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WTN exclusive interview with Commerce Secretary Cory Nettles (part 3)

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

In this final installment, Nettles addresses outsourcing issues with China, his thoughts on preferential treatment for Wisconsin companies in regard to state bids, Wisconsin’s technology marketing efforts for business, and new technology initiatives at the Department of Commerce.

Part 1Part 2

WTN: What can the state do to protect jobs in Wisconsin? Not just in IT and manufacturing, as there is a new trend that is now moving life sciences jobs offshore. Will this impact the state’s plan for high-growth industries?

Cory Nettles:
I don’t think so. One of the things that we really saw in China, many times over, is that it is possible to have a complementary business strategy that allows Wisconsin-based businesses to do business in China. But to do that in a way that compliments and helps them solidify and ultimately grow and expand their Wisconsin operations. We saw that, for example, with GE-Healthcare, that has significant operations in China, for a low-tech, low-end line of [CT] imaging machines. The high-end products are still being made in the United States and Wisconsin in particular. They have made a commitment to ensure that continues to happen over the next several years in Wisconsin. GE just added a major project that will add 1,000-plus jobs. So we think we could have a complementary strategy where you benefit from the growing market opportunity that exists in China. It’s the fastest growing market in the world. You might also benefit, to some extent, from some of their resources that exist in China, but you could do that in a way that is complementary to your Wisconsin business.
When we set this trade mission up and Governor Doyle was thinking about how to frame it, he was adamant that we would not be involved in helping Wisconsin companies shutter their operations in Wisconsin and move to China. But we understood, based on his many discussions with CEOs of small, medium and large-sized companies that he understood that there’s a way that you could have a complementary Asian strategy, that would complement your Wisconsin-based business strategy and that’s really what our focus was. That’s really what our opportunity is as a state. We’ve got to be smart about that. We’ve got to manage that kind of growth and expansion and we could do that in a way that’s a win for the company, and most importantly, a win for their employees, who will have their current jobs be protected in Wisconsin. But also, we will see more jobs come to Wisconsin, as companies avail themselves to some of these opportunities that exist around the globe, but in China is particular.

WTN: Last march in an interview with WTN you said, “Wisconsin needs to do a much better job of marketing ourselves with the right technology product messages by telling our story both within and outside the state.” What efforts have taken place to tell that story?

We’ve done a lot of things. One of the things that Gov. Doyle did, as the chair of Forward Wisconsin’s board, is that we recently invested in a partnership with a group called DCI. They are a public relations company that helps states to significantly elevate their profile in the national media; as well they help to raise the consciousness of national and international business communities. They accomplish this through positive story placement. We want them to really spend some time looking to see if Wisconsin has the kind of story that will resonate in national and international marketplaces and to kind of be brutally honest with us about that. And if the answer to that question is yes, then they will assist us to get that story placed.

They have spent some time looking at the scope and depth of our opportunities here and they are convinced that we have real good products and stories to sell and to start selling and marketing them.

One or two of these stories have already appeared in the national media. We feel good about that. We’re going to be continuously focused on how we get our story out. We have a very broad strategy to execute on this.

Another part of that strategy is that we have the PGA Tournament coming to Wisconsin this fall. We have a premier world-renowned golf course in Whistling Straits, that Mr. Kohler was a visionary in developing. There is going to be a phenomenal opportunity during the PGA event for Wisconsin, to tell the world that Wisconsin is a really good place to do business, particularly for those high-end businesses.

CEOs from around the world are coming to Wisconsin and seeing our image projected all across the globe. We feel that that’s going to go a long way to help us. We’re trying to get focused on the things we need to do to better market ourselves. We’ve done some specific things and enjoyed some modest success. We’re going to kind of redouble our efforts and get some additional resources to do it. We think we’ve made a lot of progress in the last year.

WTN: Is there any pending legislation or planned directives from the governor that offer an advantage to in-state and U.S.–based companies for state contracts and bids?

We’re thinking about this from a lot of different perspectives. I don’t know if the governor has decided yet where he comes down on this and what he wants to do. To the extent that companies are growing, we’re going to give business incentives to grow and stay in Wisconsin. We’re already seeing instances where preferential bid processes have been challenged on a constitutional basis, and we have one of those litigations going on now in relation to Midwest Airlines and Northwest Airlines.

We have to step back and be thoughtful about how we do that. Obviously, we want to work most closely, and partner most closely with those companies who make a commitment to investing in Wisconsin and growing here. And we’re going to figure out all kinds of smart creative ways of doing that. We haven’t yet gotten to a specific point where we’re going to alter a specific piece of legislation on that, but we’re working through different ideas and initiatives that are kind of being proposed. [We’re] seeing how some other states have threaded the eye of this needle and then trying to do that in a way that’s smart and creative for the state of Wisconsin.

WTN: What new technologies has the Department of Commerce installed in the last year to better serve business and run its operation?

.We are pulling together all of the information needed to help Wisconsin businesses start. They will no longer will have to figure out the three or four agencies that touch the business plan or idea they have. Wisconsin businesses will no longer have to go to three or four agencies and ask for all of their information – you can go to the Business Wizard. And that’s been kind of one-stop shopping. We launched that at Gov. Doyle’s direction shortly after he came and that’s been terrific.

We also, at Gov. Doyle’s direction, started the Bureau of Entrepreneurship, which is supposed to focus on helping Wisconsin businesses start, grow and expand as well as provide them the information and technical assistance. Gov. Doyle recently appointed Pam Christenson and she will help companies in a much more efficient way as they looking at ways of starting.

We are looking at ways of using technology and computers in streamlining our processes. Whether it’s online applications or whatever, we’re going to look at what we can do to make it as easier for businesses to access us efficiently.

Another thing we’re doing to help companies is working with site selection companies to pull all the information that is needed into a database that contains all of the sites that are available. For example, if a business hires a site selection consultant based in New York to work with a manufacturing business located in Indiana, that’s thinking about moving to Wisconsin, they will be able to see all the sites that are available.

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