• WisBusiness

Friday, May 28, 2010

GreenBiz: Small communities look to cooperate on energy projects


By Gregg Hoffmann
VIROQUA - Ten small communities in the Driftless Area have come together to form the largest energy independence planning coalition in the state.

With the Crawford County Extension Office serving as a catalyst and liaison, and through the efforts of local energy independence teams, and Jim Olson, Todd Osman and John Fergus, who formed E3 (Energy, Environment & Economic Coalition LLC), the coalition members have received sizeable grants for planning and implementation of energy projects ranging from retrofitting of municipal buildings to solar and other projects.

Participating in the coalition are Crawford County, Fennimore, Ferryville, Gays Mills, LaFarge, Prairie du Chien, Soldiers Grove, Vernon County, Viola and Viroqua.

“It is very difficult for any one community, especially if they are small, to put together a successful grant on its own,” said Olson, who has a background in residential and small commercial energy efficient development.

“There is fragmentation in the granting agencies on the various levels of government and elsewhere. It is very difficult for a farmer or layman, or small municipalities to wade through it and find where they can get help.”

Osman said it also becomes a matter of scale, with larger companies and agencies often working with larger communities and businesses.

“By coming together on a regional level, you gain some scale, and you can share knowledge with people from other communities,” said Osman, a designer and builder of “green” residences with 30 years experience.

The process involved in the effort started with the participating municipalities taking a good hard look at their energy usage. Energy independence teams were formed in each community.

Those teams have been working to “develop a regional plan that increases our energy independence and supports the statewide goal of generating 25 percent of electricity and transportation fuels from renewable resources by 2025.” These goals come from Gov. Jim Doyle’s 25X25 plan.

The goal also is “to use an approach that is specific to our regional resources and needs and that engages local institutions, businesses and citizens.”

Funds for these projects have come primarily though the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EESBG) program. Focus on Energy and other agencies also have been very active with the coalition.

E3 LLC has played the role of consultant and coordinator to the coalition of municipalities. Laura Brown of the Crawford County Extension played a big role in serving as a catalyst and liaison with state agencies and remains an educational resource in the effort.

Business involvement is a key to the long-range effort, Olson and Osman said. Private contractors will bid on the various retrofitting and other projects. Companies also can work with the E3 coalition on developing their own projects.

The local municipalities do make matching pledges when receiving grants. They often pledge to use some of the money saved by becoming more energy efficient to help pay some of the costs of the projects, and at times make “in-kind” matches of labor.

Some of the larger projects to receive grants so far include a $215,200 retrofitting effort in Vernon County buildings and facilities and a $204,400 retrofitting project in the City of Viroqua. In retrofitting, light fixtures and other energy units are updated and replaced with more efficient equipment.

Olson said a $150,000 solar project for heating water at the Vernon Manor, a retirement community, is one of the more visible projects being funded.

The coalition members received the grants earlier this spring, so members have been hustling to get projects in place. Olson said they hope to have all the retrofitting projects wrapped up by the end of this year, although the grant period for them does extend into 2011.

In the future, Olson and Osman hope E3 can apply for PACE (Property Assessment Clean Energy) grants, which would be available to middle income home owners for making their residences more energy efficient. They also want to do more work with companies developing wind, solar and bio-fuels.

“These are naturals for the area we are in,” Osman said, “and we believe we can accomplish more by working on a regional level.”

While the E3 coalition collectively is the largest energy independence planning group in the state by no means is it the only one. As of January of this year, 137 communities around the state had offered support of Doyle’s 25X25 plan.

Twenty-three community groups received pilot grants in 2009. The 2010 Wisconsin Energy Independent Community Partnership Pilots are the counties of Crawford, Eau Claire, Green Lake, Polk, Shawano, Vernon and Waukesha, the cities of Altoona, Eau Claire, Fennimore, Gays Mills, Jefferson, Kaukauna, Monona, Prairie du Chien, Viroqua and Whitewater, the villages of Ferryville, La Farge, Soldiers Grove and Viola and the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. Ten of those communities are part of the E3 coalition.

“These grants will help Wisconsin communities across the state seize the opportunity to save money through energy efficiency and grow a strong new part of our economy in clean energy,” Doyle said at the time the grants were announced.

“Through the Recovery Act, our communities will lead as the world moved rapidly in the direction of clean energy and energy efficiency. We spend $16 billion on fossil fuel energy every year in Wisconsin, and all those dollars are lost to our economy. By working toward these ambitious renewable energy goals, we ill create good jobs and continue our state’s clean energy leadership.”

Since the planning grants were announced, Doyle has announced that 82 communities in the state had received more than $9.5 million in ARRA grants for retrofitting and lighting projects.

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He will write the GreenBiz column monthly.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book review: "The Cost of Bad Behavior"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath c.2009, Portfolio $25.95 / $32.50 Canada 240 pages
One of your co-workers is a big dummy.

When he started, everybody thought he'd be a superstar. His references were unusually glowing and he was a real go-getter, but then he slipped up a few times and got reprimanded at a company confab. Word spread pretty quickly.

