Kleefisch encourages business owners to get involved at Business Ready WI Conference

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch
Kleefisch spoke at the Business Ready WI conference in West Bend on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (Molly Dill

Wisconsin Lt. Gov Rebecca Kleefisch says she wants to work with business owners to develop political solutions that will help them succeed.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch
Kleefisch spoke at the Business Ready WI conference in West Bend on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (Molly Dill)

“We really do appreciate your feedback,” Kleefisch said to a group of professionals gathered for the first annual Business Ready WI Conference at West Bend Mutual Insurance in West Bend on Tuesday. “We value your input. We value your opinions.”

She gave her phone number out to the crowd so they could call her with ideas or concerns. And she encouraged them even to go a step further and run for a local political office themselves.

“The more business leaders we have coming to visit the government and then going back to the private sector, the better off we’ll be,” Kleefisch said.

She also championed Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry, pointing to its 19 percent contribution to the state’s GDP and its growing number of jobs, and brushing aside recent mass layoff announcements from GE Power and Joy Global Inc.

Other sectors that are helping to boost Wisconsin’s economy, she said, are food and beverage, water technology and freshwater solutions, energy, transportation and logistics, and construction.

“The construction industry tends to be kind of our canary in the coal mine,” Kleefisch said. “We know Wisconsin’s economy is doing well. So well that they are having a labor shortage.”

A side effect of these industries’ growth has been a shortage of skilled workers, which business leaders can help to fill by encouraging students to consider a career in one of these industries and supporting technical colleges’ training programs, she said.

“(Wisconsin trucking company Schneider National) could literally hire 1,200 drivers alone today if they simply had the workers for it,” Kleefisch said. “We need to get you the workers you need in order to keep your customers happy. In order to grow your bottom line.”

One strategy to grow a business’ bottom line is through exporting, which the state is only too happy to assist businesses with, she said. Exports help companies grow, which leads to more workers getting paychecks and paying taxes, which creates a broader tax base and could lower taxes, Kleefisch said.

The Walker-Kleefisch administration has been working to bridge the skills gap, increase exporting, and also attract businesses to the state.

“You may have heard that we have had a lot of successes in the Kenosha area, Pleasant Prairie specifically, because there were some Illinois companies who were ‘Ill-annoyed,’” she said. “In the state of Illinois, they have $100 billion in unfunded pension liability. There will come a day when the bill comes due and someone has to pay. In Wisconsin, we don’t have that problem, because we don’t have any unfunded pension liability.”

When asked about the direction and vision of the embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., Kleefisch expressed confidence in the WEDC, which she said is getting its footing and is an advocate for the state’s businesses, and its new chief executive officer, Mark Hogan.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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