MadREP in the News

Check out the Madison Region Economic Partnership's recent newsworthy economic development activities.


Cap Times: Autism expert wants Madison bosses to embrace neurodiversity

Economic Development Cap Times Logo

Source: The Cap Times

Haley Moss has had enough of the “tell me about yourself” question, familiar to just about anyone who’s ever applied for a job.

“If you ask me to tell you about myself, you’re not going to like the answer,” Moss told attendees at the Madison Region Economic Development and Diversity Summit on Wednesday.

“I would probably say, ‘Hi, I’m Haley. I’m an attorney and an author. I’m also very proudly autistic, and something you should know about me is I really enjoy playing video games, and Taylor Swift is going to be in Philadelphia next week, the same time I’m in Philadelphia, and I don’t have Eras tour tickets.’

“That’s probably not what you want to know about me, but that’s probably something I would tell you because that’s something I’m thinking about,” said Moss, an expert on neurodiversity and the first openly autistic lawyer in Florida. She flew to Madison to talk to representatives from local businesses and nonprofits about how to make workplaces better fit people with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities and other forms of ‘neurodivergence.’

Such efforts were initially popularized in the tech sector, with companies like Microsoft purposefully recruiting “neurodiverse” candidates and creating an interview process tailored to them.

“Neurodivergent individuals strengthen a workforce with innovative thinking and creative solutions,” the company’s website explains. More recently, that attitude has been spreading to other sectors too.

“There is an actual business case for it, even though I don’t feel like there should have to be an actual business case to be good human beings and to make sure that we do our best to value everybody as human beings,” Moss said.

Still, people with autism often don’t find jobs that fit their skills. Autism Speaks, a nonprofit raising awareness about autism, estimates that between 50% and 75% of the 5.6 million U.S. adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed. For college graduates with autism, the rate is yet higher, with 85% estimated to be unemployed — around 20 times the national average.

With today’s tight labor market, employers need workers now more than ever, but they’re not likely to hire many more neurodivergent workers unless they change their hiring practices — including ambiguous questions like “tell me about yourself,” which can be a minefield for the literal-minded.

“It’s so vague. I don’t know if you want to know about me outside of my resume… my life history, my work history or if you want some fun facts to see if we get along.

“Having interviewed for things enough times, I always feel like I’m going on a bad first date and I never know how the other person feels about me,” she said. “There are so many ways we can make this better.”

Instead, she suggests, managers should make their questions more specific and consider asking candidates to complete an assignment or submit a writing sample.

“If we actually get to show what we know, a lot of neurodivergent people thrive.”

Do you really need a ‘people person’?

Another way employers can promote neurodiversity, Moss said, is to reconsider what they’re looking for in job applicants. Some job ads say they’re looking for a “people person,” even if the role involves little social interaction.

Moss, whose books include “Great Minds Think Differently: Neurodiversity for Lawyers and Other Professionals” and “The Young Autistic Adult’s Independence Handbook,” describes herself as distinctly not a “people person.”

If she had her way at a work meeting, she’d skip the small talk, the introductions and the icebreakers and get right down to business. Eye contact would be optional — it makes her nervous. Knowing that many people use those kinds of social cues to judge whether a person is honest or attentive, she’s learned to stare at noses instead. It’s a bit like learning a second language, she said.

“I have learned enough neurotypical social skills to somehow survive this world,” Moss said. “A lot of times, people don’t know that it feels very unnatural to me. They don’t realize this is a performance of sorts that leaves me exhausted.”

Neurodivergent people are often treated as if they’re a faulty version of their neurotypical (majority) counterparts. To her, it’s more like the difference between iPhone and Android operating systems.

“They each have their own strengths and weaknesses,” Moss said, and people readily accept that an app made for one type of phone might not work on the other. But when dealing with neurodivergent people, Moss said, it seems that many people want to call tech support.

“The thing is, the phone isn’t broken, just like the person’s not broken. It just is different. Sometimes how we treat people is not as kind as we treat inanimate objects.”

Likewise, many people see a person’s disability or difference and jump to conclusions about the person’s abilities. Moss recalled going to lunch with a fellow lawyer who has cerebral palsy. The server asked Moss what her friend wanted to order. She told the server to ask him.

