MadREP in the News

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


In Business: MadREP Economic Development & Diversity Summit to be held May 10

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Source: In Business

MadREP, along with the Urban League of Greater Madison, will hold the 10th annual Madison Region Economic Development & Diversity Summit as an in-person event at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on Wednesday, May 10. Registration will open at the end of February.

Each year, the Summit focuses on advancing talent, opportunity, and growth. Weaving together the important conversations of diversity and economic development, this event reflects the organizations’ shared goal of building this region into a model of economic inclusion.

The daylong summit will engage, educate, and empower attendees around issues related to economic, workforce, and community development. The event will feature keynote speakers, break-out sessions, and networking opportunities.

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Wisconsin State Journal: High rents are pushing many out of the Madison area market & Wisconsin State Journal Logos

Source: Wisconsin State Journal

Karen Gabriel rents a 532-square-foot studio apartment in Madison’s Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood but spends most of her free time looking for a new place to live. She calls her daily experience “roof anxiety.”

“I’m not asking for much,” Gabriel said while driving one of her usual routes after work in search of promising “For Rent” ads.

Gabriel, a paralegal who makes roughly $36,000 a year after taxes, is about to be priced out of her apartment. She pays $899 a month in rent for her small studio but recently was informed by her property manager that will increase to between $999 and $1,099. Gabriel can’t afford that, she said, since her $1,400 biweekly paycheck also goes toward food and other expenses.

Renters across the Madison area are grappling with increasingly unaffordable monthly payments, caused largely by a housing shortage and tight market.

A surging population and high costs for the construction materials to build new apartment complexes and houses are exacerbating the problem, said UW-Madison professor of urban planning Kurt Paulsen.

Currently, the county is producing 1,500 single-family homes and 2,250 multifamily units per year, according to MadREP.

“Until we can increase housing production to keep up with projected population growth, housing prices will likely continue to rise due to growing demand,” MadREP said.

Helen Bradbury, the president of privately owned Stonehouse Development, said that as developers grapple with the continuing high price of construction materials, among other things, the cost burden falls to renters.

Stonehouse Development has 18 properties in Wisconsin, with 15 in Madison, which alone comprise 1,000 subsidized rental housing units and 100 market-rate units.

“If inflation takes off tomorrow, I’m going to suffer that loss and deficit for the entire year, as all our tenants sign a one-year lease,” Bradbury said.

Not only are there operating and utility expenses to pay. There are also real estate taxes and property insurance.

“We have seen an exponential increase in utilities,” Bradbury said. “My director of operations told me to expect a property insurance increase of 20% to 30% next year.”

Amberly Tobin, a 34-year-old who rents on Madison’s West Side, said she has four college degrees in the sciences, two of them graduate degrees. She makes roughly $50,000 a year working full time as a scientist.

But to help cover living expenses and several other bills, Tobin said she lives with a roommate and tends bar on weekends and for weddings. Bartending adds roughly $6,000 to $9,000 to Tobin’s annual income.

Tobin said she pays $1,160 in rent. That will soon increase to $1,290, she said — a figure Tobin considers unaffordable even with her three jobs. She wishes she could buy a house or condo but said she can’t afford that either. She’s “barely making ends meet” as it is.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Tobin said, adding that while she and her roommate are searching for another place to live in the Madison region, the two have yet to find any promising leads.

Glimmers of hope

“There is some reason for optimism,” O’ Keefe said. The improving vacancy rate corresponds to a surge in the issuance of permits for new housing in Madison.

Within the past five years, Madison has approved 13,433 multifamily housing units and 2,189 single-family homes, according to figures the city provided the Wisconsin State Journal. The city approved 730 multifamily units and 1,325 single-family homes in 2018. In 2022, it approved 4,076 multifamily units and 150 single-family homes.

It’s unclear the exact proportion of multifamily units and single-family homes that fall under the “affordable” threshold.

But the city has brought 28 rental development projects to fruition with its Affordable Housing Fund that started a decade ago. The projects have produced or will produce 2,486 new housing units, 1,942 of which support households at or below 60% of Dane County’s household median income of just above $40,000, the city said.

The Affordable Housing Fund in general helps local developers secure equity in Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority tax credits to support the construction of affordable rental units. The City Council this year increased the fund to $10 million — double the sum from when Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway took office in 2019.

The city also recently made changes to its zoning code to encourage more dense housing along future routes for bus rapid transit outside the core Downtown.

At the Dane County level, a survey is being conducted that will help the county determine how it should tackle regional housing crises.

‘Nothing fancy’

Gabriel is still looking for an apartment.

One day last month, she explored Madison’s South Side. Later that evening, Gabriel perused websites in search of more leads.

