MadREP in the News

Waunakee Tribune | Legislative Opinion: Update on county broadband efforts

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The Oregon Observer | The Stoughton Courier Hub | Waunakee Tribune

Recently, there have been historic amounts of funding to expand broadband access throughout the country as well as Dane County. As a newly created Broadband Task Force, we’ve been navigating the intricacies and complexities of providing affordable, reliable internet access to every resident and business in Dane County.

Many of the funds for broadband expansion are offered through matching grants. Local governments applying for these grants need to demonstrate a lack of acceptable service.

If you’ve listened to any news segment regarding broadband access, you’ve likely heard that the current maps that show where there is service are inaccurate, which further obstructs the application process.

To bolster the effort to create more accurate maps of service coverage and speeds, the Broadband Task Force invited MadREP to present on their speed test efforts. We encourage members of the public to take two minutes to complete the test.

The more data that is collected the fuller our picture of broadband access issues in Dane County can be shown, and that information will be utilized by many organizations and units of government to expand access to provide affordable, reliable service to every resident.

The speed test is at

In addition to needing accurate data, the task force also needs to hear from the public. Bit by bit we are putting together the full picture of broadband and access in Dane County, but the missing piece remains the feedback from those who struggle and are faced with a lack of service every day.

The task force has been and continues to encourage members of the public to contact them with comments, suggestions, and concerns related to affordable reliable internet access. To provide an opportunity for members of the public to speak directly to the task force, the task force will be holding two virtual public hearings.

The first hearing will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28 (register at, and the second is set for 9-11:30 a.m. Friday, March 4 (register at (

In addition to the public hearings, residents can provide testimony through the following means: Call 608-266-5758, email or write to: Dane County Board of Supervisors, 210 MLK Jr. Blvd. Room 362, Madison WI 53703.

District 36 County Board Supervisor Melissa Ratcliff,

Chair of the Dane County Broadband Task Force

District 37 County Board Supervisor Kate McGinnity,

Vice-Chair of the Dane County Broadband Task Force

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Cap Times: American Family sets $23 minimum wage, 34% higher than local average

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The Cap Times | Natalie Yahr

American Family Insurance group announced Wednesday that it is raising the minimum wage at its five companies to $23. That’s well above minimums set by many national chains and local employers, and 34% higher than the median entry-level position in the county.

The move marks the second time in just over two years that the group has raised the minimum. In January 2020, they announced an increase to $20.

The group has more than 13,200 employees at its five companies: American Family Insurance based in Madison; CONNECT in DePere; Homesite Group in Boston; The General in Nashville, Tennessee; and Main Street America Insurance in Jacksonville, Florida. 

The latest increase will bring raises to more than 2,000 of those employees when it takes effect in July, the group said.

In a press release, American Family chief people officer Tracy Schweitzer said the move was a way to stay competitive in a tight labor market. Employers across the country have struggled to retain and attract employees over the last year, as would-be workers look for new opportunities or stay home to care for their families

“This increase recognizes the importance of having top talent to provide exceptional service to our customers, while helping employees develop successful careers here,” Schweitzer said. “We believe by investing in our employees, we’re investing in our communities.”

survey by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, conducted in summer of 2021, found that 14.5% of private-sector employers had raised base wages because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase puts the company’s base wage well above that of many major U.S. companies. Costco raised its company-wide minimum to $17 an hour last year. Amazon picked $15 in 2018, and Target followed in 2020. Walmart, the country’s largest employer, announced last year that Sam’s Club’s employees, who make up about a third of its more than 1.5 million workers, would get a starting wage of $15 an hour, but Walmart’s minimum remains $12.

Some of the biggest employers in the Madison area have set similar minimums. UW Health and the University of Wisconsin-Madison start employees at a wage of at least $15, but the minimum doesn’t apply to temporary workers or hourly student workers. At Exact Sciences, it’s $17, spokesperson Scott Larrivee said. 

In Dane County, the median hourly wage for an employee with up to three years of experience is $17.20, according to an analysis of job postings using an economic modeling software called Emsi. The analysis, shared with the Cap Times by the Madison Region Economic Partnership, finds that “typical compensation” for such employees ranges from $14.62 to $19.78 an hour. Due to the above-average cost of living in the county, employees making the $17.20 median wage “feel like” they’re making $16.44.

The new minimum for American Family group employees is 34% higher than that median.

Though some employers have raised wages, the analysis finds that the median advertised wage for such listings has changed little since February 2020, and it’s fallen about 17% since February of 2019.

The minimum wage for non-tipped employees in Wisconsin is the federally set minimum wage of $7.25. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have set minimum wages higher than the federal rateAccording to a Living Wage Calculator developed by MIT, a single adult in Madison with no children would need to make $15.50 to cover all their expenses. In a Madison family with two working adults and two children, each adult would need to earn $23.50 an hour to cover the family’s expenses without public assistance.