“It was very odd that it was assumed right away that I was (his caregiver), and not just two disabled lawyers trying to do the best they can.”

Accommodations, please

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are legally required to make reasonable accommodations to allow an employee or qualified applicants to perform the essential functions of a job, unless that accommodation would cause undue hardship for the employer.

For a worker whose job requires them to answer the phone, that could mean providing a TTY teletypewriter if the worker is deaf or hard of hearing, Moss said. If instead the worker has autism, that might mean providing a script so that the worker doesn’t feel so anxious when the phone rings.

When Moss worked at a law firm, the bright, buzzing fluorescent lights (“the worst neurotypical invention to ever happen”) would give her headaches and distract her all day, so her bosses agreed she could wear headphones, use a lamp or turn off the lights in her office.

Such arrangements, Moss said, allow neurodivergent individuals to work in the way they need to, much as glasses or contact lenses allow others to see their computer screens or their customers.

And they often come at little cost to the employer, according to the Job Accommodation Network, which provides guidance on ADA accommodations. In a survey of around 3,500 employers who contacted the organization for advice, about half said the accommodations they made came at no cost.

Around 43% reported paying a one-time cost for accommodations, with a median cost of $300. About 7% of surveyed employers said the accommodations they made came with ongoing costs, with a median price tag of $3,750 a year.

Here are few more of the tips Moss offered for making workplaces more friendly to neurodivergent workers:

  • If a person discloses that they’re neurodivergent, avoid saying things like, “I wouldn’t have guessed,” which are based on stereotypes. “What do you think autism looks like?” Moss asks. “There is no one look to neurodiversity.” Instead, she suggests, ask the person how you can support them.

  • Encourage workers to give others tips on “how to work with me” to avoid miscommunication and put everyone at ease. Moss tells those she works with that she’s not a morning person, unprompted phone calls make her anxious, and she’d appreciate a reminder if she’s neglected to follow up on something.

  • Assume that your workplace already has staff who are neurodivergent, and look for ways to meet their needs.

  • Recognize the strengths that neurodivergent individuals bring to a workplace. For example, many people with autism are treated as “oddballs” for knowing a lot about a niche subject, but having specialized knowledge is an asset, or even a requirement, in many fields.

  • Implement universal design principles, which can make places and practices more accessible to all people, without segregating or stigmatizing.

  • Employers and individuals looking for confidential, expert advice on accommodations can contact the Job Accommodation Network by visiting or calling (800) 526-7234 for voice calls and (877) 781-9403 for TTY.

As the Cap Times’ business and local economy reporter, Natalie Yahr writes about challenges and opportunities facing workers, entrepreneurs and job seekers. Before moving to Madison in 2018, she lived in New Orleans, where she trained as a Spanish-English interpreter and helped adult students earn high school equivalencies. Support journalism like this by becoming a Cap Times memberTo comment on this story, submit a letter to the editor.

Originally published on

Madison 365: Urban League, MadREP summit focuses on attracting talent to South Central Wisconsin

economic development Madison365 logoSource: Madison 365

The Urban League of Greater Madison and Madison Regional Economic Partnership came together to co-host the 10th annual Madison Region’s Economic Development and Diversity Summit at Monona Terrace on May 10 in Madison. The summit focused on expanding opportunity and diversity in the area by discussing how to entice people from across the country to choose Madison as their work location.

Dr. Ruben L. Anthony, president and CEO of Urban League of Greater Madison, and Jason M. Fields, president and CEO of Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP), opened the event as both of their organizations have played important roles in increasing opportunity and access for people of color in the area. Fields spoke on the Advance Now 2.0 Strategy, a MadREP report and blueprint for continued economic growth in the area, that was released around four years ago.

“It’s for all of us to answer some of those economic questions,” Fields said to the room. “How do we become better? And how do we become better for everybody in our eight-county area? That includes rural, urban, people of the BIPOC community, including everybody. What do we need to do to make sure that this is a thriving place? As Ruben said earlier, what do we want to do to make sure that when people look at our region, with the choice between the North Carolina Research Triangle, Boston, or South Carolina, they choose us? The strategy is going very well.”

Madison community leaders (l-r) Nasra Wehelie, Linda Vakunta, Carrie Braxton, Dr. Jack Daniels, Camille Carter and Theola Carter attend the 10th annual Madison Region’s Economic Development and Diversity Summit at Monona Terrace.