Now nobody even bothers to invite him to meetings. It's no use. The superstar is a super slacker.

Is he inept? Perhaps, or he might be the victim of incivility and that could be very expensive for your business. In the new book "The Cost of Bad Behavior" by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, you'll see how attitude and old-fashioned rudeness can sink a business from inside and outside.

Sure, you've been publicly reprimanded or ignored at work. You didn't like it and you're not alone: in a 2005 survey, ninety-five percent of U.S. employees reported being the victim of incivility at work. Ninety-nine percent of Canadian workers said they'd witnessed incivility on the job.

Incivility, it seems, is epidemic. And like a nasty virus, it spreads through your organization quickly and can affect the bottom line.

When an employee is repeatedly treated uncivilly, it costs in productivity. Nearly 100% of respondents in a study said that when they were victims of incivility, they wasted considerable work-hours re-hashing the event. Some took the issue home with them, which led to stress, which led to absenteeism. Nearly half decreased their time spent at work or decreased their effort. Over three-quarters admitted that their commitment to the corporation declined.

Each year, businesses lose valuable talent from their payrolls because of incivility. Many of those workers quit, costing the business time and money in finding and re-training a replacement. And nearly every one of those who were victims said they got revenge in one way or another.

And if a client witnesses incivility? Chances are, you'll lose not only a good employee, but a good customer, too.

So what can you do? If you're a business owner, set a zero-tolerance policy and listen to your employees. If you're the target, recognize the toll incivility takes and appeal to a higher authority. And if you're an offender, start with ABCDs.

All your life, Mama said you'd never get anywhere without manners. This book proves Mama was right.

Using interviews, case studies, and real (shocking) events, authors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath show that plain old rudeness isn't so plain any more, and that being nasty can have nasty repercussions. Aside from the jaw-dropping examples they cite and the statistics they present – both of which will make you cringe - what's probably most helpful for businesspeople is the section on determining monetary loss resulting from incivility. Yes, indeed, when bad words fly out of your mouth at work, money flies out of your wallet.

If you notice too much snarkiness at work or if you believe you and your co-workers could do better in the Nice Department, pick up this book and read "The Cost of Bad Behavior" together as a team.

Please.

Thank you.

-- Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Creating Wisconsin jobs, renewing American sea power


By Jim Doyle
As our nation recovers from the worst economic times since the Great Depression, we have taken aggressive action in Wisconsin to find opportunities for businesses to create jobs. While we have seen successes at companies like Mercury Marine and Republic Airways, we must continue supporting our businesses and workers.

We are actively working with companies across the state, including Marinette Marine, one of two finalists for a Navy contract to design and build the next generation of American warships, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The project would put Marinette Marine on the map for decades. Most importantly, it would create up to 2,200 new jobs at the company’s northeast Wisconsin facility and thousands more at suppliers in the region.

As governor I have made it a priority to help Marinette Marine succeed and create thousands of jobs. At my direction, the Departments of Commerce, Workforce Development and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority created a $49 million incentive package through a series of tax credits.

The economic impact this Navy contract could have on Wisconsin cannot be understated. An economic study of the LCS project found it would create nearly 16,000 jobs nationwide, with 5,000 of those jobs right here in Wisconsin. More than 250 Wisconsin businesses, many of them small businesses, would supply goods or services to help Marinette Marine build these ships. In terms of job creation and economic impact, the LCS project would be like bringing a big new auto plant to northeast Wisconsin.

A successful bid by Marinette would go a long way in reinvigorating the shipbuilding and maritime engineering industries on the Great Lakes. And, because Wisconsin is home to most highly-skilled, well-trained workers in the nation, we are uniquely qualified to lead next generation of American sea power.

Marinette Marine is no stranger to the LCS project, having already built and launched the first Littoral Combat Ship, the U.S.S. Freedom. Since its initial deployment, the U.S.S. Freedom has won high marks from its crew and the Navy personnel, particularly for its work in fighting drug trafficking in the western Caribbean on its maiden voyage to San Diego. During this time, the ship and its crew completed four successful drug interdictions, seizing more than five tons of cocaine and capturing 13 suspected drug smugglers. I am proud of the contribution Marinette Marine and its employees have already made to secure the safety of international waters and to stop the drug trade.

This is an important partnership for Wisconsin, and a successful bid by Marinette Marine would contribute to the long-term health of our state economy. The incentive package we developed will help cover payroll and worker training costs, and provide investments in a plant or equipment. This investment, made through tax credits and not a cash payment, will more than pay for itself with a successful bid by Marinette.

Later this summer, the Navy will select a design and award a contract to build the Littoral Combat Ships. Working with Marinette Marine, and their parent companies Lockheed Martin and Fincantieri, we can bring thousands of jobs to Wisconsin’s and put one of our great companies on the map.

-- Doyle, a Democrat, is the governor of Wisconsin.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Next up: Will the National Institutes of Health rule on local zoning laws?


