Business Insiders: Q&As with industry experts

Local leaders in energy, real estate, law and...
Business Insiders: Q&As with industry experts
Business Insiders: Q&As with industry experts

Annette Miller, director of emerging markets and community development
Madison Gas and Electric

What does your position at MGE entail?
My responsibility at MGE is customer engagement and marketing. I seek to align customer needs and company values to ensure we are responsive to the needs of all of our customers and the company. Much of my work has centered on the Madison area’s African American, Latino and Hmong populations, but it has also included low-income customers, renters and fixed-income customers and partnering with organizations that work with these different customer segments. I think a lot about how programs and services can be sustainable and collaborative and can encourage leadership across the company and our diverse customers, community, cultures and sectors.

MGE is a longstanding company in the Madison community, having been officially launched in 1896. How has MGE reacted to changes in demographics and new technologies?
As a locally based utility company, MGE has always made it a priority to focus on how it can collaboratively address customer and company values and what we call “responsible engagement.” Our response to customer market changes has been to balance programs and services that cater to and engage our broad and diverse community. Our community energy grid features more than 350 local sources of generation, both owned by MGE and customer owned. In 2012, The New Green Challenge or El Desafío de Vivir Verde through community partnerships with EnAct, Urban League, and Centro Hispano helped garner more than 1,700 followers through social media. Now we are working with the city of Middleton on a proposed community solar project. This pilot program would help MGE provide a solar participation opportunity for those customers who can’t install their own solar panels because they rent, live in an apartment, have a shaded roof, can’t afford their own system, etc.

How do you and your company help newcomers settle into life in Madison?
There are many things we do for customers to help them transition into the spaces they call home. We provide welcome packets for customers in English and Spanish to those who start service with us. We offer our customer service assistance in English, Spanish and Hmong. Plus, we have a Language Line to assist customers who speak languages beyond those spoken by our call center staff. We have many programs to meet a variety of customer segments. Our goal is to ensure we can meet the needs of all of our customers and provide a variety of pathways for customers to interact with us.

How are Madisonians’ energy use and habits changing?
As a society, we’re more reliant on reliable energy than ever in history, but we’re also becoming increasingly focused on its generation and how we get and use energy, in part because new fuel sources and new technologies have become more efficient and cost less. Many customers do see that the time is now to think about our energy future. There are many who are less passionate, but they still want to be responsible and help to ensure that MGE can be the energy service provider of the future. The time is now for all of our customers to shape our community’s future, and we hope they will become engaged, stay informed and keep giving us input!

Business Insiders: Q&As with industry experts

Bonita Nunez, real estate agent
Keller Williams Realty

What does the housing market look like for 2016 in Madison?
According to information from the South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service on Dane County and Madison, the inventory of available houses and condominiums has remained sufficient in general, and the expectation is that this trend will continue into 2016 in Madison. This is good news for families looking to relocate to Madison. However, I have found that home buyers need to plan to act decisively and quickly, as the homes that are well priced and well presented go quickly.

Madison has a diversity of arts, culture, food and music. How important are these attributes to potential home buyers?
This is a plus. However, buyers also comment on the importance of good schools and living in a safe community. Additional factors that determine the criteria home buyers find important depend on the stage of life that they are in. Younger families with children tend to focus on child-friendly neighborhoods, spacious yards, parks or sidewalk-lined streets. Empty nesters may have other preferences, including nearby shops and a smaller yard. Thankfully, Madison has a variety of neighborhoods that can meet all of those wants and needs in a variety of price points.

What are the biggest selling points for Madison?
There are several, but I believe Madison’s greatest selling point is that it is the home of University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is a highly ranked and world-class university. Additionally, people find Madison to be a relatively safe and beautiful city with its many well-maintained lakes, residential neighborhoods and abundant biking and walking trails.

What poses the greatest challenge to new arrivals seeking housing in Madison?
In general, I believe that for most people, unfamiliarity with a new location can be very challenging, especially if combined with the lack of access to accurate housing information. Even though we live in a world where Internet-based informational sources seem limitless, many times this information, particularly in relation to housing, is inaccurate or out of date, and this can be very misleading. New arrivals to Madison, especially those looking to purchase a home, would be best served by working with a realtor, as we have access to the most accurate and timely real estate information available.

How does speaking Spanish help you serve clients?
I have always felt that education and information are empowering; subsequently, my goal as a real estate professional is to provide my clients with the information they need to make the best-informed decision possible. Purchasing a home can be daunting and complicated, and for many, it may be the most expensive and possibly one of the most important decisions they make in a lifetime. As an African American woman who also happens to speak Spanish, I have found that many of my clients have expressed feeling more comfortable and less intimidated by the home buying or selling process when information can be presented in the language that they find most comfortable.

