LA CROSSE - Walker touts low unemployment, surplus in economics forum
Unemployment rates in Wisconsin are lower than they have been in more than five years. But Wisconsin still lags behind Minnesota when it comes to median income and college degrees, and the Great Recession appears to have left its mark on consumer confidence.

Two speakers served up different takes on the regional economy Tuesday at a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse breakfast-hour economics forum. After bacon and eggs, Gov. Scott Walker supplied the optimism, while a UW-L economist presented a detailed analysis of Coulee Region trends.

“He’s governor — he has to be positive,” said Taggert J. Brooks, UW-L associate professor of economics. “I’m an economist — I can be negative.”

Walker highlighted the state’s 5.9 percent unemployment rate — the lowest since November 2008 — and Wisconsin’s roughly $1 billion budget surplus. He also reminded audience members of his office’s efforts to limit state spending and pay off debts.

The state’s unemployment rate should continue to fall in the next few months, Walker said.

“We see good indicators out there,” Walker said.

Brooks agreed with the governor that the state’s economy is on a “slow but positive” trend and said his research shows improvements in housing, lending and employment.

But some of Brooks’ data tempered the optimism. Wisconsin’s median annual income of $52,627 is about $6,500 less than the median income in Minnesota. In Wisconsin, 26.4 percent of residents have a college education, compared with 32.2 percent of Minnesotans.

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JANESVILLE - Wisconsin facing $700 million transportation shortfall
Gov. Scott Walker is looking for new ways to fund a state transportation budget that is projected to fall short by as much as $700 million by 2017.

Walker was in Rock County on Tuesday for a Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board meeting. The governor said a project to widen Interstate 90 from the Illinois border to Madison is still a priority despite the projected shortfall.

But Department of Transportation Secretary Matt Gottlieb said it is possible the $950 million project could be delayed if funding isn’t found soon.

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GREENVILLE - School Specialty names Yorio president and CEO
School Specialty Inc., a Greenville-based company that makes educational materials for the prekindergarten to high school markets, named Joseph Yorio as its new president and CEO.

Yorio replaces Jim Henderson, who was named interim president and CEO by the board of directors in July 2013. Henderson will continue to serve as board chairman.

Yorio also has joined the board of directors.

“I am extremely honored to join the School Specialty team and look forward to the opportunity to lead the company in the next stages of development and growth,” Yorio said in a statement.

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OSHKOSH - Oshkosh Corp. suppliers get economic assistance
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has launched a pilot program that will give businesses impacted by layoffs at Oshkosh Corp. and other major manufacturers access to short-term loans to help pursue new projects or businesses.

The Special Project Loan Fund will offer businesses a loan or loan guarantee of up to $250,000 for up to three years at a 6 percent interest rate. Companies that wish to take advantage of the program must provide 50 percent matching funds for a loan and 20 percent in matching funds for a loan guarantee.

WEDC CEO Reed Hall said businesses that supply parts or equipment to other companies have said such a program would help fill a gap for them. In a phone interview Wednesday, Hall said Oshkosh Corp.’s announcement this month that it would lay off 760 employees in June spurred an early launch for the program.

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MADISON - Home Bancorp completes stock offering
Home Bancorp Wisconsin, the holding company for Home Savings Bank, Madison, said Wednesday it has completed its stock sale, converting the institution from a mutual savings bank to a stock-based savings bank.

Shares of the company’s common stock are expected to begin selling on the Over-the-Counter (OTC) Bulletin Board on Thursday under the symbol HWIS.

Home Bancorp sold 899,190 shares at $10 per share, allowing sales first to current and former customers and employees, and then to the community. Home Savings Bank’s employee stock ownership plan purchased 71,935 shares.

Gross proceeds are expected to be about $9 million, which the company has said it will use for market flexibility and future growth.

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MADISON - Steakhouse to open on the Square
Flaming bananas foster and Caesar salad, both prepared tableside, are on the menu for a new steakhouse slated to open at the end of May on the Capitol Square.

