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Dane County could have a regional economic development corporation in place by the end of 2006.
That's if the Collaboration Council, a group of local businesspeople and politicians, can pull together a base of support that crosses the boundaries between municipalities in the county. Their goal is to brand Dane County as a whole as a competitor in the global marketplace for talent, development and dollars.
Dane County has grown by more than 30,000 people in just the last five years, and it had an unemployment rate of 2.6 percent in October, one of the lowest in the state. That's making local officials even more worried about losing young professionals coming out of the University of Wisconsin at Madison to other jobs in other areas.
"The race for talent is global, that race is on, and the United States is losing," said Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, a workforce and community development firm, at a breakfast and panel discussion last week.
She challenged the county with stories about Singapore, which is rapidly accumulating top biological scientists such as Alan Coleman, who cloned Dolly the sheep, and Ireland, which made a concerted effort to raise all its workers just one skill level and attracted the attention of computer giant Dell as it was looking to expand and build a large plant.
Madison Gas & Electric Chairman Gary Wolter said the region needed a central entity to draw people together and combine efforts at branding and workforce development, rather than having each smaller region or municipality do their own. He's not yet sure what the group's sources of funding will be that's a task for mid-2006.
So far the group has worked with a $175,000 contribution from businessman John Taylor, who was also at last week's breakfast and upbeat about the region's position in the world market. "Singapore has certainly got the tray of sweets and hors d'oeuvres, but we have the core of entrepreneurship," he said.
The group now needs buy-in from a diverse group of both public and private sector entities to be considered a success.
"In the short run, competition in the county may pay off, but in the long run we're going to be handed our lunch," said Tom Clauder, mayor of Fitchburg. He was enthusiastic about the plans, saying that there used to be a line between Fitchburg and Madison that "you just didn't cross," but that cooperation has been increasing.
Jim Mohrbacher, business development manager for MG&E, said the council is looking at funding models including something like a chamber of commerce, with membership contributions from local businesses as well as governments depending on size.
Ryan said she hoped local groups and officials would be able to see the benefits of working together. "You can't, by the way, be a suburb of nothing," she said.