Stimulus ‘traffic cop’

The Wisconsin Office of Recovery and Reinvestment was created in late January by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle to help disperse the state’s share of federal economic stimulus dollars. The office, led by Gary Wolter, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Madison Gas and Electric Co., will operate more like a switchboard operator or traffic cop than a gatekeeper, he said. Wolter recently spoke with BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Eric Decker about how the stimulus dollars will be distributed in the state. The following are excerpts of that interview.

BizTimes: Can you explain the role of the Wisconsin Office of Recovery and Reinvestment? What will it do?

Wolter: “Our role is to try to coordinate the activities of a variety of different entities that have to mobilize under the plan. We (will) analyze the bill, look at the time frames and try to make sure that the state of Wisconsin is gearing up for the money and uses the money within the time frame allotted under the bill. So, it’s very much helping the state agencies and helping the local units of government and school districts to understand the bill and make sure they avail themselves of the dollars available.”

Does the office have full-time employees who have been hired to work there?

Wolter: “We probably have 15 to 20 people that are working in the office. All of them have been reassigned from existing state agencies. What we’re doing now is we need a very intensive short-term effort to gear up for the bill because there are requirements under the bill that are pretty tight as far as time frames for getting up and going, committing funds and getting the money moving under the stimulus bill and start providing reports back to the government for accountability. At some point, I will transition out, the co-chair will transition out and the other employees will transition back to their agencies.”

BizTimes: Have you received any clarity on the state of Wisconsin’s “wish list” of projects that it would most like to have funded?

Wolter: “Throughout the state, there have been preliminary lists put together for the purpose of trying to get a sense of what sorts of projects were out there, so it would help give guidance to the federal legislators as to what kind of demands were out there. There’s no central list. Each interested unit of government will have to take their list and compare it to the dollars that are available and the categories that are available under the bill.”

Will your office give certain types of projects priority over others?

Wolter: “We are more a facilitator. And I do see us taking the projects that we do have or the people who do contact us and trying to help match up or guide them in the right direction if their project might qualify for a pot of dollars. We’re very much like a traffic cop or a switchboard in doing that. That is one of the early misconceptions about the office – that we somehow will be handing out the dollars. And that simply is not the case.”

What should business owners and top-level managers do to position their companies to best take advantage of opportunities created by the stimulus package?

Wolter: “My suggestion would be to have them take a look at the bill and what is in it, and many of them can do that through their trade associations who will help them analyze the bill from their perspective, to take a look at those summaries, especially those summaries that are geared to their operations and see where they can plug in. And then as they see where those dollars might flow, think through how they can plug into the process, either in being eligible for money that might be available under the bill or in seeing who will be receiving the money and if they are a vendor, a supplier, if they are a partner of those entities.”

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