• WisBusiness

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ben Brancel: Wisconsin's agricultural exports headed in right direction


By Ben Brancel
The world's population and economies are growing and the demand for food and agricultural products is growing with them. Wisconsin's reputation for producing a diverse number of safe and high quality products puts our state in a unique position of being able to supply what the world is demanding.

It also gives us an economic boost here at home. In 2011, agricultural exports had a total value of $2.85 billion. It was a record setting year. As Governor Scott Walker said when making that announcement, "It is important we look to markets beyond our borders as one important strategy to produce job-creating growth for Wisconsin."

The recently released first quarter agricultural export numbers tell us we are headed in the right direction. In the first 3 months of this year, Wisconsin exported $700-million worth of agricultural products to more than 100 countries. That's a 16 percent increase over the same period in 2011. We now rank 15th in the nation in first quarter exports. Last year, we were 18th for the same 3 months.

In order to keep agricultural exports growing, we need to help Wisconsin businesses find overseas opportunities and advise them on how to build and maintain relationships with trade partners. That's exactly what the Wisconsin International Trade Team at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is doing.

In the first quarter of 2012, Wisconsin dairy producers and processors exported $64-million worth of dairy products to other countries, a 23 percent increase over the same quarter last year. The world-wide demand for ethanol and global market conditions increased Wisconsin's ethanol exports in the first quarter of 2012. Wisconsin exported $75 million of ethanol during this period, making Wisconsin the second largest ethanol exporter in the nation. To give you an idea of the impact international markets can have, there's one ethanol producer in western Wisconsin that ships at least 40 percent of its ethanol product to Canada.

Opening new markets and increasing international market share for Wisconsin companies is one of Governor Walker's priorities. At the governor's urging, the International Trade Teams at DATCP and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are working on new opportunities.

For example, this fall, the DATCP Team will welcome two Vietnamese feed buyers who will be attending the Asian Feed Buyers Mission to World Dairy Expo for the first time. They will meet one-on-one with Wisconsin and Midwest feed exporters in hopes of developing new business relationships. This comes after our trade trip to Vietnam this past January and a visit to Madison in April by the Vietnamese Ambassador to the Unites States who met with us to specifically talk about future trade opportunities.

In June we're bringing in a Colombian buyer to attend the Food Export Association's Feed Buyers Mission in Madison. This Colombian company is looking for a variety of value-added feed products. The new U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement that went in to effect this month means certain agricultural products will have immediate duty-free access. Products such as wheat, barley, soybeans, high-quality beef, bacon, almost all fruits and vegetables, whey products and a majority of processed food products. These are all items we produce here in Wisconsin. Businesses should take advantage of these opportunities and the International Trade Team here at DATCP can help them do that.

Wisconsin agricultural producers and processors, especially the small to medium sized businesses, should not feel overwhelmed by the thought of doing businesses overseas. The DATCP International Trade Team offers market research and development, business counseling, international promotion opportunities and educational seminars like the one being held July 11 in Madison. "Exploring Exports: The World is Waiting" is a free seminar where business owners thinking about selling products internationally can hear what's worked for other companies currently exporting. You can get more information on that event by contacting Lisa Stout at 608-224-5126 or email at lisa.stout@wi.gov.

Team members also work constantly with potential international buyers and agencies in an effort to open doors of opportunity and find out how Wisconsin companies can start building the relationships needed for a successful exporting enterprise or help companies already doing business overseas expand and increase market share.

As Governor Walker has said, we need to look beyond our borders in order to keep agriculture a major economic driver in our state. Trade expansion encourages investment and economic growth here at home from the farm to the plants where our farm products are processed. I encourage companies of all sizes to seriously consider entering or expanding their presence in the international marketplace by taking advantage of the available resources. The Wisconsin International Trade Team at DATCP is ready to help you take that first step.

-- Brancel is the secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Labels:


Friday, May 25, 2012

John C. Rogers: Wisconsin Procurement Institute assists Wisconsin companies with federal contract procurement and in navigating the changing budget landscape


By John C. Rogers
This year, Wisconsin Procurement Institute (WPI) is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Created by Congressman Les Aspin, WPI was established to provide technical expertise to Wisconsin businesses and help them win their fair share of federal contracts. He envisioned a public-private partnership -- a formula that was 99 percent substance and 1 percent political -- that would bring economic stability and jobs to Wisconsin.

Les's vision is more real today than ever before.

In the last few years, Wisconsin has increased significantly its historically poor federal procurement dollars ranking, moving from the lower quadrant of the state rankings to 14th in 2010 when Wisconsin businesses were awarded more than $9 billion in federal contracts. This is due in no small part to Oshkosh Truck, but it's also due to many other companies, big and small, that have pursued federal contracts. Over the years WPI's efforts have created thousands of jobs. Just five years ago, we would have thought these numbers unrealistic.

But there are storm clouds on the horizon. The federal budget is tight and going to get tighter, which means competition for procurement dollars is going to get even tougher. Discretionary spending across virtually all agencies is expected to decrease. The defense budget request alone for 2013 is $33 billion less than in 2012. Added to this is the likelihood of sequestration, an automatic $500-billion defense-spending cut that will kick in for the next decade. This cut is mandated by the Budget Control Act, which Congress passed last year and will start in January 2013. That's an additional $50 billion per year unless a deal is struck to undo it, an unlikely scenario.

The House of Representatives recently voted to eliminate the defense portion of the sequestration cuts and replace them with spending cuts to social programs that make it untenable to many. Regardless, the House legislation is doomed in the Senate where Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to block any effort to undo sequestration unless Republicans drop their opposition to increasing revenues.

