14 Oct Tech leaders call for more creativity
Oconomowoc, Wis. – These are not your parents’ generation of corporate leaders.
A quarter-century ago, the word “cool” was rarely heard to cross the lips of gray-haired, gray-suited corporate executives. Today, cool is a marketable commodity. The problem is that Wisconsin doesn’t yet have it.
At the Olympia Resort on Thursday, several dozen representatives of business, civic, academic and arts groups met to brainstorm strategies for making Wisconsin a creative, cool place, a place where industries want to locate and where college students want to work. The session preceded Friday’s conference of the Biotechnology and Medical Device Association.
The invitation-only gathering drew 60 people, more than organizers had expected. They included Jan Gallagher, director of the La Crosse Small Business Development Center; Tony Forman, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee; John Kirchgeorg, president of Milwaukee’s LIFE Corp.; Tina Chang, CEO of Brookfield-based SysLogic; and Pehr Anderson, managing director of Silicon Pastures, a Milwaukee-area angel investment group.
William Hendee, executive vice-president of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa, and the impetus behind the session, gave an example of what he considers “cool”: Cirque de Soleil, an innovative, globe-trotting circus theater that started in Quebec in 1984 and which expects to sell 7 million tickets in 2005.
“Somebody really thought out of the box about what a circus is, and that success would follow,” said Hendee. Wisconsin arts leaders should consider what roles they can play in the state’s economy, he added. “Creative people attract creative people.”
Wisconsin has assets, such as a high quality of life and excellent academic institutions. But the state is beset with a Midwestern attitude that discourages brash, bold thinking. “We’ve got to have a swagger,” Hendee said.
Ross Devol, director of regional economics at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Institute and the keynote speaker at Friday’s conference, echoed Hendee’s concerns. The University of Wisconsin-Madison ranks alongside Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the credit given to researchers, as measured by scientific citations, DeVol said. “But it’s what you do with it that counts” in the state’s economy.
Scientists “get off doing interesting research. But, ultimately, creativity has to be channeled,” Devol said. Wisconsin needs better leadership, whether from those in business, government or academia, he added. “You need a cultural shift from `I don’t know,’ to `Of course,'” he said.
Those at the Thursday gathering did not discuss the impact of the state legislature’s recent ban on cloning, which Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has said he would veto. But it’s a barrier, said Devol, who added that the ban was a topic of discussion at recent meetings in other states. “It’s a recipe to make sure that intellectual property development get transferred elsewhere, maybe to California.”
“Why would the state, a world leader [in embryonic stem cell research] be doing such silly things?” Devol asked.