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MADISON -- Retired health insurance executive Tom Hefty has seen blue-ribbon government panels come and go over the years. In fact, Hefty sometimes displays a thick file of reports spanning 20 years of commissions, councils and advisory boards as a reminder that writing thoughtful research papers is only useful if it leads to action.
So its a good thing that Hefty, who retired last year from Blue-Cross/Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, and results-oriented businessman John Noel of Stevens Point are the operational co-chairmen of the Gov. Jim Doyles Economic Growth Council. Neither Hefty nor Noel is interested in publishing another dust-collecting report. Both business veterans want to get straight to the serious business of improving Wisconsins economy.
No reports and no votes, Hefty said at the start of the Growth Councils July 22 meeting. Were here to give advice and to talk about ideas.
Its a no-nonsense approach that matches the situation. Wisconsins per capita income trails the U.S. average and the state has lost tens of thousands of well-paying jobs since the start of the recession. For Democratic governor Doyle, reversing that trend is the No. 1 goal of his young administration.
We really want to work in partnership with the private sector, and that is the real reason for this council, Doyle said. I see the council as helping -- not only in getting us some of the real good ideas that we need to move forward -- but also in providing us with some of the practical support that we need to do the job.
Doyle and Commerce Secretary Cory Nettles said they want the group to advise them as they write a series of economic development bills to be presented to the Legislature this fall. The Republican-dominated Legislature is crafting its own business-growth bills, and Doyle appears intent on heading off a partisan fight by first soliciting ideas from business leaders many of whom are Republicans.
Nettles set the stage by describing what he called the Doyle Doctrine, a series of seven broad goals for Wisconsins future growth. Those goals are: creating an excellent business climate, investing in Wisconsin residents, maintaining a high quality of life, increasing growth and income, commercializing knowledge, attracting more capital, and reforming state government so that it is more business-friendly.
Specifics are needed, however. In a report delivered to the Growth Council and the Legislature, the Wisconsin Technology Council came up with nearly 40 ideas for educating and retaining Wisconsins human capital, attracting more investment capital, building a 21st century infrastructure and speeding technology to market. Here are some examples:
Passage of an Education Tax Credit that would give employers a credit equal to 50 percent of tuition paid at any Wisconsin college, university or technical college. Tuition could be paid for current or prospective employees. The credit would rise to 75 percent of tuition paid for individuals at 185 percent of poverty. Such a credit would shift the locus of decision-making to the market (employers) rather than academics or a government bureaucracy, and encourage private investment in education.
Expansion of the CAPCO program by $200 million over 10 years while extending tax benefits to permit additional in-state insurance firms to invest in CAPCOs. Wisconsins Certified Capital Company (CAPCO) program is the smallest among the eight states that have such a program, but it has thus far invested $20.7 million in 15 high-growth companies in biotechnology, medical device, semiconductors and communications.
Repeal of a unique Wisconsin law that discourages investment in Wisconsin start-ups and which encourages state entrepreneurs to incorporate their businesses elsewhere. The courts have interpreted subsection (2)(b) of Section 180.0622 of the Wisconsin Statutes as providing that those who invest in a Wisconsin corporation can be personally liable beyond their investment for up to six months of unpaid employee wages if the company fails. Thats true even if the shareholder had no participation in the operation of the company. No other state has a similar law.
Following an economic strategy that builds upon technology clusters and research centers of excellence, rather than trying to build economies based upon geography. Wisconsin has a number of strong technology clusters, and technology will also be a major part of rebuilding the competitiveness of long-term Wisconsin industries such as papermaking, plastics and machinery and equipment manufacturing.
(For the complete Tech Council report, go to www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com)
Wisconsin can take its place among the leaders of the Knowledge Economy by doing some specific things. It must grow, attract and retain more technology-based companies. It must build an infrastructure to support them. It must foster a tax and regulatory climate that encourages innovation. It must incubate a culture that values risk-taking and which attracts enough investment capital to fund our best and most marketable ideas. It must let the world know that Wisconsin has the strong research base, the quality of life and environment, and the creative workers to help the Knowledge Economy grow.
If the Governors Economic Growth Council can help set that course, it will be worth the effort. Heck, it might even merit a report.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and is a member of the Governors Economic Growth Council. Contact: 608-442-7557