• WisBusiness

Friday, July 25, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Vacation destinations make pitch for telecommuters

By MaryBeth Matzek
Who hasn't gone away on vacation and wished they could stay there forever? Perhaps maybe the boss would let you telecommute or you have a job that lets you live anywhere, but then reality sets in and you realize there are too many barriers to make it work.

Two popular tourist destinations in Wisconsin are looking to smash those barriers. Door County and Bayfield County are both looking to convince visitors they can spend more time – living and still getting their work done – in their favorite vacation spots. To make it all work, however, broadband Internet connections are a must.

"We have worked diligently for more than 10 years improving communication technology in Door County. We know it's a necessity for not only businesses that already operate here and our residents, but also to attract businesses," says Sam Perlman, economic development manager for the Door County Economic Development Corp. "Broadband technology is an absolute economic development issue and we would love to have our seasonal residents spend more time here or maybe locate here permanently and technology is part of that."

While it may only be less than four hours north of Chicago, Door County's geology and geography – it's very rural in some spots and much of the peninsula has a thin layer of soil so to put in lines companies to drill into bedrock -- made it tricky to get broadband technology in place. But there's been immense progress in recent years with different telecom firms working in different parts of the county to improve DSL and cellular wireless access throughout the region.

"Off the top of my head, I can think of three headhunters who live and work from their homes in Northern Door. These are jobs where people can live anywhere. There are a lot of other jobs out there like that too and many more are likely to be created as technology continues to improve," Perlman says. "Now there are social media managers – that's a job that didn't exist five years ago – and it's a job you can do from anywhere. We want people to realize they can work and play all in one location."

Bayfield County – another popular Wisconsin tourist destination – is also promoting that theme, says Scottie Sandstrom, executive director of the Bayfield County Economic Development Corp. The organization has a dedicated webpage and campaign "Love Where You Work" showing professionals how they could make it work living and working surrounded by natural beauty. There's a list of telecommuting benefits, such as less stress and increased productivity, along with information about potential telecommuting jobs and how big companies such as IBM, Intel and Deloitte hire telecommuters.

Sandstrom says the county has great access to high-speed Internet and a detailed fiber network, making staying connected easy. The county is working to get out the word about the area's affordable living options, reliable infrastructure and utilities and quality healthcare, he adds.

And the survey says ...

A survey of state business leaders released earlier this week predicted an increase in economic growth and job growth through the end of the year, but a closer look at the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce report shows there is still more that can be done.

When business leaders were asked what one thing Wisconsin leaders can do to improve the state's business climate, 35 percent said reduce taxes, 15 percent picked becoming a Right to Work state and 14 percent said reform employment laws like making sure versions of state and federal laws are the same.

As for the growth expectations, 71 percent of business leaders predict moderate economic growth between now and the end of the year and 22 percent predict flat growth. Back in January, the six month outlook survey found that 65 percent predicted growth and 31 percent didn't expect any growth.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.


Friday, July 18, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Initiative looks to help Oshkosh suppliers weather defense cuts

By MaryBeth Matzek
Defense spending cuts didn't just cost approximately 1,000 Oshkosh Truck employees their jobs during the past two years; the ripple effects are affecting dozens of Wisconsin companies who are part of the manufacturer's vast supply chain. The recently formed Oshkosh Region Defense Industry Diversification Initiative is doing what it can to mitigate the hurt.

The Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment awarded an $837,316 Defense Industry Adjustment Grant to the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, along with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the City of Oshkosh as sub grant recipients to develop a plan to help dislocated workers and businesses who are a part of Oshkosh's supply chain find new opportunities. In addition, the project includes a 10.7 percent local match from the planning commission and local partners.

"The expected layoffs announced in October 2012 and April 2013 represent a negative economic impact of $91 million in earnings and account for a loss of 1,437 total jobs – that includes not just Oshkosh workers affected by the businesses who worked with Oshkosh who are now seeing less work," says Katherine Ahlquist, an economic development planner with the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Barb LaMue, sector development manager for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) predicts, that about 40 manufacturers in eastern Wisconsin will step forward and identify themselves as being affected by defense spending cuts. With the grant in hand, a slew of partners from local counties and economic development organizations such as New North to chambers of commerce and technical colleges, are now working on a plan to realign regional economic and workforce development strategies to respond to Oshkosh Truck's decreased output and help businesses affected by the cuts to diversify and retool themselves for other manufacturing segments.

