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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

GreenBiz: Cedarburg architects keep green tradition strong with work on Wright building


By Gregg Hoffmann
Frank Lloyd Wright helped put Wisconsin on the map for architects with his work. Today, much of Wright’s work would be considered “green.”

The Kubala Washatko Associates Inc. (TKWA), a Cedarburg-based firm, is continuing that green tradition, and recently won national recognition for its addition to a work by the master himself.

The firm’s work on a 20,000 square foot addition to the First Unitarian Society Meeting House in Madison, completed in 2008, recently was selected to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Projects in the country.

Wright designed the original meeting house, which is on the National Historic Landmark list, in 1951.The addition had to be designed to not only be historically sensitive, but also “sustainably innovative.”

Strategies used by TKWA included the extensive use of recycled and regional materials, innovative thermal comfort systems, generous day lighting and natural ventilation, detailed storm water management planning and careful sourcing of energy-saving fixtures. The project also was awarded a LEED Gold rating by the U.S. Green Building Council.

TKWA worked closely with the congregation, Wright historians and experts from the State Historical Society and elsewhere and environmental experts on the project. “The three-party peer review process helped create a most compatible addition that beautifully complements Wright’s architecture,” said John G. Thorpe, a restoration architect and an AIA Peer Review Panel member.

“Both the process and the product are excellent models for future additions in landmark buildings in general and those of Frank Lloyd Wright in particular.”

Wayne Reckard of TKWA said the Madison project was a challenge and a joy for the firm. “The congregation is made up of highly-educated people, many from the faculty of the University of Wisconsin,” he said. “They wanted to have input and were a joy to work with. Working with the experts from around the country on Wright and the history also was a great experience.”

Specific challenges were presented by the topography around the meeting house and the need to blend the design with the historic original building.

“The slope is such that there was runoff from the site to neighbors, and the congregation members wanted to address that,” Reckard said. “We did that with a green roof to reduce runoff, landscaping features that added natural retention and other techniques.

“We were very sensitive to the concerns about maintaining the integrity of the original building. We sort of calmed everything down on the additio and created a curve that led back into the original.”

The project was a natural for TKWA, which embraces a design philosophy of “wholeness” -- an approach similar to that of Wright.

“Wholeness emphasizes that the build environment supports and enhances both human activity and natural living systems,” the TKWA web site reads, which was echoed by Reckard.

“The idea of sustainability and green design is a natural extension of wholeness-based thinking and is integrated into every project,” Reckard said.

TKWA was founded in 1980 by Tom Kubala and Allen Washatko, who remain very active in the firm and played principal roles in the Madison project. In 2006, TKWA received the AIA Firm Award, the highest honor given by the state’s professional service organization.

Over the years, TKWA has earned more than 90 state and national design awards. In fact, it won the same honor it received for the Madison project for the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, completed in 2007.

Other TKWA projects include the Alterra Corporate Headquarters, Cedarburg Performing Arts Center, nature centers in the Chippewa Valley and Cincinnati, the Harley Davidson University and HD York Tour Center, the J.W. Speaker Corporate Headquarters, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Schlitz Audubon Center and many others in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S.

TKWA also has established a presence in Costa Rica with the Rincon Master Plan.

“The desire for sustainable architecture has grown a great deal in recent years,” Reckard said. “More people just aren’t looking for an iconic building, but one that also relates to the people who will be in the building and around it, the neighborhood, the ecology.”

The First Unitarian project definitely fits that description. It also was not the only Wisconsin project to be listed in those Top 10 Green Projects. The OS House, a single family residence in Racine, also made the list.

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

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GreenBiz: Cedarburg architects keep green tradition strong with work on Wright building


By Gregg Hoffmann
Frank Lloyd Wright helped put Wisconsin on the map for architects with his work. Today, much of Wright’s work would be considered “green.”

The Kubala Washatko Associates Inc. (TKWA), a Cedarburg-based firm, is continuing that green tradition, and recently won national recognition for its addition to a work by the master himself.