While some of these reductions are a natural and healthy result of ending one war and winding down another, as a country we need to consider carefully the impact of the pendulum swinging too far too fast.

At the same time that the budget battles are going on and we are winding down from two wars, President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey are significantly reshaping the military. Perhaps one of the most important and under-reported policy changes is the disabling of our country's ability to fight two major regional conflicts concurrently. A national security bedrock since World War II, this preparedness will no longer be our armed forces' standard. Without debating the pros and cons of this decision, the ramifications of this are clear: Our forces must become smaller and more agile, adapting to the lessons learned from 10 years of war.

Regarding defense spending, Frank Kendall, acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, vowed that, "We are not going to take a procurement holiday like we did after the Cold War." From WPI's vantage point, that's smart policy. Too drastic of cuts would hurt our nation's industrial base.

More specifically, Wisconsin companies need to be thinking about where the Department of Defense (DoD), and all the federal agencies, is going and what the subsequent business opportunities are.

In other words, DoD and the government are still open for business. But Wisconsin companies must become smarter when competing in the federal marketplace. Les Aspin would have been enormously pleased with where we're at today, but he'd also be concerned about the future. Fortunately, with Wisconsin Procurement Institute, he left us with an organization whose entire reason for existing is in helping Wisconsin businesses navigate through the rough seas ahead.

-- Rogers, president of Capstone National Partners LLC and CEO of RLL Leaders, serves as chairman of the board of Wisconsin Procurement Institute. He is a former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense and district director for Les Aspin.


Dan Danner: Train wreck for economy? Not if Congress follows the small-business model


By Dan Danner
Although the presidential campaign is increasingly clogging the nation’s news outlets with partisan tit-for-tat, there’s a nasty political struggle in Europe these days that should be getting equal air time for it could affect Americans’ lives even more than November’s election results.

Across the Atlantic, some nations are facing bankruptcy. Unemployment is rising, banks are being seized, lenders are ducking good customers and protesters are taking to the streets. No one knows what might happen next, but it probably won’t be pretty.

It was great that the president hosted a summit for the international Group of Eight leaders recently where they discussed Europe’s impending stumble. But it would have been more productive had the attendees showed up at another summit in nearby Washington, D.C. conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business for small-business owners. There the G8 group could have learned from those who know a thing or two about fiscal responsibility, such as: control your spending, pay your bills on time, encourage employee productivity and always follow honest accounting practices.

Those practices should be considered a model of economic efficiency by America’s political leaders who seem oblivious that we’re on the same path as Europe. U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, addressing the small-business gathering, compared Congress’ current decision-making to an impending calamity.

“I see us headed for a train wreck unless we get this turned around,” Thune said, noting that crucial issues ranging from tax policy, to the debt limit, to regulatory reform are on hold until after the election. “We have to figure out a way to keep from doing harm to the economy. Unfortunately, too often, what happens in Washington, D.C. really does harm the economy.”

If Washington fails to quickly make much-needed corrections to our economy and Europe’s crisis spills onto our shores, we could suffer the same fate. Each passing day without action pushes us one step closer to sharing Europe’s course of events and increases the odds that our economy will weaken further.

But the very people who could make significant contributions to restoring our economy--small-business owners--are hog-tied by their own government. They could be growing their businesses, creating jobs and building an economic firewall to insulate America from the inferno being fueled all across Europe. Instead, the Obama administration, as it has since taking office, consistently blocks Main Street with more complex regulations, loads of paperwork and cunning legal maneuvers designed to kill tax incentives essential to growth.

Washington, according to NFIB’s latest small-business survey, is doing almost nothing to help entrepreneurs create jobs or bring much-needed financial stability. And if that isn’t bad enough, the president’s own class-warfare rhetoric vilifies those who dare take the risk of starting their own businesses.

Judging from concerns shared by the small-business group with members of Congress last week, the same causes of Europe’s crisis are already gnawing away at America’s economy. Only courageous decisions made quickly can prevent an economic train wreck for America.

-- 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 capital.

Labels:


Tom Still: Top 25 in Business Plan Contest offer ideas that reflect Wisconsin roots


By Tom Still
You know it's a real, honest-to-goodness Wisconsin business plan contest when two finalists have come up with better ways to catch fish.

Others have figured out innovations in producing micro-tools, electromagnets for motors and more energy-efficient glass for windows – all next-generation versions of historic state products.

Still others have developed ways to improve your health, manage your information, pick your college dorm room and even buy your clothes.

Those are some of the finalists in the 2012 Wisconsin Governor's Business Plan Contest, which wraps up June 5-6 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneur's Conference in Milwaukee. Narrowed from nearly 250 entries, the top 25 plans represent a cross-section of innovation in a state with an increasingly diverse portfolio of startup companies.

Since the first statewide contest in 2004, some 2,100 people from 235 different communities in Wisconsin have entered the competition in one of four categories: Advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences. About three-quarters of past finalists are still in business, according to a 2012 survey, and nearly six in 10 finalists have raised angel or venture capital to help grow their companies.

This year's crop of finalists was judged by more than 60 experts from related fields, including other entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and service professionals who deal with tech-based startups. In the end, the companies that cracked the top 25 list looked a lot like Wisconsin's economy – right down to its recreational fishing industry.

Strategic Fishing Systems has used patent-pending innovations in Geographic Information Systems to develop Contour Elite, which can accurately predict fish location. It does so by quickly searching depth ranges, sunlight exposure, underwater structure, proximity to food and cover and other factors. It integrates with all major GPS devices and includes a 3D viewer.

