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WTN exclusive interview with Commerce Secretary Cory Nettles (part 2)

This is part two of a three-part series focusing on the past, present and future of Dept. of Commerce policy and initiatives and serves as a follow up to WTN’s interview with Nettles in March 2003.

Part 1Part 3

WTN: During the next six to 12 months, what Dept. of Commerce initiatives would you like to see passed or enacted?

Cory Nettles: I had a meeting with Gov. Doyle a couple of weeks ago where we talked about the Dept. of Commerce’s activities: where we are and what were doing. The governor said that he wants us to get more focused on accelerated job creation.

There’s a report that recently came out from the U.S. Dept. of Labor that said, “Wisconsin, in the last 12 months, led the Midwest in the greatest level of economic growth and development as measured by jobs created.” We beat Minnesota, we beat Michigan, we beat Illinois, we beat Indiana and we beat Iowa.
We’re number one. We think this is a huge, positive indication of the course that the governor’s put us on, because this report measures activity in the past 12 months – in the time that we’ve been in office. But, the governor is raising the bar. We created approximately 13 to 15,000 jobs and he wants to see a multiple of that, the next time that report comes out a year from now.

So part of what we want to be doing in the Dept. of Commerce in the next six months is to further focus on two or three major economic development projects around the state that we can execute on. We have some good things in the pipeline and the governor’s requiring us to make these deals happen. We hope that what will happen over the next six months is that you will hear about hundreds, thousands of additional jobs being created as a result of Gov. Doyle’s initiatives.

WTN: How would you change your approach to any of your department’s initiatives if you could go back to do them again?

CN: As a matter of process, I can’t think of a specific issue where I think that we just didn’t serve that up right. One of the things I’ve learned is that when you serve up some legislation like the CapCo legislation, there are any number of competing ideas and interests that exist as you go through the process in seeing whether a bill will become a law. The governor’s team did a fine job of researching the issues, understanding the issues, raw interpretation of information and input from everybody who wanted to provide it – from reading everything that we received, from meeting with everyone who wanted to meet with us, by listening and talking with them. I think we were exemplary in the way that we went about that process. Now we are just a player in that process and there are others who didn’t have the appetite for CapCo legislation or the political urge to put that CapCo legislation through.

But, I think we did our part in terms of really giving that idea a very full day, improving on the ideas that were presented by virtue of all the information we received and then saying, “This is what we’re willing to do, as its relates to the power the governor has and if the legislature passes this legislation, Gov. Doyle will sign that into law because that will be a good bill.” So we did as much as we could to get that done. There’s nothing that I can think of that I would change in terms of how we would serve that up. I think we went as far as we could in terms of trying to create a total venture capital package that was a good, comprehensive, and balanced.

Is any package ever going to be perfect? Absolutely not. Can it be incrementally tweaked or improved on in some way? Absolutely yes! We fell very good, that under Gov. Doyle’s leadership and with the requirements that he gave us. We served that package up and a lot of the specific pieces got through the total process. We feel good about that. We don’t have unbridled control of the legislative process. But, we feel good about how we proceeded in terms of the public debate and framing of the policy issues.

WTN: You recently accompanied Gov. Doyle and Wisconsin business leaders on a trade mission to China with. What surprised you the most?

CN: What surprised me the most is that nothing that you see hear or read about China does it the least bit of justice. It was absolutely amazing to see the level of economic growth and development going on there. The rate of growth measured by what has been significant double-digit growth of their economy over the last several years, and that’s going to continue for many years to come, barring some major catastrophe like SARS on a prolonged basis.

The Shanghai skyline rivals New York’s skyline. Shanghai is the commercial hub of all of Asia and it’s the center of commerce there. I was amazed at the growth and level of activity and development there.

The Chinese are growing at a rate that they cannot internally support, so that means they’re going to be consumers of goods and services from around the world, particularly form the United States.

It is our hope that Wisconsin gets its disproportionate fair share of that growth, and development. We think that there are some terrific opportunities for Wisconsin businesses in Asia and in China, in particular. Gov. Doyle presided over or was involved directly in some deals that were done while we were specifically in China. Others are being consummated in the time since we’ve returned. We established a very high level of relationship with government, but also with businesses.

Gov. Doyle, on behalf of Wisconsin businesses, thinks the seeds that were planted will bear fruit in the near term. We’re very positive about all that!

We think that Wisconsin technology businesses also have phenomenal opportunities. It’s clear to us that our Wisconsin technology businesses are much further along the curve than their Chinese counterparts. And that means that there are some opportunities for technology goods and services to be exported to China and our Wisconsin companies should not be the least bit reticent or fearful about availing themselves of those opportunities. Although, they should be smart about availing themselves of those opportunities. They must take complete care and caution for their intellectual property. There is any number of practical things businesses can do to ensure the integrity of their intellectual property and to protect it. These businesses should very aggressively pursue the opportunities that exist in the technology space in China. I think they’ll find a receptive marketplace across the wire.

WTN: If you could go back and do anything differently in the past year and a half what would it be?

CN: Work harder and smarter. There’s always more that I can do. The challenge that I have every single day is a capacity challenge of getting through the volume of ideas, initiatives, actions and programs as well as the volume of e-mails and phone calls.

I wish that I could get through more information, because all this information that comes in helps me make better policy decisions. So my wish over the last year and a half would have been that I could have been that much more efficient, had much more capacity and incrementally executed that at a much higher level. We feel very good about the year and a half that we’ve had. Certainly there’s room for improvement, always. But, we feel we’ve done a lot of things right and we feel good about that. We’ve really worked in a real bipartisan way with the legislature, which we obviously don’t control. It’s a Republican-controlled legislature. We went to them with Gov. Doyle’s economic development agenda and, begrudgingly or not, they bought into that and we got agenda done for the most part. And we feel good about that!

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