Despite having no luck in scoring a dwelling that suits her needs, Gabriel is already packing up her apartment — boxes have overtaken her compact living room, bedroom and kitchen. Her lease is up in June.

“My ideal (living space) would have 1,000 square feet with a garage,” Gabriel, who originally went to school for photography, said during her drive. “Maybe a basement. A washer and dryer inside. Two bedrooms. I would put my crafts in one bedroom. Nothing fancy. I would love to have a fireplace for the cold days. I would also like a kitchen I could maybe bake some cookies in.”

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In Business: Fields of Opportunity

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Source: IB Madison

Jason Fields, 48, has led the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) for just over a year. Last April, while speaking to the Rotary Club of Madison, the Milwaukee native was candid about his first impressions of the area. They weren’t great. For example, while searching for a place to live, his wife, La Tasha, an accomplished educator with multiple degrees, experienced telephone hang-ups, cancelled showings, and threats of credit and background checks beyond the norm. Was this the same Madison they had heard so much about?

Fast forward a year and this power couple has not only settled in, but they’ve also connected with community leaders in ways they never thought possible. 

Fields, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Concordia College-Wisconsin, has founded several companies and served in the state Assembly for 12 years, representing his northside Milwaukee district. Now, as president/CEO at MadREP, he’s working with an eight-county Madison Region (Dane, Columbia, Dodge, Green, Rock, Jefferson, Sauk and Iowa) on a unified economic development strategy.

We spoke to him about his vision and working as a Black man in predominantly white, rural counties. 

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Wisconsin State Journal: Madison video game studio rapidly expands as broader sector eyes mergers

Wisconsin State Journal & cobrand logoSource: Wisconsin State Journal


Lost Boys Interactive, a video game studio based in Madison, launched in 2017 with two co-founders who named their company to capture the mythos of the Lost Boys of Neverland.

The studio has now established itself as not only a large part of the Madison region’s video game enclave, but a major industry player with 350 employees in 36 U.S. states, said CEO and co-founder Shaun Nivens.

The company, which has a studio on the West Side, saw 1,255% revenue growth between 2021 and 2022 alone. It has helped gamers around the world explore new worlds, win epic battles, meet dynamic characters and embark on wild adventures by working on popular titles like “Call of Duty Online” and “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands,” a spin-off of the “Borderlands” series.

Lost Boys Interactive has developed games across other genres, too, including sports and sandbox, or games that allow a great degree of interactivity for the player.

Last April, the studio’s growth really took off when it was acquired by Gearbox, an indie interactive entertainment developer and publisher in Texas with 1,300 employees. Gearbox is owned by Embracer Group, a Sweden-based video game and media holding company.

The deal’s financial details were not disclosed, but it came as consolidation has been an increasingly common trend in the video game industry. Embracer itself makes up about a “fifth” of the sector, Nivens said. Lost Boys Interactive’s rapid expansion also comes as the tech industry at large grapples with layoffs and other economic hurdles.

“We connected with Gearbox at a conference,” said Nivens. He said the Texas company gives Lost Boys Interactive the manpower and resources to work on more expansive projects and allows the studio to maintain full control over operations. “They were our style,” he said.

Both companies also value hiring employees that are full-time and paid a fair wage, Nivens said. That’s because it’s a frequent industry practice for video game studios to hire contractors to save money, he said. Employers are not legally obligated to offer contractors benefits like health insurance.

“We feel it makes better games,” he said, adding that Lost Boys Interactive is set to hire at least 300 more employees within the next year.

Humble beginnings

Prior to the studio’s launch, Nivens and Stefanowicz had just parted ways with their previous employer, PerBlue, a local studio that makes mobile games such as “Disney Heroes.”

It was their combined passion for art and storytelling through video games, that motivated Niven and Stefanowicz to team up and create their own enterprise, Nivens said. Stefanowicz is a former Disney studio art director, and Nivens has an extensive software engineering background.

In a “pretty precarious start,” the studio’s only investment funding ever was the $50 it borrowed to open its first checking account, Stefanowicz said with a laugh. From there, the team used their already established business ties to pick up development gigs and hire workers wherever they could.

The studio scored its first “big” gig with with PUBG, maker of battle royale title PlayerUnknown’s “Battlegrounds,” which needed an engineering team to aid in the creation of an up-and-coming video game, Nivens said. PUBG operates a studio in Madison.

It’s common for several companies to have a hand in developing one video game, he explained. Lost Boys Interactive has until now mainly functioned then as a co-development studio to fill staffing gaps for clients.

Video game design is a complex and expensive process involving computer programmers, software engineers, graphic artists, animators, workers who play video games to test for glitches and more, he said.