Laura Dresser, UW-Madison Clinical Associate Professor and Associate Director at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy(COWS), gave the first opening speech for the morning plenary session. Dresser spoke on Wisconsin’s current labor and economic state as well as the racial inequalities present throughout it. Jason R. Thompson, co-founder of CAPE Inclusion, importantly followed up with a discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion, an area that if improved, could lead to a stronger workforce.

Breakout sessions at the summit included two presentations on neurodiversity in the workplace by Haley Moss, and improving the quality of life in the midwest for rejuvenation by Amanda Weinstein. These were joined by a panel on youth to adult apprenticeship moderated by Bridgett Willey with panelists Hugh Wing, Seth Lentz, Mitch Staroscik, and Liz Pusch. As well as an additional panel on what talented workers are looking for moderated by Mark Richardson with panelists Clara Tavarez, Angela Arrington, Erin Hillson, and Grace Fernando.

Luncheon speaker Troy A. LeMaile-Stovall, CEO of TEDCO, suggested a shifting of framework for the audience, as he also discussed the importance of technology and innovation in the workforce as we develop both locally and globally.

“Let us not lose who the real competition is,” said LeMaile-Stovall. “There’s some other countries that I can name that are sitting and watching us fight amongst our 50 states in our different regions. They’re watching us fight amongst ourselves over some resources, and they’re thinking about how they think as a country. This is not trying to make a political statement, but we’ve got to rethink how we think about this notion of economic development. We have got to think about it in a much more holistic way.”

The last keynote speaker gave perspective both as a former worker of many odds-and-ends type jobs, and as an expert in DEI. Lela Lee, actress and creator of “Angry Little Asian Girl,” gave insight into how employees may feel in contemporary workplace environments. With issues such as sexism, racism, and other discriminations in the workplace driving potential employees away, a cycle of inability to build diverse communities follows. Lee spoke to the importance of not only attracting and keeping a diverse workforce through combating those adverse experiences in the workplace, but also in supporting diverse communities in the city itself.

“If Madison wants to be a Plan A for good people, Madison needs to provide companies with healthy work cultures, and a vibrant community to live in,” Lee said. “It sounds like the job sectors in greater Madison are amazing, but a pattern has emerged that is noticeable. People vote with their feet, and they leave to other metropolitan destinations like Seattle, the Bay Area, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, and D.C. This made me wonder, are there blind spots in the workplaces? Without offending anyone, I think people for the most part are living out a blueprint that we were given from the generation before.”

Anthony and Fields closed out the event with words of encouragement for sustained commitment to economic and social development in the Madison area and beyond.

Article originally published on

Business Facilities: National Science Foundation Awards $1M To First-Ever NSF Regional Innovation Engines

economic development business facilities logoSource: Business Facilities

The U.S. National Science Foundation has announced the first-ever NSF Regional Innovation Engines, or NSF Engines, program awards to 44 unique teams spanning universities, nonprofits, businesses, and other organizations across the U.S. states and territories. Each awardee team will receive up to $1 million for two years. The NSF Engines program is anticipated to be transformational for the nation, ensuring the U.S. remains in the vanguard of competitiveness for decades to come.

The awardees span a broad range of states and regions, reaching geographic regions that have not fully benefited from the technology boom of the past decades. These NSF Engines development awards will help organizations create connections and develop their local innovation ecosystem within two years to prepare a strong proposal for becoming a future NSF Engine, where they will have the opportunity to receive up to $160 million.

The NSF Engines program has two types of awards. Featured here are the NSF Engines Development Awards, or Type-1 awards, including those just announced, provide up to $1 million for up to two years. Anticipated for Fall 2023, the Type-2 awards will provide up to $160 million for up to 10 years. The first round of Type-2 awards will fund NSF Engines across three distinct phases — the nascent, emergent and growth phases.

Teams From Mississippi, Nevada, New York, Wisconsin, And Across U.S. Receive Initial Awards

Jackson State University, in partnership with The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), received a $1 million NSF toward “advancing food security and climate resilience.” The vision of the award, referred to as the Sustainable Innovation Ecosystem (SIE) Food Industry Engine Development Award, is to develop an innovative ecosystem that: improves health and nutrition, reduces poverty, creates a diverse talent pool of skilled technical workers, and improves economic diversity and resilience across the targeted service region.