Fishidy is an online community that maximizes an angler's time on the water by presenting and cultivating critical location-based data. The platform also breaks down communication barriers that exist among anglers – specifically, their legendary reluctance to share information. Fishidy breaks down that barrier through sharing and social network controls.

Examples of plans that leverage technology and manufacturing include NCD Technologies, which develops and markets nanocrystalline diamond coatings for the micro-tools markets; V-Glass LLC, which has developed a glazing design that will deliver better performance than conventional technologies for the same manufacturing cost; C-Motive Technologies LLC, which displaces costly rare earth magnets by adapting traditional electric motors to use wirelessly powered electromagnets; and RoWheels, which is developing wheelchair wheels that propel a chair forward by using a pulling motion rather than the traditional pushing motion.

A number of plans use information technology to solve problems – including some you probably never knew you had. Print Command has come up with a way to secure printers and print networks from hackers. Pilot Training System uses a historic weather database to help improve existing flight simulation software. Simple Campus streamlines the university housing application process through its software. StyleShuffler is a mobile application for clothing retailers that helps shoppers mix and match apparel and accessories.

Still others seek to improve health care. Reza-Band has developed a non-invasive treatment, worn around the neck, to help people with acid reflux disease. Vibetech Inc. has developed a vibration rehabilitation product for immobile and functionally impaired patients. NitricGen Inc. has developed a device that pulls gaseous nitric oxide from room air to treat chronic diabetic foot ulcers. Imbed Biosciences has developed a better way to imbed bioactive molecules in wound dressings and surgical implants.

Others are tied to farming and natural resources. Local Grown provides farmers with web-based tools to market and sell food directly to local restaurants, grocers and manufacturers. Soil and Sediment Cleanup offers a green alternative to remediation of contaminated soils, dirt and sediment in harbors, water ways, Superfund sites and brownfields.

For a full list of 2012 finalists, go to http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com and attend the Entrepreneurs' Conference in Milwaukee to watch the top 12 battle for cash and other prizes from sponsors that include MasterCard, Microsoft, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and dozens more. From the best fishing holes to the more efficient electric motors, innovation in Wisconsin is following many paths.

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

Labels:


Monday, May 21, 2012

Book review: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
by "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain
c.2012, Crown $26.00 / $28.00 Canada 333 pages, includes index

You had to go, so you did -- kicking and screaming.

Really, you must admit that it was nice of the boss to host the party. In these tough economic times, she didn't have to do it. She paid for food, a band, even door prizes. Everybody seemed to have a good time.

Everybody but you.

If you'd had your druthers, you'd have stayed home, feet up, with a good book. But no, you went to the party, and in the new book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain, you'll find out why you hated every minute of it.

From the moment you were born, your life was shaped not only by your gender and ethnicity but also by the personality you inherited: scientists know that 40-50% of who you are came from nature rather than nurture. They also know that by the time infants are four months old, they can tell which babies will grow up to be introverts and which will become gregarious adults.

Though we all fall on an introvert-extrovert spectrum with varying degrees of either (and an odd mix of both), the lifestyle of a full extrovert is "enormously appealing." Cain says that there is an "extrovert ideal" in our society that's not found in many cultures. We're pushed to be outgoing and bold, both in school and at work.

But will it make us more successful, or healthier?

Not necessarily – and maybe.

Studies show that we believe loud, fast talkers to be smarter, but Cain says that introverts who are allowed to perform in sync with their personalities can be better leaders with deeper ideas and more creativity. As for health, many introverts are more sensitive than most to sight, sound, smells, and pain. They're hyper-alert, physically, but that could lead to anxiety.

So, since we all need to learn to get along, what can you do?

If you're an introvert, practice being more open, but don't overdo it. Learn to tap into your strengths but heed your inner-self, and don't hesitate to seek out "down-time" if you need it.

If you share workspace with an introvert, take advantage of his or her tendencies, talents, thoughts, and creativity. After all, the new Einstein, Proust, Seuss, Gandhi, or Newton might be sitting in the next cube over...

Tired of feeling nervous, overwhelmed, weird? Or are you on the verge of firing a non-team-player? Either way, stop what you're doing now and read "Quiet."

As a "closet introvert" from way back, I was absolutely delighted at the things author Susan Cain unearthed. Not only does she give us a basic history of introversion and a round-up of scientific knowledge about it, but she also offers help and advice for introverts, their loved ones, and their supervisors.

Baffled limelight lovers will learn a lot from this book, but the real appeal of it will come to people who are happier backstage. If you're reticent, retiring, and rejoiceful over it, "Quiet" is a book you'll shout about.

-- 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.

Labels:


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ben Brancel: DATCP's Trade and Consumer Protection Division helps keep Wisconsin open for business


By Ben Brancel
Consumer confidence is a key to a strong economy. So is a fair and open marketplace where reputable business owners can thrive without unfair or illegal competition. Confidence, fairness and knowledge are what we provide at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Governor Scott Walker has made it clear, we should do everything we can to protect the public while making sure businesses can survive, grow and create jobs. DATCP’s Consumer Protection Division will continue to be aggressive when it comes to investigating scammers and businesses that continually use unfair or deceptive practices but we will also work equally as hard at helping well-meaning business owners maintain compliance.

Our Trade and Consumer Protection division has the authority to investigate consumer complaints and enforce violations of consumer laws. In 2011, Consumer Protection recovered more than $7 million in restitution and forfeitures. In a highly publicized case this year, we reached a $250,000 settlement with a mobile phone company. We were able to set up a restitution process for customers who experienced billing and credit problems without having to spend the time or tax payer money on lengthy court action.