Rare Steakhouse is the latest venture from Noble Chef Hospitality Group, the team that owns The Capital Tap Haus, Buck & Badger Northwoods Lodge and Ivory Room Piano Bar.

It will take up the first floor of 14 W. Mifflin St., the former location of Mirch Masala and Tabby & Jack's pet supply store.

"Everything in the restaurant will sort of have a nostalgic feel to it," said Bill Ford, director of operations for Noble Chef and Rare's general manager. "There's a lot of mahogany going in ... three miles of mahogany trim."

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PRAIRIE DU SAC - Eagle Inn takes off with new look
After 30 years as the mainstay at one of the busiest intersections in Prairie du Sac, the Eagle Inn is planning to take off in a new direction.

The popular local eatery is ready for a transformation that owner Todd Baker said might surprise some people.

This summer, it will undergo cosmetic changes inside and out, add a professional baker and a fresh baked goods counter — and a bar.

Baker said the establishment is rebranding itself as the Eagle Inn Restaurant-Bakery-Bar.

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NEENAH - Plexus solidifies Neenah base with new $50 million plant
Plexus Corp.’s relocation of employees to its new $50 million manufacturing plant thrills Neenah officials.

About 1,100 Plexus employees and 200 temporary employees will work at the Neenah Operations plant, 2444 Schultz Drive. The employees moved from Neenah 1 and Neenah 2 — two leased facilities on Enterprise Drive — and Appleton 1 in Greenville.

Neenah officials are pleased with Plexus’ decision to build the plant in the Southpark Industrial Center, and they anticipate more big news from Plexus by year-end.

Plexus holds an option on vacant land in front of its global headquarters in downtown Neenah and must decide if it needs the land for another construction project or should relinquish the option so the city can market the land to other developers.

“The hope is that Plexus would move forward with a project,” said Chris Haese, Neenah’s director of community development and assessment. “That would be the best scenario for us.”

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LA CROSSE - Rail expansion prompts worries about dangerous cargo, unsafe rail cars
The issue of safety dominated the conversation Tuesday night as concerned citizens met to discuss the surge in rail cars carrying crude oil and BNSF Railway Co.’s proposed expansion in La Crosse.

More than 300 people packed into the Central High School commons for a public meeting organized by Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, including La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat and other elected and municipal officials.

“People everywhere are very concerned,” CARS member Fred Nicklaus said. “It doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican, liberal or conservative, increased train traffic concerns all of us.”

The proposed BNSF expansion would add a second set of tracks parallel to the existing line on the east side of La Crosse. The new, four mile section would run from the rail yards north of Gillette Street near Logan High School to just south of Farnam Street near Central High School.

BNSF says the line will reduce train delays and make rail traffic move more efficiently, but citizens Tuesday night questioned safety of the DOT-111 rail cars and their cargo — which includes the notoriously flammable crude oil from the Bakken formation — and the potential risks of increased rail traffic through the La Crosse has drawn considerable outcry among people who fear that a spill or derailment could cause catastrophic damage to the homes, businesses and schools near the line.

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GREEN LAKE – Broadband gaps in rural Wisconsin hinder growth, experts say
Jill Hietpas’ experience of navigating Green Lake County on Monday morning offered an apt, and timely, illustration of why broadband connectivity is vital in rural areas.

Hietpas, a University of Wisconsin-Extension broadband educator, was scheduled to speak at the monthly meeting of the Intercounty Coordinating Committee, a consortium of county officials from Columbia, Dodge, Green Lake, Jefferson, Marquette and Sauk counties.

ICC was scheduled to meet at the Green Lake County Government Center, so Hietpas tried to use her smart phone to find her way there. But when entered the address, she got an unwanted message: “No service.”