The firm’s work on a 20,000 square foot addition to the First Unitarian Society Meeting House in Madison, completed in 2008, recently was selected to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Projects in the country.

Wright designed the original meeting house, which is on the National Historic Landmark list, in 1951.The addition had to be designed to not only be historically sensitive, but also “sustainably innovative.”

Strategies used by TKWA included the extensive use of recycled and regional materials, innovative thermal comfort systems, generous day lighting and natural ventilation, detailed storm water management planning and careful sourcing of energy-saving fixtures. The project also was awarded a LEED Gold rating by the U.S. Green Building Council.

TKWA worked closely with the congregation, Wright historians and experts from the State Historical Society and elsewhere and environmental experts on the project. “The three-party peer review process helped create a most compatible addition that beautifully complements Wright’s architecture,” said John G. Thorpe, a restoration architect and an AIA Peer Review Panel member.

“Both the process and the product are excellent models for future additions in landmark buildings in general and those of Frank Lloyd Wright in particular.”

Wayne Reckard of TKWA said the Madison project was a challenge and a joy for the firm. “The congregation is made up of highly-educated people, many from the faculty of the University of Wisconsin,” he said. “They wanted to have input and were a joy to work with. Working with the experts from around the country on Wright and the history also was a great experience.”

Specific challenges were presented by the topography around the meeting house and the need to blend the design with the historic original building.

“The slope is such that there was runoff from the site to neighbors, and the congregation members wanted to address that,” Reckard said. “We did that with a green roof to reduce runoff, landscaping features that added natural retention and other techniques.

“We were very sensitive to the concerns about maintaining the integrity of the original building. We sort of calmed everything down on the additio and created a curve that led back into the original.”

The project was a natural for TKWA, which embraces a design philosophy of “wholeness” -- an approach similar to that of Wright.

“Wholeness emphasizes that the build environment supports and enhances both human activity and natural living systems,” the TKWA web site reads, which was echoed by Reckard.

“The idea of sustainability and green design is a natural extension of wholeness-based thinking and is integrated into every project,” Reckard said.

TKWA was founded in 1980 by Tom Kubala and Allen Washatko, who remain very active in the firm and played principal roles in the Madison project. In 2006, TKWA received the AIA Firm Award, the highest honor given by the state’s professional service organization.

Over the years, TKWA has earned more than 90 state and national design awards. In fact, it won the same honor it received for the Madison project for the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, completed in 2007.

Other TKWA projects include the Alterra Corporate Headquarters, Cedarburg Performing Arts Center, nature centers in the Chippewa Valley and Cincinnati, the Harley Davidson University and HD York Tour Center, the J.W. Speaker Corporate Headquarters, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Schlitz Audubon Center and many others in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S.

TKWA also has established a presence in Costa Rica with the Rincon Master Plan.

“The desire for sustainable architecture has grown a great deal in recent years,” Reckard said. “More people just aren’t looking for an iconic building, but one that also relates to the people who will be in the building and around it, the neighborhood, the ecology.”

The First Unitarian project definitely fits that description. It also was not the only Wisconsin project to be listed in those Top 10 Green Projects. The OS House, a single family residence in Racine, also made the list.

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

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Monday, April 25, 2011

'Healthy choices' legislation offers cost-effective way to improve state's oral and overall health


By Steve Stoll
Thousands of children and adults in Wisconsin suffer from untreated dental problems, missing sleep, school and work due to pain and infection. They can’t eat properly or smile, and because oral health is critical to overall health, they risk other problems including heart disease, stroke, diabetes complications and oral cancer. As a general dentist, I’ve had to extract deteriorated teeth from children who were never taught to brush. I’ve diagnosed advanced gum disease in young adults who had never seen a dentist.

There are people who lack basic oral health care in every corner of our state. The Wisconsin Dental Association and its 3,000 members are committed to working with policy leaders to solve this heartbreaking problem, even amid the financial constraints Wisconsin currently faces. With this in mind, the WDA is asking state lawmakers to support legislation that will allow more Wisconsin residents to receive dental care – without an added burden to taxpayers.