By Tom Still
Here's a partial list of federal agencies and academic groups that regulate if, how and when animals are used in research settings:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care and the UW-Madison All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee.

The job simply won't be complete, however, until the Dane County Board of Supervisors gives its stamp of approval.

A special committee of the board may be created to study whether Dane County should officially "endorse" or "oppose" scientific experiments on non-human primates in Dane County. Sponsors of the idea recognize the county has no authority over animal research policies at UW-Madison, where monkeys are a part of some experiments, but they want to keep up pressure on the university on behalf of those who believe all primate research is wrong.

At one level, it's possible to understand why animal-rights advocates passionately oppose experiments involving animals. No one likes to see another creature suffer needlessly.

Beyond the passion, however, exist facts about animal-based research that run counter to the steady drumbeat of opposition.

Our quality of life has been improved significantly by biological research that sometimes relies on the use of animals in controlled experiments. A generation or more of people has never known what it was like to be unable to swim in the summer for fear of contracting polio, to go blind or deaf because of infections, or to expect that any cancer diagnosis was a death sentence.

Animal-based research has helped provide cures and treatments in those case and many more. Biotechnology companies have depended on animal research to develop more than 160 drugs and vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Those discoveries have helped hundreds of millions of people worldwide and prevented incalculable human suffering.

In addition, BIO has reported, animal research has led to 110 USDA-approved biotech-derived veterinary biologics and vaccines that improve the health of livestock, poultry and companion animals. Biotech veterinary products to treat heartworm, arthritis, parasites, allergies and heart disease, as well as vaccines for rabies and feline HIV, are used daily by veterinarians. Biotechnology has improved the way veterinarians address animal health issues through the use of biotech vaccines and diagnostic kits and improved breeding programs that can help to eliminate hereditary diseases.

All of this has been accomplished amid an array of government regulation and researcher self-policing that has made examples of animal mistreatment rare. At UW-Madison, the All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee functions as an oversight body for all animal use. Such institutional bodies are required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The USDA and National Institutes of Health regularly inspect research institutions to verify the well-being and care of animals. With very few exceptions, animals used in research -- predominantly rodents and rabbits -- do not suffer more pain or distress than animals outside the lab. In fact, lab animals often receive the best of care because of their value to researchers.

Computer modeling has already reduced the amount of animal research. So has cell-based research, such as the use of animal embryonic stem cells in drug testing. In the future, use of human embryonic stem cells in drug testing could further reduce the use of animals in research. In fact, UW-Madison researcher Jamie Thomson's breakthroughs with human stem cells rested on his doing the work first in monkeys.

For now and well into the future, animal testing will be a part of scientific research. That research is being conducted safely and humanely by researchers who are a dedicated to finding cures for some of mankind's worst diseases -- as well as conditions that plague animals themselves.

Existing laws, federal oversight and campus self-policing is all based on one concept: Researchers should never unnecessarily burden animals in research. With rare exceptions, that core ethical idea is respected and routinely observed -- even without the help of the Dane County Board.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Four reasons why the Legislature should override Doyle’s raw milk veto


By Joe Plasterer
The absentee governor has made his choice. He chose to cower in the face of well-funded special interest at the expense of mom & pop Wisconsin.

Never mind that his deficit-spending DATCP agents were putting profitable family farms out of business during the worst economic depression this state has seen, right before winter.

He was cozy in his taxpayer-supported mansion on the lake. He had already retired from the job but wanted to savor the perks before he went looking for his next gig. He knew he had nothing to fear from voters by going back on his word.

Members of the current Legislature running for re-election can enjoy no such comfort. Predictions are for a Democratic incumbent bloodbath. Even heir-apparent Republicans shouldn’t get too comfortable. Looking ahead to this fall election season, Wisconsin legislators should override Gov. Jim Doyle's veto. Here are four good reasons why:

-- SB 434 has popular support.

The bill passed in both the Senate (25-8) and the Assembly (60-35) with significant majorities and bi-partisan support. People showed up in large numbers at the public hearings, to an extent that many elected officials and staff have never seen, with an estimated 750 attending in Eau Claire and 150 registered to speak. People have been calling, demonstrating at the Capitol, writing articles, giving interviews and engaging their elected officials. There is popular support for this bill to protect people’s freedom to choose their food and who they buy it from. The support for this bill spans the political spectrum, from the alternative health crowd to the local food folks to the Tea Partiers. And given their collective disappointment with government, the raw milk issue is not going away.

-- This bill is a small pilot project with a sunset.

Based on the conditions set forth in this bill, this law would have a very limited initial impact. This bill would create an 18-month “test” window where registered dairy farmers can sell directly to consumers who come to their farm. It would provide a “pilot project” opportunity to see and study what impact the limited sales of raw milk have on food safety and the rural economy. Since there are an estimated 100 farms selling raw milk directly to the consumers out of Wisconsin’s 12,967 licensed milk-producing farms, very few will likely be participating. The bill provides a visible, public and low-impact way to test an idea while we measure it for food safety and viability so we can make science-driven policy decisions.

