Microsoft announced Thursday it is teaming up with communities in six states to invest in technology and related jobs in rural and smaller metropolitan areas. Microsoft has selected Appleton, Wisconsin as one of the six sites. The other communities will be announced later.
Company president Brad Smith launched the TechSpark program Thursday in Fargo, a metropolitan area of more than 200,000 people that includes a Microsoft campus with about 1,500 employees. Smith says the six communities are different by design and not all have a Microsoft presence. Smith says TechSpark is a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment to help teach computer science to students, expand rural broadband and help create and fill jobs, among other things. The other programs will be in Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Microsoft planned to use “white space” technology, tapping buffer zones separating individual television channels in airwaves that could be cheaper than existing methods such as laying fiber-optic cable. The company had originally envisioned using it in the developing world, but shifted focus to the U.S. this summer.
“We are a very diverse country,” Smith said. “It’s important for us to learn more about how digital technology is changing in all different parts of the country. So we are working to be more present in more places.”
Smith said there are 23.4 million Americans living in rural communities who don’t have broadband coverage and the TechSpark program is going to focus on bring coverage to these six regions.
Three Republican legislators introduced a bill Thursday in an attempt to simplify Wisconsin laws on family and medical leave, according to a press release from the Legislature.
State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Reps. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, and Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, introduced the bill to clear up the distinctions between state law and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The sponsors identified confusions among businesses as the primary impetus for the bill.
In the bill, anyone covered under FMLA is excluded from state medical leave laws.
“As a former Human Resources executive, I have seen firsthand how Wisconsin’s family and medical leave laws and the federal FMLA together create an unnecessary regulatory burden for employers across our state. This legislation will ensure that Wisconsin employees are protected, while also simplifying an overly complex system for local employers,” Rohrkaste said in the release.
Wisconsin’s electoral maps were put to the test Tuesday morning during a tense session of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. Gill v. Whitford is the court’s first significant test in years on partisan gerrymandering, or the idea of crafting district lines for the benefit of one party, and whether courts should police such practices.
Following the intensive hour of questioning, Wisconsin Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin sounded confident in the state’s case. “When you have the law on your side, that’s a good place to be going into the argument,” he told MacIver News Service Tuesday afternoon.
Defenders of Wisconsin’s redistricting plan also have history on their side – and, perhaps, standing. Tseytlin reminded the justices that the high court has never tossed out a map on the basis of partisan gerrymandering.
In 2004, the court narrowly determined it shouldn’t referee a Pennsylvania redistricting case, very similar to Wisconsin’s. But Justice Anthony Kennedy said at some point in the future a case so clearly partisan could rise to a judicable level – that is, meriting court review.
Liberals believe in their hearts the Wisconsin redistricting plan is that case. They won last year when a lower court panel of judges, in a 2-1 ruling, determined Wisconsin’s district maps ran afoul of the Constitution by putting Democrats at a distinct disadvantage. Liberals complain that the redrawn maps give Dems little chance of ever winning back the Legislature, which they lost in the Republican revolution of 2010.
William Whitford, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor emeritus and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, argues the state Assembly “bears no resemblance to its evenly split electorate.” He claims Republicans “wield legislative power unearned by their actual appeal to Wisconsin voters. This pro-Republican skew is no accident.”
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Ray Allen today announced the launch of the first phase of WisConomy.com, the state’s new online source for economic and labor market information. The site features powerful, state-of-the-art tools that deliver labor market data in new, engaging and understandable ways.
WisConomy streamlines access to labor market data and makes information easy to access and analyze. The site was created for everyone, from students and business owners to analysts and economic developers, and offers the ability to:
- Easily find data through keyword or program title searches, reducing reliance on terms that are highly technical and less well-known.
- Customize and download data in a variety of formats.
- Quickly convert data to charts and tables that can be embedded in multi-media presentations and shared through a variety of platforms.
- Explore a searchable database for basic information about Wisconsin employers, such as company location and employment size range.
WisConomy.com helps businesses research economic and labor data and make informed employment decisions. Tools enable employers to:
- Create personalized reports to learn and share information about the local job market.
- Examine wages and long-term projections by industry and occupation.
- Help determine location and expansion plans.
DWD technical experts developed WisConomy as an in-house solution to replace WORKnet, a website launched by the agency in 2005. DWD will continue to make WORKnet available for a limited time, and WisConomy.com training opportunities will be scheduled in the coming weeks. DWD plans to launch future WisConomy enhancements, allowing the public to use login credentials to customize, save and automatically update desired data.