The legislation is part of WDA’s “Healthy Choices” plan to reduce barriers to dental care.

In particular, the plan advocates for two small changes to the Wisconsin Dental Practice Act. First, it updates the state’s definition of dentistry to the American Dental Association definition, which clarifies that dentists can offer dental treatments and services based on the most recent scientific and technological advances. Wisconsinites would benefit from oral health care advancements and improved quality of care.

Second, the plan would allow dentists to delegate more duties – such as finishing fillings and removing sutures – to educated, trained and licensed dental hygienists and assistants with the close supervision of an on-site dentist. Requiring the supervision of a dentist maintains safety and provides patients with a vital link to routine and comprehensive dental care. Expanding delegated duties would help Wisconsin dentists and their staff care for more patients in a cost-effective and more efficient manner.

In addition, WDA also supports legislation that would prohibit dental benefit plans from setting fees for services not covered by the plan. To date, 21 states have passed similar legislation, allowing dentists and patients to make treatment decisions without third-party interference.

A healthy state is attractive to new businesses, jobs and economic growth. Dentists want to help, and we urge legislators to join us in our efforts to break down barriers to dental care for Wisconsin residents. Working together to support the WDA’s “Healthy Choices” plan – and without spending more tax money – we can help improve residents’ health and the health of our state.

-- Dr. Stoll, a practicing general dentist in Neenah, is president-elect of the Wisconsin Dental Association. For more information on the WDA, visit http://www.WDA.org. You can also find WDA on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do: The Great Uncoupling of the UW System


By Tom Still
Members of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee have signaled they’re approaching information overload when it comes to the proposed separation of the UW-Madison from the rest of the UW System. Is there a way, key lawmakers have asked, to construct a phased plan for giving the university more freedom to run its own affairs?

The answer should be “yes,” because the costs of limping along with the status quo are too high.

Leaders at UW-Madison and throughout the UW System have contended for years – almost before the ink was dry on the 1971 merger of the University of Wisconsin with the Wisconsin State University system – that the university needed more independence from state regulations. These rules cover everything from hiring to purchasing to construction, often adding time and cost to any process.

That’s particularly true at the UW-Madison, a 42,000-student campus that competes with the likes of Stanford, Harvard and MIT when it comes to landing research dollars, star faculty and world-class students.
But the UW-Madison is treated much like any other campus – or any other state agency, for that matter – when it comes to red tape. Perhaps that’s the price of being a public land-grant university, but it has become a death of a thousand paper cuts in an era when other leading research universities are free to compete.

Gov. Scott Walker, in his two-year budget bill, accepted the detailed advice of Chancellor Biddy Martin and proposed putting the UW-Madison on a separate track. While the UW-Madison would receive less financial support from the state, the Madison campus would gain freedom to manage its own affairs under the leadership of a new public-private authority.

Most UW System officials and chancellors believe a separate UW-Madison is an awful idea, mainly because they fear what might happen if two governing bodies (a new Madison authority and the Board of Regents) compete over scarce resources.

But state dollars are already scarce, with or without autonomy, so the issue becomes how to make lemon out of some particularly bitter lemons. Here are some possibilities for a tiered or phased approach:

* Allow the UW System’s two doctoral campuses – Madison and Milwaukee – immediate freedom to run their respective graduate and research programs as they see fit. Undergraduate programs, while connected in many seen and unseen ways, could wait.

* Lay out a schedule for autonomy, with doctoral campuses followed by other four-year comprehensive campuses and, finally, the two-year system. It need not happen all in one year or even one budget cycle.

* Continue existing student transfer agreements, research collaborations and other campus-to-campus programs. For example, the WiSys Technology Foundation is helping build the research-to-jobs capacity of campuses outside of Madison, but likely wouldn’t exist without the support of UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. If such mechanisms remain in place, it builds confidence that greater autonomy can work.

* Make the UW System more of a facilitator and less of a “middle man.” Some campus leaders in Madison insist it’s easier to build joint programs with private universities in Wisconsin than with other UW System campuses – and not because those campuses resist.

