WED AM News: State needs ‘to do more’ for female entrepreneurs and women-owned startups, WEDC head says; Evers joins guvs in calling for suspension of federal gas tax

— WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes says the state should do more to elevate female entrepreneurs and women-owned startups. 

Speaking yesterday during a webinar for International Women’s Day, Hughes said Wisconsin is “keeping pace” with national trends for investment in women-owned businesses, but “we need to do more.” 

She said women-founded companies in the state’s Qualified New Business Venture program — which provides tax benefits to investors in Wisconsin startups — received just about 5.5 percent of all the money invested in QNBV companies between 2017 and 2020. 

“That’s about half the national figure for comparable investments that go to teams with all women or mixed-gender founding teams, so we can do better there,” she said. “And we also see that some of those investments are not on par with what other companies are receiving. So not only are there less women receiving the investments, but those investments often are smaller.” 

Hughes explained the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is highlighting these trends in conversations with investors and venture capital firms “to make sure they understand” the opportunity presented by women-owned businesses. 

She noted national studies have found startups with a female founder on the team generate 10 percent more cumulative revenue over five years. And she said investment groups with more female partners tend to add more jobs, make more successful investments at the portfolio level and overall achieve higher returns and more profitable exits. 

“We need to demonstrate — and we can demonstrate — data that investing in women-owned startups is the best way to see returns to our investors,” she said. 

In a message to female entrepreneurs, Department of Administration Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld added: “You are our future.” 

“You have and continue to be the bedrock of our state’s economy,” she said. “You are amazing role models for young women to follow, to see and to aspire to greatness. Know that you are valued and appreciated by Governor Evers and all of us here today. Because when women succeed, we all succeed.”

Other speakers on the webinar highlighted progress being made toward equal pay for men and women in the state, though disparities vary by industry. 

Heather Thompson, deputy director of the Department of Workforce Development’s Bureau of Workforce Information and Technical Support, said the state’s labor force participation rate for female workers has “consistently outpaced” the national rate for the past 15 years. 

Drawing on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Thompson noted full-time wage and salary female workers in Wisconsin earned median weekly earnings of $885 in 2020. That’s about 86.5 percent of the $1,023 weekly earnings figure for their male counterparts. 

That ratio has increased from 82.4 percent in 2019, showing “a significant increase” over the year, she said. 

DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek said the importance of women participating in the labor force has been “readily apparent” during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Many women have found their careers disrupted,” she said yesterday. “Some have been working reduced hours while others have left the workforce altogether. And these changes, coupled with the exodus of many baby boomers from the workforce, have exacerbated the challenges employers face in recruiting and retaining skilled workers.” 

— Gov. Tony Evers and three other Dem governors are calling on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax in light of increasing prices at the pump.

In a letter, the guv joined Govs. Gretchen Whitmer, of Michigan; Jared Polis, of Colorado; Michelle Lujan Grisham, of New Mexico; and Tom Wolf, of Pennsylvania. It urges congressional leaders to take up legislation to relieve the financial burden as the national average gas price rises to just over $4.

The Gas Prices Relief Act would suspend the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon until 2023. Evers in a statement said the legislation would help relieve everyday costs and help Wisconsinites make ends meet.

“From rising costs in grocery store aisles and at gas pumps to affording the costs of childcare and caregiving, I know folks and families are feeling the pressure of everyday costs going up,” the guv said.

In the letter, the guvs argued the legislation would ensure the Highway Trust Fund, a transportation fund that uses funds from federal fuel taxes, stays solvent. Provisions in the bill authorize the U.S. Department of Treasury to use general fund dollars to alleviate lost revenue.

They also noted $118 billion in additional funds was provided for the Highway Trust fund under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The guv’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he would similarly call to suspend the state’s gas tax of 30.9 cents a gallon.

See the release:

See the letter:

— The state Senate has unanimously rejected an Assembly amendment to legislation that sought to bar municipalities from being sole owners of a charging station on public property. 

Instead, they would have to partner with a third party. That would make clear that private businesses can have charging stations for electric vehicles and charge a fee without becoming a public utility. 

The Assembly had added an amendment that would create an exception to the prohibition against ownership, operation, management or leasing of a charging station by the state or a local government if certain conditions were met. 

GOP Sen. Rob Cowles, the bill co-author, said the votes weren’t there for the amendment and failing to pass the bill this session would increase the likelihood of government money going into electric charging stations rather than the private sector taking off. Because the Legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on the bill, it won’t go to Evers.

See more Senate action in yesterday’s WisPolitics.com PM Update:

— One of the state’s leading COVID-19 experts is praising President Biden’s Test to Treat Initiative as “remarkably positive,” though he says the effort faces some challenges. 

Dr. John Raymond, president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin, highlighted the plan yesterday during a webinar hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. It was announced last week during the State of the Union address. 

“The idea is you could walk into a clinic at a CVS or Walgreens, get a rapid antigen test, and if it’s positive, get a prescription and then leave the pharmacy with your prescription for oral COVID-19 medications,” Raymond said. “All in a very short period of time, say 30 minutes, from walking into the pharmacy to leaving.” 

The initiative is still in the “proof of principle” stage, Raymond said, noting about 100 pharmacy sites are ready to proceed with the effort. 

