By Daryll Lund

As the last several years have proven — it can be difficult to predict exactly what the year ahead has in store. Between rising inflation, growing mortgage rates, and consumer uncertainty, communities throughout Wisconsin are looking to their local bankers for guidance and tools to prepare.

In an effort to stay one step ahead, educated, and ready to assist when called upon, it is critical that all bankers continue to lean on their peers and industry experts for reliable information and outlooks. Events such as the annual Midwest Economic Forecast Forum — presented by the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) in partnership with other state banking associations — provides bankers just the setting to become acquainted with tomorrow’s economic predictions.

This year’s virtual forum will feature James Bullard, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and Augustine (Gus) Faucher, chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group. During the two-and-half- hour event, the two experts will discuss their economic insights and expectations for 2023 and beyond specifically for bankers of all levels, board members, and business clients.

Additionally, WBA’s charitable arm — the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation (WBF) — provides quarterly economic updates specifically tailored to Wisconsin bankers on Compiled by UFS, Banconomics features essential economic data, research, and reports community bankers can utilize to support public and private decision-making. These quarterly reports are designed to be shared with staff, bank directors, and shareholders to assist the bank in tracking benchmarks and creating peer comparisons — undoubtedly a valuable tool to remain informed on our industry throughout the year.

While uncertainty in our daily lives remains ever present, there is no shortage of tools for bankers to gain valuable insights on economic changes as they occur. Our Association is committed to ensuring bankers in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest not only have access to the knowledge and resources best suited to guide our community members, but for the continued prosperity throughout our industry.

By Daniel J. Peterson

As we quickly approach the end of another calendar year, I am reminded of last year when the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still cast uncertainty into the new year. Though many of us can agree that the pandemic no longer directly impacts us in the ways seen previously, it has continued to force record-level inflation and recessionary fears onto the wallet of every Wisconsinite.

As our neighbors look to bankers as experts on both the economy and communities they serve, it is important that we as banking leaders take the opportunity to interpret and pass on the economic data and trends that we will likely see into 2023.

Annually, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA), in partnership with several other Midwestern banking associations, hosts a virtual Midwest Economic Forecast Forum. This forum is focused specifically on providing bankers with the chance to hear from nationally renowned experts on the challenges expected to impact our industry in the new year and also opportunities that are in store.

This year’s forum will once again be held virtually and provide individual or group rates to banks interested in inviting staff, business customers, directors, and others to join in on the viewing. Mark your calendars now for January 12, 2023 from 10:30 a.m.–noon CT and visit to register.

This year, bankers will gain an economic outlook from James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), as well as Gus Faucher, senior vice president and chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group.

The last several years have certainly proven it is difficult to predict what is to come. As uncertainty continues to surround many aspects of our economy, it is necessary for the continued prosperity of our banks and community members that we look ahead. Without doubt, 2023 will create challenges and opportunities and prove to be a very unique year for many industries. The interest rate environment will cause many to pause and reevaluate, with fears of a recession on the horizon. Bankers will need to stay tuned in to the economic environment as we navigate through the next year.

I look forward to the discussion on these topics at the Midwest Economic Forecast Forum and hope many of you will join us.

Peterson is president and CEO of The Stephenson National Bank & Trust, Marinette, and the 2022–2023 WBA Chair.

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari and Economist Dr. David Kohl Headline Midwest Economic Forecast Forum 

By Cassandra Krause, Wisconsin Bankers Association 

On January 4, the Wisconsin Bankers Association hosted the 2022 Midwest Economic Forecast Forum in partnership with the Illinois Bankers Association, Michigan Bankers Association, Minnesota Bankers Association, Montana Bankers Association, and South Dakota Bankers Association. The event kicked off with a presentation by Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President and CEO Neel Kashkari. His presentation was followed by a town hall-style Q & A, moderated by WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels. The conversation included topics such as the conditions in sectors like manufacturing, agriculture, and construction; the Fed’s dual mandate from Congress; supply chains; an influx in bank deposits; and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) modernization. 

Kashkari on webinar

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari


Wisconsin’s Recovery Slower Than Minnesota’s, But Regional Recovery Mirrors That of the Nation 

Kashkari said that overall, our region looks a lot like the nation, but there are differences. Wisconsin started recovering more quickly than Minnesota did, but then the recovery became slower over the last six months to year. What happens with COVID will continue to matter because workers getting sick will be a disruption to economic activity. 