University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) was one of 44 teams to receive the first-ever NSF Engines Development Awards. When in 2002, NSF established a new directorate for the first time in more than 30 years focusing on Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) that included the focus on establishing regional “innovation engines” throughout the U.S., the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) saw an opportunity to partner and support UNR in order to strengthen the agency’s efforts of turning Nevada into the “Lithium Capital of North America”.

The University of Rochester in New York has received a $1 million Regional Innovation Engines Development Award grant toward the development of next-generation lasers. The advancement of laser technologies in the Rochester region is expected to foster the connection of a variety of institutional, industrial, and business partners toward establishing an innovation and economic hub built around the Science, Technology and Engineering of Lasers and Laser Applications Research (STELLAR).

In Milwaukee, WI, the The Water Council and its partners received the $1 million award to plan a Regional Innovation Engine in eastern Wisconsin addressing water and energy resilience for manufacturers and utilities. The Water Council submitted the proposal with its lead partners MKE Tech Hub Coalition, Wisconsin Technology Council, Marquette University, Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity, and Madison Region Economic Partnership. At the end of the two-year Development Award period, the Engine team will apply for a Launch Award of up to $160 million awarded over 10 years.

Revving The “Innovation” Engines

“These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF’s vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation. Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnerships. This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”

Launched by NSF’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships and authorized by the “CHIPS and Science Act of 2022,” the NSF Engines program uniquely harnesses the nation’s science and technology research and development enterprise and regional-level resources. NSF Engines aspire to catalyze robust partnerships to positively impact the economy within a geographic region, address societal challenges, advance national competitiveness and create local, high-wage jobs.

Article originally published on 

Madison 365: It’s Only 10 Minutes: May 12

economic development Madison365 logo

Source: Madison 365

A top exec is leaving Goodwill of Southeast Wisconsin. Plus, a recap of the [Madison Region Economic Partnership and] Urban League’s Economic Development & Diversity Summit and a profile of an Appleton-based culturally-focused mental health practice.


Friday, May 12, 2023 Podcast Episode

Public Service Commission: Gov. Evers, PSC announce Internet for All Wisconsin Listening Tour 

MADISON – Gov. Evers, together with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC), announced today the statewide Internet for All Wisconsin Listening Tour, a series of nine in-person and two virtual interactive meetings to help develop the state’s five-year action plan to deploy high-speed internet and improve internet affordability and adoption.

Community leaders and all interested members of the public are welcome to attend this free event. Prospective attendees are advised to visit the event website for additional event information as it becomes available.

Wisconsin could expect an allocation of $800 million to $1.1 billion to implement the state’s five-year action plan for broadband and approximately $25 million to implement the state’s Digital Equity Plan under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s ‘Internet for All’ programs. In December 2022, Gov. Tony Evers and the PSC announced the nearly $6 million federal investment for the state to develop these plans by gathering local input from Wisconsinites in broadband access and digital inclusion activities.

“With nearly everything about our economy, our workforce and our way of life depending on access to high-speed internet, it’s important for folks across the state to come together and share their experience and ideas to bridge Wisconsin’s digital divide,” said Gov. Evers. “We have come a long way to get more Wisconsinites connected than ever before with over 390,000 homes and businesses connected to new or improved internet, but there’s still more work to do. As we invest in Wisconsin’s infrastructure and future, the conversations during this Listening Tour will help guide this important work to ensure all can access affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.”

“Public participation is critical to the Commission’s broadband access and digital equity efforts, so I’m excited for the Commission to hit the road and hear from community members across Wisconsin as we develop the state’s five-year action plan,” said Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “I look forward to the robust dialogue and community engagement during the statewide Listening Tour.” 

The Internet for All Wisconsin Listening Tour is hosted by the PSC’s Wisconsin Broadband Office, in partnership with Wisconsin’s nine regional economic development organizations. If someone is unable to attend an in-person or virtual meeting, they may still submit public comment here.

Event details are as follows: 

demographics madison wisconsin innovation news hero

Internet for All Wisconsin Listening Tour – Southcentral (Madison)

Madison College – Truax Campus | 1701 Wright Street, Madison, WI 53704

Tuesday, May 23, 2023
9:00 AM to 11:00 AM CDT