It’s possible that Martin and the UW System’s leadership are firmly entrenched on the issue of autonomy. But that hasn’t been the case with Walker, who has repeatedly said he would listen to alternatives that preserve the value of higher education for students, the state and its economy.

Leaders of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee also appear ready to hear other ideas on how to handle the Grand De-Merger. The right solution could help the UW-Madison as well as other UW campuses attract and retain key faculty, enhance research spending and promote job growth. Most important, it could also ensure that Wisconsin continues to produce graduates who can compete in the 21st century workforce.

Whether it’s a savvy Ph.D. researcher on the Madison campus or an uncertain freshman at UW-Barron County, everyone can gain from more flexible management of public higher education in Wisconsin. Lawmakers should use this opportunity to begin the process of achieving that goal – or risk forever losing the chance.

-- 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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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Congress answered the cry of Main Street (this time)


By Dan Danner
Every now and then, something really good happens in Washington, D.C. Every now and then, wrongs are righted and common sense prevails.

This month, there was a moment of logical resolution in Washington that didn’t make big headlines, but it should have because it was a major victory for America’s job creators: small-business owners.

On April 14th, President Obama signed a bill that repeals a small piece of the massive health-care reform law. The provision would have forced the nation’s small-business owners to spend an inordinate amount of time helping the IRS fill the so-called ‘tax gap’ – taxes that go uncollected for various reasons. By requiring every small business to file an IRS 1099 form for business-to-business transactions totaling $600 or more over the course of one year, the government hoped to catch enough otherwise-unreported revenue to contribute to payment for the colossal cost of the health-care law.

Talk about adding insult to injury. The health-care law had already injured small-business owners with requirements that promised to increase the cost of health insurance, when reducing that cost has been the No. 1 concern of the small-business community for years. The addition of a regulatory paperwork burden that would disproportionately impact the smallest firms was an added slap in the face.

The “1099 provision” was so illogical, and so burdensome, that it was quickly identified as a must-repeal not long after the health-care law was signed into law last spring. Everyone – from the president himself to congressional Republicans and Democrats – agreed that inclusion of this money-grabbing provision was an embarrassing gaffe and it simply had to go. The National Federation of Independent Business – the nation’s largest small-business advocacy group – bore down on Congress to make sure they followed through with their promises of repeal.

The ultimate demise of the wicked 1099 provision is great news, but it wasn’t quite a tidy story-book ending. It took Congress more than six months to get this simple job done. They lingered over it, savoring the repeal effort in a way that only a politician can, knowing that claiming credit for slaying this paperwork dragon would make for great campaign talking points down the road. The process was deliberately prolonged by casting multiple votes for symbolic bills before voting on a piece of legislation that actually guaranteed repeal.

Meanwhile, Main Street waited. And NFIB kept the pressure on.

And we did win. Washington did listen this time, and they need to keep on listening to small business. After all, no other sector of the economy has the power to put our country back on strong economic footing. Small businesses create two-thirds of net new jobs and generate roughly half of the privately-generated GDP.

The story of the 1099 provision was a reminder of two important facts. One: when left unchecked, government has a tendency to hurt, rather than help, America’s small businesses. Two: when the small business community says “enough!” politicians will listen. Sometimes we just need to shout it a little louder. And we are.

-- Dan Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 350,000 small-business owners in Washington, D.C. and every state capitol.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wisconsin workforce advantages can help attract, retain business


By Tom Still
Manuel Perez, who leads the state agency that deals with workforce issues ranging from unemployment benefits to training, is no stranger to the human resources business. He’s a labor market economist who was an executive for Milwaukee-based Manpower Inc. and later owned his own staffing company, JNA Staffing.

So when Perez talks about Wisconsin’s workforce development advantages – and a few challenges – he does so with the benefit of years of private-sector experience.