Kashkari noted that economic recovery since initial COVID-19 shutdowns has been uneven. “On one hand, GDP is fully recovered. . . but different sectors have been affected differently,” said Kashkari. “Many workers have found jobs. . . and while the unemployment rate has come down, we are still about 4–6 million workers short of where we should be, had there been no pandemic.”   

Demand for Labor Has Recovered More Quickly Than Supply  

The labor market was one of the main topics Kashkari responded to in the Q & A. 

“One of the things that I learned before the pandemic was that the vast majority of Americans want to work,” said Kashkari. “Every time businesses told us ‘we’re out of workers,’ as wages started to climb, workers came back in, and that was resoundingly positive for everyone. . . I still believe that’s true.”  

Kashkari commented that people of all income levels have more savings and more options — and there’s still a lot of fear of getting COVID or bringing it home to a vulnerable family member. The demand for labor has come back, but it’s going to take longer for people to feel comfortable coming back into the job market.  

Two Rate Hikes Likely in 2022 

With regard to inflation, Kashkari predicted it will be transitory, though it has been higher and has lasted longer than he had expected. He referred to his essay, titled “Two Opposing Risks,” which was published just prior to his presentation, and said he foresees two interest rate hikes this year. The rate rises may require sacrificing some gains in employment in order to keep inflation under control. 

Role of Banks in Communities Highly Appreciated 

Kashkari highlighted how community banks stepped up powerfully through the Paycheck Protection Program. “[Banks] have managed exceptionally well during the pandemic,” he said, adding that he has nothing but admiration for community banks and the role they served. WBA’s Oswald Poels expressed gratitude on behalf of community bankers for the recognition of their efforts. 

Kohl and Oswald Poels

Dr. David Kohl and Rose Oswald Poels

Economic Mega Trends 2022 and Beyond 

Dr. David Kohl, a highly anticipated speaker at events hosted by WBA and state banking associations around the country, discussed ten global macro-economic mega trend disruptors. The renowned economist and professor emeritus at Virginia Tech also responded to audience questions in a dialog moderated by Oswald Poels. 

Disruptors Present Both Challenges and Opportunities 

Some of the major disruptors Kohl highlighted in his presentation were globalization; environmental, social, and governance (ESG); and technology and automation. He provided a recent historical overview of inflation and provided a watch list for short- and long-term inflation. “Uncertainty concerning inflation, geopolitics, supply and marketing chains creates challenges but also presents opportunities,” said Kohl. “This is true for businesses and individuals with a high business and financial IQ that follow the process and execute a business plan.” 

Global Perspective Key to Success 

Kohl gave an overview of markets around the globe to keep an eye on, including Asia/China and Europe/Russia. “’Think globally, but act locally’ is a theme for success in the decade of the 2020s,” advised Kohl. “Observe economic mega trends from afar and connect the dots to determine how they impact your bank, business, employees, and customers’ lives.”   

Wisdom for Banking 

Like any good educator, Kohl had words of wisdom to share with the audience beyond what can be found in textbooks and data reports. “Success in life and business is about managing the controllables and managing around the uncontrollables,” he explained. “From the board room to business front lines, one cannot manage what happens in Washington, D.C., Beijing, or Brussels, but can attempt to manage around uncontrollable factors using scenario planning. Focus energy and strategy on the controllable elements with tactics that are agile and adaptive given the economic landscape.” 

If you were unable to attend the live broadcast, you can still register to receive access to the recording through January 18, 2022 plus resources provided by Kashkari and Kohl. 

Wisconsin Experts Offer Sector Forecasts 

As an extension of the Midwest Economic Forecast Forum, WBA has compiled eight sector-specific reports from industry experts on what 2022 will hold for Wisconsin. The reports include insights from Rose Oswald Poels, Wisconsin Bankers Association; Robb Kahl, Construction Business Group; Kevin Krentz, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation; Brandon Scholz, Wisconsin Grocers Association; Eric Borgerding, Wisconsin Hospital Association; Kurt Bauer, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce; Michael Theo, Wisconsin Realtors Association; and Tom Still, Wisconsin Technology Council. 