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Herald-Independent & McFarland Thistle: Amazon neighborhood listening session draws local residents

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The Herald-Independent and McFarland Thistle | Madeline Westberg

More than 80 Cottage Grove and Sun Prairie residents participated in a neighborhood listening session about a proposed Amazon distribution facility this week.

A site on the corner of County Highway N and County Highway TT totaling 130 acres has been sold by Cottage Grove Business Development LLC to Services LLC for $29.7 million, records from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue say.

Developer Trammell Crow Company (TCC), one of the largest industrial and healthcare developers in the country, is working to develop the property, which TCC is calling “Project Silver Eagle.”

TCC is proposing a five-story warehouse distribution facility, set on 145 total acres located behind the BP gas station on that corner. The plans propose a 650,000 square foot base footprint, with the building standing 93 feet tall. The total square footage of the facility would be 3.4 million, with 90,000 square feet devoted to office space.

The facility would include 60 loading docks, 326 trailer parking stalls, 1,700 car parking stalls and four entrances. Three of those access points are proposed on County Highway TT for passenger vehicles, with one driveway on Highway N for truck traffic.

Developers say it’s estimated that the facility would see $200 million in capital invested by the project and create 1,000 to 1,500 full-time jobs. The facility would be used for storing, sorting and transporting product.

The property was annexed from the Town of Sun Prairie into the village of Cottage Grove about ten years ago.

TCC held two listening sessions on the project on Monday, Feb. 7, moderated by senior associate Morgan Baer Blaska of TCC and MadREP, an economic development organization that serves eight counties, including Dane County.

“This meeting is to give you all the opportunity ask questions…voice some of your opinions and concerns,” said MadREP CEO Jason Fields.

More than 80 community members signed on to join the evening listening session. While a handful of written comments during the meeting expressed support for the project, the majority of comments were opposed.

Some of the questions asked by participants focused on stormwater retention plans, property value concerns, concerns on Amazon business practices, environmental impacts on McCarthy Park, impacts on surrounding neighborhoods, traffic and lighting impacts, and others.

At the session, Baer Blaska said she would not share any information about “the user and potential operations,” referring to Amazon. Developers didn’t respond to any questions about Amazon’s operations or planned uses for the facility, saying it was “not our area of expertise.”

Developers and engineers instead focused on the facility design, sharing additional information about the stormwater management strategies on the property, lighting and window concerns and sound pollution.

Baer Blaska and engineer Adam Artz said the property’s grading decreases toward the center of the property, which will allow for stormwater drainage and noise buffering due to the topography of the property.

“The building sits deep in its own crevice,” Baer Blaska said.

Artz added that the project shouldn’t impact well levels of residential wells, and the stormwater systems are designed to protect from any potential contaminants to area wells.

Baer Blaska and Artz added that there will be a lighting study submitted to the village for approval, but that the facility would run 24/7. The developers don’t have data presently on windows and compositions, but have a fully-glass facility. They also said there would be landscaping and retaining walls to curb noise pollution.

When asked aboutthe Silver Ridge neighborhood nearby, Baer Blaska said a conservation easement owned by the town of Cottage Grove prevents developers from moving the site further away from neighboring residences.

Baer Blaska asserted that TCC has seen property values near facilities like this one tended to go up, and that the developer has not applied for any tax breaks from the village or state.

“This will be a tax-paying entity and revenue-generating facility for the village,” she said.

One participant in the call asked “why this project is so far along.”

Baer Blaska responded that the developer held its first neighborhood meeting in December, and has engaged with the village in public meetings in January.

“We have been actively public since December, and will continue to host these meetings as necessary,” she said.

Village administrator Matt Giese and Director of Planning and Development Erin Ruth say the next step for the process will be TCC presenting a “precise implementation plan,” a more specific plan involving more concrete engineering information. That plan is set to come to the Cottage Grove Plan Commission on Feb. 16, and to be considered by the village board on Feb. 21.

From there, the developers would need to create a developer’s agreement with the village, which would likely come forward in March. Then, the developer would be responsible for getting the building plans reviewed by the state.

Giese said it’s possible that developers could consider starting construction in 2022.

Participants on the neighborhood listening session said they intend to participate in the village approval process.

“The village of Cottage Grove and the town of Sun Prairie are where a lot of your issues need to be raised,” one participant told others during the session. “That’s where your voice will be heard.”

Article originally published on The Herald-Independent and McFarland Thistle.