Perez, a Venezuela native who came to Wisconsin nearly 35 years ago to attend college, is bullish on the state’s workforce advantages, which he believes are a tangible part of the overall effort to make “Wisconsin is Open for Business” more than a slogan.

He spoke last week at a board meeting of the Wisconsin Technology Council, a statewide group made up of leaders from the tech sector, investors, educators and service professionals, to drive home his message that developing a 21st century workforce is essential to attracting 21st century businesses and jobs.

“We want to advance Wisconsin’s economy through a workforce development system that attracts, creates and retains jobs, and which empowers individuals to become self-sufficient,” said Perez, who became Gov. Scott Walker’s workforce development secretary in January. “We want to be your partners in building that workforce.”

While it’s often anecdotal, such as good-news stories told by employers who move to Wisconsin and discover they can hire workers who actually work, there’s also empirical evidence to back Wisconsin’s vaunted work ethic.

One such measure is the workforce participation rate, which has historically exceeded the U.S. average. It’s a measure of how many adults are actually employed, even if it’s part-time. In December 2010, Wisconsin’s workforce participation rate was about 69 percent compared to about 65 percent nationally.

But Perez also understands the state’s workforce participation rate could drop as Wisconsin’s population ages, there are fewer two-earner families, or the state fails to attract the kind of highly skilled workers – many of whom are from other states or nations – needed to expand the economy.

The Workers’ Compensation system in Wisconsin is another advantage for employers, Perez noted. Workers’ compensation laws across the nation help protect workers who are hurt or become sick because of problems on the job.

The average cost per case in Wisconsin is fifth best in the nation, according to national labor statistics, at roughly $7,500 per case. That compares to about $18,000 in Illinois, which is fourth highest in the nation, and about $12,000 in Minnesota, which is near the middle of the 50-state pack.

Workers’ compensation premiums in Wisconsin per $100 of wages paid are under $6, which is the best in a five-state region that includes Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, which stands at nearly $12 per $100 in wages. The Workers’ Compensation system in Illinois is considered so costly and bureaucratic that Gov. Patrick Quinn recently proposed system-wide changes to guard against fraud, cut red tape and save employers money.

“We have a strong workforce safety culture” that helps keep Workers’ Compensation costs low by preventing many job-related injuries and illnesses from happening in the first place, Perez said.

Because Wisconsin is the nation’s No. 2 state in per capita manufacturing employment, perhaps it’s no surprise the state would also be No. 2 in the number of workers gaining advanced certifications. But it’s also a leading indicator of the modernization of Wisconsin manufacturing, which continues to increase productivity thanks to commitments to safety, quality, technology and improved processes. Nearly 3,000 manufacturing workers in Wisconsin earned advanced certificates in 2010, the Department of Workforce Development reported.

Wisconsin is not without its workforce challenges, of course. The percentage of adults with four-year college degrees continues to run behind the U.S. average – about 25.7 percent in Wisconsin versus 27.9 percent nationally, 31.5 percent in Minnesota and 30.6 percent in Illinois. That’s mitigated, at least in part, by the state’s above-average number of degree-holders from two-year colleges, such as the Wisconsin Technical College System.

To truly be “open for business,” Wisconsin needs skilled workers of all types – from recent college grads to older workers who have sought retraining, to people from outside Wisconsin who want to live and work here. If Wisconsin businesses need a willing partner in finding those workers, Perez says he’s ready to help. -- 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, April 11, 2011

GreenBiz: Fields Institute takes holistic approach to ag business


By Gregg Hoffmann
At the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, a sustainable, integrated, holistic approach to agriculture always has been emphasized.

It only makes sense then that the Institute would take a similar approach in what it offers to those interested in various aspects of farming and agriculture.

The Institute ties together educational programs, engages in public policy and advocacy for sustainable agriculture, helps in enterprise development, conducts research on corn breeding and other areas, has urban agriculture projects and puts on Whole Farm Workshops.

“We concentrate on three major areas -- education, public policy and research -- but our approach does grow out of our overall emphasis on integration and a holistic philosophy,” said David Andrews, executive director of the Institute.