To read the full Wisconsin Economic Report, please visit 

Rose Oswald Poels

Banks well-positioned to help customers navigate any economic headwinds

By Rose Oswald Poels, WBA President and CEO

As we continue to navigate the evolving health pandemic heading into 2022, Wisconsin banks are well-positioned to serve the varying needs of their customers and communities. Through the third quarter of 2021, Wisconsin’s 176 headquartered banks are financially strong with continued high levels of liquidity that will allow them to meet their customers’ various borrowing needs.

The continued resiliency of the industry was evident in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) third quarter numbers. Nearly all of the industry is profitable and more than 72% of Wisconsin banks saw earnings gains and good credit quality through the third quarter of 2021. Wisconsin banks also saw a slight increase in net loans in the third quarter compared to the prior quarter, led largely by residential real estate lending; however, on a year-over-year (YoY) basis, lending was down 2.44%.

Overall, loan demand throughout last year was weak, and I expect that to continue for at least the first six months of 2022 and perhaps longer. Commercial loan demand was particularly low as Wisconsin banks saw a more than 23% decline in commercial and industrial loan portfolios in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter the prior year. This is largely attributed to factors, such as workforce shortages and supply chain issues, that will persist into 2022. These two factors alone have stunted growth in the business sector as many retail businesses are forced to alter their hours of operation and manufacturers to cut back production, all of which results in lower loan demand. In addition, many of these businesses received one or more forms of government stimulus or low-cost emergency loans, resulting in lower demand for traditional loans from banks as their balance sheets remained financially healthy.

The agricultural sector is expected to have a growth in profitability in the coming year in part to having received government stimulus or low-cost emergency loans over the last few years as well as having experienced a strong year last year. Farmland loans remained at nearly the same levels in the third quarter of 2021 compared to both the prior quarter and the same period in the previous year. Farm loans rose by 3.26% compared to the prior quarter but were down 7.83% compared to the third quarter in 2020. According to the national Fall 2021 Agricultural Lender Survey produced jointly by the American Bankers Association and Farmer Mac, agricultural lenders expect 70% of their borrowers to be profitable through 2022.

Wisconsin banks continue to be a safe place for consumers to keep their money, as evidenced by a 10.42% YoY climb in deposits from the third quarter of 2020 compared to the third quarter of 2021. I expect these deposit balances to remain high as economic headwinds in 2022, notably inflation and the Omicron variant of COVID-19, will likely cause stock market fluctuations that often make investors nervous.

Despite these economic challenges, I expect the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates only once during 2022, which will impact the banking industry’s profitability. With continued weak overall loan demand and the prolonged low interest rate environment putting pressure on the net interest margin of Wisconsin banks, 2022 could be a more difficult year for the banking industry. Nonetheless, with the industry’s strong financial condition, banks are positioned well to weather the upcoming year.

Founded in 1892, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) is the state’s largest financial industry trade association, representing more than 200 commercial banks and savings institutions and over 21,000 employees.

The Association represents banks of all sizes from banks in rural Wisconsin to the state’s largest financial institution in Green Bay, and nearly 98 percent of banks in the state are WBA members.

By Tom Still, WTC President

The list of economic uncertainties for 2022 is long and complex, with COVID-19 variants, supply chain woes, energy disruptions, climate-change anxieties, and political frictions around the world producing jittery markets.

It’s time to look for trends in technology to calm frazzled nerves on Wall Street as well as Wisconsin’s Main Streets.

Analysts at International Data Corp., the global market intelligence firm, predict the technology industry is on track to exceed $5.3 trillion in 2022 — thus returning to the 5% to 6% annual growth rate typical before the pandemic. The United States is the world’s largest tech market, representing about a third of the projected total at $1.8 trillion.

Tech overcame the 2020 speed bump precisely because COVID-19 triggered so much change. The workplaces of today are no longer easily defined. Changes in business travel forced innovation. Cybersecurity threats led to more investment across industry lines, from financial services to “Mom and Pop” retailers. Phrases such as “quantum computing,” “virtual reality,” and “artificial intelligence” were once the exclusive lingo of computer scientists; today, they’re part of the business plans for many companies.

