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Technology Helps Our Economy to Survive and Grow

In the last 24 months, many Wisconsin businesses have had to find new ways to compete. They discovered that previous paths to success no longer worked and most CEOs have taken a hard look at their company’s value proposition. At the same time, these companies are attempting to be more effective, productive and competitive; all of this with fewer employees and in many cases with a shrinking market opportunity due to global competition and outsourcing!

One result is that technology has emerged and evolved as a significant driver of Wisconsin’s economy. According to the 2003 Greater Madison Area High Tech Directory, there are more than 450 documented IT, biotech, and research businesses that employ approximately 26,000 people in Wisconsin. While there are many “pockets of excellence” where technology has been an enabler for Wisconsin businesses, there is still much work that needs to be done.

As technology leaders, it is both a privilege and a responsibility to use our talents and resources to make it happen. Whether you hire a technology intern, partner with a university, or volunteer your time within your community, you can make a difference. Our ability to leverage our resources, to foster collaboration, and to drive innovation will determine our success as technology leaders, as well as influence the overall economy in our state. We have a window of opportunity to apply what we have learned in the last decade, both from our own experiences and from others throughout the world. It is becoming increasingly clear what needs to be done is to establish a position of technology dominance here in Wisconsin. In order to achieve this we need to be more resourceful and better utilize and become aware of the resources that are already in place. It we are successful, we will set the stage for the economic growth necessary for a “High End Economy” for years to come.

Help is Available

Most businesses are looking for strategic technology advice, and there are ample resources available in Wisconsin to help. Last year, I had the privilege of serving on the UW Chancellor’s Task Force on University-Business Relations with other public and private representatives. Our charter was to look at existing ways the UW works with businesses throughout the state, to review best practices at other universities, and to recommend strategies to increase the effectiveness and visibility of the partnerships with the university and businesses. This was both an educational and inspiring process to see first hand what great partnerships already exist between the UW and many Wisconsin businesses.
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At the same time, we were able to explore possibilities for even greater success because we had the opportunity to get feedback from focus groups and study other states’ models. The task force recommendations resulted in the creation of the Office of Corporate Relations, which opened July 1, 2003.

The Office of Corporate Relations (www.corprelations.wisc.edu) was created consistent with the UW’s strategic plan, and puts in place a model to drive Wisconsin’s economy and benefits everyone involved. Charles Hoslet, Managing Director, leads this initiative to grow partnerships with businesses and share resources at all the campuses throughout Wisconsin. There are over 200 technology companies resulting from research at the UW, many licensed through WARF. This is a critical link for increasing the number of technology companies, more skilled workers, and an ongoing stimulus to drive our state’s economy.

The UW Consortium for Global E-Commerce, recently renamed the UW E-Business Consortium, is a great example of the partnership between the UW and state businesses. Started five years ago as a campus-wide initiative by UW-Madison, the Consortium helps businesses collaborate to learn e-business best practices and how the Internet could impact business. Building on the success of the Consortium, the university has recently launched the UW E-Business Institute (www.uwebi.org) that is working on research and outreach with entire industry clusters within the state to enhance their competitiveness through adoption of e-business technologies and practices.

The UW E-Business Consortium has more than 30 member companies from various industries across Wisconsin, including American Family Insurance, TDS Telecom, Brady Corporation, Lands’ End, Kohler, Schneider National, Menasha Corporation, and Inacom Information Systems.

These are just a few of examples of the resources available in Wisconsin. Other initiatives such as the Wisconsin Economic Summit, Wisconsin Technology Council, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Accelerate, and the Wisconsin Technology Network are all driving our economy through their discussions of technology advancement, development and communication in Wisconsin.

In addition to the promise of technology, we have the desire, the talent, and the means to move ahead. Timing is critical; we need to step up now! We need to leverage our collective strengths to optimally position Wisconsin as a model for others to follow. All this will help to drive long-term success for Wisconsin’s economy so that it can survive and grow.

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Laurie Benson is CEO of Inacom Information Systems.

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