One sector garnering attention is the aerospace industry. With the City of Oshkosh and Winnebago County teaming up on a new aviation business park next to Wittman Field and Experimental Aviation Association (EAA), that's one area showing promise, Ahlquist says.

"There are already a number of local companies involved in aviation so it seems like a good market to take a closer look at," she says.

But before getting to that step, New North is working on a supply chain map to identify companies who work with Oshkosh Truck and encourage businesses affected by the cuts at the OEM to reach out to the consortium. "We're trying to identify businesses affected and will come in and do an analysis," she says.

After that, the business can work with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) on a plan to target new markets and clients or perhaps get the necessary certifications to work in the aviation or healthcare sector. "The main goal of this initiative is to keep people on the payrolls at these supplier companies," LaMue says.

Depending on how the program works out, Ahlquist says it could serve as a model for other regions hit when a major employer cuts jobs and those effects ripple through the supply chain. "What we're doing is a pilot program – bringing all these different organizations together to help businesses retool themselves," she says.

Click here for more information on the initiative

New tenant for former Associated Bank headquarters

West Corp., a business-to-business consumer sales provider, is moving into Associated Banc-Corp.'s former headquarters in Ashwaubenon. Associated vacated the spot last year and moved its headquarters to downtown Green Bay.

West Corp., which employs about 1,000 in Appleton at two sites, plans to start with about a dozen employees, but eventually plans to have more than 200 employees in Ashwaubenon. West Corp. also has offices in Middleton and Wausau.

Health firms named 'Most Wired'

Eleven state hospitals and health systems were named among the nation's "Most Wired."

Hospitals & Health Networks annually analyze healthcare organizations on their IT initiatives and how technology is used to improve patient care and communication. Wisconsin organizations to make the 2014 list include: Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee; Fort HealthCare, Fort Atkinson; Gundersen Health System, La Crosse; Holy Family Memorial, Manitowoc; Meriter Hospital, Madison; Ministry St. Clare's Hospital, Weston; Osceola Medical Center; Spooner Health System; ThedaCare, Appleton; University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Madison; and UWHP-Watertown Regional Medical Center.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Art Laffer: Wisconsin is ready for E-Fairness

By Art Laffer
Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin State Legislature should be commended for their work to enact pro-growth policies at the state level that will engender true economic expansion in the Badger State. Wisconsin is setting a blueprint for tax reform, much like they did in the 1990s by leading the way on welfare reform. But to take the next step, Governor Walker needs Congress to do its part by returning power and authority back to the states.

A budget bill passed by legislators in Madison and signed into law by Governor Walker last year will automatically trigger a reduction in the state income tax rates once Congress passes legislation closing the online sales tax collection loophole. This important tax reform would benefit Wisconsin families and small businesses alike, however, its implementation is dependent upon Congressional action to require out-of-state businesses to collect and remit the state sales tax—the same sales tax Wisconsin businesses collect and remit every single day.

For over 20 years, the disparity in the way our nation’s sales tax laws treat local businesses compared with their online-based counterparts has distorted what should be a free market—one unencumbered by government interference. Because local retailers must collect and remit state sales taxes, while online retailers are essentially given a pass, the government is picking winners and losers in the retail marketplace. That simply should not be the case in a free-market economy such as ours.

By holding one set of businesses to a completely different set of standards than another, our outdated tax laws not only handicap local small-business owners, but they also stifle economic expansion. Under the current tax regime, consumers are incentivized to shop online where they (mistakenly) believe they can escape paying sales taxes. Often, this puts a drain on local businesses’ resources, as the unlevel playing field has led to would-be customers frequenting local retailers to solicit advice, compare merchandise, even try out different products, and then leave empty-handed to purchase their goods online. Government has its thumb on the scale, and it is time they took it off.

Moreover, by fairly enforcing the collection of sales taxes due but often uncollected from Internet sales, states will begin seeing their sales tax bases broaden, giving fiscally minded state leaders (such as Governor Walker) the tools necessary to lower other, more harmful taxes. While Wisconsin is one great example of how this could work, there are three other states—Idaho, Ohio, and Utah—that have passed similar laws or budgets and about a dozen others considering similar measures. Wisconsin is ahead of the curve, but their example should provide the path forward for other savvy governors.