Nivens said the studio — with Gearbox’s support — intends to act on a longtime goal: Develop internal video game ideas and projects.

A new norm?

Consolidation is likely becoming the norm for the video game industry, explained Madison Region Economic Partnership enterprise development director Craig Kettleson, who has researched the sector extensively.

Microsoft attempted its largest-ever acquisition of California-based game developer Activision Blizzard (parent company of Madison-area studio Raven Software) in early 2022, which was challenged last December by the Federal Trade Commission. That deal is worth almost $70 billion.

The FTC said in a December statement that the Activision deal could enable Microsoft “to suppress competitors to its Xbox gaming consoles and its rapidly growing subscription content and cloud-gaming business.”

Kettleson said he’s in favor of that deal, adding that it could theoretically bring more money and workers into the region, as well as elevate Madison as a destination for new game development studios. Nivens agreed with Kettleson’s sentiments in a separate interview.

“I think its good for the industry,” Nivens said. “When large corporations like that are spending large amount of money to consolidate, that raises all boats. The bigger and more studios you have, the more likely you are to create offshoots, forge new paths and create crazier (video) game ideas that the mainstream wouldn’t invest in.”

Microsoft already has ties to the area through Bethesda, a game-development studio that owns a location in the city. The tech giant bought Bethesda in 2020 for $7.5 billion. 

What Microsoft and other tech giants like Sony are after is titles, Kettleson said. Both companies already make the Xbox and Playstation gaming consoles, respectively.

Purchases of video games soared during the pandemic, so much so that analytics company Newzoo forecasted that in 2020 the sector would grow to $217.9 billion by this year. 

Lockdowns lift

Newzoo has since released numbers showing that the video games market saw a slight decline in 2022 compared to 2021 — from $193 billion to $184 billion.

That was mainly because people spent less on mobile games in 2022 as “the world opened again after two years of lockdowns, and people’s disposable income became increasingly strained by inflation,” Newzoo said.

And Microsoft’s highly anticipated purchase of Activision comes not only with scrutiny by various government agencies, but as the overall tech industry faces layoffs. Microsoft announced it would layoff 10,000 employees, including some workers at Bethesda.

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Cap Times: See where rural broadband is (and isn’t) available in Wisconsin

Economic Development Cap Times LogoSource: The Cap Times

As federal regulators prepare to publish a new map showing where broadband internet is and isn’t available across the U.S., Madison-area internet advocates are urging residents to check the draft themselves.

Unveiled in November, the “pre-production draft” of the Federal Communications Commission map is the most detailed and current federal map of internet accessibility, according to an announcement issued last week by the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP). The eight-county economic development group is now encouraging residents to enter their addresses in the online interactive map and notify the FCC if the internet in their area doesn’t match what’s shown on the map.

“If it does not, we have a brief window to challenge that finding,” said Gene Dalhoff, vice president of talent and education at MadREP.  “If areas are incorrectly finalized as having access they do not, it will jeopardize the Madison Region’s ability to access federal support for broad infrastructure.”

That federal support includes a share of the more than $42 billion that was set aside for internet expansion under the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Corrections to the map must be submitted by Jan. 13, 2023, before those dollars are allocated.

This isn’t the first time MadREP has sought to mobilize the public to gather information about internet access in the region. Last year, the group released its own internet speed test for Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock, and Sauk counties. The test is designed to provide data that the agency and its partners can use to seek improvements to internet infrastructure where they’re needed most

Much of rural America — and some urban and suburban areas — doesn’t have internet fast and reliable enough to meet the federal definition of broadband, which requires download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second.

For years it’s been hard to say just how big the problem is, since the prior Federal Communications Commission maps that are typically used to assess coverage were based on data by U.S. Census Bureau tract, a geographic unit that can include as many as 8,000 people. A single tract can include homes with fast internet through a cable or fiber connection, as well as homes still connecting to the internet with a dial-up modem.

“If you have one address in a census block that has tremendous broadband, they’re going to apply those results to the entire census block. So this creates very, very misleading maps,” Dalhoff said last year.

If governments or service providers consult those flawed maps to determine where to develop new broadband infrastructure, Dalhoff said, “it could be that 99% of the people are kind of left out in the cold.” In Wisconsin, the Public Service Commission estimates that around 800,000 people, or 14% of the state’s population, don’t have the infrastructure needed for broadband — twice the figure the prior FCC maps suggested.

The new maps will offer a more detailed and current view, showing the fixed and mobile broadband options available at individual addresses, as reported by internet service providers.

“As we often say, access to broadband is vital for economic success,” said MadREP president and CEO Jason Fields. “Now is another opportunity for Wisconsinites to contribute to a broadband solution.”

Article originally published on