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State Business Roundup: Unemployment rate now at 6.6 percent

Wisconsin's new unemployment rate is the lowest since December of 2008, when Wall Street almost collapsed and the Great Recession had just reared its head.

State officials said yesterday that the seasonally-adjusted jobless rate for December was six-point-six-percent. That's the same as the rate for November, which was revised downward by one-tenth-of-a-point. UW-Milwaukee professor John Heywood says the rise in employment and the drop in joblessness are both moving very slowly compared to past economic recoveries. But private economist David Ward of Madison says the figures show a definite improvement. Wisconsin's new jobless rate is more than two-and-a-half percent lower than the state's highest rate during the recession - which was nine-point-two percent during several months in 2009-and-2010. Officials also said yesterday that Wisconsin gained an estimated 4,500 private sector jobs in December. But that was almost off-set by a drop of 3,200 jobs in Wisconsin's public schools and local governments.


It's not as easy as it sounds to convert a paper mill from one major product line to another. That what officials at Wausau Paper said yesterday, after Governor Scott Walker said the state might have some options to help keep its mills at Mosinee and Rhinelander profitable. A week ago, Wausau said it would sell both plants, plus one in Brainerd Minnesota. During a visit to nearby Weston, the governor was asked if the state could help Wausau Paper re-tool its food wrapping and specialty paper plants so they could fit in with the company's current strategy of serving the growing market for tissue paper. Wausau's Perry Grueber said the intent is good, but the two Wisconsin mills could not benefit from what would be an expensive conversion. Grueber said the specialty papers have a growing market as well, and it would not make sense to change them. Wausau's largest shareholder disagrees, though - and it has accused the company of mismanagement by not doing enough to zero in on the tissue and paper towel markets. The shareholder, a New York hedge fund, has been squabbling for some time with Wausau's management. But the paper firm defends its business strategy. Grueber said the three mills were never described as "troubled." He says they're well-positioned to succeed as the economy recovers - but he said Wausau's long-term goal is to focus on away-from-home tissue products with a greater potential for profit and growth. So far, there are no potential buyers for the three mills.


Wisconsin has one home-based company on Fortune Magazine's annual list of the 100 Best Places to Work For. The Milwaukee investment firm of Robert W. Baird-and-Company is ranked at Number-14. Fortune says non-senior managers own 78-percent of the firm. And all Baird associates get annual profit-sharing contributions from a pool that covers 10-percent of Baird's pre-tax net operating income. Minnesota's Mayo Clinic, which has a large facility in Eau Claire, is Number-41. Internet giant Google tops the list for the second straight year.