16 Jun Educate, innovate and execute: Wisconsin’s model for success
Wisconsin’s economy is currently undergoing a historical transformation. Such a dramatic change has not occurred since World War I, when the paper, brewing, automotive and agriculture industries were beginning to flourish.
The change from an agriculture and manufacturing-based state economy to a knowledge and innovation-based economy is inevitable. Wisconsin now finds itself competing in a global marketplace and losing thousands of manufacturing jobs to technological advancements and overseas competition.
While recent reports by the Milken Institute and Competitive Wisconsin, Inc., show Wisconsin’s economic long-range vitality is slipping, I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to embrace the changes happening in the new global market and be a force that will compete. The three keys to our successful transformation will be how well we educate, innovate and execute.
Education. In order to make an impact in the global economy, there needs to be a capable workforce. With Wisconsin being a proven leader in both K-12 and higher education, there is a strong foundation for which the state can expand its industries. Historically, taxpayers in Wisconsin have invested in education with a mixed return. On one hand, Wisconsin students are leaders in test scores and research. On the other, we are losing our youth to states that offer greater financial rewards and opportunities. We must provide our youth with the opportunity to obtain high-paying jobs here at home.
There is a dire need for change in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Milwaukee currently has significant structural problems in financing its educational system. I believe we must focus on how much money is spent in the classroom rather than how much is spent administratively. MPS simply spends too much money on employee costs (i.e. salary, benefits, pension) than is manageable. In fact, the MPS Board boosted the tax levy for 2003-’04 by more than $11 million, or a 5.8 percent increase. This year, MPS is projecting a 15% increase as a stopgap to keep the system running. We must expand on new and innovative ideas such as school choice and charter programs because pouring money into failing schools is not the answer.
Innovation. We must not fear failure. Innovation and changing technologies are happening at a rapid pace all over the world. As a state, we must be able to compete in this setting. One barrier we must address is that Wisconsin has a cultural problem when it comes to risk-taking and entrepreneurship.
A report by Competitive Wisconsin showed our state is lagging behind in entrepreneurship or knowledge-based and financial indicators. Wisconsinites have a tendency to be conservative with their money and generally do not like to take risks.
Simply, we need to do a better job of taking the good ideas that come out of our universities and turn them into Wisconsin companies. To do this, we have to provide more early stage capital for start up businesses. This must be done organically. The financial wealth is here in our state, however we need to foster a culture in Wisconsin that rewards risk-taking and encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. Investing in the right kind of high-tech businesses will ultimately provide the type of high-paying jobs we desperately need.
This session, I drafted and helped pass Senate Bill 261 (2003 WI Act 255) through the Wisconsin Legislature. Act 255 will provide $65 million of tax credits over the next decade to encourage investors to invest money, time and expertise into new Wisconsin companies. When fully deployed, the credits will leverage over $260 million of investment from the private sector.
Execution. State government can do more to help stimulate the economy and grow and retain high-paying jobs. I am excited about what the next legislative session will bring. It is my goal to ensure that Wisconsin is the leader in broadband development and technology development. We must also create a tax environment in this state that will attract jobs, and take the tremendous financial burden off our state’s working families. And finally, we must make health care reform a reality by moving the health care model from a provider-driven to a consumer-driven model.
As our parents wanted for us, we want our children and grandchildren to have the opportunity to stay in this great state, raise families and achieve success. If we educate, innovate and execute, we can keep our best and brightest working in Wisconsin.
Ted Kanavas, elected to the state Senate in 2001, represents the 33rd Senate District in the Wisconsin Legislature. Senator Kanavas serves as Co-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Job Creation and as a member of the state’s Joint Finance Committee. The 33rd Senate District is made up of parts of Waukesha and Washington Counties.