-- The bill’s critics have questionable motives.

Lawmakers may want to question the motives of the bill’s critics. There was ample time for the critics, many of them large agribusiness concerns, some with out-of-state ownership, to engage in an open debate in committee hearings with legislators and the public. Given the limited scope of the bill, it appears that Big Ag is making a “mountain out of a molehill.” Unless there are other motivations, of course.

Consider that these agribusiness concerns are more interested in protecting their iron-grip on the liquid milk supply chain and would prefer to “nip this in the bud.” Given that 28 states and many countries in western Europe allow raw milk sales, their public health fears are only a smoke-screen.

-- Showing some spine in support of the freedom to choose raw milk might save incumbent legislators from the bloodbath.

A veto override will tell voters that you are there for them FIRST, that you're not some life-long politico who has never had to make a living with his own hands, whose mortgage and health care were guaranteed, thanks to a generous public salary and benefits package. You can stand proud telling your constituents that you are not a puppet of big out-of-state agribusiness with an army of lobbyists and fear-mongering PR minions.

With your constituents you will be able to cheer as the U.S. Department of Justice's new agricultural anti-trust unit looks into the monopolistic, unfair trade practices that keep Wisconsin’s milk price the lowest in the nation.

And maybe your constituents will remember that you are just like them, trying to make it through the great recession with your family intact, helping where you can.

Many legislators from both parties (85 out of 132) get it.

The governor doesn’t. That’s why his "Clean Energy Jobs Act" didn’t pass. He didn’t understand that when you take care of people, they take care of you. When you help without asking for payback, they help without question.

-- Plasterer serves as the consumer representative on the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Raw Milk Working Group. He and his wife, Melinda Starkweather, and their three children, Jack, Kate and Josh, have been drinking local Wisconsin raw milk for nearly seven years.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gulf oil spill fuels cries for replacements, but can biofuels industry scale up?


By Tom Still
The April 20 explosion onboard the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 workers and unleashed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, has renewed public calls for fuels that aren’t as toxic to the environment.

The question is whether technology and public policy are within range of meeting the nation’s demand for “green” fuels.

Scientists for years have shown they can produce liquid fuels from grass, leaves, wood and much more. But the question dogging the renewable fuels industry has always been “scale.’’

Can anyone out there produce these fuels on a scale needed to power the world’s cars and trucks?

That question took center stage earlier this month at BIO International, the world’s largest gathering of the bio-science industry, where many promising biofuels technologies were on display. But how soon can that promise be met?

“We’ve had a lot of industries tell us: Don’t show tell us you have the perfect molecule. Don’t tell us you can produce it for $1.05 a gallon. Show us you can do it at scale,’’ said Jonathan Wolfson, CEO of Solazyme, a San Francisco area company that has developed a system that uses algae to convert cellulosic materials such as wood and crop waste into “in spec” jet fuel.

“Each technology faces specific challenges to commercialization – and we have a long way to go to get to fuel scale.’’

The problems are well known. Fossil fuels are still plentiful, cheap and contain more BTUs of energy than alcohol fuels. And America uses a lot of energy – about 400 million gallons of gasoline a day just to power cars and trucks.

Dozens of companies are working on different solutions. Some are focused on making fuel from cellulosic material because it is abundant and cheap. At the same time, its sugars are locked tightly within its fibrous membranes so they’re difficult to economically extract – and the alcohol-based fuels from crop “sugars” are usually blended, not used a stand-alone source of fuel.

Solazyme’s technology takes wood and crop waste that has been processed to extract its sugars, which are then fed to algae microbes. The microbes produce oil nearly identical to jet fuel, which Wolfson called a “drop-in’’ fuel because it can be used by cars and trucks that won’t have to be modified.

While the technology can produce large volumes of fuel, Solazyme does not yet have a pilot plant. And even at full scale, a microbial fuel factory would not produce the amount of fuel in a year what a commercial petroleum refinery would produce in a day.

At Virent Energy in Madison, the process of producing larger amounts of fuel – also “drop-in” fuels because they are chemically identical to gasoline and jet fuel – is more advanced. But it will be quite some time before Virent, which has investors as large as Shell Oil, Cargill and Honda, can produce biofuels by the hundreds of thousands of gallons.

There are 30 cellulosic biofuel plants built or under construction, according to a report on the biofuels industry released this year. But most are small and many are still part of a research effort to “scale” future production plants.

“The solutions will likely be regional,” said Troy Runge, director of the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative. “You’ll see different technologies in the southeast, such as algae and solar, where they have a lot of sun. In the Midwest, where we have a lot of rain but less light and heat, you’ll see other technologies that utilize grasses and wood which we have in abundance.’’

Runge said that conversion technologies to unlock sugars from plant materials are only a part of the equation. Also needed are the businesses and marketing systems necessary to collect, store and process the tens of millions of tons of cellulose feedstock materials required to produce enough fuels for a modern economy.

