Realistically speaking, how much worse can 2021 be than the mess of a pandemic year that preceded it? In hopes that 2021 will release COVID-19’s insidious grip, here are predictions for what to expect out of the new year in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

Tech innovation isn’t just for Madison and Milwaukee anymore. Rock County is the home of two companies that aim to supply next-generation medical radioisotopes now produced exclusively offshore. A software company formed in an Eau Claire basement recently went public on the NASDAQ. A unique partnership between the Green Bay Packers, the UW-Green Bay and Microsoft has created a tech hub in Green Bay. More examples will unfold as the year moves on.

Early stage investing in Wisconsin will rebound. COVID-19 couldn’t kill venture and angel investing in Wisconsin or, for that matter, most of the nation. Even if the state’s 2020 numbers come in below the 2019 record $454 million in Wisconsin investments, the coming year will likely bring a fresh look at young tech deals. One reason is the 2020 surge of tech IPOs, or initial public offerings, which means more COVID-parked money will search for new on-ramps to financial returns.

The changing face of Wisconsin’s investor corps will help. It’s no secret that angel and venture capital has largely been a province of white guys who made money in tech over time, but some important changes are afoot. Women are involved in leadership positions at more than 20 Wisconsin funds, networks, corporate venture funds or other early stage investment groups. Also, Black-led funds are emerging. Diversity will likely lead to different kinds of deals, if not more deals.

Tech will accelerate healthcare changes. Some of Wisconsin’s largest healthcare companies and systems were pressed into a “pivot mode” during the pandemic. Companies such as Epic, Exact Sciences, GE Healthcare and Promega made waves nationally, but so did many smaller Wisconsin firms such as Midwest Prototyping, Carebot, AIQ Global, Novir, Semba Biosciences, FluGen and many more. Telehealth exploded in most clinical settings, as did platforms using artificial intelligence and digital health records. Look for more of the same.

Rural development can’t be ignored. If the Democratic Party learned anything from the 2020 elections, it should be that it must look beyond big cities to rural America when it comes to fostering economic growth. A bipartisan approach in Congress and the Wisconsin Legislature on broadband is needed more than ever. Also, the coming revolution in bio-industrial innovation is ideally suited for states such as Wisconsin that can lever natural resources as well as manufacturing.

Address data privacy nationally. The United States was a leader in data privacy laws decades ago, but not enough is being done at the federal level today to prevent personal information from being misused. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation aims to harmonize privacy laws across the EU, but critics say it continues practices that have long stifled innovation in Europe. China’s data privacy protocol is even more far-reaching and, some argue, even dangerous, given fears of cyber-snooping on U.S. tech companies. President-elect Biden and Congress should adopt federal standards to pre-empt 50 different state privacy laws, an outcome that would make a mess of interstate commerce while confusing consumers.

The new year can’t be much worse than the old. With luck and hard work, it can be a lot better.

Interested in what 2021 holds for Wisconsin's economy? Join us virtually on January 7 for the Midwest Economic Forecast Forum with guest speaker Chicago Fed President Charles Evans. Click here for more information.