Sometimes, however, we turn over our investigative results to the Department of Justice for prosecution. Last year, a joint effort by the two agencies led to a $144,000 settlement with a No-Call telemarketer violator. It could have meant a lengthy court battle but again a settlement was reached, the largest No Call settlement in the program’s history.

We have steadily strengthened the Trade and Consumer Protection Division from where we found it in January 2011. We’ve updated our hotline and other systems to make them more user-friendly. We’re updating our rules to make them more relevant and effective.

The laws the legislature has put in place and the rules we have to enforce those laws not only protect consumers but they also work to prevent unfair competition that could hurt the reputable business owners who are trying to do things right. The department investigates complaints covering a variety of areas most people may not even realize such as identity theft, hazardous toys and other product safety concerns, plus landlord/tenant issues.

Our Weights and Measures staff is continuously checking gasoline pumps, retail store scanners and other scales around the state to make sure the consumer or buyer is getting what they’re paying for when they purchase an item or product. Nearly 197,000 inspections were made in 2011 saving the Wisconsin family an average $600 dollars a year. Just this month we announced a $36,908 settlement with a national food processor for selling a product that weighed less than the label claimed.

Producers of agricultural related products are buyers and sellers too. While DATCP’s Food Safety Division makes sure the food produced and sold here is safe for us to eat, the Trade Practices team inspects fruits and vegetables for quality. DATCP inspectors in Superior make sure every grain shipment that leaves that Wisconsin port meets USDA certified standards and is the high quality product our international trade partners expect and demand. They test samples from every trainload of grain that is delivered to the port and every ship leaving the port for other parts of the world, which amounts to millions of bushels a year.

The Agricultural Producer Security (APS) section monitors the financial condition and business practices of Wisconsin processors to provide reasonable assurance that agricultural producers and producer agents will be paid for milk, grain or vegetables delivered to licensed contractors. It oversees more than $6-billion dollars of payments to producers for the agricultural goods that they sell and also monitors more than 100-million bushels of storage space. If there is a legal violation in a business transaction with a producer, the APS section works to bring the buyer into compliance so it can continue doing business in the state. If a buyer defaults on its obligation or payment to producers, there is an industry funded security account in place to help compensate farmers for the loss that is suffered.

Knowledge is power and DATCP’s Trade & Consumer Protection Division’s mission is to make sure consumers, buyers, sellers and businesses have the knowledge they need to identify, stop and avoid fraud and unfair business practices. One way we do that is through our Consumer Information Hotline which handles an average 150,000 calls and contacts a year.

Our goal is to supply honest, truthful information so consumers and business owners can make good decisions with confidence. Consumer confidence will translate into consumer spending which in turn means more business opportunities and more Wisconsin jobs. And that’s what it’s all about.

-- Brancel is the secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.


Monday, May 14, 2012

GreenBiz: Kwik Trip commits to natural gas


By Gregg Hoffmann
In the past, many vehicle manufacturers said they would produce more natural gas vehicles if the fuel was available in more places.

Meanwhile, fuel station owners said they'd offer more natural gas if more vehicles ran on it.

Kwik Trip, a La Crosse-based convenience and fuel chain, wants to change that discussion.

"We don't like to hear statements like that," said Chad Hollett, director of Kwik Trip's distribution division. "It can lead to the conclusion that the problem is unsolvable. We don't believe that is so.

"Kwik Trip has decided to take the lead and connect the dots in our tri-state region (Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, where the company is known as Kwik Star). We want to create a functional infrastructure for natural gas."

Connecting the dots and creating a functional infrastructure mean Kwik Trip will provide natural gas at several fueling stations, add 20 natural gas vehicles, and eventually more, to its own fleet and provide technical assistance and research to companies that want to convert to natural gas.

Kwik Trip kicked off this effort with what was billed as the largest natural gas trade show and summit in the country Thursday at its La Crosse campus. More than 50 vendors took part in the event. Seminars were offered by the Clean Vehicle Foundation, Xcel Energy, Chesapeake Energy, General Motors, CenterPoint Energy and Paccar/Wisconsin Kenworth.

The first Kwik Trip natural gas fueling station was opened at its own Fleet Center on April 10. The price was listed at $1.56 per gallon, less than half what gasoline was selling for at the time.

This month, Kwik Trip is opening a station in downtown La Crosse and Sturtevant in Racine County. In the fall, stations will be opened in Oshkosh and Rochester, Minnesota.

"Our goal is to provide natural gas alternatives along all major corridors in our service area," Hollett said.

Plans call for expanding availability of natural gas throughout the current network of Kwik Trip stores and in new locations.

CEO Don Zietlow credits a friend of his grandson with making the company more aware of the potential of natural gas. The friend, a part-time employee of the company, became familiar with compressed natural gas while serving in the Merchant Marine.

"If we can use natural gas from our own country, and not import all that crude oil, how much better that will be for the country," Zietlow said. "It's the right thing to do."

Natural gas comes in compressed form (CNG), gas under pressure which remains clear, odorless and non-corrosive. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is produced when natural gas is cooled to minus 259 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of LNG's increased driving range, it is used in heavy duty vehicles, grocery trucks and transit buses, according to Steve Zeitlow, Don's son and director of petroleum operations.

Ruanna Hayes, alternative fuels specialist for Kwik Trip, believes CNG is the fuel of the future. "We'd like to see it become more mainstream." she said.