Andy Lewis, UW-Extension broadband and economic development specialist, said the challenge of broadband connectivity in rural areas has been compared to the challenge of rural electrification 80 years ago, when electric companies were reluctant to connect farms, ranches and other remote areas to electric service because of the cost of serving areas of sparse population.

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OSHKOSH - Downsized Oshkosh airport terminal proposed
A group of Winnebago County leaders wants to spend $5 million to replace the aging Wittman Regional Airport terminal with a smaller administrative building.

But a proposal by the Aviation Committee to replace the 30,900-square-foot facility with a two-story, 14,000-square-foot office building likely won’t be approved anytime  soon, said County Executive Mark Harris.

Two other County Board committees must review the plan before the entire board considers the measure.

“By the time there’s a consensus on the type, size and location of the building, and the design and cost  estimates done, more than likely it’ll fall into next year,” Harris said. “But I think it will happen and I think it will save taxpayers money in the long run.”

The existing terminal needs a new roof, shows signs of foundation damage and costs  $80,000 to heat and cool each year.

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MADISON - Madison Investment Advisors acquires Canadian unit
Madison Asset Management, also known as Madison Investment Advisors, plans to acquire the equity team of Hansberger Global Investors, Toronto. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Hansberger is an international growth equity subsidiary of Natixis Global Asset Management, one of the largest asset managers worldwide, with headquarters in Paris and Boston.

The Hansberger team being acquired manages $4 billion in assets and has 10 employees. It will continue to operate in Toronto.

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DE PERE - Waseda Farms opens grocery store in De Pere
Waseda Farms Market is open in downtown De Pere.

The store looks to fill a need for organic, natural and local foods, as well as be a full-service grocery, said Matt Lutsey, whose family owns Waseda Farms in Baileys Harbor and the store at 330 Reid St. on De Pere’s west side.

“We want to be as local as possible,” Lutsey said. “Our focus is being local and organic as much as we can.”

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MADISON – Steinhafels to acquire three American stores
Three closed American TV & Appliance stores, located in Oak Creek, Madison and Grand Chute, will be sold to the Steinhafels furniture chain as part of two sales totaling $21 million approved Monday in Dane County Circuit Court.

President Gary Steinhafel said his Pewaukee-based company plans to hire 125 to 150 people — many of them former American TV employees — to work at the three stores. The stores will undergo a complete remodeling and likely open in the fall, Steinhafel said.

In all, five stores and a vacant lot were approved for sale Monday.

John Schlueter of American Property Acquisition LLC will buy the American stores in Pewaukee and Brown Deer and a 19-acre parcel in Oak Creek. He declined to discuss his plans for the properties.

In February, American TV, the Madison-based furniture, appliance and consumer electronics company announced it was closing all of its 11 stores. Nearly 1,000 people in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa lost their jobs, including 270 in the Madison area.

American TV filed for protection from its creditors in Dane County Circuit Court under the state’s receivership law, an alternative to federal bankruptcy.

On Monday, receiver Michael Polsky, who is liquidating American TV’s assets, said sales of the company’s inventory and property have gone “better than we could have expected.”

As a result, Polsky said American TV expects to repay all of its secured creditors, including BMO Harris Bank, and “all or almost all of the unsecured claims in this case.”

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MADISON – Lyft, Uber drivers cited in ride-sharing sting
Two drivers for the ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber each received more than $1,300 in citations over the weekend after Madison police targeted them with a sting operation, authorities said.

The tickets mark a shift in how police are responding to the controversial companies, which have been offering rides to Madison customers for weeks despite the city saying they amount to unlicensed taxis.

Police officials said in March they could cite drivers or launch sting operations, but they also said doing so was not a top priority and that they hoped the companies would voluntarily stop giving rides. As Lyft and Uber stayed active, though, Capt. Richard Bach of the department’s traffic division said police and city officials decided citations were necessary.

“There needed to be enforcement action taken to send a message that the city was not going to tolerate their operation without licensing,” Bach said.

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