Commerce Secretary: Clean energy, sustainability key to Wisconsin's economic future

Posted on Jan 20, 2010 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive.
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Wisconsin will slowly add jobs during the next two years as the economy readjusts itself following a dismal 2009, according to Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel. He was the keynote speaker Wednesday as part of the first-ever InDevelopment Conference held at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton.

InDevelopment brought together more than 200 economic development officials from throughout the New North with lenders, developers, contractors, builders and others interested in commercial development for a day of networking, breakout sessions and panel discussions.

While it will likely take Wisconsin two years to add back the jobs lost in 2009, the state is taking several key steps to help companies who do business in Wisconsin be successful, Leinenkugel says. “The State of Wisconsin is really trying to position companies in Wisconsin for growth,” he says. “We’ve expanded the enterprise zone tax credits and done some other things that allow us to be more responsive to small and medium-sized businesses. We’ve also been able to consolidate 30-plus tax credit programs into one, giving us lots of tools to help businesses retain and expand their workforce.”

The Clean Energy Jobs Act, which is making its way through the state Legislature, has the potential to help Wisconsin companies develop and pursue the development of renewable energy. “We think the development of the clean energy market, such as wind power, ethanol or biofuel has the potential to create 15,000 jobs in Wisconsin,” Leinenkugel says. “We’ll also be investing in technology that will make sure Wisconsin isn’t left behind.”

Clean energy fits well with another initiative Leinenkugel is passionate about – sustainability. He says as more companies become energy efficient, there is great attention paid to sustainability. Outside forces – such as Walmart, which is developing a sustainability index it will rate suppliers on – are also increasing the focus on the topic.

“We need to help our companies be more sustainable and competitive to make sure Wisconsin maintains its place as the nation’s top manufacturer per capita,” he says, adding that a pilot project could be announced soon that would second and third tier manufacturers across Wisconsin improve their sustainability initiatives.

“Our history of entrepreneurism and collaboration make Wisconsin the best place to start or grow a business and we need to make sure that continues.”

 — By MaryBeth Matzek