By Tom Still

– Someplace, Mitt Romney must be smiling.

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.

forward to the 2014 mid-term elections and private equity investors such as
Romney are political darlings versus objects of derision.

a trend with implications for Wisconsin, where freshly re-elected Gov. Scott
Walker and the Legislature have previously warmed to a stronger state role in
propelling the high-growth economy. Consider these election results:

–  In neighboring
Illinois, incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn was defeated by Bruce Rauner, a former
partner in GTCR Golder Rauner, now known as GTCR. This private equity firm has
invested more than $10 billion since 1980 in more than 200 companies, largely
in financial services, technology and health care. Rauner’s critics portrayed him
as Romney-esque, but voters responded to his message of reviving a sluggish
Illinois economy.

–  In Rhode Island,
Gina Raimondo, formerly of Point Judith Capital, was elected that state’s first
female governor. Her platform included boosting advanced manufacturing,
developing the state’s workforce and supporting startup businesses with seed

–  Charlie Baker,
formerly of General Catalyst, was elected governor of Massachusetts – a state
where Romney once served as governor. Massachusetts is perennially among the
top three states in venture capital investments.

–  U.S. Sen. Mark
Warner was re-elected in Virginia. He was an early investor in the cellular
telephone business, co-founding the company that became Nextel, and later
making early stage investments in hundreds of startup companies.

–  In Michigan, Gov.
Rick Snyder was re-elected in a hard-fought campaign, He co-founded Ardesta
LLC, a venture capital firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and was one of the early
investors in Wisconsin-based TomoTherapy, now Accuray.

represents the continuation of a bipartisan strategy in Michigan, which has
invested $215 million over a little more than a decade in two venture capital
funds that have helped rejuvenate that state’s high-growth, tech-based economy.

of the Michigan story will be told Nov. 12 during the Wisconsin Early Stage
Symposium, where one of Snyder’s top economic aides will speak with investors
and others. Paula
Sorrell, who as vice president of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
oversees its $1-billion portfolio of early stage programs, will attend portions
of the two-day event.

launched its 21st Century Jobs Fund about a decade ago – about the time its
auto industry began struggling to survive. Today, it is a limited partner in
about half of the state’s 32 venture capital funds. Michigan has focused on
building a strong pipeline of companies, from startups to those farther along
in their development, and on getting those companies the investment capital
they need.

The state
leverages about $10 in private investment for every dollar of state funding. In
the last year alone, Michigan attracted national venture capital firms such as
Baird Capital, Mercury Fund, Draper Triangle and Microsoft Ventures. All have
established offices in the state.

Michigan has
invested about $215 million in two state venture capital funds over time as
well as a platform for angel investing. Wisconsin recently approved investing
$25 million in the “Badger Fund of Funds,” which is organizing with a goal of
attracting a two-to-one match in private dollars.

policy-makers in Wisconsin will say: “Let’s wait for investment returns from
the Badger Fund of Funds before we take the next step.” The trouble with that
approach is that venture capital doesn’t work that way. It will be years before
traditional return on investment results are known, but the state would see
economic results – more companies, startup activity and dollar flow – quickly if
it invests enough to attract more outside capital to Wisconsin.

economy is constantly evolving, with new companies and ideas disrupting markets
and creating new ones. Given the chance on Nov. 4, voters across the country
embraced those candidates who understand that new economic reality.