Wisconsin’s Tech Industry Beyond Dane County Borders

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, led Rotarians on a virtual tour of the state’s tech scene beyond the borders of Dane County. “Madison stories are great and they’re growing all the time, but I want you to feel good about what’s going on in the rest of the state,” he said.

 He noted that Wisconsin’s areas of expertise have not changed much in the past 150 years, and they include agriculture, natural resources, tourism and manufacturing. However, technology has bolstered all of these sectors. For example, he pointed out that “if you’re not involved in technology in manufacturing, you won’t be in manufacturing for very long.” 

Wisconsin is in a good position to attract top workers in the technology sector, because of its geological stability (no hurricanes or tsunamis), a fully funded state pension fund, a tax burden that has been decreasing, excellent healthcare institutions and a strong education system.

Still showed several slides featuring leading tech companies in Milwaukee, Beloit, La Crosse, Janesville, Green Bay and Eau Claire, and he gave a little background on each. He noted that UW-Eau Claire will host the 2023 National Council on Undergraduate Research convention, which will draw some 5,000 people to that part of the state.

Still closed out his presentation by discussing key Wisconsin Technology Council goals to support the state’s economy. They are advocating for the expansion of broadband around the state. This is the “Rural Electrification Act of the 21st  Century”, he said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that broadband is vital for the delivery of healthcare, education and even the merchandise of many Main Street businesses in the new economy. Governor Evers has proposed $200 million in state, private and federal funds for this in his proposed biennial budget for the state.

The Technology Council has long advocated for a greater state investment to support technology start-ups. The Governor has proposed $100 million for the Wisconsin Fund, to be matched by $200 million from private sources, if it is signed into law. Finally, the Council advocates for more funding for higher education, including the UW System’s four- and two-year campuses and the technical colleges.

Our thanks to Tom Still for his presentation this week and to Andrea Kaminski for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/hKRRScFHE4k.

Gaining the Right to Vote for Women

Our Rotary speaker on February 17 was Ellen Antoniewicz, youth experience coordinator at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. She walked us through the 72-year struggle to pass women’s suffrage, with an emphasis on leaders and actions in Wisconsin.

Antoniewicz read portions of a 1776 letter from Abigail Adams urging her husband, who would soon become President, to “remember the ladies” in the new code of law. Abigail wrote: “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

“Of course, the original leaders did not remember the ladies,” Antoniewicz said. “Nor did they remember the indigenous Americans or enslaved peoples or anyone who was not a white male property owner.” While the rebellion that Abigail Adams predicted did not result in a raid on the Capitol, it did lead to a sustained movement which ultimately did expand the franchise.

As Wisconsin gained statehood in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were organizing the Seneca Falls Convention. This gathering took words from the Declaration of Independence and added two more: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men AND WOMEN are created equal…”  While most of the original suffragists did not live long enough to be able to vote, Antoniewicz mentioned a 12-year-old Wisconsin girl who attended the Seneca Falls Convention and was finally able to cast a ballot at the age of 84.

The women’s suffrage movement was often divided by race, class and political view, but it was united in the belief that voting is a fundamental citizen right. Antoniewicz said it is unfortunate that civil rights groups have sometimes been pitted against each other, as if when one group gains rights it means that another group’s rights have less value. For example, Susan B. Anthony, speaking in Janesville, said that white women deserved the vote more than Black men because they had a higher level of education.

Yet Black women and men were vital to the movement. Sojourner Truth, who settled across the pond in Michigan after escaping slavery in the South, spoke of gender equality — with a degree of humor — when she said: “I can’t read but I can hear. I have heard the Bible and have learned that Eve caused Man to sin. Well, if Woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right-side up again.”

For her, it was a matter of basic human dignity and decency. Women’s rights were not just for literate white women, but for all women.

Most suffragists were active on a number of issues, including labor laws, child welfare and temperance. That’s why they wanted to vote and have a voice in policy, said Antoniewicz. In Wisconsin, women journalists gave voice to these concerns, including the journalists Emma Brown of Ft. Atkinson and Theodora Youmans, with the Waukesha Daily Freeman.

A statewide ballot referendum in Wisconsin in 1912 proposed to grant women the right to vote, but it was defeated at the polls largely because of a strong anti-suffrage lobby led by the brewing industry, which used the threat of temperance to scare voters — all of whom were men.