“There are some hurdles that need to be overcome before this becomes more widespread in the U.S.,” he said. “First of all, we need to make sure we have an adequate supply of reliable rapid tests. I think that we actually are in a pretty good situation there in terms of the stocks of the tests, so that shouldn’t be a burden.” 

As the COVID-19 case burden is declining across the country, Raymond said most pharmacies should have “adequate supplies” of Paxlovid and molnupiravir. These are two oral COVID-19 treatments that have been granted emergency use authorization for mild to moderate disease. 

While Raymond doesn’t foresee issues with availability of tests or treatments, he noted “there does need to be a health care provider” at the pharmacy that can write the prescription for the treatment. 

“Pharmacists in Wisconsin do not have that authority to prescribe, so this is a logistical issue, a challenge for us that needs to be overcome,” he said. 

He also identified a need for finding “a consistent way to report” positive test results, as the initiative would disrupt the current system in which only positive PCR test results are reported and not rapid antigen tests. 

Despite the hurdles associated with the initiative, Raymond said the plan is “very, very positive” and could help the United States withstand potential future surges of COVID-19. 

See more on the initiative here:

— Epic is making its software services available for independent medical groups through a new program called Garden Plot, the Verona-based company announced.  

The new program is available to primary and specialty care groups with more than 40 providers. JP Heres, vice president of Garden Plot at Epic, says its first customers will begin using it in May. 

“Garden Plot gives small, independent groups access to Epic — the software and third parties they need, plus the strength of our interoperability network — with minimal overhead,” Heres said in a release. “We handle hosting, support, and the configuration and rollout of updates so that providers can focus on their patients.”

An existing program called Community Connect has enabled health systems to share their Epic software with nearby medical groups without them having to purchase related software infrastructure or hire internal support teams. 

The company says about 40,000 providers access its services through this program. Garden Plot is being launched to allow independent medical groups to work directly with Epic when Community Connect isn’t available. 

Epic software is used by more than 250 health care organizations around the country. According to Johns Hopkins, approximately 45 percent of the U.S. population has medical records in the Epic system. 

See the release:

— Evers has announced over $7.9 million in infrastructure grants for two health care organizations in the Appleton area, most of which is going to Mosaic Family Health. 

This clinic is getting nearly $7.8 million to expand care for about 5,000 additional patients. That includes expanding mental health services, physical therapy, chronic disease management, a memory assessment clinic and a new downtown urgent care practice. 

It will also be adding secondary services related to food insecurity, clothing, housing and transportation for patients, a release from the guv’s office shows. 

Meanwhile, the other $160,000 is going to the Tri-County Community Dental Clinic for facility improvements. 

Evers also announced yesterday more than $6 million in grant funding for a new clinic in Elroy, with $2.1 million going to the city for related infrastructure improvements such as street and utility work. The other $4 million is going to the Gundersen St. Joseph’s Hospital and Clinics for construction of the new facility, which will provide pharmacy services, chiropractic services, and behavioral health care among other services. 

The Healthcare Infrastructure Capital Investment Grant Program is funded with American Rescue Plan Act dollars, providing grants between $158,000 and $20 million.

“These investments will help improve dental care services, expand access to mental healthcare, physical therapy, urgent care, and so much more, I am glad to say that with these funds we are investing in a healthier tomorrow in the Appleton community and the entire region,” Evers said in the release. 

See the release:

— The guv also signed two bills into law allowing military medical personnel to practice in certain health-related facilities without obtaining a license and providing in-state tuition to relocated service members.

Evers in a statement said the bills will help to strengthen the state’s labor force and extend access to educational and employment opportunities for service members.

“I am proud to sign these bipartisan bills today because they will not only help bolster the Wisconsin workforce, especially in the healthcare industry where we have struggled with shortages for years, but they will help our service members and their families secure education and employment opportunities so they can continue to grow and succeed,” the guv said.

One of the bills allows military medical personnel to temporarily practice at community-based residential facilities, residential care apartment complexes and inpatient and outpatient care facilities without having to get a license. 

Under previous law, no person could engage in medicine and surgery without first obtaining a license from the Medical Examining Board. 

The second bill makes active-duty service members, their spouses and children eligible for in-state tuition at UW System and Technical College System institutions if they are relocated outside Wisconsin.

See the release: 

— Children’s Wisconsin has announced the opening of a new mental health walk-in clinic at its Milwaukee hospital. 

According to a release, the Craig Yabuki Mental Health Walk-In Clinic is the first of its kind in the state. Children and teens aged 5-18 can visit the clinic with a guardian with no appointment or referral necessary between 3 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Clinic staff include licensed therapists, social workers and clinical assistants. 

These staff members can offer patient evaluations including identifying any pressing safety concerns and will connect with the child’s doctors or therapists to “ensure continuing resources are available” following the visit. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Children’s Wisconsin’s Emergency Department and Trauma Center has seen a 40 percent increase in visits for mental and behavioral health issues. Amy Herbst, the hospital’s vice president of mental and behavioral health, says the new clinic was launched after families expressed a need for more care options. 

“We hope this clinic can provide a safe place for children in crisis to take a pause, talk with our specialists, and get the right care they need at the right time,” she said in the release. 

See more:

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<i>See these and other press releases: 

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Children’s Wisconsin: Announces opening of mental health walk-in clinic

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