19 Jan Wisconsin Cannot Dawdle if it Wants a Healthy State of the State
MADISON – Here’s a quote that may sound familiar if you’ve listened to Gov. Jim Doyle over the last year or so: “My goal is to create the very best business climate possible for technology firms so we can develop and attract … the good-paying jobs they provide.”
That speaker wasn’t Doyle, however. It was Gov. John Hoeven of North Dakota. And might just as easily been Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, or any of about 15 other governors who have signed or introduced technology-based economic development bills in recent weeks.
From coast to coast, the race is on to develop tech-based economies in states where policymakers see a fiercely competitive future. All but four of the 18 governors who delivered State of the State or budget speeches between Jan. 6 and Jan. 14 stressed the importance of investing in science and technology to leverage jobs. In three other states, including Minnesota, blue-ribbon commissions recently released reports recommending more investment in research, innovation and entrepreneurship.
“If the first full week of the 2004 legislative season is any indicator of the year’s tone and tempo for tech-based economic development initiatives, then we’re in for quite a ride,” said Dan Berglund, president and CEO of the State Science and Technology Institute in Ohio.
Making sure Wisconsin isn’t left at the curb while other states speed past is the challenge confronting Doyle, who can be expected to use Wednesday’s State of the State speech to urge lawmakers to continue working with him on building the state’s high-tech, high-growth economy.
Doyle’s speech is especially timely because the Assembly has yet to act on two investment capital bills – AB 531 and AB 538 – that would modify and expand Wisconsin’s existing Certified Capital Company program and create new tax credit incentives for people who invest in start-up companies. The CAPCO program, used in seven other states, is primarily a way to entice insurance companies to invest in start-up firms.
The Senate passed its version of those bills by large bipartisan majorities last fall, but they’ve come under question in the Assembly from Republicans and Democrats alike. In his speech, Doyle should emphasize that differences cannot be debated forever. Just consider what’s happening in a few other states:
In Michigan, Granholm signed a bill creating a $150 million venture capital fund for investing in early-stage companies. It is expected to leverage another $750 million in private capital.
In Arizona, Napolitano is pushing a package of tech-based tax credits, more investment in university-based research and development, and creation of a $100 million venture capital fund.
North Dakota’s Hoeven has asked the Legislature to approve a $50 million “Centers of Excellence” fund for that state’s universities.
New York Gov. George Pataki announced a series of initiatives that build upon a $250 million Centers of Excellence program tied to the state’s university system.
From Georgia to Idaho, from New Jersey to Colorado, governors are talking about technology development – and Legislatures appear to be responding. While the programs and methods vary from state to state, there’s consensus around the fact that states are playing a larger role in transferring technology to the marketplace.
It’s beyond question that Wisconsin will be outspent. It always is outspent when it comes to economic development. But Wisconsin has a head start in many science and tech fields because of the research base built by the UW-Madison, the rest of the UW System, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Marshfield Clinic and some of the state’s largest companies. That advantage can be exploited if Wisconsin invests a reasonable amount of money now in areas where it can build a long-term economic advantage and a more entrepreneurial culture.
Doyle is not alone in trying to lead his state to a new economic future. The question is: Will others follow soon enough to make a difference?
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.