As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker decamps from the campaign trail to Madison this month, fresh off an unsuccessful bid for president, the state’s public policymakers are focused on issues ranging from workforce readiness to broadband connectivity. Here are three need-to-know small business and public policy updates.
1. Speaker Announces Task Forces
The Speaker of the Assembly has announced he will create bipartisan task forces to study three critical issues and possibly recommend legislation for consideration by the Assembly. The task forces, which will be chaired by a Republican, and vice chaired by a Democrat member of the Assembly, include a Task Force on Youth Workforce Readiness. Members of the Task Force will explore strategies to encourage Wisconsin youth to pursue careers in the trades, manufacturing and technical fields. The task force will also seek solutions to improve collaboration between schools, technical colleges, and local employers, and also increase awareness of apprenticeships and internships.
2. New Program Provides Funding for Interns
Firms with fewer than 500 employees may be reimbursed as much as $4,000 for hiring an intern from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The program funded by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, will target what WEDC calls “driver industries,” and includes advanced manufacturing, aerospace, bioscience, energy, food and beverage, and water technology. Participating companies may host up to two interns, and are expected to match the funding received from WEDC. Interested companies should go to the international internship program located at the website for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – www.wedc.org. The program will start next summer, and the application deadline is September 30, 2015.
3. State Invests Millions in Broadband Expansion
The 2015-17 Budget includes funding that will triple the amount of grant money available for expansion of broadband access in rural areas of Wisconsin. In 2014, the first year of the program, the Public Service Commission awarded seven broadband expansion grants totaling $500,000, in 2015, $425,000 awards were granted, and in 2016, $1.5 million will be available. Broadband is a high speed Internet connection capable of receiving data through fiber optic cable as well as by other means. Many rural areas of Wisconsin have no Internet, or are limited to a slow speed connection. According to Economic Development officials, Northern Wisconsin and rural areas of the state are losing residents stifling small business growth, and missing economic opportunities because of a lack of broadband suitable for business purposes. The Public Service Commission will make the final decision for awarding grants with a preference for projects with matching funds, and for projects that can be expanded in the most cost effective way.