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Wisconsin 2020: A vision from a state senator

Let’s say we get it done. We enact and implement all of the great ideas floating around Wisconsin on how to improve our economy. Let’s paint a picture of what that economy will look like in the year 2020.

First, take a look at the list of what needs to be accomplished. Capping the growth of government, regulatory relief, venture capital formation, eliminating the death tax, broadband adoption, linking the colleges and universities with the business community, finishing the Marquette interchange, high-speed rail, K-12 reform (especially in Milwaukee), shared revenue reform, healthcare reform... and the list goes on. Let’s say we get it all done in the next few years.

Now, here’s what Wisconsin will look like.

Welcome to the future. We live in an innovation-based economy. Manufacturers, which have prospered, have found that they ensure their place in the supply-chain with their ability to change and adapt. Their products add value, either as raw materials or as finished goods. Intellectual property, like special metal formulas or specialized manufacturing processes, is fused with their products. Their workers are not necessarily union members or even “employees.” The configurations of firms are looser, avoiding rigidity at all costs.

Worker productivity will skyrocket with the adoption of technologies like wireless broadband and the first wave of nanotechnology applications.
Envision a typical day in only fifteen years. There are no multiple phone numbers or devices, simply one tool that continuously is actively receiving information; phone calls, email, news updates, scheduling changes- all on the fly. There is a “cloud” of high-speed broadband service surrounding us, even while we are traveling 65 miles per hour on the interstate.

Odds are that people under 40 work for a start-up or a small company under five years old. Because we finally developed a robust venture capital network, our educational institutions (like WARF at UW-Madison) stopped looking 1000 miles away for capital and decided to keep our companies and people in Wisconsin - not San Diego. Conversely, investors woke up to the fact that there is no need for a direct flight from Milwaukee to Madison. Ideas and talented people matter most.

These new companies have leveraged those people and their intellectual property into companies that create new markets, not just new products. We now have close to a generation of people who have managed a start-up from an idea to a cash event. We are attracting talent, not exporting it. Our demographic nightmare, more people retiring than entering the workforce, is reversing itself.

Agriculture is robust. Research science and health management have contributed to next generation foods and manufacturing processes that allow even higher food quality. Preventative care programs and health savings accounts have shifted the focus of health management from the health-care provider (which will become an oxymoron) to the individual as their own primary health-care provider. Families are healthier. People still work a lot, but their personal lives are more balanced because three generations now will live in Wisconsin thanks to the tax climate has allowed it. Grandma and Grandpa are now there to help out and watch their grandchildren grow up.

It would seem this dream has no impediment from becoming a reality; that smart people will win and Wisconsin wins for keeping them here. But, it will take hard work and tremendous energy.

So, to paraphrase the Russians, “What is to be done?”

We must stop shooting ourselves in the foot. We must get rid of the death tax, slow the growth of government spending and invest here at home.

We need to stop looking at the future as merely budget-to-budget. Rather, we should be making decisions now with the future in mind so that we are ready for the ensuing changes. For example the state cannot continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on information technology services without a set of clear and concise goals. It just cannot happen anymore. Government spending and taxation practices can no longer continue as they are.

We must reform our most important government institutions. Our education system is a strong, but it has a weak link. Unless the children of Milwaukee leave Milwaukee public schools, charter schools or choice schools with an excellent education, we will not prosper as a state. It is vital that those children are educated rather than incarcerated. Shared Revenue must be reformed to focus on reducing the cost of government while still maintaining a quality of services.

Cooperation and consolidation efforts are difficult processes, but they are essential for local governments to keep the overall costs down. We must have incentives for growth in our communities, and reward those that have responded with positive growth.

And most important, we must have energy and a relentless commitment to growing Wisconsin.

Ted Kanavas, elected to the state Senate in 2001, represents the 33rd Senate District in the Wisconsin Legislature. Senator Kanavas serves as Co-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Job Creation and as a member of the state’s Joint Finance Committee. The 33rd Senate District is made up of parts of Waukesha and Washington counties.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


Tom Pappas responded 10 years ago: #1

You never cease to amaze me with your vision. Well written, Ted.


Douglas Alexander responded 10 years ago: #2

Nice to see good far-ranging thinking. Esp. if politics, a series of reaslistic goals must be pursued. Thanks for this. "W/o a vision, the people perish."

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