not the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., what?
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.
and others are properly concerned over examples of unsecured or otherwise
questionable loans by WEDC in its first year or so of existence, when it was
transformed from the former Department of Commerce into the quasi-public
authority it is today.
have suggested doing away with WEDC and returning to a public economic agency; a
few favor a laissez-faire approach to
keep the state away from business development; others say stay the course and refine
the mission by putting the right policies and procedures in place.
Read this commentary in the Milwaukee State Journal here.
latter option seems the most likely route, unless Wisconsin wants to lose more
valuable time changing bureaucratic tires on a moving car.
have long believed that whether an (economic development organization) is a
state agency or quasi-public is immaterial to its success,” said Dan Berglund,
director of the State Science and Technology Institute. The Ohio-based SSTI
tracks economic development efforts in all 50 states.
appears to be more about the processes that are in place and the people leading
the organization and implementing those processes,” Berglund added. “It is most
important that any of these organizations be set up with transparency – while
protecting confidential business information – and accountability in mind.”
those tests, here are a few of my own suggestions for state organizations to
study as Wisconsin considers best practices.
Michigan Economic Development Corp. has
lasted through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, and was created
when Michigan was entering its automobile manufacturing crisis. It is a
quasi-public authority, like WEDC, and has helped put a comparable Midwestern
state on the right track.
may be the nation’s biggest comeback story. By many economic measures, including employment rate and overall job loss,
Michigan fell further than any other state during the recession. But Michigan
has added 417,900 jobs since its low point in March 2010, placing it fifth in
overall employment growth among the 50 states. Employment in the state is up
nearly 11 percent, to 4,246,400 in March.
Wisconsin has seen 6.51 percent employment growth
since February 2010, according to a May 2015 report by Stateline and the Pew
Charitable Trusts. That was the Badger state’s low point for joblessness. That
means 176,300 jobs have been created in Wisconsin since that point.
The Arizona Commerce Authority is another
quasi-public structure that has experienced success over time and throughout
different political administrations.
Arizona takes a regional approach to development while
trying to strike a balance between entrepreneurial strategies that focus on new
businesses and tech-based development; recruitment, expansion and retention; and
“fertile soil” policies that create conditions for growth. Like any state,
those include optimizing taxes, streamlining regulations, investing in
infrastructure and providing a better-educated, more highly skilled workforce.
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and
Economic Development is a public structure but appears appropriately
nimble. Like Arizona, which has important regional differences, Pennsylvania
needed to adopt strategies that worked for the Philadelphia area, the
Pittsburgh region and a lot of diverse places in between.
Oregon is a state agency overseen by a commission that
includes a mix of private and public members. Its programs emphasize
partnerships and cover the range of entrepreneurial, export, workforce and
access to capital, with an emphasis on smaller businesses. It even houses some
of the state’s cultural arts agencies.
Thanks to the oil and gas boom, North Dakota usually
ranks atop national rankings for job growth. But no small amount of credit goes
to the North Dakota Department of Economic Development and Finance,
which has stressed tech-based development in the Red River Valley and
initiatives to build sectors outside the fracking rush.
Other states that have seen success and may offer
best practices for Wisconsin include Colorado, Utah and Maryland.
Colorado is one of the leading states in job creation, according to Stateline,
with a 13.45 percent employment growth since January 2010. Sure, some of that
is a byproduct of mountains and marijuana, but the state has also stressed
entrepreneurism, partnerships and regional cooperation.
Legislature and the WEDC board will revisit the agency’s mission and procedures
soon enough. While there are many ways to organize Wisconsin’s economic
development efforts, other states have proven that walking away from a
competitive world isn’t one of them.