This month as representatives from business, government and education gather in Milwaukee for the final leg of the 2010 Wisconsin Economic Summit Series, the natural question becomes: What’s next?
The series, which was launched in Appleton over the summer, got its start with the release of Be Bold Wisconsin – the Wisconsin Competitiveness Study. Sponsored by the Wisconsin Economic Development Association, Competitive Wisconsin Inc., the Wisconsin Counties Association and the Wisconsin Economic Development Institute, the study outlines nine changes the state needs to make to move Wisconsin into the top 10 in the nation for business start-ups and business expansions by 2016.
After the initial launch in Appleton, the series moved to La Crosse where talk focused on managing the state debt before heading to Milwaukee to discuss how to move the state forward.
“Be Bold Wisconsin is a critical call to action and reconfirms the status quo just isn’t acceptable anymore,” says Brenda Hicks-Sorensen, president of the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corp. (FCEDC) “The study calls for bold action, and this ties into a phrase you will often hear at FCEDC – ‘Go big or go home.”
Hicks-Sorensen is optimistic state and business leaders will embrace the strategies outlined in the study. She says innovative thinking is a necessity when it comes to economic development.
For example, she points to the FCEDC’s Impact! Economic Gardening program, which helps small- and mid-size businesses grow.
“Such a high percentage of new jobs come from small businesses and if we invest and grow these businesses, we will be able to grow our overall economy,” she says.
Mike Knetter, dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Business and a member of the steering committee that commissioned the study, backs the creation of a professional managed Innovation Fund, headed by an outside director but including state representation.
“The fund would create and expand financial programs to attract capital intensive projects and create good jobs. It would be funded by $500 million in state bonding authority, placing Wisconsin in the upper echelon of state innovation programs,” he says.
The fate of the initiatives outlined in the Be Bold Wisconsin report likely won’t be known until after voters select a new governor Nov. 2. After the initial report was released, Tom Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor who is the Democrat nominee for Wisconsin’s top job, responded on his website that most of the ideas proposed in the Be Bold Wisconsin plan are already part of his plan to grow the state’s economy. Scott Walker, the Republican candidate for governor and the Milwaukee County executive, responded to the Be Bold Wisconsin report by saying he believes ideas to revamp the Commerce Department don’t go far enough.
Until then, summit organizers are putting together a Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy focusing on innovation in economic development, innovation in government and innovation in education, says Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, one of the organizers of the summit series.
The state’s budget deficit – put at $1.2 billion for the 2011-2012 budget year – can only be narrowed through economic growth since further spending cuts would likely not be tolerated by Wisconsin residents, Still says.
“Making strategic investments in Wisconsin’s global innovation economy, encouraging the entrepreneurial culture so more young companies are created, capitalizing on the state’s research and development strengths and aligning investments in education with the state’s strategic economic plan are among the recommendations,” to help grow the state’s economy, says Still.