Still, there are examples of success. The U.S. ethanol industry, spurred by enormous government incentives, last year produced 12 billion gallons of ethanol alcohol – and Brazil converted its enormous sugar cane industry to a system that produces almost all of its transportation fuel.

The technologies are there. What’s needed is a consistent government policy that allows investors to put money in the best ideas and to stick with them as they scale up. Make no mistake: Oil will be with us for a long time. Without investment and policies that will bring biofuels production up to scale, the migration from oil will take that much longer.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Turning 50? How to afford retirement account catch-up contributions



By Kevin Reardon
It certainly might not be everyone’s idea of excitement, but when it comes to saving for retirement, turning 50 is when things start getting a lot more interesting. That’s because people age 50 and over can make what are known as “catch-up” contributions to IRAs and most workplace-based retirement plans. These special contributions are in addition to regular contribution limits and allow individuals to maximize the amount of tax-advantaged retirement savings they can stash away.

The catch-up phenomenon has never been more important as American workers attempt to rebuild retirement savings that were devastated by recent market losses. Taxpayers 50 or older are permitted to make additional contributions beyond standard limits.

For calendar year 2010, here are the standard contribution limits with their catch-up amount:

* Traditional and Roth IRAs have a standard contribution limit of $5,000 with an over-50 catch-up contribution of $1,000 for a total contribution limit of $6,000.

* SIMPLE IRAs have a standard contribution limit of $11,500 with an over-50 catch-up contribution of $2,500 for a total contribution limit of $14,000.

* 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), Roth 401(k) and Roth 403(b) plans have a standard contribution limit of $16,500 with a catch-up contribution of $5,500 for a total contribution limit of $22,000.

That’s all well and good, you might be saying to yourself. But where do you find the money? Here are some suggestions to help you make it happen:

Earn more
Yes, that’s a tall order in a tough economy. But if you can take on extra freelance work or a part-time job that you enjoy, you can work to extinguish debt and maximize your savings.

Cut out the extras
Either on paper or on the computer, write down every dollar you spend in the average week (and be sure to cut off credit card use during that week). At the end of that week, start marking out non-essential items just to see how much you could live without. Start with gourmet coffee and restaurant or carryout meals and work backward from there. Don’t forget those regular monthly expenditures that can really add up. Do you really need premium cable? Can you surrender your landline in favor of a cell phone that’s matched to the exact number of minutes you’ll need? Can you afford a higher deductible on your health, home or auto insurance to save on premiums?

Set a budget
Once you’ve established how your income covers the essential expenses you must plan for and a few inexpensive treats that should stay in, build a budget that includes specific amounts you can allocate toward debt. Going forward, keep a running total of all spending and revisit how that budget is working on a monthly basis until you start to see some positive results. Once you’re on the right path, you can review the performance of that budget a little less frequently.

If you can do it safely, take over home and auto maintenance yourself
The do-it-yourself movement is in a new phase with the economic downturn. For any home or auto maintenance chores you may have during the year, learn as much as you can about those tasks and estimate the cost of materials and your time before doing them yourself. Previous generations made do-it-yourself a necessity. See if that option is right for you and you might save considerable money doing it. Also, for bigger jobs, pair up with friends and family and you can help each other save money.

Turn down the thermostat and park the car
Don’t underestimate the value of energy savings in your budget. Keep the temperature down at home and opt for public transit, biking and walking where you need to go. For a look at how much public transit can save you, go to the American Public Transit Association’s gas savings calculator . Walking or biking will not only save your money, it’ll do wonders for your health.

Go debit
Debit cards wearing a bankcard logo are typically welcome at most stores where credit cards are accepted. This way, you pay cash without carrying cash. If you don’t have such a card, you can probably get one from your bank to replace your traditional ATM card. However, remember to tell them to limit your buying power on the card to only what you have in your account. Make sure to use overdraft protection to avoid fees.

Buy used for yourself
If you need clothing, a car or a new watch to replace the old one that’s past fixing, it might be worthwhile to buy second-hand at shops or on the Internet. Plenty of people have unloaded items in relatively good shape to bring in cash during the recent downturn. Get in the habit of saving money on everything.

You know the old saying, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ Nobody likes getting older but with a little planning and a lot of self-discipline, you can begin to restore those retirement dreams.

-- Reardon is owner & president of Brookfield-based Shakespeare Wealth Management Inc.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Why America admires small business


By Dan Danner
It’s conventional wisdom these days: Many people are frustrated, even angry, with government and other major sectors of society.

New research from the Pew Research Center confirms this thinking. In a recent survey, the group asked Americans whether they thought 13 different institutions and sectors had a positive or negative effect on the way things are going.

At the bottom of the list are large corporations (64 percent said negative), the federal government (65 percent), Congress (65 percent) and banks and financial institutions (69 percent negative).

So who’s on top? Small businesses.

Seventy-one percent of Americans say small businesses have a positive effect on the way things are going in this country. And when you look at the total picture of what small businesses do every day, it’s easy to understand why Americans feel the way they do.