It all points to bigger tech budgets, greater investment and more innovation pushing through the economic super-structure.

Technology will continue to disrupt many verticals. Health care is being transformed through telemedicine and wearables, not to mention breakthroughs in diagnostics and therapeutics. The jury is out on how effective remote learning has been for students of all ages, but online education will continue to have a role in the classroom. Sales through eCommerce in the United States continue to soar (hence, some of today’s supply chain troubles) and trends such as cryptocurrency are altering the financial world.

Tech can help slow climate change effects through conservation controls in homes, offices, cities, and power plants, even if “crypto-mining” has become an energy vampire. Likewise, as technology displaces many people in the workforce, it will create more new jobs than it destroys. The trick is ensuring that people are trained to do the work and opportunities don’t bypass women and minorities.

There are some threats to U.S. tech sectors, but also opportunities for Wisconsin to grow as a tech-savvy state.

In Washington, D.C., Congress should establish data privacy rules that are national in scope versus a state-by-state approach that could hamper companies engaged in eCommerce, finance, or insurance. Congress should avoid unnecessary taxes on venture capital managers and not pass an antitrust bill that would shut down “exit” options for young companies.

Congressional consensus around bipartisan plans to invest federal dollars in key research areas could help Wisconsin, especially if the state’s research universities and private partners can compete for one or more R&D “hubs” envisioned through the National Science Foundation.

In the Wisconsin Legislature, the refining of the state’s investor tax-credit law will lead to more angel and venture capital dollars flowing into young companies. When the Qualified New Business Venture law took effect in 2005, angel and venture capital investments could be measured in the tens of millions of dollars. The 2021 total will easily exceed $500 million, in part because those credits are pulling four times their weight in private investment. Pending bills would improve the law.

The new year may be tumultuous in many ways, but growth in tech markets could help smooth choppy waters.

The Wisconsin Technology Council is the independent, non-partisan science and technology advisor to the governor and the Legislature.

By Michael Theo, WRA President and CEO

With insights from Dave Clark, economist with Marquette University

After a very short two-month recession in March and April of 2020 that mirrored the pandemic-induced economic lockdowns, the U.S. economy bounced back and grew in the second half of the year. Aggressive actions by the Federal Reserve combined with significant stimulus spending approved by Congress led to strong growth in the first half of 2021, with real (inflation adjusted) GDP up by just over 6% for each of the first two quarters of the year.  But growth weakened significantly in the 3rd quarter, and real GDP growth came in at just 2%.  So why has economic growth slipped?  The short answer is that there are significant headwinds on the supply side of the economy that hampered growth including disruptions to supply chains, ongoing labor shortages and rising energy prices. The stimulus spending combined with loose monetary policy has put a lot of money into the economy, but without adequate supply, the economy is growing well below its potential. And for the first time in decades, inflation has become a serious problem. The annual inflation rate was below 2% for the first two months of 2021, but it began to grow in March.  Since May it has been at or above 5% and it grew to 6.2% in October, a level not seen since November of 1990.  Although the Fed suggested earlier in the year that inflation was likely to be transitory, and price pressures would subside once the supply chain improved, inflation thus far has been a persistent and growing problem. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell indicated in late November that the Fed may need to reconsider its easy money strategy to tamp down inflationary pressures.

The state housing market has seen strong demand for a number of reasons. First, there is significant pent-up demand as Millennials are finally buying homes. Second, the state has seen solid job growth over the previous year and statewide labor market that is now effectively at full employment with the state unemployment rate falling to 3.2% in October. Finally, mortgage rates have remained in the neighborhood of 3% all year, which is very low by historical standards. The problem is that supply has not kept up with demand. A balanced housing market is one that has six months of available supply, and the state has been well below that benchmark for nearly four years. Inventories in 2021 never rose above 3.4 months of supply, which signals a very strong seller’s advantage in the market. Strong demand combined with weak supply is a recipe for stagnate sales growth and sharply increasing home prices, which is exactly what we have seen this year. Through the first 10 months of 2021, median prices rose 9.5% compared to that same period in 2020, but sales are essentially even with last year. It is important to point out that we are keeping pace with the record sales of last year so 2021 will still be a very good year for home sales. But unless inventories improve, sales in 2021 we are unlikely to surpass the record home sales from last year.

