A bill that would expand Wisconsin’s investor tax credits program, invest in research and development and make it easier for employers to train workers is advancing through the Wisconsin Legislature. The Jan. 26 WIN-Madison meeting featured a discussion on SB-409, called the Connecting Opportunity, Research and Entrepreneurship act, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting Assembly action. Participants in the Jan. 26 meeting were Chad Sorensen of Sologear, makers of FlameDisk; Maliyakal John of the WiSys Technology Foundation; state Rep. Patricia Strachota, R-West Bend, and Mark Knickelbine, aide to state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point. 

Read more from the Capital Times here.

Here is a summary of the bill’s major provisions:

*  Expand Wisconsin’s Accelerate Wisconsin tax credits by adding $2 million in venture tax credits and $1 million in angel tax credits available in tax year 2010. This speeds up a schedule that would have seen the credits pool triple in size in 2011. The package increases the total amount of angel investment tax credits that taxpayers may claim for 2010 from the $5 million current cap to $8 million and to $20 million in each year after that. These tax credits, which took effect in 2005, have leveraged tens of millions of early-stage investment dollars and have helped in the creation of new companies statewide. Every $1 invested in angel and venture tax credits is matched by at least $4 in private investment.
* Support R&D activities across Wisconsin. The proposal will help to establish an Emerging Technology Center at UW-La Crosse and accelerate a grant to support the Pleasant Prairie Technology Incubator Center in Kenosha County. It will also support business-research partnerships fostered by the WiSys Technology Foundation, the technology capitalization organization for the UW System’s comprehensive campuses outside Madison and Milwaukee.
* Support for a UW System “business plan contest” that would link into the successful Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which has awarded $1 million in cash and in-kind prizes since 2004.
* Provide $500,000 to fund grants for companies seeking to set up “farmshoring” centers in rural Wisconsin to bring valuable jobs back home. A growing number of U.S. executives say they plan to outsource work to other companies that would perform the work in the United States, versus abroad. Costs, quality, regulatory issues and security are among the reasons why more U.S. companies are looking to stay close to home.
* Create incentives for adult education. The bill provides $2 million in tax credits for companies that pay employee tuition leading to a post-secondary degree or certificate. This credit increases for education or training in high-demand occupations; it is targeted at low-income workers and modeled in part on past Education Tax Credit bills. The classes paid for must lead to a degree or certificate and the student must be eligible for a Pell Grant to qualify. The credit covers 25 percent of tuition paid, but increases to 30 percent for high-demand occupations.
* Enhance Wisconsin’s ability to access reliable economic data and to attract certain types of federal grants that are essential to start-up businesses, such as Small Business Innovation Research grants. The Tech Council would work with SBIR grant writers with expertise in core areas, such as NIH, DOD and DOE.
* Invest an additional $1 million in the Wisconsin Development Fund and permit grants to be made from the fund to research institutions that work with private businesses to create innovative new products and processes.
* Provide $500,000 for a microloan program that would provide loans of $1,000 to $25,000 to small businesses.
* Provide funding for one staff person for the Regulatory Ombudsman Center created in the budget. By establishing a one-stop shop within the Department of Commerce, the state can help speed up business expansion and start ups by helping new businesses obtain state permits and approvals.
* Provide $2 million in incentives to retool factories for green energy and green manufacturing. These grants from the Commerce Department will create new jobs by bringing new technologies to old factories.
* Add $1,000,000 to the Advanced Manufacturing Training Grants program created in the economic recovery bill from early 2009. The $1 million in the economic recovery bill was used by 103 companies to train 4,135 workers.
* Allocate $250,000 to increase capacity of CAP services Skills Enhancement program, assisting low-wage earning workers to obtain additional training or education. The 360 workers who have completed the program to date have seen an average income boost of $5.51/hr.

Many ideas in SB 409 are consistent with ideas put forward by Tech Council reports. Those include “Vision 2020: A Model Wisconsin Economy,” “The Economic Value of Academic R&D in Wisconsin” and the Tech Council’s biennial white papers. They also tie into recommendations from the Research to Jobs Task Force appointed by UW System President Kevin Reilly and chaired by Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.