March 08, 2005
Madison Cited in National Article About University Town Job Growth
Csmonitor.com has an article that says that university towns have many of the hottest job markets and lowest unemployment rates, and are contributing to strong job growth nationwide. This reflects a trend that universities are changing the way they think of themselves; from ivory towers to job machines with research parks working on cutting-edge technology. The article features Madison in its discussion.
Columnist Mike Ivey Bothered by People Having to Provide for Themselves
A new study in Personnel Psychology magazine says that systematically firing a pre-determined percentage of the worst employees each year improves productivity. Researchers at Drake University used a computer model to simulate a work force over a 30-year period and found that improvements are made by removing the worst staff. Columnist Mike Ivey of the Capital Times objects that it "sounds like a management approach that dovetails with the current neo-con vision of a sink or swim society where everyone must provide for their own health care, old age pension or job security. Those who can't cut it, well, too bad. Whatever happened to the idea that Americans were all in it together?" For an earlier post about a Mike Ivey column with a similar theme, see October 26th in the archives.
Two Wisconsin Companies Among Select Group Honored for Corporate Governance
Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Corp. and Racine-based Johnson Controls Inc. were among 34 companies nationwide that received a top rating of 10 for corporate governance by GovernanceMetrics International, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The national average rating was 7.03.
Corporate governance is increasingly on the minds of investors, said Patrick McGurn, executive vice president of Institutional Shareholder Services, which advocates for corporate governance on behalf of institutional investors. Corporate reform laws and changes by the Securities and Exchange Commission are resulting in more rapid disclosure by companies of various changes, such as departures of officers and directors.
Governor Doyle's Budget Proposes Internet Sales Tax
Governor Jim Doyle's (D-Wisconsin) budget proposal contains a provision that would extend Wisconsin's 5 percent sales tax to residents who download songs, books, movies, pieces of art, etc. off of the internet, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Compliance would be on the honor system, as there would be no internet tax "police". Republican legislators vow to delete the provision when the budget is passed.
Doyle's office says the proposal is equitable because anyone who purchases the same thing in a brick and mortar business would be required to pay this tax, and it level's the playing field because buying online without the tax encourages people to avoid stores that support the Wisconsin economy by employing residents and paying sales and corporate taxes. Some say Wisconsin would be the first state to do this, but the state Department of Revenue claims South Dakota does. Doyle's office estimates the provision will generate $1.9 million, meaning they expect few to comply. Currently, taxpayers are supposed to estimate what sales tax they owe on internet and mail order purchases and report it on their income tax, and fewer than one percent of the states 2.7 million taxpayers did this.
Rep. Scott Jensen (R), who calls the provision an "IPod Tax", says he opposes the measure because it discourages electronic commerce.
February 11, 2005
Governor Doyle's Proposal Uses Energy Conservation Money to Balance Budget
$53 million ratepayers have paid on their energy bills that was earmarked for energy conservation programs will be used to balance the budget under Governor Doyle's budget proposal, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A similar transfer of $47 million was made in the current budget. Critics call the move a double tax on industry and residential customers, and say that the lack of conservation programs will cost more in the long run when more power plants are needed. Supporters say the administration is supporting conservation in other ways. Doyle's budget also calls for taking $430 million from the medical malpractice and transportation funds to balance the budget.
Douglas County Faces Suit Over High-Voltage Line
Two state utilities, the American Transmission Company and the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, intend to sue Douglas County for its stance in attempting to block a high-voltage power line going from Wausau to Duluth from going through the county, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The utilities say the line is vital to ensuring the reliability of the state's power grid, and that they have the right to take the necessary land via eminent domain. The county disputes that claim.
New Website Discloses Wisconsin Health Care Costs
A new website from the Wisconsin Hospital Association aims to increase disclosure of health care costs in Wisconsin and will allow comparisons of prices for 60 common procedures at hospitals statewide, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. However, the site does not show actual prices charged to insurers, but the "retail," or list prices, which almost no one pays. The site doesn't give actual, prices which are closely guarded, but it does show the overall discount insurers collectively receive off a hospital's retail rates for all procedures combined, which provides a measure for comparing actual prices between hospitals.
Health insurance premiums for businesses in Southeast Wisconsin have risen about 20% annually for several years. Hospital inpatient charges in metropolitan Milwaukee were 63% higher than the average of 239 metro areas nationwide, and physician prices were 33% higher than the average of 331 areas, a study released last August by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found. Across Wisconsin, employer health costs last year were among the highest in the country - $8,605 per employee compared with the national average of $6,918, according to Mercer Human Resource Consulting.
February 08, 2005
New Wisconsin Venture Capital Fund Completes Initial Fundraising
Kegonsa Capital Partners' "Kegonsa Seed Fund I" has successfully completed raising $10 million from 41 individual investors, according to the Capital Times of Madison. "The fund is the first new Wisconsin-based venture capital fund in more than 10 years that was not initiated by a capital commitment by the State of Wisconsin Investment Board," said Kenneth U. Johnson, managing director of Kegonsa Capital Partners. The fund, made up completely of individual investors who are primarily from Wisconsin, will make initial investments in Midwestern start-ups of $250,000 to $500,000. Offers have already been made to two Wisconsin ventures.
February 07, 2005
Kohler Co. Unveils New Toilet at Fashion Week in NYC
Wisconsin's Kohler Company, the maker of bathroom fixtures, unveiled a new toilet known as the Purist Hatbox that will retail for $3000 or more at the biannual Fashion Week in New York City. The toilet is chair level at 17 inches high, has an eliptical shape and has no visible tank or water line, because all the workings are hidden in the shell. Instead of a flush lever, there is an electronic 'soft touch' actuator that works with just a tap. The seat features "pressure mapping" that identifies proper contours for optimal, bottom-up support, but the company is figuring the style is what will sell the fixture.
Kohler wants to market the toilet to "people who are very interested in minimalist contemporary design, who want to be able to express themselves in their bath, want to develop their own home spa, want to create their own retreat in the bath where you can just get away from everything," said Mike Chandler, Kohler VP of marketing. Suggested prices are $2,890 for basic white, $3,750 for shades such as "Biscuit" or "Sandbar," and $4,300 in what Kohler calls "Thunder Grey." The story is in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Wisconsin Tourism Jingle: Infringment?
Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle unveiled a new tourism campaign for the state last week, which includes the adoption of a new slogan: Wisconsin — Life's So Good. As part of the $3.8M initiative, a Milwaukee man was commissioned to pen a song to accompany television, radio and internet ad campaigns. The resulting jingle, "Life's So Good," was incorporated into ads played throughout the region, whereupon many listeners found themselves asking, "Where have I heard that before?" If the listeners happened to be fans of the British group Supergrass, they may have been hearing similarities between "Life's So Good" and "Alright," a single from the 1995 Supergrass release "I Should Coco."
The Department of Tourism is apparently unconcerned, citing a difference in the lyrics as enough to distinguish the tunes. Unfortunately, this could prove insufficient for the state to prevail should a copyright infringement lawsuit be brought.
“It's a common misconception that you can change a work of art a certain percentage, and avoid infringement,” said Nick Kees, an intellectual property lawyer. “The problem is starting out with something that exists before and changing it, that whole process will only result in copyright infringement." Essentially, the question of similarity would come down to a jury issue and at least some people see that similarity. “I had never heard either song before but they seem very, very similar,” said Meg Ingram after hearing them both.