16 Feb Interview: New commerce secretary wants to keep momentum on jobs and business programs
Stevens Point, Wis. — I sat down recently in Stevens Point with new Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce Mary P. Burke during her third full day on the job to talk about the foremost issues at hand for Commerce, Governor Jim Doyle’s budget proposals and Wisconsin’s business scene.
WTN: What are some things you’ve got your eye on that can help businesses not only thrive, but be forward-looking?
Mary Burke: I think that is actually the key, because the biggest opportunity we have for creating jobs is to help businesses to look forward to see how they’re going to need to change and how they can change in order to be able to compete in this ever-changing marketplace We have to make sure, one, do we have the programs or are we supporting the types of programs that can aid people in how to think through those issues?
WTN: Such as what?
MB: Well, the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network that’s being put together. When we put that together, are services going to be available to help companies and business people? It’s oriented toward startups, but they face a lot of the same types of issues, whether that’s technology issues, information system issues, accounting issues, or issues about exporting products.
Through the WMEP, the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, it’s the same sort of thing: Are the tools there to help companies understand how to compete best?
[We need to] make sure we have those tools in place and that we’re partnering with organizations that can provide or are supporting those types of programs
Second, once you’re sure you have those programs in place, are they readily accessible? I think that can mean a number of things, whether it’s geographic location, [through] information technology, or Web-based [technology].
Third, even when they’re accessible, do people know about them? Does [a small business person in Stevens Point] know what tools are available to help him when he’s looking at how to compete?
I’m going to add a fourth: Are the programs effective? And are we keeping track of what works and what doesn’t work and changing the programs as the needs change, too? Sometimes you can create programs, but if the programs aren’t changing with how the marketplace is changing and you’re delivering something that people no longer need, you’ve missed the point of the type of education we’re providing.
WTN: Regarding Gov. Doyle’s budget proposals, what plans are pertinent to drawing and retaining business in your eyes?
MB: I think it’s his complete plan that’s so important to Wisconsin businesses for job creation: [In] balancing the budget without increasing taxes, while still holding down property taxes, but yet investing in education and in job creation; in not cutting healthcare benefits and making sure local economies have the support they need for vital services. It’s so crucial to having a thriving economy.
If you take the opposite approach and say it’s only about holding taxes to the minimum, and you’re not investing in our infrastructure and our education and our services, who will want to do business here? Who will want to live here? That’s what I think is really important – his complete vision. He doesn’t skimp where we need to spend, and yet he doesn’t spend where we don’t need it. He holds taxes down, which is important to attracting businesses and people
WTN: What’s going on with WTN’s readership seems to be very much on the front burner for him and just about everybody in state in terms of cultivating biotech and high-tech players. Is that something you’ve spent a lot of time studying?
MB: Absolutely. We have no intention of doing anything other than supporting our existing industries, because they are the backbone of our economy, and we need to constantly strive to be competitive and to not lose our market share in those traditional industries.
Think the governor has a two-pronged approach to also push really hard on the technology front, on new companies, on biotech and high tech. It’s very smart, because that’s where the U.S. economy as a whole is heading, and we don’t want to be left behind. So that is definitely something I will spend a lot of time on and something that the governor has put resources into. We have a great base with … the research system that we have, with the university system we have. I think the things that have been funded and cultivated are building on that research and resources and are getting [to the point where] they create jobs. It’s exciting.
WTN: What’s really on your must-do list for the next year?
MB: Well, I’d love to keep going with the success the governor has had. Last year we created 70,000 new jobs in Wisconsin. We lead the country in manufacturing jobs. Keeping that piece going would be a great accomplishment; but I think that really moving forward on implementation of a number of objectives and making sure we deliver what we’ve set out to do, whether it’s with WEN or the Angel Network.
It’s one thing to get funding and to come up with idea, but I think the impact on businesses is having effective programs; so I would say if there’s one thing in the next year, it’s making sure that the programs that we are supporting are reaching the businesses and making a difference, working with those programs, making sure they reach local businesses and are delivering on what we have in mind.
I think that it starts with implementation and people at commerce. I think what’s important is having clear objectives about what we want to accomplish and exactly how we can make sure that what we’re doing is reaching businesses – that the programs are encouraging job growth and helping businesses.