Sticky Rule for Parents Saving For Children’s Education

The New York Times’ Rob Lieber has a good article on saving for your children’s education. In his reporting, he talked with fellow Wisconsinite Kevin McKinley of Eau Claire-based McKinley Money:

Mr. McKinley suggests an approach he calls “20-20-20.” Take the current average cost of attending four years at a public university: roughly $60,000. Save $20,000 before your child begins college by putting aside $50 a month starting at birth and assuming a 6 percent annual return. Then, pay $20,000 out of current income while the student is in college. Finally, have your child take out $20,000 in federal student loans over four years. The $200 monthly payments afterward are not a horrible burden for people in their 20s to bear, and they’ll be debt free once the 10-year payback period is over.

This is a great example of someone packaging a solution to problem in a way that everyone to understand and act on. Now, I just need to open those bank accounts…

Save The Cookie

Our hometown airline is under attack. Midwest Airlines, based out in Milwaukee, is fighting a hostile bid from AirTran. The unwanted suitor claims the standard “synergies” and “efficiencies” blah blah blah. Midwest garners over 50% of the traffic out of Milwaukee and AirTran want the east-west routes to complement their north-south.

If you have flown Midwest, you have some idea how devastated Milwaukeeans are about this. There is no away AirTran will provide the level of service that Midwest does now. I would go as far as saying that the cultures of the two airlines will clash, and it will be a disaster.

The bad news is that AirTran’s tender offer has attracted 57% of the outstanding shares. This does not mean it is over given a number of poison pill options Midwest has, but management is going to be hard pressed to turn this down.

From a business standpoint, it is interesting to watch locals reaction to this. It is a big deal in our community. The direct flights to major cities is a quality of life perk for the city. People love the big leather seats. People LOVE the cookies. Has AirTran considered how many people they are going to lose when they remove everything that makes Midwest special?

You can find out more about Midwest position at I encourage you to sign the online petition to show your support for keeping Midwest Airlines independent.

Private Companies in Wisconsin

In their most recent issue, Forbes has published a list of America’s Largest Private Companies. One of the peculiar things about Wisconsin has always been the number of large private concerns headquartered here. I went down through the first 100 companies on the list and Wisconsin is tied for third with Pennsylvania having seven companies on the list (California was first with 11 companies and New York was second with 10).

Here are the Wisconsin companies on the list:

Company Name(business) Rank Revenues ($mil)
Menard (home improvement stores) 23 6,508
SC Johnson (home cleaning, storage supplies) 24 6,500
Roundy’s (grocery stores, food wholesaler) 40 4,777
Kohler (plumbing fixtures, generators) 53 3,600
Schneider International (trucking, third-party logistics) 70 3,198
JohnsonDiversey (cleaning, sanitation supplies) 71 3,169
Schreiber Foods (packaged cheeses, frozen entrees) 91 2,700
Ashley Furniture Industries (furniture) 148 2,000
Quad Graphics (catalog, magazine printer) 170 1,807
F Dohmen (drug distributor, benefits management services) 178 1,734
US Oil (oil, auto parts distributor, convenience stores) 311 1,047

Your Choice in Power

I got a letter from my electric company, We Energies, with an interesting offering.

They are offering me the choice to use alternate resources to power my home. These are resources that are local to state and renewable. They say it is a combination of wind (17%), small hydroeletric (8%), and landfill gas (75%). They offer three participation levels with the highest being able to match 100% of your electricity with the purchases of renewable energy. That highest level adds an additional $15 a month to your bill.

I thought this was pretty remarkable. You typically do not have alot of choice over the energy you consume in your home. The old answer was consume less. Their new answer is renewable energy costs more, but here is option to pay for it if you value it.

TV Shows in Wisconsin

I always find it interesting that wherever I travel around the world people know about Miwaukee. The image they have is of Happy Days or Laverne and Shirley.

In the office yesterday, we got talking about all the TV shows that have been set in Wisconsin. I would say for we have had a disportionate number of programs based in our fine state. Here is the list we came up with:

Inc.’s Best Places To Do Business

May’s issue of Inc. Magazine has a section entitled Best Places to Do Business. The calculations are based on job growth rates in multiple time periods. I was tickled to see Wisconsin extremely well represented on the list of 274 areas. To be fair, the list below lists all Wisconsin areas in the survey:

[The links on the cities lead to Google Maps; thought I would add that for those not familiar with WI geography.]

Here is the feature Inc. wrote on Green Bay:

It’s conventional wisdom that economic dynamism follows (and further attracts) the hip, the creative, the exceptional. But Randy Rose, CEO and president of Enzymatic Therapy, a 300-person manufacturer of dietary supplements, says the key to success is a much humbler thing: drawing good local workers.