The Institute is located on a farm near East Troy. In 1974, Ruth Zinniker, a "biodynamic" farmer and native of Germany, reconnected with her European friends, Christopher and Martina Mann. She persuaded them to purchase a farm near hers to further their mutual goal of increasing biodynamic farming in the United States.

Biodynamic farming originated in Germany in the 1920s and looks upon the soil and the farm as living organisms. It regards maintenance of soil life as a basic necessity for productive farming that is in harmony with the environment and community.

There is no Michael Fields who runs or founded the institute. Its name was taken from a housing development that Christopher Mann built in Forest Row, England.

The biodynamic approach is very similar to many approaches in organic and sustainable farming today. “It’s not just science. It’s not just business,” said John Hall, former executive director and current director of farming systems outreach and education for Fields.

“There’s a spiritual and ethical dimension to this. Whether we live in a city, whether or not we derive an income from the land, few of us pause to consider how vital to us are such matters as how our food is grown, and by whom, whether growing food is a profitable enterprise, the fertility of the soil, the purity of the water, the conservation of Earth’s resources, and the sustainability of agriculture.”

While there is a definite philosophy behind the approaches taken at the Fields Institute, there is a combination of research theory and hands-on experience in all aspects of what is done. The approach has led to a growing business for Fields.

“We have seen a sizeable growth in people coming to our workshops, using our research and seeking us out for a variety of reasons,” Andrews said. For example, two farmers in Iowa recently contacted the institute for help in managing a conversion to organic farming.

The Fields education program includes a variety of workshops and materials. Teachers often have farming experience, and also include UW-Extension teachers and researchers.

The Whole Farm Workshops are the best attended, usually reaching a maximum of 30 students. The workshops are part of a Whole Farm Planning program.

Institute staffers will help farmers develop a plan that focuses on water management, biodiversity management, wildlife habitat, as well as economics. The reach of these programs is state and national in scope. Some of the biggest challenges come right in southern Wisconsin, where many of the farms are 160 to 250 acres in size.

“The overall challenge is can we take a 160-acre former dairy farm, and develop a management system that will re-articulate the farm into a working landscape and meet the goals of generating enough income to partially sustain a family, as well as meeting a higher standard of land stewardship?” Hall said.

Other extensions of the education function of Fields include urban farming projects, such as the Teutonia Urban Garden, which works with a charter school group in Milwaukee, an active Farm to School program, and enterprise development, such as the LotFoti Community Farm, a vegetable operation which started on an incubator farm of the institute and now is moving to its own farm location.

“The education part of our mission can be found in several areas, within several projects,” Andrews said.

Fields also has two staffers in Madison that advocate for sustainable farming policies and is active on both the state and national governmental levels. “We’ve had input on farm bills with both the state and USDA,” Hall said.

Corn breeding has been one of the special areas of research at the institute. Research program director Walter Goldstein has been working on developing high-yielding corn hybrids with enhanced nutritional value. In particular, he and his fellow researchers have been looking at how to increase amino acids in grain.

Much of the research explores how to improve soils. “Not just the country, but around the world we’ve really got problems with our soils -- infertility, compactions, root disease, poor soil structure, trace elements not being taken up,” Goldstein said. “Biodynamics has an approach that can lead to healthy farming.”

The institute also has conducted research into developing a systems approach to sustainable farming. Areas range from crop rotation, using diversity to aid yields, long-term effects of manure use, long-term economic comparisons of organic and conventional farming approaches and many other areas.

In its research, education and policy work, Fields often partners with other agencies and groups. For example, the USDA and Practical Farmers of Iowa have been working with the Institute on its corn breeding research.

The Farm Business Development Center of Prairie Crossing Farm and Angelic Organics Learning Center near Rockford, Ill., partner with the Institute on the Whole Farm Workshops. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is doing three of the Whole Farm Workshops.

“We have many partners in much of our work,” Andrews said. “We also reach out to the community. We bring expertise and services to the community, and it contributes to us. This fits in very well with our overall philosophy and approach.”

-- 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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