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Tom Still's - Inside Wisconsin

Get insights on technology, the economy and politics through "Inside Wisconsin," a weekly column by Tom Still.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, with programs that include the Wisconsin Innovation Network and the Wisconsin Angel Network. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

Still serves on advisory boards to the UW-Madison College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board, the WiSys Technology Foundation and the Waisman Biomanufacturing Center, among other civic and business groups. He moderated the Wisconsin Economic Summits (2000-2003) and "Inside Wisconsin" appears regularly in 24 publications. He is a senior lecturer in the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Still is the co-author of “Hands-On Environmentalism,” published by Encounter Books, New York.


Still in JSOnline: Standing up for principle has its limits

October 5, 2015

The latest example of standing on principle over pragmatism is the debate over the Export-Import Bank, a little-known federal agency that provides billions of dollars annually in loan guarantees and other financial support for U.S. exports.

Inside Wis: Shattering some of the myths about Wisconsin’s startup economy

October 2, 2015

Here was my attempt to dispel a few of those folklores at the recent Healthcare Innovation Pitch, which was held in Milwaukee’s renovated Ward4 incubator and sponsored by a coalition of academic research and medical technology groups.

Inside Wis: In northern Wisconsin, economic worries and opportunities are unique

September 25, 2015

In northern Wisconsin, the formula for economic prosperity can be very different from the blend that works in other parts of the state. Finding the right mix was the topic of the first Grow North Strategy Forum, where a group of business owners and managers, educators, government leaders and economic development experts gathered to talk about challenges and opportunities in the North Woods.

Still in JSOnline: Universities' ties to industry vital for Milwaukee area

September 21, 2015

What Milwaukee has is nearly two-dozen colleges and universities that collectively educate about 180,000 students across a spectrum of disciplines, including virtually all of the so-called "STEM" fields — science, technology, engineering and math — needed in today's innovation economy.

Inside Wis: Early Stage Symposium companies can pitch stories to right crowd

September 18, 2015

How do those young companies find interested and qualified investors? One time-tested way is to make a company presentation at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.

Inside Wis: Workforce strategies must keep sharp eye of changing demands

September 11, 2015

Wisconsin’s workforce challenges are well-documented: Baby boomers are aging out of their careers and “brain drain,” while often overstated, is costing the state some of its young talent. A bigger problem may be Wisconsin’s industry mix. Are its dominant industries – agriculture, manufacturing and tourism – sectors in which major job and pay growth is expected?

Still in JSOnline: Survey seeks to clarify how people perceive Wisconsin

September 5, 2015

Called "Wisconsin state of mind: A national perception survey," the online poll is admittedly unscientific because of its open-ended, all-comers nature. Then again, its results may be instructive as policy-makers, business leaders and others grapple with how to position Wisconsin in a world where image often counts more than fact.

Walling Wisconsin: How a few strategic barriers might help the Badger state

September 2, 2015

Presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to build a wall separating Mexico from America’s southern border. Gov. Scott Walker, also running for president, mused briefly about building a wall between the United States and Canada. Before the nation spends billions of dollars on walls to protect us from people outside the United States, let’s consider the need for tighter interstate and intrastate security. Here are a few Wisconsin walls to be considered in these dangerous times:

Inside Wis: Higher ed in Wisconsin merits complete look, not piecemeal ideas.

August 28, 2015

Rethinking higher education in Wisconsin – its many “flavors,” its competitive pressures, its costs, its economic value and its role in meeting the state’s needs for skilled workers – is best done comprehensively. That’s why the Wisconsin Technology Council issued a set of recommendations to help policymakers go about the critical process of assessing the role of higher education – the UW System, the tech colleges and the valuable role of private colleges – in our modern Innovation and Knowledge Economy.

Still in JSOnline: State must be proactive to replenish tomorrow's workforce

August 22, 2015

How Wisconsin responds to one of the most serious demographic challenges in its history is vital to the state's economy, which must add or replace 1 million workers in the next 10 years as the current workforce ages and businesses seek to grow or, in some cases, simply survive.

