Time for change at WEDC?

Political Beat

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

A corporate decision to close the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison has provided another blow to Gov. Scott Walker’s job efforts.

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the public-private agency created in the early days of Walker’s first term, seemed flat-footed when parent company Kraft Heinz announced the closing. It will affect nearly 1,000 workers, including 650 unionized blue collar workers.

In the 2010 gubernatorial election, Walker had promised to create 250,000 private sector jobs in four years. Wisconsin fell far short of that. The Republican-controlled Legislature and Walker created WEDC as the linchpin in the job-creation efforts, replacing the Commerce Department, a state agency. Critics have questioned the haste in creating WEDC in the spring of 2011.

The agency has been plagued by a high turnover of top officials. In early November, three vice presidents resigned, including its latest chief financial officer. There have been five top financial officers in just more than four years.

Controversy also has followed the award of some of the WEDC grants to private companies. The Legislative Audit Bureau this spring issued a sharply critical report on how WEDC had operated. Later, WEDC conceded making $126 million in awards to 28 companies without getting a written staff review prior to making the awards that occurred between 2011 and 2013.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., recently asked federal officials to examine three loans made by WEDC.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he will meet with Democrats about possible changes in the state’s job-creation efforts. Vos might harbor ambitions of being governor. Bipartisan reform of Walker’s job creation efforts could be a political plus for him.

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