Wisconsin State Journal: Madison company raises wages to attract, retain employees for the second time in 2 years & Wisconsin State Journal Logos

Wisconsin State Journal | Emilie Heidemann

Madison-based American Family Insurance announced Wednesday the company is raising its minimum hourly wage from $20 to $23 as businesses across Dane County continue to grapple with workforce challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its the second time in two years the company has implemented an increase, as American Family previously upped its base pay in early 2020 from $15 to $20, which affected 1,700 workers — including 350 in Madison. The company Wednesday also touted its benefits package, which it said has evolved to include flexible work arrangements, supports for working parents and “days off to recharge.”

The second raise affects 2,000 out of 13,200 employees at several American Family group companies, which besides its local headquarters includes Boston-based Homesite Group, Nashville’s The General, Florida-based Main Street America Insurance and CONNECT, located in DePere. Staff members who work in various roles, such as customer service, claims and administration, were told during a meeting Wednesday afternoon that their pay would officially increase in July.

The new rate, like in 2020, is meant to attract and retain talent as American Family continues to grow, chief people officer Tracy Schweitzer said, adding that the business has been minimally impacted by the hiring woes that have left no industry untouched.

The increased wage does not include contractors, food-service workers or custodians at American Family’s Madison headquarters, nor agents and their employees (agents are independent contractors), she said.

“Workforce attraction and retention are top priorities for companies across all industries right now,” said Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president Zach Brandon. “Based on input from our business surveys and dozens of virtual industry meetings, many employers are … when possible, re-examining compensation and benefits packages and other workplace incentives to encourage employees to stay and grow.”

There were 10.6 million vacant job openings in the United States at the end of November 2021, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce data, which was a record high. And there is fewer than one available worker for every job opening, the lowest the ratio has ever been.

Meanwhile, employers around Dane County like American Family pay well above the minimum pay rate set by the federal government, which has been set $7.25 an hour since July 2009. Since then, the figure has lost 14.8% of its purchasing power to inflation (in 2018 dollars), according to data from the AFL-CIO.

Madison biomedical giant Exact Sciences has in the last two years raised its $15 an hour minimum wage to $17, said company associate director of corporate affairs Scott Larrivee, “with increases based on shift, experience and other factors.” The company, known for its assortment of cancer tests both on the market and undergoing clinical trials, employs about 6,500 people.

About 3,500 of those staff members are based in the Dane County area.

“When evaluating (wages), we consider our total package of offerings, including financial, medical, time away and well-being benefits as we strive to remain a great place to work,” he said.

Last September, semi-trailer manufacturer Stoughton Trailers implemented pay increases for several of its employees, said marketing manager Ron Jake, adding the company staffs about 1,400 people, and plans to hire another 300 in the coming months.

Stoughton Trailers assemblers and painters had their pay increase to $18 and $20.25, respectively, up from $16 and $18.25. Welders also received raises, from $18 to $20 per hour, Jake said.

“We have had an incredible amount of business,” Jake said. “We needed to build our workforce to a higher level than what we had.”

The economic balancing act

The sooner a company raises its wages amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the more likely it is to recover once the health crisis ends, said Jason Fields, president of the Madison Region Economic Partnership.

Compensation increases encourage healthy competition in local employment marketplaces, Fields said, as people will ideally vie for the roles that suit their needs best. And more money in the pockets of consumers means more capital that flows through the local economy, said MadREP vice president of talent and education Gene Dalhoff.

But there’s a lot that goes into the implementation of pay rate increases, Fields said, adding that some businesses may want to do so but not have the proper resources or profits.

“There is a concern … you have what is called a wage price spiral,” Dalhoff said. “Wages go up and businesses and employers have to pass that onto consumers.”

That can come in the form of inflation, which causes price increases, he explained.

“We’ve seen other people in the area raise their pay,” Jake said of Stoughton Trailers wage increases. “We needed to also do that to remain competitive.”

Article originally posted on Amazon planning 3.4 million-square-foot, $200 million facility in Cottage Grove & Wisconsin State Journal Logos | Barry Adams

What could be one of the largest Amazon distribution and warehouse facilities in the country is being proposed for Dane County.

The retail giant is working with a developer on plans for a 3.4 million-square-foot facility at the intersection of highways TT and N in the village of Cottage Grove just north of Interstate 94.

The $200 million, five-story project on a 145-acre site would employ 1,500 people, operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and serve as a “middle mile” facility catering to large trucks that deliver to other distribution facilities that service delivery vans charged with final destinations for packages.

If approved, construction could begin later this year with the facility opening about 18 months later. No tax assistance has been requested from the village for the project, located within a 300-acre tax incremental financing district, according to Matt Giese, the village’s administrator.

The village has about $900 million in property valuation, and the addition of the Amazon facility would be a boon for decades to come.

“It’s a huge economic win for the village and Dane County as a whole,” Giese said Friday. “It’s just an ideal location.”