Kwik Trip emphasizes that natural gas can be pumped in a similar way to gasoline. The company has produced information brochures and online information on steps to fueling a CNG vehicle.

Proponents of natural gas maintain it burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel fuel. The proponents also point out that natural gas is abundant in North America and can be produced domestically at a relatively low cost.

Primarily because of the cost factors, trucking companies, transit organizations, school bus companies and others are very interested in natural gas. Vendors at the May 10 event included Mack Truck, Peterbilt, International, Volvo, Honda, GM and other truck manufacturing companies.

Federal tax credits and other incentives for CNG vehicles expired at the end of 2011. The Walker administration distributed about $8.4 million in federal funds through the State Energy Office for infrastructure and vehicles.

Kwik Trip received a small state grant for the fueling station, but primarily is using its own resources in its effort.

"We feel strongly it can stand on its own," Hollett said. "We feel it is the right thing to do and makes business sense."

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

Labels:


Friday, May 11, 2012

Tom Still: Madison businessman helps promote 'urban mining' at home, abroad


By Tom Still
Neil Peters-Michaud doesn't look much like a miner. He doesn't carry around a pickax or wear a hardhat, but he's uncovering deposits of gold, silver, copper and other minerals every day.

That's because Peters-Michaud is "mining" the growing, and increasingly valuable, stream of electronic waste that is a byproduct of the information age in the United States and worldwide. His story demonstrates how profit and recycling can go hand-in-hand.

Neil and his wife, Jessica, are co-founders of Cascade Asset Management, a company that sounds like it should be handling financial transactions. Instead, it processes a different kind of asset – old computers, monitors and other electronic hardware.

Founded in 1999, the company has plants in Madison and Indianapolis, employs about 70 people and has total revenues of about $6.5 million per year. It collects between 300 and 400 tons of computers, office electronics, consumer electronics and test equipment each month from sites across North America. That equipment is disassembled, wiped clean of data and "mined" for recoverable materials, which often include dangerous lead and mercury. Some equipment is refurbished and sold.

Cascade Asset Management, like many other U.S. companies in this field, has that process down to a science. That's not the case in much of the developing world, which has become a dumping ground for electronic equipment that is not always recycled with human and environmental safety in mind.

"There are good and bad recycling operations in every country, but in many places around the world, it's a serious problem," Peters-Michaud said. "It is usually boils down to economics – lower labor costs and environmental laws that encourage dumping."

Peters-Michaud has put his experience to work by helping establish high-tech recycling and refurbishing centers abroad, including a center near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he has traveled five times since 2007. Africa is a continent where tons of electronic equipment is shipped for disposal, but only a relative handful of centers exist to safely do the job.

The Ethiopian center is largely operational today and selling recycled materials, as well as refurbished computers. One buyer of used steel is about a mile from the plant.

"It's the most closed-loop recycling I've ever seen," Peters-Michaud said of the steel buyer.

A positive side-effect of the Ethiopian project is the spread of information technology in Ethiopia, which Peters-Michaud described as a "Communist country" in governance but which is slowly building a market-based economy.

"Access to information has been very interesting for the development of democracy there," he said.

China is another destination point for electronic waste, in part because that nation is clamoring for recycled materials of all types.

Container ships that unload finished goods in the United States are often filled – at bargain shipping prices – with used electronics equipment for shipment to China. It is an export business for the United States, actually reducing the trade imbalance with China, but Peters-Michaud believes that material could be put to better use at home.

"It would be to our advantage if more processing of these materials took place in the United States to generate clean material streams that could be used in innovative manufacturing processes here," he said. "The problem is that it would, at least short-term, cost more."

Then again, environmental costs in China and elsewhere are high. Investigators who have visited some non-U.S. waste sites witnessed men, women and children pulling wires from computers and burning them at night, fouling the air with carcinogenic smoke.

Other laborers, working with little or no protection, burned plastics and circuit boards or poured acid on electronic parts to extract silver and gold. Many smashed lead-laden cathode ray tubes from computer monitors. The results: Water and air poisoned by lead and mercury.

It's a problem that has attracted the attention of world organizations such as the International Business Leaders Forum, the World Bank and the United Nations, through which Peters-Michaud occasionally consults.

Entrepreneurs such as Peters-Michaud are using their expertise to teach others but also to keep a larger share of a growing business at home. The electronics industry has deep American roots; so should the emerging "urban mining" industry that recycles its waste.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. To learn more about e-waste recycling, visit Cascade Asset Management during a May 23 open house.

Labels:


Dan Danner: Small business calls for end to "gotcha government"


By Dan Danner
There's one less bureaucrat at the Environmental Protection Agency now. The arrogant senior official slipped, publicly expressing the Obama administration's view that punishment akin to ancient Roman crucifixion awaits any business that dares oppose the powerful bureau.

In typical Washington fashion, a media storm arose, the official resigned and the head of EPA quickly apologized. But the administration, rather than denouncing its philosophy of law enforcement by fear and intimidation, opted to merely save election-year face by rushing the trouble-maker out of the spotlight.

American small-business owners are not easily fooled by such tactics, nor are they intimidated by a government intent on piling on greater and more punitive regulations. These entrepreneurs are pushing back against over-zealous enforcers who could care less about the cost and impact of excessive rules.

Recently, the National Federation of Independent Business, which is awaiting a major Supreme Court decision on its suit against President Obama's health reform law, raised the voice of small business to another challenge, urging justices to rein in the IRS for overstepping its audit authority. The high court agreed, saying the tax collector was fudging its regulations to double the time it could impose additional taxes on understated income.