Of course, small business owners start and build businesses, creating most of this country’s new jobs along the way, providing employment for millions of workers. And they support other businesses from which they buy goods and services, including, for example, the advertising that supports the media outlet where you’re reading this.

But small business owners are also frequently the lifeblood of the communities in which they live and work.

Consider these facts from National Federation of Independent Business’ Research Foundation:

* Ninety-one percent of small business owners contribute to their community through volunteering, in-kind contributions, and/or direct cash donations.

* The estimated average value of contributions is $6,600 per small employer, for a total of roughly $40 billion.

* Seventy-four percent volunteer the equivalent of 18 working days per year for community and charitable activities.

Those contributions of time and money support a wide variety of groups, including schools, civic organizations, community groups such as Lions and Rotary clubs, youth sports and athletic teams, and many other organizations that help to make up a community.

Why do they do it? The most important reason, they said, is “personal satisfaction and fulfillment.” The least important reason was because they expected any kind of direct business benefits.

Small business owners also said that creating a better business climate and making the community a better place to live were important reasons to contribute.

So here’s the Pew survey’s real message to government, policymakers and others: If you want to turn around the public’s negative view of you, you’d do best to promote the policies and practices that support small businesses. We’ll be a better country for it.

-- Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business in Washington, D.C.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Challenges facing biotechnology won't stop long-term growth


By Tom Still
Has the much-anticipated "BioCentury" ended after only a decade?

That unspoken question rippled through this month's BIO International Convention in Chicago, where the shock waves caused by the collapse of the financial markets, regulatory pressures and even health-care reform left some observers nervous about what will come next for an industry that has grown accustomed to double-digit growth.

The annual BIO convention is traditionally a time when scientists, business leaders, major pharmaceutical companies and investors come together to examine the latest research, forge partnerships and, typically, celebrate another banner year. For many of the 15,000-plus BIO participants on hand in Chicago, that was as true in 2010 as in past years.

But some surveys, reports and regulatory updates at the convention sounded alarms about specific threats to the biotech industry – in particular those segments that are more dependent on venture capital or captive to long regulatory delays.

A paper released by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu went so far as to declare biotech's future "grim" if a convergence of threats continue, not the least of which is a shortage of early stage companies in the pipeline in some sectors. Deloitte also surveyed 281 biotech executives in late 2009, and 70 percent said they feared 20 percent to 40 percent of all biotech companies existing at the time would be gone within five years.

Throughout the week, speakers recited a litany of challenges: less venture capital due largely to the collapse of the financial markets, continued patent backlogs, more regulatory delays at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the delay in reauthorizing the federal Small Business Innovation Research grant program, attacks on the Bayh-Dole bill that accelerated transfer of university research, and even some provisions of the health-care reform bill.

The health-care bill contains $1 billion in tax credits for "therapeutic discovery projects," aimed at biotech companies with 250 employees or less, but it also reduces federal reimbursement payments over time to physicians and health-care centers that use newer drugs, medical devices and other products to treat patients. As the government increasingly looks over the shoulders of prescribing physicians, some speakers warned, they will be less willing to adopt innovation.

The new director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was remarkably frank about the backlogs in his own agency, even acknowledging that delays are stifling innovation and costing the nation millions of jobs.

"Hundreds of thousands of groundbreaking innovations that are sitting on the shelf literally waiting to be examined – jobs not being created, lifesaving drugs not going to the marketplace, companies not being funded, businesses not being formed – there's really not any good news in any of this," said David Kappos, director of the patent office.

Others think the future remains bright for biotech, especially over the long term. Biotechnology has only begun the search for diagnostics and cures for most major diseases, especially in the developing world. Other frontiers of discovery include opportunities to create more and better foods, fuels and environmental solutions.

One relative optimist is Wisconsin native G. Steven Burrill, who spoke to a crowd that included many Wisconsin and Minnesota participants, and who also unveiled his 24th annual report on the state of the industry.

"It's a fabulous time to be alive in the industry," said Burrill, founder of Burrill & Co., a merchant bank that has invested heavily in the sector. He said biotechnology is poised to solve some of the world's most pressing problems and its companies are, by and large, adapting to change.

"Many were writing our obits last year and we simply proved them wrong," Burrill said.

Biotechnology was an infant industry 25 years ago and it has a market cap of $400 billion today. The "BioCentury" will march on, even if some of the problems facing biotechnology continue to challenge the industry as the decade rolls ahead. Fortunately, Wisconsin's biotech industry remains well-positioned to meet those challenges.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Doyle should veto raw milk bill to protect state's dairy industry


By David Ward
Recently in a BizOpinion column, raw milk advocate Joe Plasterer gave his opinion as to why Gov. Jim Doyle should sign Senate Bill 434, which authorizes a dairy farmer with a grade A dairy farm permit to sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers on the farm if the dairy farmer obtains a raw milk permit from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Mr. Plasterer centered his opinion around the economic benefits to rural Wisconsin of allowing Wisconsin dairy farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers. What Mr. Plasterer doesn’t tell you is that Wisconsin has a lot to lose once an illness caused by the consumption of raw milk tarnishes the healthy image Wisconsin’s dairy industry has worked so hard to build and sustain.