Inside Wis: Cool cities are hot cities: Smaller communities can compete for talent

August 21, 2015

How Wisconsin responds to one of the most serious demographic challenges in its history is vital to the state’s economy, which must add or replace 1 million workers in the next 10 years as the current workforce ages and businesses of all types seek to grow or, in some cases, simply survive.

Inside Wis: Fetal tissue bill can be amended to satisfy science and ethics

August 14, 2015

The political reflex to the creepy possibility that people are illegally selling organs and tissue from aborted fetuses is understandable. The rush to pass overly broad legislation that would outlaw and even criminalize legitimate, longstanding medical research is not.

Still in JSOnline: Rush to pass legislation banning fetal tissue use unwise

August 8, 2015

Legislation that would ban the sale and use of fetal tissue is on a fast track in the Wisconsin Legislature, where a public hearing will be held Tuesday in Madison and some Republican leaders are pledging swift passage in September.

Inside Wis: Technology helps private landowners become better stewards of land – and make money

August 7, 2015

Of course, technology is nothing new in farming in Wisconsin or elsewhere. The harvesting machine, the twine binder, malted milk, the milk butterfat test, the round silo, safe canning methods for peas and tuberculin tests for cattle were all Wisconsin inventions in the 1800s alone. The pace of innovation hasn’t slowed in the last century-plus.

Inside Wis: With surging need for bandwidth, top public CIOs see urgent need for cooperation

July 31, 2015

Finding and lighting dark fiber will help Wisconsin prepare for the predicted bandwidth crunch brought on by the “Internet of Things” and the explosion in mobile devices, Cagigal and UW-Madison Chief Information Officer Bruce Maas told a July 28 meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network.

Still in JSOnline: New state labor laws should help, not hinder, workforce

July 25, 2015

Ah, for a return to the good old days of the Great Recession ... when the unemployment rate soared into double digits and everyone who still had a job was perfectly happy to keep it.

Inside Wis: Health-care delivery, cost and access is piece of growth puzzle in rural Wisconsin

July 23, 2015

With 55 clinical sites and more than 700 physicians, the Marshfield Clinic is a dominant source of health care in northern, central and much of western Wisconsin. From dental clinics to food safety testing to research in about 400 active studies, the clinic offers a surprising array of services to its 400,000 or so patients.

Inside Wis: Wisconsin tribe’s efforts to diversify offer example for Indian Country

July 16, 2015

Managed by an independent board of directors but wholly owned by the tribal nation, the LDF Business Development Corp. was launched to create profitable enterprises and jobs for tribal members. It was done with the knowledge that gaming revenues may rise or fall over time, and that reliance on the Lake of the Torches Resort Casino alone was not a sustainable business model for the tribe and its 3,600 enrolled members.

Still in JSOnline: State business survival strong

July 13, 2015

A project of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Scale Up Milwaukee is based on a model developed by Daniel Isenberg, founding executive director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project. An investor and entrepreneur as well as an academic, Isenberg has worked with entrepreneurship systems in Colombia, Brazil and Denmark. Milwaukee is the first U.S. community to develop an entrepreneurship program based on his model.

Inside Wis: Angel, venture investments in Wisconsin took healthy jump in 2014

July 10, 2015

Wisconsin isn’t California or Massachusetts when it comes to angel and venture investment, nor will it ever be. However, it is building a stronger support system for young companies and investors who know how to find the most promising deals. That combination can help ensure a cycle with more booms than busts.

Inside Wis: Why stopping data breaches will become a bigger problem by the day

July 2, 2015

To listen to cybersecurity experts talk shop can be akin to watching a horror film: It’s scary but you can’t seem to turn away.

Inside Wis: Why stopping data breaches will become a bigger problem by the day

July 1, 2015

Shelhart was among the experts who spoke June 29 at the first Data Privacy and Security Summit in Waukesha, where more than 100 people heard about the risks of data breaches – and how to better protect themselves and their organizations.

Inside Wis: Revisiting some recent topics: Startups, innovation, trade, cybersecurity and more

June 26, 2015

On Wisconsin’s startup climate: A prime example of why business rankings can depend on what’s being measured – and how – comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages noted that Wisconsin stood 35th among the 50 states in jobs created between 2010 and 2014, a relatively lackluster standing.