Wisconsin is home to several large Amazon facilities, including a 2.6 million-square-foot, $200 million distribution center that opened in 2020 in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. That same year, Amazon opened a 1.3 million-square-foot, $105 million facility in Beloit that employs 500 people and in 2015 opened a $250 million, 1.5 million-square-foot distribution and fulfillment center in Kenosha.

According to Warehouse Automation, a website that tracks large developments, Amazon is building at least six other U.S. facilities that are larger than the proposed Cottage Grove project, including a 4 million-square-foot, $370 million facility in Colorado Springs.

The Cottage Grove development was first introduced to the village in December by the Trammell Crow Co. as “Project Silver Eagle” but later was identified in public meetings as an Amazon facility. Trammell Crow is one of the nation’s largest commercial real estate developers and has been behind several other Amazon projects around the country.

Much of the land for the project had been owned by Cottage Grove Business Development, an LLC with the same address as Greywolf Partners in Cottage Grove and which recently completed the construction of a Comfort Suites hotel in the village. But on Dec. 30, Services purchased 130 acres of land for $29.7 million for the project from Cottage Grove Business Development, according to the state Department of Revenue, a move first reported by the Monona-Cottage Grove Herald Independent.

Resident concerns

The land is across the road from the 180-acre McCarthy Youth and Conservation Park, which offers camping, hiking, cross-country skiing, equestrian trails and restored prairies and wetlands. The Oaks Golf Course is less than a mile to the east of the Amazon site. Nearby and adjacent to the site are small, rural subdivisions where many residents have expressed concern about the size of the project, increased traffic and noise and light pollution.

Jeff Christy, who lives on Sylver Ridge Lane near the site, told the Village Board during a public hearing that he has concerns about stormwater runoff, effects on wells, noise control, adequate buffers, lighting and traffic, and impacts on first responders. David Stampfli, another neighbor on the street, questioned the overall appropriateness of the project on the site.

Heather McIntosh, 51, and her husband, Eric Muellenbach, 48, have lived for the past two years on Oakcrest Circle across Highway TT from the site. They purchased their home and ¾-acre property to get away from city life after living for 20 years in Chicago and another three in an apartment in Madison. The couple frequently have fox, hawks and turkey passing through and worry that the massive development will do irreparable harm to the feel and character of their property.

They want to see more studies on traffic and the impact the project could have on the environment.

“I can’t even imagine what this is going to do,” said McIntosh, a schoolteacher in Madison. “I can’t see this staying the same, and we are just one of many residents who are feeling the same way. I’m all for jobs and economic development, but can we scale it back? Does it need to be this large?”

An early OK

Land for the project has long been eyed by the village for light industrial, warehouse, office space and possibly some housing, which could have taken 20 years to fully be developed. The proposed Amazon project, which is taking about half of the land, could mean a full build-out of the property in 10 years and increasing the village’s tax base by $300 million to $400 million, Giese said. By comparison, a 160-acre commerce park on the south side of the interstate and home to Johnson Health Tech, a Culver’s and the corporate headquarters of Summit Credit Union, took about 20 years to develop. Two acres still remain open.

The Amazon project has received preliminary approval by both the Village Board and Plan Commission, but continues to work its way through the approval process. Two neighborhood Zoom meetings are scheduled for Monday for residents to comment and learn more about the project, while the Plan Commission and Village Board will vote on Feb. 16 and Feb. 21, respectively, on a precise implementation plan. Further approvals would also be needed, according to Giese.

Morgan Baer Blaska, project lead for Trammell Crow, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but Jason Fields, CEO and president of the Madison Region Economic Partnership, said at a recent public hearing that “the community will be better with this project.” On Friday, he released a statement saying that MadREP has “a vested interest in any project that strives to bring well-paying jobs to the region.”

Some particulars

According to the proposal submitted to the village, the footprint of the building would cover about 650,000 square feet, be about 93 feet high and include 90,000 square feet of office space. About 95% of the truck traffic would be coming from or going to Interstate 94, while the site plan includes 60 loading docks, 326 trailer parking stalls and roughly 1,700 parking stalls for employees and visitors.

The site, according to a traffic study commissioned by Trammell Crow, expects to generate 403 trips during peak morning commuter hours between 7 and 8 a.m. Of those, 344 would be passenger vehicles and 59 would be from trucks. In the evening peak there would be 436 trips. Of those, 390 would be from passenger vehicles and 46 from trucks. The property would have two driveway access points along Highway N and two along Highway TT, according to the proposal.

Improvements to the county highways to accommodate the increased traffic load and the turns into and out of the driveways are being studied by village engineers, the county and the developer, Giese said.

“Those improvements will mitigate the large extent of those increases,” Giese said. “There’s a lot of capacity to those roads and those roundabouts that are there, so there’s plenty of capacity to add what’s coming.”

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