NFIB is not only squaring off against big agencies such as EPA and the IRS, but the organization is contesting activities of the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor, and other oversight agencies that have launched campaigns to punish businesses instead of helping them. This approach makes absolutely no sense in times of economic weakness, but advancing the government's anti-business agenda is apparently a greater priority.

NLRB, dominated by pro-labor political appointees, has dropped any pretense of trying to fairly balance labor law. It is driving headlong to undermine employers' efforts to counter union organization attempts with a new rule that would drastically cut the time from petition to ballot. And the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate has sided with the agency, allowing labor bosses to continue their intimidation of vulnerable small firms.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department is rolling out several new management requirements for small businesses ranging from demanding they foresee future work hazards to informing workers how their status and pay are determined to inhibiting business' use of expert labor advisors.

Also exercising its muscle against small business is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration which brags of more than doubling the average penalty for safety violations as a way to set an example of toughness. That sets an example alright, but it's one that disgusts today's entrepreneurs and discourages future generations who hope to launch their own small businesses.

Main Street is tired of the arrogance, intimidation and disrespect delivered daily by this administration. They've had enough and they're taking their case to Capitol Hill with a strong message that will be heard from now to Election Day: America cannot afford this excessive regulation and gotcha-style government. It is a disastrous prescription for a troubled economy.

-- 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 capital.

Labels:


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book review: "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
"The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" by Nicholas Carr
c.2010, W.W. Norton & Company $26.95 / $33.50 Canada 256 pages

You've tried three times to finish reading that report today, and you just can't do it. You never finish more than a few paragraphs before the words start swimming in front of your eyes.

It's not a boring report; in fact, you normally find these things very interesting. So what gives? You don't have any problem reading your newspaper, a magazine, or an article online...

And maybe that's from where your newly-developed trouble springs. The internet, says author Nicholas Carr, has stealthily changed the way your brain operates, and in his new book "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" he explains what that means for our future.

This morning, when you booted up your computer to check email, chances are that wasn't all you did. Admit it: you checked last night's score, your horoscope, the headlines, and stock prices. You bank online, research, shop, renew, upgrade, and network. And you've been doing it for years.

The internet, says Carr, is a tool and, like most tools, it changes the way society works. If you don't believe it, imagine what life was like before Gutenberg revolutionized printing or Ford improved manufacturing. Imagine what it was like just a hundred years ago without TV, cell phones, fast travel, and yes, the internet.

Science has proven that when humans use tools, our brains adapt to the tool itself. If you repeatedly pick up a gadget, for instance, your brain eventually sees it as an extension of your hand, and re-wires to accept the item automatically. In much the same way, your brain has adapted to the 'net.

But because the internet is "bidirectional" – meaning that we can send and receive information – its effect on the brain is a little more insidious. Carr says that the internet actually promotes shorter attention spans. Links to unrelated topics, brief articles, immediacy of information, and the multitudinous things one hooked-up computer can do have all wired our brains to move, scan, and deviate, lightning-quick. That's changed the way we read, comprehend, and work - and not, he says, for the better.

The problem with our new, shortened attention span is that "deep thinking" is difficult-to-impossible. Memory suffers, too, both long-term and short-term. Work on a computer for awhile, and writing long-hand feels weird. And staying targeted, on- or offline, becomes an increasing challenge.

I found it extremely ironic that I had a hard time reading this book, but not for the reasons you'd think. "The Shallows", as it turns out, felt unfocused to me.

Author Nicholas Carr ominously reveals many frightening things that we, as a culture, need to heed. He does an amazing job in cautioning readers about the maybe-too-late, shocking dangers of a society run online. In between the good points, though, esoteric literature, highbrow language, and belabored (and often obscure) historical information made it hard to maintain interest.

So which wags the dog here, online or off-subject? That's up for interpretation, but I believe this: either way, for most business-minded readers, "The Shallows" is way too deep.

-- 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.

Labels:


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ben Brancel: Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30x20: Myth vs. reality


By Ben Brancel
More than a month after Governor Scott Walker launched the Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30x20 initiative there still seems to be some confusion and misinformation going around on what this initiative is all about. Yes, we would like to "achieve an annual milk production of 30 billion pounds by 2020" as the Governor said in his news release dated March 13, 2012 but he also said this. "The goal of the Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30x20 program is to improve the long-term viability of Wisconsin's dairy industry through services … to meet the growing demand of the marketplace". That has been the goal since day one.

The Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30x20 Initiative is not simply adding "another 1,000 cows" to a farm as some have implied. It is a program offering public and private services to farmers, whether they are long time operators or just getting started, that will help them decide on solutions to be more efficient, add value to their operations and improve their profitability. That may mean some farmers will expand, but others may turn to grazing, begin organic certification, improve herd health and per cow production or transition the farm from one generation to the next. From the very beginning we have made it clear that Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30x20 is ready to assist every dairy farmer no matter the size of the farm or the method of farming. Our overall objective is to help every individual who wants to dairy be profitable. Every profitable farm means milk for the future to meet the 30 billion pound goal.

Dairy farmers are taking advantage of the program. So far, more than 140 people have contacted our Dairy 30x20 staff with various questions. We are currently reviewing 58 grant applications. But even after grants are awarded, dairy farmers can still call or email to find the resources they need to make their operations more profitable.

Another point that seems to have gotten lost is that there is a demand for more milk here in Wisconsin. That may not be true for the nation's supply as a whole but the demand for milk by our Wisconsin dairy product processors is great because our processors are innovative in product development and successfully looking to the marketplace both domestically and abroad for sales.