Inside Wis: Helping startups ‘scale up’ is a vital strategy for Wisconsin

June 19, 2015

What often matters more than the sheer number of startups is the survivability and “scale up” stages for young companies, a time when emerging firms produce increasing numbers of jobs that pay solid salaries.

Still in JSOnline: Innovation cluster aims to help seniors

June 15, 2015

With plans to accommodate about 250 employees and entrepreneurs within six years, the Direct Supply innovation center is the latest effort to build upon a natural cluster in Milwaukee: expertise in serving the needs of seniors and the providers who care for them once they move into assisted living centers or skilled-care facilities.

Inside Wis: Why Wisconsin doesn’t fare well in most business startup rankings – and how to improve

June 12, 2015

There’s something counter-intuitive about Wisconsin dropping to dead last among the 50 states in the latest business startup index published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Inside Wis: How to harness the power of UW System for economic growth

June 5, 2015

A core reason why lawmakers have so far softened budget cuts to the University of Wisconsin System is their realization it’s a statewide economic engine – with the potential to produce even more regional horsepower.

Other states offer economic development role models for Wisconsin

June 1, 2015

If not the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., what? That’s the question that must be asked – and properly answered – in order for Wisconsin to embrace and execute an economic development strategy consistent with the realities of a competitive world.

Inside Wis: Stories from Jendusa, Berbee can help inspire next generation ‘treps

May 29, 2015

Jerry Jendusa’s newest venture is called STUCK, but the veteran entrepreneur, business advisor and community leader seems anything but mired in the muck of under-achievement.

Uncertain about mission of state economic agency? It’s called competition

May 22, 2015

During a debate over what to do next about Wisconsin’s lead economic development agency, a Republican member of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee took an openly skeptical stance.

Still in JSOnline: Wisconsin's economic growth agency has always faced scrutiny

May 18, 2015

Long before the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. was created as a quasi-public successor to the former state Department of Commerce, state efforts to attract and retain companies and jobs wound up in the cross hairs of controversy.

Inside Wis: Economic development in rural Wisconsin - What’s working?

May 15, 2015

If you want to understand just how misleading the unemployment rate can be as an economic indicator, take a look at rural Wisconsin.

Inside Wis: Software ‘developer day’ for disability apps puts UW-Stout in strong company

May 11, 2015

A day-long workshop, or “Developer Day,” will be held Saturday at UW-Stout to give students, faculty and others outside the campus a chance to learn more about the competition and to test their ideas. The deadline to enter the contest is still about six weeks out – 4 p.m. June 24 – but the UW-Stout workshop will give developers a head start. Teams will be formed, participants will hear from people with disabilities and strategize around possible solutions.

Inside Wis: Building Downtown Wisconsin: Exact Sciences plan right for times

May 8, 2015

Plans to redevelop what’s known as “Judge Doyle Square” south of Capitol Square, on land bounded roughly by Wilson and Doty streets, is the latest example of an opportunity that can’t linger.

Still in JSOnline: Conference will help entrepreneurs grow, succeed

May 5, 2015

It's all part of the message Jerry Jendusa will deliver during the June 2-3 Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Conference in Madison, where he will be a keynote speaker and one of many examples of the innovation economy in southeast Wisconsin.

Great Lakes angel investors are putting their money where the deals are

April 30, 2015

Wisconsin Investment Partners, or WIP, invested $4.4 million in 2014, which is why the latest Halo report by the national Angel Resource Institute showed the Madison-based network among the 12 most active angel groups in the United States in 2014. It was an elite group that included Tech Coast Angels, New York Angels, the Houston Angel Network and Desert Angels.

Turning brain drain into brain gain: Growth strategies for rural Wisconsin

April 24, 2015

Looking back on a litany of grant announcements by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the past six months or so, I reached this conclusion: Wisconsin leaves a lot of federal money on the table.

Still in JSOnline: Badger Fund of Funds already a success

April 20, 2015

The Badger Fund of Funds has yet to make a single investment, but it can be argued it's already a success.

