THIRD COAST CONSULTING started in October 2008. We have a range of consulting services: strategic planning, marketing and sales positioning; we do a lot of networking and relationship building with companies. We’ve helped with financial consulting, venture fund relationships and management advising. Tim Stracka and I are equal partners in the business; Tim comes from the venture capital, investment management side of the world and his network is international.
One of our clients in Northeast Wisconsin is EcoCombustion Energy Systems. They are improving the bioenergy and manure management technology throughout the country; they have a world-class technology they patented for improving the sustainability of agriculture – the concept takes animal manure and other biomass and moves it into green electricity and steam. They have identified over 450 sites in the Midwest alone where they could be implementing this and they are engaged deeply with the state and local political leadership to obtain the appropriate grants.
Before my appointment as secretary of commerce, I got involved with the Wisconsin International Trade Council, which was involved in import-export, growth and strategic vision for many businesses. My background is as a 33-year career businessman, but I was also a partner in the JP-Marthon Inc., which was sold to the Finnish Jaakko Pöyry Group Global Companies.
When I met with the governor (Gov. Jim Doyle), we had a lot of conversations about the fact that I wasn’t a bureaucrat and my whole life I had owned businesses. I very much respected the governor. We did a lot of stuff very quickly. Change does not come easy in any organization, and in the state you have a lot of historically developed positions that have their own agendas. It’s hard to make change quickly and I’m not a very patient person.
A big part of the economic development incentives in most states are driven on job creation – and that’s a hard measurement in today’s world. It’s investment in technology, and many things outside of just job creation, that is showing businesses where they are needing to go and what they need to do to make change. It’s more visionary.
Wisconsin has very few dollars and very few programs available to help them compete with other locations in other states. So much is going global; there will always be a new place in a new country that has a lower wage base and tax incentives that are greater than ours.
It’s really important that we take advantage of the resources in the state, not only our people, who are truly the best and the hardest working, but that we continue to reinforce the agricultural area, which is so strongly embedded, the forestry area, which is historically embedded, and the new areas like the fresh water supply opportunities here. Jobs that depend on the state’s resources are more likely to stay in Wisconsin than industries that are portable.
Under the current leadership, a number of things have been changed for the good in Wisconsin. We’ve moved up overall schedules for things like permitting. Approval for many activities that once took a year to get approved is now done in six to eight weeks.
Wisconsin needs to talk more about the good news stories and reinforce that for our business health: our education, our research and development, our manufacturing strength. Wisconsin has grown in its imports and exports significantly in the last five or six years. The amount of venture capital coming into the state over the last five years is a great story. Our health climate is a great story for the state. Our total violent crime rate per 100,000 of population is low – we rank like fifth or sixth safest.
From a businessman’s perspective, I believe that economic development for the state should be bipartisan and that everyone should be working together. It’s time that the leadership at all level of business, public, private in all areas, really start to work on how can we advance the cause.