Before the program was launched, we sat down with state dairy farmers and processors to find out what they needed to be more profitable and sustain long-term production. We discovered Wisconsin dairy farmers are only supplying 90% of the milk needed to produce the high quality cheeses this state is known for. The dairy processing industry invested more than $80-million in modernization and expansion last year and with more planned this year, plus new cheese plants coming on line, the demand for fresh, high quality Wisconsin milk will be even greater.

Anyone who follows milk prices knows there will be fluctuations during the eight year goal we set of reaching 30-billion pounds of milk. At the federal level, Congress has begun its debate on the next Farm Bill and while we don't know the outcome, hopefully our elected officials will recognize the need for a market-oriented policy that encourages sustainable economic growth in the agricultural industry both now and long into the future.

In the meantime, at the state level, we have to focus on what we can do to position our industry to be successful. Currently, Wisconsin's cheese production accounts for 25% of the marketplace. If we drop below that spot, others will step in to fill the void and it will be difficult to regain that market share. One only has to look at other regions of the country to know what could happen to our dairy industry if infrastructure is allowed to crumble – there will be fewer buyers of milk and fewer suppliers of services needed by our dairy farmers.

So, with an eye to increased profitability and long term sustained production, no matter the type or size of farm, we encourage dairy farmers to call the toll free number, 855-WIDAIRY (855-943-2479) or email us here at DATCP GrowWisconsinDairy@wi.gov and discover the resources that are available to help keep their operation profitable and Wisconsin's dairy industry strong and proud.

-- Brancel is the secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Labels:


Monday, May 7, 2012

Tom Still: With magazine rankings on business climate, perception can become reality


By Tom Still
The first thing to recognize about magazine polls on state business rankings is they are all, by nature, subjective.

That's not necessarily bad, of course, and it's not meant in the least to downplay the fact that Wisconsin has climbed to No. 20 on the list of "Best States/Worst States" list published by Chief Executive magazine.

In fact, it's intended to underscore the importance of public perception when it comes to economic development.

Two years ago, Wisconsin was ranked 41st in the Chief Executive rankings, one of many such rankings published by national trade magazines that follow the economic ups and downs of the 50 states. This year, Wisconsin ranked 20th – thanks to a 17-place leap the previous year and four more notches up in the 2012 rankings.

Because the Chief Executive rankings rely in part on a survey of C-level executives around the country, it reflects perception as much as it does hard statistical fact. For many of those execs, the word is out that Wisconsin's budget is coming back into balance, that tax burdens are moderating, and there are strong incentives to grow, retain and attract businesses.

Chief Executive writer Dale Buss, who once worked in Madison, took note that part of Wisconsin's climb is based on how it treats entrepreneurs.

"The state ranked fourth last year in tax costs on new firms, as calculated by the Tax Foundation, and a Kauffman Center Index on Entrepreneurial Activity showed Wisconsin with the seventh-largest rise last year among the handful of states that did better at all," he wrote.

The magazine also cited Wisconsin's new public-private approach to economic development, led by the transition of the former Wisconsin Department of Commerce into the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

"In the short time since WEDC was formed, we've created a groundbreaking model for advancing target industry sectors—one which delivers customized programs that support significant job creation," said Secretary Paul Jadin in reacting to the magazine rankings. "We've refocused and expanded our international outreach efforts. And we're taking innovative steps for entrepreneurial support through early stage investment strategies."

The magazine also praised specific sector initiatives, such as Wisconsin's drive to become the nation's water-technology leader, and its innovative tax credit program for angel investors. Since they took effect in January 2005, Wisconsin's angel tax credit program and related efforts have increased angel investments from less than $2 million to more than $61 million.

Make no mistake, the rankings also reflected politics. The Chief Executive survey reflected the anti-union sentiments of some business leaders, who scored right-to-work states higher and who praised Gov. Scott Walker for his fight with key public-employee unions.

For the record, Texas was No. 1 and the top-tier of the magazine's rankings reflected the usual mix of Sunbelt and Rocky Mountain states. California, which is fighting a massive exodus of talent and companies, was a dismal 50th.

For Wisconsin, it was instructive to see how the rest of the neighborhood is doing. Indiana was fifth on the list, thanks to a steady record of attracting venture capital and keeping taxes in line, while Iowa was 22nd, Minnesota 36th, Michigan 46th and Illinois 48th. Just beyond our immediate borders, North Dakota was 15th, South Dakota 19th, Missouri 24th and Ohio 35th.

State-by-state rankings on just about anything from bicycle paths to food to alternative lifestyles sell magazines, so it's no surprise that so many publications take a hard, regular look at state business climates. In a country where commerce flows freely over state borders, those kinds of facts and perceptions matter.

While rankings in individual rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, the collective picture can be important. If Wisconsin is on the rise – or perceived as much – in the eyes of editors, writers and pollsters in a number of locations, it becomes easier to make the case that there's more behind the rankings than just fluff.

So, let's accept the good news while we can – and continue to make the case that Wisconsin's new-found perception is truly reality.

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

Labels:


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book review: "Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
"Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business" by Nancy Lublin
c.2010, Portfolio $25.95 / $32.50 Canada 246 pages, includes index

It's budget time, and you've been going over your plans for the year ahead. And as your eyes sweep over the pages, several words come to mind ...

Thin. Slim. Small. Cut, slash, eviscerate, butcher, chop, and several other euphemisms for painful carving. Also: uh-oh, awww-no, oh-heck, and a few other things you can't say in front of your mother.