Meanwhile the focus of the movement shifted away from state laws and to the passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Antoniewicz told the story of State Senator David James, who rode the train from Madison to Washington, DC, to hand-deliver our state’s ratification of the amendment, just beating out Illinois to be the first to ratify. (But don’t expect your Illinois friends to agree about that, said Antoniewicz.)

Antoniewicz discussed other suffrage movements including those for Native Americans, African Americans and other groups. These have led to such landmark laws as the Indian Citizen Act of 1924, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 26th Amendment which lowered the voting age to 18.

Antoniewicz said that the legal right to vote does not always guarantee equal access to the polls. That is something that advocates and lawmakers must continue to work on.

Rotarian Carol Toussaint pointed out following the program that Carrie Chapman Catt, born in Ripon but living in Iowa as an adult when she was active in the suffrage movement founded the League of Women Voters immediately after the Amendment passed.  She is quoted as saying: “We have won the vote; now we must learn how to use it.”

Our thanks to Ellen Antoniewicz for her presentation this week and to Andrea Kaminski for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/l2bH9bhL1wM.   

UW System Moving Forward as Wisconsin Recovers from Pandemic

Photo of Tommy G. ThompsonInterim UW System President Tommy Thompson spoke about exciting initiatives designed to make the University even more vital as Wisconsin recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It won’t be cheap. Thompson said he has submitted a very aggressive budget request for the next two years. He said he’s “done apologizing” for the money the System needs to continue to excel and grow. After all, the UW is a pipeline for Wisconsin businesses, with 19 percent of its graduates remaining in the state for five years. The University is an “economic engine” with a $24 billion annual impact in the state. Now, he said, the UW could do much more, for both the students and the communities in which they study.

Thompson wants to expand the Wisconsin Idea so people in communities across the state will think of the University as a problem solver. Some of the initiatives in his budget request include: allowing some low-income students to attend the UW tuition-free; graduating more teachers to address the current shortage in our state; offering a stipend and other incentives to students to choose teaching as a career; expanding online education at all levels; expanding freshwater research; and supporting agriculture in the state so that it can grow and be profitable. He has also proposed turning one of the state’s prisons into a school under the UW System where offenders can continue their education, earn a degree and get a job when they are released. He believes this will reduce recidivism, benefit the affected individuals and families, and boost the state economy.

Thompson said the UW System’s “problem solver” role also applies to the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks are mandated on all campuses. While he admits the University got off to a somewhat rocky start when students returned to campus last fall, he now believes its testing program is second to none. He said its positivity rate for COVID-19 testing was less than two percent by the end of the year, while that of the state in general was closer to 25 percent. The UW System negotiated to receive 220,000 rapid COVID-19 tests a few months ago and just got 150,000 more. Nursing, pharmacy and other healthcare students are giving COVID vaccines, and if they put in 16 hours they receive a $500 rebate on their tuition. The tests and vaccines are not only for people on campus but also for community members.

After his pre-recorded presentation, Thompson joined Rotarians for a live (and lively) Question & Answer session via Zoom.

Our thanks to UW Interim President Tommy Thompson for his presentation this week and to Andrea Kaminski for preparing this review article.  We also thank WisEye for co-streaming our guest speaker’s presentation.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/HOLTmwx8pM4.

“Our Rotary Club Is A Special Place, and It’s a Special Bond We Share”

Hidalgo_JorgeThere are many ways to describe our Rotary Club. We are a Center of Influence, where people who care about our community come together to shape its future. We are a Conduit for Change, since we contribute our time and resources by volunteering; give generous grants that help those in need; and provide scholarships to send our best and brightest to college. We are a Professional Hub, where we can network and make important connections. Just as importantly, our Club is a Meeting Place where we make new friends and catch up with old ones; we have fun together; and we brighten each other’s day.

We come from so many different backgrounds; we represent so many professions; we have different religious and political beliefs; but we respect each other, and we’re good at discovering our common ground. Our Rotary Club is special. We’ve stayed together during the most unusual circumstances of our lifetime—a worldwide pandemic—and now, thanks to two vaccines and another in the works, we can finally (finally!) see the end.

Multiple Rotarians

The last stretch of a long wait is always the hardest; we’re anxious for it to be over: And our virtual meetings will come to an end sometime in 2021, most likely gradually, and always following CDC guidelines. We’ll get to see each other in person, shake hands, give old friends a hug. We’ll complain about things; we’ll argue; we’ll laugh; and we’ll love being in each other’s presence again.