Looking ahead to 2022, the Fed needs to tread carefully. Increasing short run interest rates will lower inflationary pressures, but if it is too aggressive, the strategy runs the risk of slowing economic growth.  However, inflation lowers consumer purchasing power, and since consumption is approximately two thirds of real GDP, inflation can slow growth in the overall economy. Indeed, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index fell in November due in part to inflationary concerns. We believe the Fed will find the right balance to lower inflationary risks without increasing the risk of recession in 2022.

The state housing market is likely to see another solid year for sales in 2022. Although rising prices have dampened demand slightly, demand conditions are expected to remain favorable with ongoing job growth and continued household formation by Millennials. Mortgage rates will likely increase modestly but they will remain low by historical standards. The state should see some modest improvement in home inventories as Baby Boomers increasingly transition out of owner-occupied housing and new construction continues to increase. However, the housing market will still be a seller’s market in 2022. Finally, home prices pressures have been moderating since late summer, and we expect that moderation to continue. We are unlikely to see double-digit price increases in 2022.

Policymakers at the national level should avoid passing spending bills that overstimulate the economy and increase inflation, and the Biden administration would be well advised to revisit its energy policy to further mitigate inflationary risks. At the state and local level, easing regulatory pressures on new construction can also help to improve the supply of housing in the state and reduce price pressures for buyers.

Founded in 1909, the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA) is one of the largest trade associations in Wisconsin. It represents and provides services to more than 15,000 members statewide. WRA’s goal is to promote the advancement of real estate in Wisconsin and provide cutting-edge tools to help REALTORS® enjoy a successful career and be competitive in their market.

By Kurt R. Bauer, WMC President and CEO

Last year in this annual forecast, I predicted that the COVID-19 vaccines would ease the stranglehold the virus had on the economy. I also predicted that then President-elect Joe Biden would govern to the political and economic left of Barack Obama. I think both predictions have largely came to pass. But even with the vaccines, boosters, and therapeutics, COVID-19 will still cast a foreboding dark cloud over the economy in the New Year, as will the Biden Administration’s policies.

There is a cause and effect for everything. COVID-19 caused state governments to order the first ever large-scale shut down of huge swaths of the U.S. economy. That caused a recession and businesses responded by cancelling orders for goods and services that ultimately impacted critical links in the U.S. and global supply chain.

At the same time, the federal government was passing massive, multi-trillion dollar COVID relief packages that stimulated consumer demand for just about everything once the worst of the pandemic appeared to be over. But the damage had been done.

Plants throughout the world that make the things we want — from cars to refrigerators — or make the things that go into the things we want — from microchips to steel — had slowed or idled production. Resuming pre-COVID production levels to meet the sky-high demand isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. And even if factories could keep up with demand, the transportation system that delivers those goods to market couldn’t. That includes shipping, rail, and trucking.

It’s like what happens when there is a car crash on a busy multi-lane highway during rush hour. Traffic slows to a trickle while the accident is cleared. And even after all lanes are reopened, it takes time for normal flow to resume. COVID is the car crash. The highway is our economy. And traffic is the supply chain.

Two other major “effects” caused by the pandemic are workforce shortages and inflation.

On workforce, far fewer Americans, including Wisconsinites, are working today than pre-COVID. Some of the federal stimulus is to blame, especially the American Rescue Plan passed last spring when the economy was already on the mend. Incentives matter and when you pay people not to work by supplementing state unemployment benefits, don’t be surprised when some don’t. The good news is that job numbers from late last year appear to show people returning to work, albeit slowly.

And all the trillions of dollars in federal stimulus compounded by more demand for goods than supply is causing inflation, and it doesn’t appear to be “transitory.” For example, wage inflation is certainly not temporary. Wages and benefits are rising because of the labor shortage and, unlike the price of groceries, the cost of hiring is unlikely to drop. We are setting new baselines.

Energy is similar. I don’t see energy prices dropping any time soon because of the anti-fossil fuel policies of the Biden Administration. Alternative energy is much more expensive to produce than energy generated from domestically produced fossil fuels. Alternative sources are also intermittent and not easily stored. And rising energy prices at both the pump and for home heating are very regressive. That’s why economist Thomas Sowell calls inflation “the most universal tax of all.”