How can your business ever hope to thrive and grow on such increasingly meager budgets? Find out what non-profits do by reading "Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business" by Nancy Lublin.

While sitting in a planning meeting at a "ginormous" global company whose employees were bemoaning a lack of funds, author Nancy Lublin gently, timidly suggested a few inexpensive solutions to the got-no-money problem.

Her ideas were met with silent looks, as if she was "the firstborn spawn of beings from another planet."

It was then that Lublin realized that for-profit businesses could learn a thing or ten from businesses who are used to working with nothing or less. She decided to write a book, based on what she learned in her seventeen years of running a not-for-profit business and what she could glean from colleagues.

"I realized that what we have to offer," she says, "can be boiled down to one concept: the power of zero."

First lesson: do more with less cash. Bonuses, raises, and other incentives are fine, but that's not always what motivates employees. Hire people with passion for what you do; they'll work harder and smarter. Offer them opportunities to build skills, and never forget the importance of fun.

Keep your brand simple, unique, consistent, and relevant. Stick with one thing when branding, and utilize "ambassadors" in every facet of your business. With that in mind, choose your partners wisely and remember that word of mouth is the most effective method of marketing, ever.

When you are in need of help, money, or services, learn to ask wisely and be specific. Never confuse business with friendship. Be shameless, but don't ask for money – even if that's what you really need. Then, do more for customers and never underestimate the power of the lagniappe. Be strict with your budget. Learn to barter. Be innovative.

Does budgeting make you want to eat antacids for dinner? You won't need them if you take a big bite of this book first.

You might even need two bites.

Author, founder of Dress for Success, and current CEO of DoSomething.org Nancy Lublin used her own experiences and that of colleagues to show for-profit businesses that being budget-challenged isn't the end of the world. "Zilch" is absolutely packed with hundreds of ideas, instructions, and tips; so many, that it seems overwhelming at times and, in fact, you may want to take time to read this honest, helpful book twice.

If you can't seem to find the words for your skinny financial business plan, here's over 230 pages full of them. For you, "Zilch" is a book to budget for.

-- 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.

Labels:


Richard G. Chandler: Gearing our tax climate for growth


By Richard G. Chandler
When I talk with job providers about how Wisconsin ranks as a place to do business, they give our state good marks for having a hard-working, innovative workforce, a strong education system, good infrastructure and a high quality of life. They also say that a competitive tax structure is an important part of creating a good business climate.

In the last year, we passed several key initiatives to create a pro-growth tax structure and help our middle-class families.

First, Governor Walker signed a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit that will provide a strong incentive for companies to locate their production activities in Wisconsin. The manufacturing and agriculture sectors have traditionally been the twin drivers of Wisconsin’s economy. If those sectors bring money into the state, other sectors will thrive as well, including construction, real estate, retail, and tourism.

Advanced manufacturing businesses using sophisticated new technologies and modern agriculture businesses create high-productivity, well-paying jobs that support innovation and research. These sectors will lead the way as the nation rebalances its economy. The new tax code will help us build on our longtime strength in these sectors.

Second, we created an incentive for people to invest in Wisconsin-based businesses. If someone invests in a Wisconsin-based business and keeps their investment in place for at least five years, there will be no tax on the gain generated when the investment is sold.

This encourages entrepreneurs to start new companies that will flourish here and become major employers as our children and grandchildren enter the workforce. This new investment incentive will build on the momentum created by a bipartisan “angel investment” credit adopted in 2003.

Third, Wisconsin adopted a state tax deduction that helps middle-class families manage their health care costs, along with simplifying Wisconsin's tax law. Last year, Wisconsin adopted a state income tax deduction for contributions to Health Savings Accounts that parallels the federal deduction. In particular, this helps self-employed individuals and small businesses employees manage their health care costs.

Finally, we passed a job creation deduction to help companies expand their operations in Wisconsin and pay for job training, as well as a relocation credit for companies considering moving their operations to Wisconsin.

We've made great strides in improving Wisconsin’s tax climate. These initiatives will help bring new business to Wisconsin, grow our existing sectors, and generate family-supporting jobs across the state.

-- Chandler is the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.


: See newer blog items : : See older blog items :

BizOpinion site feed
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

wisbusiness.com Social News

Follow Us

Site Sponsors

ARCHIVE

· January 2009
· February 2009
· March 2009
· April 2009
· May 2009
· June 2009
· July 2009
· August 2009
· September 2009
· October 2009
· November 2009
· December 2009
· January 2010
· February 2010
· March 2010
· April 2010
· May 2010
· June 2010
· July 2010
· August 2010
· September 2010
· October 2010
· November 2010
· December 2010
· January 2011
· February 2011
· March 2011
· April 2011
· May 2011
· June 2011
· July 2011
· August 2011
· September 2011
· October 2011
· November 2011
· December 2011
· January 2012
· February 2012
· March 2012
· April 2012
· May 2012
· June 2012
· July 2012
· August 2012
· September 2012
· October 2012
· November 2012
· December 2012
· January 2013
· February 2013
· March 2013
· April 2013
· May 2013
· June 2013
· July 2013
· August 2013
· September 2013
· October 2013
· November 2013
· December 2013
· January 2014
· February 2014
· March 2014
· April 2014
· May 2014
· June 2014
· July 2014
· August 2014
· September 2014
· October 2014
Copyright ©2013 WisBusiness.com All rights reserved. | WisOpinion.com | WisPolitics.com  |  Website development by wisnet.com LLC  | Website design by Makin’ Hey Communications