Patent director’s visit to Wisconsin underscores value of innovation economy

April 17, 2015

When computer scientist Michelle Lee joined Google as its first head of patent strategy, the company held a few dozen intellectual property grants. When she left eight years later, Google’s portfolio spanned 10,500 patents. The patent explosion inside Google during Lee’s tenure there is emblematic of how much the U.S. economy relies on innovation – and how protection of intellectual property is essential to perpetuating that cycle.

Inside Wis: Algorithms and the human factor: How will society strike balance?

April 10, 2015

Data science is a fancy term for statistics. It’s the extraction of knowledge from data, which can be derived from multiple digital sources and turned into a resource to make business decisions.

Still in Journal Sentinel: GOP tussle over Ex-Im Bank affects state's export economy

April 5, 2015
Among the emerging rifts in the Republican Party is the fight over renewing the Export-Import Bank, a little-known federal agency that provides billions of dollars annually in loan guarantees and other financial support for U.S. exports. Either way the fight turns out, Wisconsin exporters stand to be affected. Read more in Tom Still's Business Commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Managing state or regional ‘brands’ is hard to get right – and keep right

April 3, 2015

Brands are finicky things. If you don’t believe so, ask the red-faced politicians in Indiana.

American Family helping set standard for ‘big company’ role in emerging economy

March 27, 2015

Long known for its attention to customers and community involvement, American Family has emerged as a prominent example of a company that values innovation – not only within its own walls, but inside companies in which it may invest or otherwise take an interest.

Milwaukee's culture for emerging companies is stronger than ever

March 22, 2015

Working with more than 100 businesses in southeast Wisconsin, BizStarts is an example of a growing array of services for emerging companies in the region. Some are focused on start-ups and some work with more mature companies seeking to scale their operations. Others are tied to specific industry clusters such as water or energy, and some work mainly with campus-based entrepreneurs.

Keeping the pipeline filled with engineers essential for Wisconsin business

March 20, 2015

If you want to know why engineering appears once again on the rise as a career choice, just check out Education News and its “Career Path” database for average salaries for engineers.

Portals for doing business abroad are wide open for Wisconsin companies

March 13, 2015

TLX, which makes electromechanical solenoids, adjusters and control valves for the automotive industry and other industrial sectors, is a prime example of a Wisconsin-based company that has cracked into emerging foreign markets in recent years.

True freedom, dedicated funding key to UW System Authority proposal

March 9, 2015

Much criticism of Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal for the University of Wisconsin System has focused on the $300 million in cuts envisioned for the coming two years. Much less attention has been centered on the likely benefits of creating a UW System Authority as well as a long-term mechanism for providing state tax support.

Cities that try to block ‘shared economy’ risk missing an innovation trend

March 6, 2015

Whether the phenomenon is called the “shared economy” or the “on-demand economy,” companies that capitalize on making more efficient use of people and their possessions are changing some traditional business models.

Inside Wis: Internet access battle far from over in Congress

February 27, 2015

“Net neutrality” is one of those buzzwords that inspires populist support, but it’s not as simple as the big guys conspiring to shove mom-and-pop websites into the Internet’s slow lane.

Inside Wis: When does ‘right to choose’ on vaccinations hurt others?

February 20, 2015

I asked a top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health the other day for his take on why some parents are choosing not to get vaccinations for their kids. His answer was simple enough: Those parents have no memory of why such vaccinations became a public health standard in the first place. They lack any first-hand knowledge of the serious, sometimes fatal, nature of the diseases in question. 

Evolution and religion can coexist – although détente may depend on which religion

February 16, 2015

Gov. Scott Walker’s dust-up over Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution began with what was essentially a non-answer.

In the 114th Congress, tech issues could unite Republicans, Democrats on growth

February 12, 2015

Even in a city where partisanship is a way of life, there are glimmers of hope that 2015 will be a year in which Congress gets down to work on issues that drive the nation’s $1 trillion information technology economy.