What could make it all worse is President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better (BBB) budget reconciliation bill, which at press time has passed the U.S. House, but not the Senate. There are many things to dislike in the $1.75 trillion package, including raising individual income taxes. But every Wisconsinite should know that the BBB package passed by the House includes $280 billion in tax relief intentionally targeting millionaires and billionaires in “blue” states, like New York, New Jersey, California, and Connecticut.

Other BBB provisions will add more mandates, entitlements, disincentives to work and regulations that will raise the cost of doing business in every major category. Typically, you don’t respond to a major national crisis that led to a recession by raising taxes and adding other expenses on the private sector.

All of the above is creating paralysis and uncertainty. Businesses can’t find workers. They can’t get components. They can’t ship products. They don’t know how much their taxes will go up. They don’t know how high energy prices will go. They don’t know how many new entitlements they will be mandated to provide employees. They don’t know how many employees will quit if the vaccine mandate goes into effect. And they don’t know how governments around the world will react to new COVID-19 variants, like Omicron.

The bottom line is that COVID-19 made the economy sick and government is making it worse.

Founded in 1911, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) is the combined state chamber of commerce, state manufacturers’ association, and state safety council. With nearly 3,800 members, WMC is Wisconsin’s largest business association representing employers of all sizes and from every sector of the economy.

By Eric Borgerding, WHA president and CEO

Falling COVID cases this summer suggested the pandemic was behind us. That relief was short-lived. This fall’s Delta-fueled spike — the state’s third COVID surge — continues to escalate as of this writing while vaccination rates are slow to improve. This combination is causing more serious illness and longer hospital stays, straining hospital capacity. As life and commerce outside hospitals returns to normal, inside hospitals it’s been over a year of a continuous state of surge, requiring more resources and stressing capacity.

For months, hospitals have been dealing with the effects of delayed non-COVID care caused by the federal suspension of non-emergent care in 2020 or COVID “crowding out” capacity for other care or patients remaining hesitant to seek care during the pandemic. That delayed care is resulting in very high volumes and typically sicker, more resource-intensive patients today.

The CDC estimates that by June 30, 2020, approximately 41% of adults had put off needed health care because of the pandemic. This has been the trend through 2021. Hospitals have learned to “coexist with COVID,” which, among other things, means avoiding postponement of other types of care while also treating surging COVID patients. However, managing both translates into capacity and workforce-stressing volumes, which are reaching their limits in the most recent surge.

At the same time, capacity needed to serve such high demand is severely constrained by seemingly unrelated problems in Wisconsin nursing homes. For months, hundreds of staffed hospital beds, desperately needed for inpatient care, have been occupied by patients who no longer need hospital care. This is because nursing homes, for various reasons, cannot or will not accept their dischargeable hospitalized residents or other patients needing nursing home care. The nursing home bottleneck is impacting the ability of hospitals to care for other patients.

As in other industries, the extremely tight labor market is causing skyrocketing labor costs and rapid wage inflation in health care. This is partly driven by growing reliance on temporary nurse staffing agencies, which are charging double or more their typical price, as nationally, everyone is competing for the same finite pool of these traveling staff. While labor comprises 60% of hospital operating costs, hospitals cannot limit their hours or scale back production in response to worker shortages or wage inflation. They must be there 24-hours a day, every day.

Operating and total margins were down for most Wisconsin hospitals in FY 2020, with many booking negative margins. Overall, Wisconsin’s hospitals recorded a 1.6% patient care margin in FY 2020, a 70% reduction from 2019. Put simply, COVID has resulted in greater costs for all hospitals and falling margins for many.

Through it all, Wisconsin’s hospitals and health systems have demonstrated an even greater commitment to their communities. This includes taking on and resourcing more and more basic government and public health tasks — from virus testing and vaccine administration to serving as de-facto nursing homes and even providing care for 13,000 Afghan evacuees arriving with very little notice at Fort McCoy. All while continuing to treat disease, heal and save accident victims, and best of all, deliver babies.

Those who enter the health care field often describe their motivation to do so as a “calling.” That calling is being tested like never before. May 2022 bring some relief to those we count on and do so much to keep us healthy.

