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Wisconsin Grocers Association Preparing 2023 Legislative Agenda

headshot of Brandon Scholz of the Wisconsin Grocers Association
Brandon Scholz

Wisconsin is experiencing some of the same economic woes as other states across the country.

“We have record high unemployment. We have members who continue to experience supply chain issues and getting products in inventory,” said Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association.

“We still have high demand from consumers, but their purchasing power because of inflation is not what it was.”

According to Scholz, there are matters state government could be involved in, such as addressing inflation and working on bringing back the workforce to where it was in 2019.

“Wisconsin has a net negative migration of people moving out of state into neighboring states. That’s not good. That has to be reversed,” he said.

Wisconsin’s government should be addressing issues such as improving quality of life, education reform and targeting organized retail crime. Other economic issues include wages, jobs, careers, families – what can the state do in terms of child-care tax credits and other incentives to get people to come back to work, Scholz said.

“People are still spending money, they’re still buying groceries, but there are challenges now – not only to retailers who continue to fight to have full shelves and have the supply chain work like it was. Now we have consumers who are dealing with the highest inflation rate, even though they’re getting most likely record levels of compensation, whether it’s hourly or salary and whatever benefit packages they have. That’s what we’re dealing with.”

To help its members, the WGA is working on regulatory and policy issues. The WGA board recently met with one of the candidates for governor and brought up a number of issues. The retail industry – grocers, convenience stores and others – “need to continue to maintain their business, stabilize their business, deal with inflation, deal with a lower workforce, deal with a supply chain problem,” said Scholz, adding WGA has made suggestions such as improving quality of life and offering child-care tax credits.

Also suggested was eliminating sales tax on groceries. Scholz said in addition to helping consumers save a little money, this would benefit grocers in that they would no longer have to charge a transaction fee on credit cards for the sales tax component of the bill.

“Those are the sorts of creative things, bold things, that we think need to be brought up, in addition to other things that would help our industry – home delivery of alcohol, consistent curbside, other tax reform in Wisconsin,” he said. 

“We have an issue called personal property tax, which is a tax that businesses pay to their local municipalities. We’ll look to repeal that. So we have a number of initiatives that we are going to work with the legislature, and depending on who’s governor, on those topics, to help.”

Workforce challenges

Finding workers is a key challenge for grocers in Wisconsin, as it is across the nation. Scholz said whether they have one store or several, each retailer has different needs but they all need a dependable workforce. However, depending on the market, they have different approaches to hiring.

“In some markets, their pool of 15-year-olds may be bigger than another pool. The only grocer in town likely hires every high school kid, while some in urban markets are drawing from folks who, this could be a first job, it could be a second job,” Scholz said.

Legislative action

In discussing this year’s legislative session, Scholz said several bills should be brought up again in the 2023 session. Gov. Tony Evers vetoed one that would have repealed the personal property tax, along with others WGA had supported.

“The governor vetoed the bill on organized retail crime and organized retail theft. That bill will come back,” Scholz said. 

When it is reintroduced, Scholz said language will be added to include theft of plastic pallets, which are being ground up into pellets and sold.

“We’re going to expand our organized retail crime bill to address that,” he said.

Another aspect of the organized retail crime bill is trying to get district attorneys and judges to do their parts with prosecution and sentencing. “We’ve got to get serious about crime issues,” Scholz said.

Another piece of legislation likely to return is allowing home delivery of alcohol. Customers placing online orders for alcohol have to pick them up curbside.

“Online sales aren’t going way,” he said. “Consumers want this, it’s got to happen. We will continue that fight.”

Scholz also said WGA is looking at charging stations for electric vehicles, which are becoming more popular with consumers.

“We think it’s the appropriate time to take a look at whether or not these charging stations could be put in grocery store parking lots,” he said. “Part of the issue is whether it’s good for grocers. 

“The idea is somebody comes into your parking lot, they plug in their car for half an hour to charge it and they go shopping. That’s a nice thing you can offer.

“But the fight is going to be with utilities in terms of who delivers the juice, who pays for it, who gets paid for it, all those issues that that get tied up in regulatory utility issues. But it’s something we’re going to explore.”

Credit cards fees are also on WGA’s radar. As Scholz noted in discussing the association’s proposal to eliminate sales tax on groceries, grocers have to charge a credit card fee when shoppers use debit or credit cards to make purchases. While grocers are mandated to collect the sales tax and fees, they get paid “less than pennies to do this work” and state government, banks and credit card companies are collecting the majority of the money.

“We have pursued legislation that would exempt credit card fees from being charged on the collection of sales tax,” he said.  

Remarking on resiliency

Scholz commented on the strength of grocers – in Wisconsin and across the nation.

“They are as hard working and as resilient as could be. And it was never demonstrated more appropriately during the pandemic,” he said. “Now that we’re kind of out of the pandemic, they’re still in a position where business is hard, because of the supply chain, but they’ve never given up.”

Scholz said the association is “immensely grateful” for the support it receives from its grocers, warehouse members and allied members. “We are here because of the support and strength of our members.”

Innovation Expo

The annual WGA Innovation Expo will be held Oct. 18-19 at Hilton Paper Valley Hotel’s Fox Cities Exhibition Center in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The longtime traditional trade show is for industry members only. It will feature several keynote speakers, including IGA’s John Ross. The educational component of the show also will have a number of speakers. There will be a session on legislative and government affairs, along with an election update.

“One of the things that members tell us is one of the top reasons they belong to the WGA and other associations is the work that we do on government and regulatory affairs…how we can work to kill bills that are bad bills that cost them money and pass good bills that would help their business,” Scholz said.

The WGA annual meeting is also held during the event and an address is given on the state of the association. The trade show follows and Scholz said they are looking at another sellout.

“Vendors and manufacturers and those who serve the grocery industry with their products and with their services…have been just enormously supportive of the WGA, of our efforts to help our retailers,” he said. 

“This is the time when you look at your allied members, and they are special because they are an important part of our industry and of our association. They make it a great success; we’ll have a great trade show.”

The annual state bag-off championship also will be held during the expo, with the winner going to Las Vegas to compete in the national championship at the 2023 NGA Show. The event wraps up with WGA’s annual awards banquet, where members are recognized for community service and excellence in operations. Vendor and grocer of the year awards also are presented.

“We take the time to recognize those folks for the great work they do. They’re all nominated for these awards,” Scholz said. “We also recognize our class of 2022 – 15 people that have come through our Leadership Institute.”

WGA staff members will be introduced at the expo. Joining Scholz and Sarah Decorah, WGA operations director, are new hires Mike Semmann, VP of government affairs; Kris Neilson, VP of events; and Ellen Breunig, marketing and events coordinator.

For more information, visit wisconsingrocers.com.

To read more market profiles from The Shelby Report, click here.

About the author

Treva Bennett

Senior Content Creator

After 32 years in the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her new career exploring the world of groceries at The Shelby Report.

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