Still in Journal-Sentinel: Walker's wake-up call to a Wisconsin institution

February 7, 2015

There's more to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to slash the University of Wisconsin budget than dollars and cents. It's about sending a message, Draconian or otherwise, to an institution he wants to change. Read Still's Journal Sentinel column. 

Inside Wis: Options for state transportation financing range from novel to complex

February 6, 2015

Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal calls for about $1.3 billion in borrowing over the next two years to meet the state’s transportation needs, from building or repairing roads and bridges to supporting mass transit to improving ports, airports and more.

Company ‘speed dating’ aimed at producing business opportunity matches

January 30, 2015

If you have ever gone on a “speed date,” and even if you haven’t, you probably get the concept: A short meeting in which both parties exchange a bit of information about one another and break the ice, with the goal of moving to the next level… or simply moving on with no regrets. That’s the concept behind the second Wisconsin Tech Summit, which will be held March 23 at the GE Healthcare Institute in Waukesha.

Still in JSOnline: Governor's Business Plan Contest helps turn ideas into reality

January 26, 2015

What do these three companies have in common - Vector Surgical, RevolutionEHR and Fishidy? They’re all past finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, a multi-stage competition that has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs since its inception in 2004. The 12th annual contest is open for entries through 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at www.govsbizplancontest.com.

Inside Wis: Coming debate over UW funding, structure deserves public attention

January 26, 2015

The stage is set for a state Capitol debate over the future of the University of Wisconsin System, from its smallest two-year campus to its flagship research powerhouse in Madison. Here’s hoping the debate is an honest effort to improve the performance, accessibility and accountability of the state’s largest higher education system, not a political exercise driven by perception rather than fact.

Low gasoline prices ideal for consumers; major challenge for alternative fuels

January 16, 2015

With gasoline prices hovering around $2 per gallon or less for regular grade across Wisconsin, drivers are saving money every time they fill up their tanks. The story for producers of alternative fuels and researchers seeking to unlock next-generation biofuels is very different. Their tanks are running on vapors.

Still in JSOnline: Risk-averse Milwaukee makes raising money difficult

January 12, 2015

Tom Schuster, a seasoned corporate executive and turnaround expert who is now the managing general partner for the Wisconsin Super Angel Fund, spoke Thursday at a meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network in Wauwatosa. He outlined the investment goals for the $9 million fund while pointing out just how hard it is to raise such a fund in a financial risk environment that may be too cautious for its own good.

Inside Wis: Cybersecurity talent shortage matter of economic and national security

January 12, 2015

Consider Wisconsin’s major business sectors: They include financial services, insurance, health care and retail chains, all of which can be prime for cyber-attacks. And yet, most C-level leaders in those sectors would admit there aren’t enough trained hackers of the honest variety to go around.

That problem deserves attention in Wisconsin, which is behind the curve in producing, attracting and retaining the kind of cybersecurity talent needed by companies and institutions of all sizes.

Biz Plan Contest offers ‘treps pathway to grow – even if plan changes over time

January 2, 2015

RevolutionEHR. Vector Surgical. BioSystem Development. What do these three companies have in common? They’re all past finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, a multi-stage competition that has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs since its inception in 2004. The 12th annual contest is open for entries through 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at www.govsbizplancontest.com.

Still in JSOnline: Time to crack the state's shortage of cybersecurity talent

December 29, 2014

Today's weapons of choice for those who would attack U.S. interests are Trojan horse programs, denial-of-service attacks and password-cracking tools used to steal or corrupt digital data.

Skating to the puck: Policymakers should keep eye on emerging sources of jobs

December 23, 2014

As members of the Wisconsin Legislature suit up for the start of their 2015 session and a budget debate that is likely to last until summer, they should skate toward the “puck” of predicted economic growth rather than chasing prosperity where it was years ago.

Holidays perks list includes naughty and nice in Wisconsin politics

December 17, 2014

A source close to the toy industry has once again leaked a copy of Santa’s perks list for Wisconsin politicians and newsmakers. Here’s what the good boys and girls in Madison and Washington will reportedly find in their stockings this Christmas. But they better not pout and they better not cry if an alert district attorney asks why gifts were delivered down chimneys after midnight.