What are the biggest changes you’re seeing in real estate lately?
The rapid influx of technology has been the biggest change that I have experienced in the fifteen years that I have been a realtor. Most people initiate their home search via the internet. Technological tools including smartphones, apps and electronic signature systems have definitely streamlined the real estate transaction process from beginning to end, making it more efficient. However, even with all of the technological advances, I have found that many clients still prefer the personal touch of working with a live person to search for homes, review and draft documents and answer questions.

Business Insiders: Q&As with industry experts

Michelle Behnke, lawyer
Michelle Behnke & Associates

What is your firm’s specialty?
My practice focuses on business advising, commercial real estate and estate planning. These three areas are interrelated, and most of my estate planning is connected with my business clients.

Madison is seeing growth in the area of startups. If a person wants to start a business, when should a lawyer be involved in the process?
Of course, I would recommend that a business owner build their professional team early. Many decisions, such as ownership structures, management and control issues and the structure of outside investors, are key to the future of the business. Consulting early helps the business owner understand the options and make informed decisions on these critical issues.

What is the first step to take for someone who needs legal services?
The first step is to get a recommendation, if possible. For business clients, often they get referrals from lenders, accountants or business associates. Once you get a recommendation, talk to the prospective lawyer. You want to establish a good working relationship with your lawyer. You may find that you need more than one attorney to handle your matters (if multiple legal issues or areas are involved). You also want to get a sense of how the lawyer thinks about business issues and how they find solutions. You need to find someone that works with you as a team player.

What do you like best about working in this field?
I love being part of my client’s team. Each person has a role and brings specific skills, and all of those skills work together to help accomplish the goals. I love being able to share my business knowledge with someone entering the business world and helping them establish their business on a good foundation and working with them over time to grow the business. The business work that I do is really a collaboration, and I love working with people.

Business Insiders: Q&As with industry experts

Damond Boatwright, regional president/CEO
SSM Health Care of Wisconsin

How does SSM Health help newcomers navigate the health care system in Madison?
At SSM Health, we understand that establishing care within a new health system can feel overwhelming to some, which is why we offer a broad network of support to those who are new to the area and new to SSM Health. SSM Health in the Madison area allows people access to any of the Dean Clinic locations, St. Mary’s Hospital, St. Mary’s Care Center and the services provided by Home Health United.
In the Madison area, your health insurance plan often determines which providers you will have access to. New Madison residents who are looking for insurance either outside of an employer-provided plan or on the insurance marketplace can get help finding the right plan for their needs by contacting Dean Health Plan.

SSM has its origins in the St. Louis-based Sisters of St. Mary, which, among its credits, started the first Catholic hospital in the nation to serve African Americans. How does that heritage affect how SSM serves its patients today?
I know how important these issues are firsthand, now that my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles are getting older and accessing health care more. It can be a challenge to gain enough understanding and trust between communities and providers to develop a care plan that will achieve success. We know that ultimately, if we’re going to be successful in improving the health of our community, we must never lose sight of the importance of understanding the individuals who access our care, regardless of their background or situation. Communication and trust are imperative to gaining that understanding.

Your company’s website states, “For SSM, diversity is both a moral and business imperative.” What does this mean?
If you look at the early histories of both Dean Clinic and SSM Health, it is clear that our founders–Dr. Joe Dean and the Sisters of Saint Mary–understood that it is imperative to serve our community and better the human condition.

Since those early days caring for the Madison community, we’ve continued to build hospitals and clinics and bring health providers and professionals to communities where we recognize a need. We provide primary and specialty care through a network of more than fifty clinics and three hospitals serving eighteen counties. This dedication to bettering the human condition calls back to our mission and core values, our belief that there is true, intrinsic worth in every person.

You have served in various capacities in several cities. Based on your years of experience in health care, what specific challenges does Madison pose to

Newcomers to Madison will notice differences in Madison’s health care market when compared to other areas of the country. Our health networks are narrower than many new residents are used to. These narrow, integrated networks offer great benefits for patients in the Madison area, including some of the highest quality and utilization scores in the country.

Because our system is integrated, each piece of the puzzle is connected. An integrated health care system means your doctors, your hospital and your insurance provider are all working together. Through this coordination, SSM Health is seeing an increase in health literacy rates in our community. This increased understanding of health conditions and how to best access health care is improving the health of our patients and the overall health of our community.

In what ways has the Affordable Health Care Act helped reduce racial and ethnic health disparities?
Though we are only about eighteen months into the rollout of the insurance marketplace set up through the Affordable Health Care Act, early data shows that with greater access to insurance and care, health literacy rates and appropriate utilization rates–meaning accessing the right type of care–are improving. We are certainly seeing that here at SSM Health through data provided by Dean Health Plan. Over the past eighteen months we are seeing newly insured members gaining better knowledge about the health care system as well as their own health. Additionally, we’re seeing more appropriate utilization rates by our members. Time will tell the true impact of the Affordable Health Care Act in reducing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in our country.