Established in 1920, Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) advocates on behalf of its 130-plus member hospitals and health systems to enable the delivery of high-quality, high-value care to the citizens of Wisconsin. WHA is committed to serving member needs, keeping members informed of important local and national legislative issues, interpreting clinical and quality issues for members, providing up-to-date educational information and encouraging member participation in Association activities. Visit WHA at

By Brandon Scholz, WGA President & CEO

More than 22 months ago, the grocery industry was thrown right into the middle of the COVID-19 crisis before we knew it was a crisis and eventually a pandemic. Immediately, grocers were essential businesses and workers, and their job was to make sure people had access to food.

And they did their job despite mandates, masks, COVID-19 restrictions on employees and customers, a struggling economy, product shortages, workforce challenges, and more.

There was never a time to slow down and catch up, only opportunities to fine tune what was already a well-oiled grocery store machine.

But no matter what efforts grocers, convenience stores, and other retail food operations did during multiple transitional periods, there was always another obstacle when one problem was resolved!

The industry started to experience even greater challenges with shortage of products on the shelves, low inventory and incoming short orders — even worse than what was experienced during the pandemic.

Contributing to the growing angst of inventory shortages and not-quite-fully-stocked-shelves was the hyperactivity surrounding various CPI and rising inflation reports. And no tale of woe was complete without a dissertation on the patchy workforce in almost every business up and down Main Street, but especially in grocery stores across the state.

To top it all off, consumers started to hear about the problems with the supply chain whether it was getting products to the grocery store, making cars and trucks, or containers stacked to the sky’s in ports across the world.

Seriously, I have never heard so many people talking about the “supply chain” in the grocery industry as I have in the last four months.

For many, it’s an eye-opening moment coming to understand how food and products actually get on grocery store shelves. For others it’s the boogeyman that’s keeping the grocery biz from returning back to normal. As one WGA member said, we always took the supply chain for granted: it was efficient and effective.

Whatever that level of understanding is, it actually is a helpful teaching moment when we’re talking with the media, legislators, regulators, and others explaining what the grocery industry was going through in 2021 as we moved from the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak to the pandemic and now to an endemic with possible surges, mutant variants, and other unforeseen challenges.

As the pandemic, and now the endemic continue to be a daily part of our society, most experts say the industry is a ways away from store shelves returning back to “normal” and stocked to shopper’s pre-COVID expectations. To correct the imbalance, labor and workforce challenges, transportation/manufacturing/production constraints all have to be resolved.

As we forge ahead into 2022, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, we do not have a food shortage in this country. We have a challenge producing food and getting these products onto store shelves. Every component of the supply chain is involved in working to bring the system back to pre-COVID levels.

Second, yes, inflation is higher than it has been. But reports of grocery price increases across the board are not true. Yes, there are price increases. Yes, there are price increases greater than what we have seen in the past. But no, these price increases are not “across the board” that capture every product in the store. Pricing strategies are strategic; they are not haphazard.

Grocers work exceptionally hard to control price increases that are forced upon them as they receive products for their stores. Raising prices is one of the last steps a grocer takes. Shoppers are savvy and shop on price, quality, and service. Raise prices and customers know it.

As some point out though, grocers can’t fully absorb the price increases from the supply chain. Those price increases get passed on to consumers, but not until the grocer has run out of room to absorb those costs.

Looking back as we pulled out of 2020 and into 2021, we saw changing and evolving issues and challenges resulting from the initial COVID outbreak and how it ultimately affected the supply chain.

No doubt, that means we will continue to educate shoppers, the media, and others as to why grocery store shelves don’t look like they did before March 2020.

Moving forward into 2022, grocers will continue to manage the pandemic and deal with these challenges ahead. We need the government to stop issuing mandates and let grocers run their businesses. We need people to come back to work, not just for a job, but for a career.

The Wisconsin Grocers Association represents nearly 1,000 independent grocers, retail grocery chain stores, warehouses and distributors, convenience stores, food brokers and suppliers. Wisconsin grocers employ over 50,000 people with more than $1 billion in payroll and generates more than $12 billion in annual sales in Wisconsin resulting in approximately more than $800 million in state sales tax revenue.