Our Rotary Club is a special place; it’s a special bond we share. This period has made us realize just how special it really is, and let’s keep this feeling of eagerness and anticipation alive so we can hit the ground running when we get together again.

–2020-21 Club President Jorge Hidalgo

For the Love of the Games

Jess Carrier

Our Rotary speaker on February 3 was Jessica Carrier, who leads the marketing team for Noble Knight Games in Fitchburg. She spoke to us from the company’s store, and her presentation included interviews with key employees.

Noble Knight Games boasts the largest selection of table-top games in the world, including traditional board games, new releases, and rare and/or out-of-print games. They buy and sell games from individuals and manufacturers locally and worldwide. About 20 percent of the company’s business is international. Vice President Dan Leeder explained that his brother Aaron is the owner and founder of the company. In the 1990s Aaron had an assembly job in the Janesville GM plant — and a love for the game Dungeons and Dragons. He began by purchasing games in Madison and selling them on his AOL.com site. In 1997 the company had five employees in Janesville. After 20 years the company moved to a newly built, 45,000 square foot building in Fitchburg.

The new structure includes a storefront with space for a mind-boggling inventory — hundreds of thousands of games, according to our speaker — and in-store game events, which were held every day of the week before the COVID shutdown. They are looking forward to resuming in-store events in the future.

Carrier said there are emotional, mental and physical benefits to playing table-top games. Even if a game is not marketed as an educational product, youngsters learn and grow by playing. They can develop reading and memorization skills, color recognition, cooperation and important social skills such as how to win or lose gracefully. She said that playing table-top games opens neural pathways that help you learn and retain information longer. It has also been tied to a slower onset of dementia in adults.

While one’s fate in many of the traditional games may depend on a roll of the dice or a card drawn from a deck, most newer games place more emphasis on strategy and, in some cases, cooperation with others. While the goal used to be to progress on a board, amass the most money or be the last person standing, now the goal is more likely to involve the management of multiple resources.

The presentation reminded me that I used to collect baseball cards, as much for the bubble gum as the players. Getting the card of a favorite player — for me it was Rocky Colavito, who played for Cleveland — was a matter of luck. Now there are games where you construct your own deck of cards which allows you to build a winning strategy in the game.

The presentation offered some suggestions for people who might be interested in gaming but don’t know where to begin. Start by talking with family and friends about the games they enjoy. For a group of two to four people, consider Azul or Catan. People who are used to playing Euchre might want to try the Wizard card game, which has additional suits along with Hearts, Spades, Diamonds and Clubs. The Haba games are great for young children. And if you want to move your teenager away from screen time, try to find table-top games in the same genre that is your kid’s obsession online. And, of course, the folks at Noble Knight Games will be happy to help!

Our thanks to Jess Carrier and her staff for their presentation this week and to Andrea Kaminski for preparing this review article.  Our thanks also to Neil Fauerbach who assisted in editing this week’s speaker video as well as our song at today’s meeting! If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/nXLv_P2y2gw.

Revitalizing Downtown Madison Post Pandemic

Brad Binkowski

Between the pandemic and the protests, Brad Binkowski believes downtown Madison has gone through one of the most tumultuous years imaginable and looks now like it did in the 1980’s when retail moved out to the malls. He believes it’s important to remember what downtown was; imagine what it can be again; and take the steps necessary to get it there. He says private sector investment is a necessary component of that revival.

Brad stressed the importance of building underground parking to reactivate sidewalks for pedestrians and customers and said the city needs to help cover the extraordinary costs. He says underground parking is behind the success of Urban Land Interests’ development of Block 89 which turned vacant buildings and surface parking into 560,000 square feet of office space on a block that now has the highest assessed value in the city. Brad says multi-modal transportation is growing, but the reality is that tenants demand parking.

ULI is now looking to develop the American Exchange block on the square – a development that has been 23 years in the making. The project, which ULI hopes to start in 2022, will have 805 underground parking stalls and 300,000 square feet of office space targeted to tech companies. Brad says the revenue the block will generate will help the city advance other initiatives.

Brad believes Madison has extraordinary strengths: a quality of life that doesn’t exist in many other places; a labor pool that includes the highest percent of educated millennials; and the highest net in-migration of tech employees in the country. But he says we desperately need a vision of what downtown can be.

Brad closed by saying that Rotary is a force that is committed to a vision for downtown and is critical to creating a dialogue on a plan for downtown Madison and a strategy on how to get there.
Our thanks to Brad Binkowski for speaking this week and to Janet Piraino for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/MRnkBjm9Cps.