According to the American Public Health Association, states that permit the sale of unpasteurized dairy products have nearly three times the risk of having unpasteurized product-related outbreaks and nearly twice the risk of having outbreak-associated illnesses. Of particular concern to APHA is the high proportion of children involved in milk-borne disease outbreaks and the potential for serious illness. It’s not a question of if someone will become ill from the consumption of raw milk, it is a question of when.

I find it hard to understand that the same Legislature that wants to protect public health and safety by banning texting while driving will allow Wisconsin citizens to purchase a product that they know will make people sick.

The dairy industry in Wisconsin is a $26.5 billion industry. Dairy means more to Wisconsin than orange juice means to Florida or potatoes mean to Idaho.

While Mr. Plasterer says the dairy industry will gain from having consumers from Wisconsin cities drive out to the country to purchase raw milk, he is missing a much larger point. Wisconsin dairy farmers produce over 25 billion pounds of milk per year. According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, 90 percent of Wisconsin’s milk production goes into cheese and 90 percent of that cheese is sold outside the state of Wisconsin. These sales of Wisconsin cheese help bring needed dollars into the states economy from outside the state.

Any disease caused by the sale of raw milk could put Wisconsin’s $26.5 billion dairy industry in jeopardy. Mr. Plasterer points out that other states “have figured it out how to make it work,” but these states do not have as much to lose if their healthy dairy image is tarnished.

Governor Doyle has been a leader in allowing Wisconsin’s $26.5 billion dairy industry to move forward. Through his leadership dairy production is at an all time high, cow numbers are increasing and sales of Wisconsin dairy products are world wide.

Doyle should look at the economic health of the entire dairy industry and veto SB 434.

-- Ward is dIrector of government relations & dairy for the Cooperative Network.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book review: “Start Where You Are”


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
by Chris Gardner
c.2009, HarperAudio $29.99 / $38.99 Canada 6 hours / 5 CDs



This summer, you’re really going to do it. There’s no other choice.

You’ve stalled long enough. No more dragging your feet. You need some sort of income, so you’ve decided to start your own business, change careers, take on additional responsibility.

You’ve made up your mind. Now it’s time to figure out what to do next. In the new audiobook “Start Where You Are” by Chris Gardner, you’ll see that you already possess the information you need. You just have to put it all together.

Sometimes, when you have an idea, just thinking about acting on it can be overwhelming. You hardly know where to start or whom to ask for help. Gardner says that you don’t need to worry so much if you remember that your greatest assets are within you. You have the power to determine who you become.

But your dream is just that – a dream – unless you have a plan to implement it. Do your R&D and make a plan that focuses on what you want to do. And don’t be afraid about moving too slowly; Gardner says he drives his staff crazy by repeating this mantra: Baby steps count, too, as long as you go forward.

But speaking of forward, don’t be afraid of yesterday. Identify your past and know how you got to where you are, but give yourself permission to dismiss parts of it that don’t match the person you are.

Oh, and it is possible to forgive transgressions without forgetting them.

Find your passion and keep your eyes on it. Put things into perspective and never disconnect with yourself or the person you want to be. “Know yourself, be yourself, choose for yourself.” Practice the Five C’s: clear, concise, committed, consistent, and confident.

Seize every opportunity you can to get on-the-job training. Be willing to go back to the basics if you stray from the path you’ve chosen. Make friends before you need them. Pick your battles wisely. Be both an apprentice and a mentor.

Above all, know that it’s okay to fail but not to quit, and remember that there is no “secret” to success.

Once upon a time, author Chris Gardner was one of the “working homeless”, and in this audiobook, he uses his early adulthood as an example for what he preaches. Because he started from the bottom and is now the CEO and owner of Gardner Rich LLC, you can bet that everything he says here was personally vetted.

While what you’ll learn in “Start Where You Are” is definitely helpful, listening to it is a bit difficult, particularly if you’re trying to do other things while you’re listening. The tips come fast, and there are so many of them that you’ll almost need to clear your schedule and listen twice.

But if you’re just beginning a new career, you won’t mind. And if you’ve been around the business block a time or three, this audiobook is a great brain-poking reminder. Pick up a copy of “Start Where You Are.”

And then do it.

-- Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Raw milk bill offers family farms, rural economy and governor a win


By Joe Plasterer
On the last day of session the governor was handed a defeat and possibly an unexpected victory. His Clean Energy Jobs Bill was delayed, preventing him from achieving a goal he sought to help define his second term. Yet with the passage of Senate Bill 434, a bill to legalize and regulate the sale of raw milk directly between farmers and consumers, he was given an opportunity to sign into law a bill to help put Wisconsin family farms and rural economies back on the path to profitability.

It’s no secret that the state has been losing independent family farms steadily. Most farm families need to have jobs off the farm just to keep the farm. We’ve seen rural communities and small towns decline as rural talent leaves for the cities. The exception to this trend is the organic and natural foods market segment, growing at 25 percent year after year. And therein lies the opportunity for the governor to put Wisconsin back on the path to economic success for our small family farms and related industries.

