By Tom Still
MADISON, Wis. — Part of the fun of writing a regular column is being able to look back at recurring themes. Here’s a look at 2022 with an eye toward grouping my “frequent flyer” subject areas, which collectively demonstrate I am both an economic optimist and an incurable geek.
Energy and resiliency (8 columns) – Finding innovative, efficient ways to power society and the economy was already front-and-center with climate change, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rang another alarm bell with oil and natural gas disruptions. Next-generation nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, “green” hydrogen, electric vehicles and electrified highways, EV charging stations and storage technology were all on my list. Using technology to clean and protect water was covered, as well, especially in the context of setting Wisconsin research and industry apart.
Sample passage: “Nuclear fission has its critics. Nuclear fusion has its skeptics. And yet, there is little doubt that electricity demands will continue to grow, fossil fuel consumption will likely decline, and alternatives such as solar and wind have logical limits… Nuclear energy need not compete with renewables, but it can augment them in a world that needs both climate remedies and reliable power.”
Entrepreneurism and the tech workforce (8 columns) – The double-edged sword of remote work in Wisconsin was examined, opportunities and strategies for entrepreneurs were highlighted, and success stories in communities, sectors and within young companies were covered.
Sample passage: “While the COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in remote work across many business sectors, the number of remote job postings for tech jobs has climbed nearly three times as fast… That means a job posting in Appleton, Madison or Milwaukee might just as easily by filled by someone elsewhere in the state, the Midwest or the world as someone living within those labor markets. Conversely, jobs posted in San Francisco, New York City or Texas – three enduringly hot job markets – might well be filled by someone in Wisconsin looking for higher pay without needing to move.”
Angel and venture capital (6 columns): Wisconsin is still behind the venture capital curve when compared with the Big Four states – California, New York, Massachusetts and Texas – but it’s slipping into a respectable position as investors outside Wisconsin discover attractive deals here. While 2021 investment totals of $868 million may not be soon repeated, 2022 will finish as the state’s second-best total on record – despite gloomy predictions.
Sample passage: “Even in hard times, promising young companies can get funded if the investment opportunity is compelling. Google, PayPal, Airbnb, Pinterest, Uber, Dropbox, Slack and WhatsApp are all examples of companies born during past financial downturns. Maybe your company is next.”
Pressures on economic growth (6 columns): How do economic stresses, at home and abroad, affect businesses and workers in Wisconsin? That theme extended to the perils of inflation, supply chain troubles, general workforce shortages, interest rate hikes and recession rumblings.
Sample passage: “Wisconsin could fare somewhat better if and when recession hits… because many manufacturers have backlogs that could carry them a while, supply chain woes are beginning to ease in some sectors… tourism is humming along, and some signs point to people migrating to Wisconsin to escape quality of life issues elsewhere. That may attract people who can work remotely, or largely so.”
Spurring innovation at the federal level (5 columns): This theme was born in late 2019, when the work of some major policy research centers suggested that America’s economy would be a lot better off if more tech and related manufacturing could be found in the Heartland. No disagreements there; I’ve written about it often ever since. Columns in 2022 focused on legislation to bring more semi-conductor manufacturing on shore and attracting National Science Foundation research “hubs” that align with Wisconsin strengths.
Sample passage: “The coming months will be a critical time for Wisconsin’s congressional delegation to put partisan and regional differences aside as decisions are made to seed tech innovation “hubs” in cities outside the nation’s major metros on the east and west coasts. A failure to make the case that Wisconsin is a logical place for such a hub could miss one of the federal government’s biggest economic development initiatives since World War II and make it more difficult for the state to compete for talent and private investment dollars.”
Nearly 20 other columns covered a mix of topics, so not everything fit into neat subconscious themes. For those readers who occasionally found one of those missives interesting, thanks and more to come in 2023!
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.