A study I conducted with state budget expert Donna Arduin last year found that America could create 1.5 million new jobs and add over $560 billion to our economy in 10 years if Congress passes E-Fairness legislation and states take this pro-growth approach. In Wisconsin, that translates to nearly 24,000 jobs and over $7.5 billion added to the state’s economy in the same timeframe.

When Congress passes E-Fairness legislation, Wisconsin lawmakers would be able to follow through on the promise of lower income taxes for all Wisconsinites, local businesses would be granted a level playing field upon which to compete fairly, and the state would regain control over their own tax code, creating jobs and economic opportunities in the process. It’s a win for local businesses, a win for taxpayers and a win for states’ rights. The only losers are those who support government meddling in the free market.

It is time for Washington to seize this unique opportunity by passing E-Fairness legislation and strengthening our free-enterprise system.

-- Laffer is an economist and chairman of Laffer Associates.


Friday, July 11, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: State funds help market events, draw in tourists

By MaryBeth Matzek
The key to any successful event is getting out the word and a grant program through the Wisconsin Department of Tourism helps organizations do just that.

The Joint Effort Marketing grant program is one of the best ways that groups planning special events can advertise their activities. Tourism is an integral part of Wisconsin’s economy, with visitors spending $17.5 billion in the state in 2013, according to research conducted by Tourism Economics. Special events – whether it’s a music festival or arts exhibition– attract visitors and encourage those travelers already here to stay a little longer.

“A JEM grant is a great way for communities to tap into the power of tourism to have a solid impact on the local economy and create jobs,” says Abbie Hill, grants coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “It really leads to developing better events.”

With the JEM program, non-profit organizations can receive up to $39,550 in grants to reimburse their marketing expenses, whether it’s placing newspaper and TV ads or developing marketing materials, such as posters and websites.

A JEM grant can mean the difference between an event being successful or just staying an idea, Hill says. While JEM grants are usually just for an event’s first year, grant support in declining amounts can be offered in subsequent years.

Recent events to receive JEM grants include the Mile of Music in Appleton, which features more than 200 bands at 60 venues in downtown Appleton on Aug. 7-10, and the new Whooping Crane Festival, which will be held Sept. 11-14 in Princeton.

“Without our support, some of these events wouldn’t get off the ground or they wouldn’t be able to have the desired impact,” Hill says. “We want events to be successful and continue to grow, drawing more visitors – and their spending dollars – to an area.”

And how much money do events bring in? For Mile of Music, organizers predict an economic impact of $478,000 as visitors spend time at local hotels, stores and restaurants. For the new Whooping Crane Festival, an estimated $146,000 in traveler spending is projected.

Getting a JEM grant is a daunting process since organizations need to go through multiple reviews to make sure that the funds will be a good fit. In addition, organizations are only reimbursed after they spend funds on marketing as a way to ensure it’s going to the right place.

“The grant process is a great planning tool for events since they need to determine how many people they expect to attend and then we can apply a multiplier to it to determine how much economic impact it will have on an area,” says Hill, adding that it may take up to a year for an organization to go through the entire JEM grant process.

Manufacturing growth?

Milwaukee-area manufacturers are optimistic about the second half of 2014, according to a survey out this week from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

“Per quarterly outlook surveys conducted by the MMAC, local manufacturers started out 2014’s first quarter noticeably less optimistic than non-manufacturers on real sales, profit and employment expectations. Survey expectations have changed in the past six months,” Bret Mayborne, MMAC’s economic research director, wrote in the report. “As we enter 2014’s third quarter, survey results now indicate manufacturers are equally optimistic toward future prospects on sales and profits and somewhat more optimistic on third-quarter employment levels. These results suggest that a better manufacturing trend may be on the near-term horizon.”

While manufacturing grew from mid-2010 to mid-2013, the past year has been less positive, with more companies reporting fewer manufacturing jobs and shorter workweeks.

Great place to work

Automotive News recognized Neenah-based Bergstrom Automotive – the largest dealership in Wisconsin – as one of the top three U.S. dealerships to work for. In addition to Bergstrom, Penske Automotive Group and AutoNation were also recognized.

Automotive News, a publication of the automotive industry, conducted in-depth research, talking with employees and getting a feeling of what it’s like to work at a particular site.

Bergstrom has 1,400 employees at dealerships throughout the Fox Valley, Milwaukee and Milwaukee.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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