With the passage of the raw milk bill in both the Senate (25-8) and the Assembly (60-35) he now has a chance to sign into law legislation that will help Wisconsin family farms that focus on grass-fed cows creating nutrient-rich whole milk to develop honest and direct commerce with people who want their products. These are the consumers who are driving the demand for organic and locally grown produce and dairy. These are the people who follow the studies tying the quality of their food to the quality of their health. These are the people who want to regain the health of our rural ancestors, who had the vitality to pioneer a great state, world-class educational institutions, innovative companies and championship teams.

There is money to be made for Wisconsin farm families who can sell their milk directly to consumers for $5 a gallon. These same farm families are opening profitable farm stores where they sell their own products, and those of their neighbors. Families from the city are willing to make the drive to buy meat, honey, maple syrup and baked goods. These farms are buying more land and expanding their herds. They are bringing family members in from out-of-state, creating more farms and reclaiming the land for nutrient-dense agriculture.

The money doesn’t just stay on the farm. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Sally Fallon Morrell, these farms are creating an economic multiplier effect. Sally estimates that for every dollar spent on the farm, $5 are spent in the local community. Local retailers, implement dealers and farm supply stores all could benefit from the growth of small farms. With the growth of the organic and natural foods market, sold directly to consumers and local retailers, success on our small family farms can lead to success for our rural communities.

Critics say that raw milk is potentially dangerous. And yet 28 states -- including dairy industry competitors California, New York, Texas, Washington and more -- have figured out how to make it work. There are over 1,300 raw milk vending machines in Italy and raw milk is easily available in France, the United Kingdom, Slovenia and beyond. Are the fear mongers saying that Wisconsinites aren’t smart enough to figure it out? (And yet the Slovenians can?) Are they afraid to try? Or are they trying to protect someone’s liquid milk supply chain in this state?

Some fear that raw milk will impact the reputation of the Wisconsin dairy Industry. What would happen if Wisconsin defined a new, higher quality of milk, rebranding milk to take market share away from our competitors?

Wisconsin profits and grows with the success of its family farms. I’m looking forward to seeing Gov. Jim Doyle sign this legislation into law, ensuring his legacy as the governor who secured Wisconsin’s sustainable and profitable future, starting on our innovative family farms and in our rural communities.

-- Plasterer serves as the consumer representative on the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Raw Milk Working Group. He and his wife, Melinda Starkweather, and their three children, Jack, Kate and Josh, were featured in the Wisconsin State Journal article "Raw milk all right." He says they have been drinking local Wisconsin raw milk for nearly seven years and they’ve never felt better.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New lead paint prevention rule protects our kids


By Karen Timberlake
Widespread use of lead-based paint in older housing throughout Wisconsin has poisoned more than 46,000 Wisconsin children since 1996. More than 1,000 Wisconsin kids are reported each year with newly diagnosed lead-poisoning. Although the use of lead in house paints was prohibited in 1978, high lead levels remain in the paint of many homes, particularly those built before 1950.

The changes will help to prevent lead poisoning, which creates very serious medical and behavioral problems. Lead interferes with a child’s normal brain development, resulting in lower IQ and behavior problems like aggression and hyperactivity. Lead exposure is a strong predictor of school disciplinary problems, delinquency and adult criminal behavior. It can also be fatal.

Children are most commonly poisoned by lead from lead-based paint dust or chips created by weathering or renovation in older homes. Tragically, some children are poisoned when contractors or homeowners try to remove old paint without using safe methods.

A new federal and state rule went into effect this month to make sure that workers who disturb painted surfaces in older homes don’t contaminate homes with dangerous lead dust. All contractors must now be trained and certified in lead-safe renovation, and adopt lead-safe work practices when working in older buildings. This rule applies to renovation projects that disturb paint in residential properties and child-occupied facilities, including child care facilities and schools, built before 1978.

The Department of Health Services has reached out vigorously to Wisconsin’s many contractors to explain the changes and has worked closely with contractor groups such as the Wisconsin Builder’s Association and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. The vast majority of contractors have responded positively, and they are well on their way to being prepared for these new requirements.

In fact, many contractors already follow similar procedures, because they are professionals who want to work cleanly and efficiently. The new procedures, such as making sure a finished construction project is left clean, simply make good business sense.

Wisconsin taxpayers, businesses, health insurers and families must bear the costs to Wisconsin residents for medical treatment, special education, juvenile justice, and future loss of earnings due to lead poisoning. Safe renovation practices pay off in avoided health care, special education and social costs as well as knowing each child can achieve their highest potential.

-- Timberlake is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

* Consumers can identify certified contractors in their community by either calling (608) 261-6876 or by consulting an on-line directory at http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/lead/CompanyList/index.htm

* Homeowners, contractors, rental/property owners/managers and others can learn more about the new Lead-Safe Renovation regulations and program at http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/lead.

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