introduced more than 23,000 bills on health policy, not including resolutions and budget bills.

“Health policy will continue to be a focus in legislatures in 2024 as states grapple with health workforce shortages and increased behavioral health challenges,” NCSL wrote. “Perennial topics such as Medicaid, which takes about 30% of state budgets, will continue across the country.”

The conference expects lawmakers to take a look at a number of health-related issues, including expanding behavioral health care, decriminalizing fentanyl test strips and covering community health workers and doulas under Medicaid.

Gov. Tony Evers signed legislation in 2022 decriminalizing fentanyl test strips, which are available free through health departments and various organizations statewide. 

States may also consider adding innovative services to Medicaid coverage, such as prescription digital therapeutics and biomarker testing.

Given initial federal funding has run out for the federally mandated 988 service, states will also likely be discussing how to permanently fund the mental health helpline.

In another category, NCSL projects several states will discuss workforce issues specific to the military and veteran community. This could come in the form of licensure compacts, other licensure expansion programs, support for military installations and expanded benefits for National Guard members.

Bills focusing on cleaner, on-demand energy are also on the horizon, NCSL experts said, particularly given the rise of extreme weather events that have highlighted the need for reliable and resilient grids and federal funding opportunities that can accelerate electric vehicle infrastructure programs.

In Wisconsin, two bills related to EV charging infrastructure are moving through the legislative process. Senate and Assembly committees recently cleared the way for full floor votes on the bills, which would allow EV charging station owners to sell electricity to EV owners without being regulated as utilities. 

See the full story at WisPolitics: https://www.wispolitics.com/2024/240112report/ 

— The average home sale price for the Milwaukee area exceeded $400,000 for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2023, the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors reports. 

The group’s latest report shows home sales in the four-county metropolitan area were 10.5% lower in December and 18.6% lower in the fourth quarter compared to the same periods of the prior year. 

A total of 1,139 homes were sold last month across Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties, compared to 1,272 in December 2022. On a quarterly basis, those numbers were 16,586 and 20,368, respectively. 

Meanwhile, listings were 1.1% higher in December — 809 versus 800 — but 14.2% lower quarter-over-quarter, falling from 23,688 to 20,331. 

GMAR notes fourth quarter sales prices rose 5.9% between the fourth quarters of 2022 and 2023, from $394,443 to $417,800. The group points to the lack of new listings and the “historically low” level of new home construction as driving factors for this increase. 

Through November of 2023, a total of 1,510 new construction permits were taken out in the metro area — 16.3% fewer than during the same period of 2022, according to the report. 

“Earlier in 2023 brokers were saying that current homeowners who had low mortgage interest rates were skittish about listing their home if they would have to take out another mortgage at a higher interest rate,” report authors wrote. “However, many homeowners realize that the days of 3% rates are probably gone and are getting into the market with refinancing in the back of their mind.” 

See the full report: https://www.gmar.com/resources/research-statistics/2023-housing-statistics 

— WEDC has announced more than $1 million in grant funding for nine entrepreneurship groups in the state. 

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s Entrepreneurship Partner Grants program is meant to support organizations offering training, financing, technical support and more to entrepreneurs. 

The agency notes it has a focus on historically underserved groups such as women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and residents of rural areas. 

Recipients include: the Food Finance Institute in Madison, with $180,000; the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce, $75,000; the Green County Economic Development Corp., $50,000; BizStarts in Milwaukee, $191,000; the Hmong American Center in Wausau, $60,000; Doyenne in Madison, $90,000; the Wisconsin Native Loan Fund in Lac du Flambeau, $100,000; the Langlade County Economic Development Corp., $62,000; and FOR-M in Milwaukee, $200,000. 

See the release: https://wedc.org/blog/wedc-awards-more-than-1-million-to-entrepreneurship-groups/ 


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– Wisconsin farm bureau boosts member value


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– Milwaukee could land skate park, street improvements near Michels development


– La Crosse County, city hope new partnership will better coordinate efforts to reduce homelessness



– Three dead due to cold, wind chill advisory extended through Wednesday



– Wisconsin’s youth continue to struggle with depression, thoughts of suicide


– Social isolation among elderly peaks in winter months


– 1 in 10 Wisconsin teens attempted suicide in last 3 years; half deal with depression, anxiety



– Johnson Controls salespeople file complaint against company to recoup ‘millions’ in commissions


– Sherman Phoenix Foundation welcomes new board members, names Thompson as president and CEO


– Cinesthesia film series turns a new page at Madison Public Library


– Antetokounmpo brothers form production and brand strategy company

– Menominee actress Alaqua Cox hopes her Marvel character ‘Echo’ inspires Indigenous people



– Mount Pleasant supporting 600 apartments east of Microsoft’s data center


– Uline to build 3rd headquarters office building in Pleasant Prairie


– How much does it cost to rent an apartment at The Couture?


– More details emerge about The Couture’s commercial space

– The Buzz: Online military surplus business moves into former Harp Gallery building



– Gianna’s Sweets & K-fe pastries showcase Puerto Rican flavors



– Rebecca Valcq to leave Public Service Commission


<i>See these and other press releases: 

https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>

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