UP FRONT: Pieces of eight

Posted on Mar 1, 2014 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

RLC chart

Yes, Wisconsin is a mixed bag of bustling metro areas and productive farming and manufacturing landscapes. But even in our rich diversity of complex economic development, new growth and innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. At least not anymore.

The executive directors for each of the state’s eight regional economic development organizations are now joining hands to work together in a recently-formed peer-to-peer group called the Regional Leadership Council (RLC). For the first time, the regions are looking beyond their own fence lines to glimpse the successes and challenges found in neighboring regions. The RLC is a formal way for all eight regional directors to align interests to advocate for state funding to propel the regions forward.

Once operating independently in separate silos, the RLC is forging new strategic alliances around opportunities to maximize growth and leverage scarce funding resources, in spite of the challenges and the individual identities of each area.

Each region is in varying stages of development, says Jerry Murphy, executive director of New North, Inc., and chair of the RLC for a one-year term. Some areas are new, others are mature, and they range from rural to metro. “The RLC glues us all together to provide a more unified landscape with one voice,” Murphy says.


Liaison for hire

In the past several months, the regional relationships have solidified into a cohesive plan for unifying the economic landscapes with one voice that speaks of common goals. Because each region is in varying stages of development from new to mature and from rural to metro, finding those synergies is this year’s strategic directive.

By summer, the RLC hopes to hire a liaison to assess best practices in each of the regions. A $50,000 capacity-building grant request has been submitted to the state to make that happen.

“We are looking for someone with significant experience in economic research and workforce development and familiar with our approach to economic development and the state’s extended enterprise,” says Paul Jadin, president of the Madison Region Economic Partnership, whose diverse industry involves a strategy around competitiveness, entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership and diversity.

Jadin says the meetings have been extremely productive. The RLC is learning how to best create support mechanisms and communication capacities that serve to better connect regional priorities to one another and to the state and other partners to help to move the regions and statewide economies progressively forward to compete in the global economy.

“The RLC gives all of us an opportunity to get together and develop strategies for Wisconsin,” says Pat O’Brien, president of the Milwaukee Development Corp. and Milwaukee 7 Region. As the state’s most mature region for development, Milwaukee’s attraction strategy proactively woos new business to the metro area from Germany and northern Spain, where the manufacturing base is similar.

“Other Wisconsin regions can do some of this but not all. We can share elements of a unified approach by using the same playbook, from a local, regional and state economic development perspective,” O’Brien says.


Working together

Peggy Sullivan, executive director of central Wisconsin’s Centergy, Inc., said her region is looking for similar opportunities. Just like the New North’s economic landscape, Centergy, the Central Wisconsin Alliance for Economic Development is economically diverse, with a wide range of innovative businesses and industries. Included in that is an emerging, sustainable and bio-based technology and health care industry.

Sullivan points to the competitive nature of rapidly-developing improvements in other states, and sees the RLC’s future working to aggressively partner to excel economically.

“Our regions are helping Wisconsin do whatever is necessary to attract and retain businesses, and we as leaders recognize there can be benefits from regular, formal and structured communication and collaboration across regional boundaries.”