Rose, whose firm is based in Green Bay, Wis. (No. 4), credits his company’s growth to the high caliber of the managers and rank-and-file workers he hires locally. “These are not only people who have a strong work ethic but they want to develop their careers,” he says. “We try to have a learning organization here, and people here want to learn and grow. It makes all the difference in the world.”

For some time Wisconsin has had the premier entrepreneurial economy in the Midwest. In addition to Green Bay, the No. 1 midsize city on last year’s list, the state’s standouts include La Crosse (No. 15) and Madison (No. 38). Even Milwaukee, the big city in the state, is a respectable No. 66. What’s behind this success? In large part it’s the quality of Wisconsin’s public education system. Rose says the local workers he hires are well educated and well trained, at whatever level they are employed. Other Wisconsin business owners say the same. From the assembly line to the laboratory, Wisconsin employers seem particularly pleased with the level of skill and commitment shown by their workers.

Wisconsin also has avoided the problems associated with overconcentration in one industry — in particular the sensitivity to fluctuations in various marketplaces. This can be seen in the poor ranks for places tightly linked to particular industries — such as Detroit (No. 213) and Flint, Mich. (No. 271), both of which rely on the auto, and Columbia, S.C. (No. 266), which depends on textiles.

In addition, Wisconsin excels in highly specialized firms in areas such as machine tools, measurement controls, and machinery for making paper products. Many of these smaller manufacturing companies have actually benefited from the explosive growth in China. Between 1999 and 2003, the state’s exports to China rose 265%, more than twice the Midwest average and almost three times that for the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has a low cost of living and exceptional recreational opportunities. And the word is getting out, meaning it’s becoming easier to add imported talent. Rose recently hired top managers from Oakland and Chicago. “When I first got here in 2002,” he says, “our equity partners said it would be hard to get people here because of the location. What we found was quite the opposite.”

New Name to Be Chosen At Marquette

It was announced Marquette University has reopened the selection process for the new name.

Warriors will be not allowed as one of the candidates.

The process will start with a list of about 10 names with a slot for write-ins with the entire University community voting. The top two vote getters will be voted on a second time for the final choice. Both votes are binding.

I am proud that the University Board had the courage and ability to swallow their pride. I think this is an outstanding process that lets the Unversity community decide the permanent name.

Marquette Board Meets

Journal Sentinel is reporting that Marquette University’s board of trustees is meeting today to “review the communications from students, alumni, faculty and other stakeholders regarding the decision [to change the nickname to Marquette Gold].”

It will be very interesting to see how this one goes down…

Milwaukee looks good in the Fortune 500 looked through the recent Fortune 500 issue and found the Milwaukee and Wisconsin fared pretty well.

  • Wisconsin has 25 Fortune 1000 companies
  • The big names are Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls, Manpower, Kohl’s, Harley-Davison, Rockwell, and Wisconsin Energy Corporation.
  • Johnson Controls is the top ranked Wisconsin company at #71
  • In looking at metro Milwaukee, the area ranked #5 when you consider population and number of ranked companies.

Milwaukee Companies Taking a Beating

It has been a rough couple of weeks for Milwaukee-based companies.

Things started with Harley-Davidson. On April 13th, the motorcycle maker announced earnings were up 11% but that sales were flat. They lower 2005 earnings expectations and said they would cut production. The stock has dropped 22% since the announcement.

Yesterday, the highly recognized Midwest Airlines announced losses of 91 cents per share for the first quarter. They said fuel prices are up 36% over last year. On a positive note, they saw revenues grow almost 11%. Midwest’s stock is down almost 10% since the announcement.

Harley got hit because people didn’t expect the flat sales. They’ll be fine.

Midwest on the other hand I am worried about. They lost $15.9 million dollars this quarter. The company is only worth $31 million at this point. I am not sure how they can survive in this environment of high fuel costs and no ability to raise prices. I am flying with them in both June and July to do my little bit. There is improved quality of life here by having a local airline that flies direct to big cities. There is nothing that beats their Signature service. I wish them luck in the months ahead.

Wisconsin Architecture

I am not sure you would think of Wisconsin as a destination for great architecture, but you would be amazed.

There is an amazing number of buildings by Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright located here. Wright’s home Taliesin is located in Spring Green. The Annunciation Church can be found in Wauwatosa. Wingspread is located in Racine along with SC Johnson Wax Building. The Monona Terrace in Madison is a building designed by Wright that took 40 years to build. The Greenberg House in Ottawa currently for sale if you are in the market.

What got me on the Wright track was a piece I saw at today. It is a synopsis of a longer series that ran in the Arizona Republic. It seems the foundation that runs Taliesin and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ needs money — $100 million or so. It seems the foundation itself has all sorts of the problems too. We toured Taliesin a few year ago and found the architecture amazing. We will be a real shame if things can’t get worked out.

I want to end on a happy architecture note. The April issue of Smithsonian Magazine recommends seeing the the Calatrava addition at the Milwaukee Art Musuem. I highly recommend it also.