Access Wisconsin’s new economic and labor market information tools today at WisConomy.com
Wisconsin taxes — once among the nation’s highest — have fallen to just barely below the national average, highlighting the effects of a slow shift that has played out here over a generation.
In Wisconsin in 2014, the state and local taxes paid by residents added up to 10.5% of their income, compared with the 10.6% that state and local taxes took up of Americans’ incomes across the country. The figures come from 2014 U.S. Census data, the most recent available and the first to account for more than $500 million in tax cuts made in the spring of that year by Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
After peaking in 1973 at 14.7% of income, the tax bite in the state has been steadily declining as a share of how much money people here earn, according to figures from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
Wisconsin is now 22nd highest in the country when measuring taxes against income. Because high-tax states such as New York can skew the national average upward, it’s possible for a state to fall below the national average in taxes but still rank higher than 25th.
State and local taxes in 2014 added up to $4,661 per person in Wisconsin, $214 below the national average of $4,875.
On Tuesday, the Worker’s Compensation Employers Coalition, which will advocate for meaningful reforms to Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation laws, was formally launched. The coalition’s forty-six employer associations range from manufacturers to municipalities and farmers to road builders to small business groups, including WIB.
Together, the coalition is calling on lawmakers to support the agreed-bill from the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC), which includes the creation of a medical fee schedule – like forty-four other states have done – to finally reduce Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation medical costs.
The WCAC, a ten-person Department of Workforce Development council that includes employer groups and labor unions, including both WMC and the AFL-CIO, unanimously approved the agreed-bill in August and is expected to send the finalized version to the Legislature soon. If enacted by lawmakers, the fee schedule included in the agreed-bill would bring medical costs down. This would give Wisconsin one more area where the state has a competitive edge.
According to the Worker’s Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), Wisconsin has some of the highest medical costs for worker’s compensation in the nation. In the most recent year they studied, WCRI found Wisconsin costs to be 47 percent higher than the national median. Looking only at serious injuries that required a week off of work, costs were 60 percent higher than the median.
Employers have tried to manage the high costs by investing in safety and reducing injuries. In fact, from 1994 to 2014, workplace injuries dropped a dramatic 58 percent in Wisconsin, falling from approximately 220,000 per year to under 95,000. Unfortunately no cost savings materialized because the medical cost per claim rose over 450 percent over the same time period.
Yesterday, Governor Scott Walker and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch hosted Wisconsin small business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs in roundtable discussions in Rothschild at the seventh annual Governor’s Small Business Summit. Governor Walker began hosting the event his first year in office to ensure business owners and government officials can directly engage each other and discuss opportunities for developing Wisconsin’s successful business climate. Governor Walker also announced his Small Business Agenda, a four-step approach to helping and strengthening Wisconsin small businesses.
Step One: Reduce business costs
- Lower property taxes
- Stop unemployment fraud
- Streamline regulations
- Reduce frivolous lawsuits
Step Two: Prepare the workforce
- Invest in K-12 education
- Increase worker training
- Expand opportunities in our technical colleges
- Strengthen ties between the UW System and the workforce
Step Three: Remove barriers to work
- End public assistance benefits cliffs
- Require able-bodied adults to work or receive employability training
- Require able-bodied adults to pass a drug test before receiving public assistance
- Target specific populations – veterans, people with disabilities and ex-offenders to enter the workforce
Step Four: Attract new talent
- Market workforce opportunities within Wisconsin
Yesterday, Governor Scott Walker announced the appointment of former Wisconsin State Assembly Representative Dan Meyer to serve as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“Dan Meyer will be an outstanding DNR secretary,” Governor Walker said. “He understands the balance between protecting our natural resources and supporting economic prosperity in our state. As a highly respected former legislator and mayor who cares deeply about conservation, Dan will serve in the best interests of Wisconsin.”
Meyer, an avid outdoorsman, represented the 34th District in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 2001 to 2013 and was a strong advocate for the environment, specifically related to protecting Wisconsin’s lakes in the efforts against invasive species. Prior to his time in the Legislature, he served as mayor of Eagle River, Wisconsin, from 1997 – 2001 and is a former executive director of the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. Meyer, a Vietnam era veteran, resides in Eagle River with his family.
“I am honored to serve as DNR secretary,” said Dan Meyer. “Our state is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and we will work to responsibly protect them and ensure they remain a source of recreation, tourism, economic growth, and rich natural history now and for our children.”