Inside Wis: In the tech world, ‘right-to-work’ laws aren’t a factor in either direction

December 12, 2014

If you ask the typical technology company executive or worker what they think about “right-to-work” laws, which say workers cannot be forced to join a union shop and pay dues as a condition of employment, you may get a blank stare for an answer.

High-tech on the gridiron: How Camp Randall went from dead zone to hot spot

December 4, 2014

At the close of the third quarter during the Wisconsin Badgers runaway football victory over Nebraska, a new entry went into the record books… and not just Melvin Gordon’s single-game rushing record of 408 yards. It marked the first time that Camp Randall Stadium experienced what telecommunications experts call an “inversion,” which means more data was leaving the stadium in the form of photographs, videos and other digital information than was being received inside by fans, press and staff.

Public perceptions of science, tech often filtered through values versus data

November 29, 2014

So why do elected officials sometimes hide behind the “I’m not a scientist” line, or a close variation, when it comes to approaching major issues? The answer may have less to do with what they know about science and technology than what they think their constituents know, feel and believe.

Milken science and tech index reveals strengths, challenges in Wisconsin

November 29, 2014

Coastal-centric flaws aside, the Milken index offers a glimpse at what’s right about Wisconsin’s science and tech economy – which ranked 25th among the 50 states – and revealed serious challenges that deserve the attention of business, academic and government leaders.

Still in JSOnline: Collaboration among states key to jobs growth

November 17, 2014

It’s called the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, but the state’s oldest venture conference – launched in Madison 30 years ago – has taken on a decidedly Upper Midwest look.

Net neutrality debate can be resolved without return to 1930s regulation

November 11, 2014

By any standard, the Internet ranks as one of the leading innovations of our time. It has revolutionized everything from commerce to medicine to entertainment, all within the confines of a generation. Better yet, it has done so largely without government regulation. So, why would President Obama think now is the time to turn back the clock to Depression-era rules written when all telephones were black, hard-wired and hung on a wall?

Inside Wis: Investors captured voter imagination; What does it mean for state?

November 7, 2014

Romney, who lost the 2012 presidential election to President Obama, weathered no small amount of campaign heat over the alleged “vulture capitalist” practices of his private equity firm, Bain Capital. Romney was accused of building Bain’s portfolio on the backs of the working poor, a charge tied to the company’s merger and acquisition business far more than its venture capital investments. Roll forward to the 2014 mid-term elections and private equity investors such as Romney are political darlings versus objects of derision.

Inside Wis: On professional school tuition, UW needs freedom to compete on price

November 3, 2014

An emerging dilemma at the UW-Madison involves state government’s two-year ban on raising tuition, not only for in-state undergraduates, but for out-of-state students of all descriptions as well as professional school students in fields such as medicine, veterinary science, business and pharmacy.

Still in JSOnline: The answers from gubernatorial candidates that voters never got

November 3, 2014

With only two days to go to Election Day, here are a few questions that weren’t fully answered – or, in some cases, even asked – during Wisconsin’s campaign for governor.

Inside Wis: State’s economic development structure in place: How best to use it

October 24, 2014

Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke have staked out major differences in their approach to job creation and economic growth, but the candidates appear to agree on one significant item: Reinventing the state’s flagship economic development agency was the right thing to do.

Inside Wis: Venture capital is a roller-coaster, and Wisconsin is along for the ride

October 20, 2014

The good news: Venture capital dollars invested in Wisconsin through the first three-quarters of 2014 is already double all venture investments last year, and the number of deals is approaching an all-time annual high for the state.

The sobering news: Wisconsin still lags 23 other states in deals reported during the third quarter of 2014, and falls behind 25 states in total dollars invested during those three months.

Inside Wis: Solving Wisconsin’s startup puzzle – one piece at a time

October 10, 2014

During his “Rise of the Rest” tour stop in Madison, venture capitalist and AOL.com founder Steve Case said Wisconsin’s capital city would rank among the top 20 communities for startups in the United States — “barely” — and if entrepreneurs continue to work hard, it could be among the top 10 within a decade.

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