WEDC is the right model

In February 2011 the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was formed by the State of Wisconsin with the purpose of modernizing economic development. While only eighteen months since establishing WEDC, Wisconsin’s economy has already made significant progress.

The Commercial Association of REALTORS® Wisconsin (CARW) believes that the WEDC model is the right direction for growing Wisconsin’s economy and job creation.

It is important to consider why the State chose a public/private partnership model when creating WEDC. This particular model was outlined in the 2010 Be Bold Wisconsin initiative which called for the creation of a partnership known as “Accelerate Wisconsin”.

The recommendation to transform the agency came after the determination that the former Wisconsin Department of Commerce was unable to focus on what should have been their primary responsibility. Up until that point, Commerce was not only responsible for economic development, but also environmental and regulatory matters, housing, and the division of safety and buildings. It is easy to see how economic development efforts could get lost in the shuffle.

By isolating economic development programs from regulatory programs, this new market based agency will better serve the needs of the private sector job creators in a more accountable, efficient and effective manner.

States such as Indiana continue to have tremendous success using this model and Wisconsin is well on its way to becoming a leader.

While there have been challenges during the transition, the fundamental change into a public/private economic development partnership was a monumental task to complete. Yet, the results are already proving that the endeavor was well worth the effort. We see this innovative partnership as an opportunity for established Wisconsin businesses to secure long-term growth and sustainability and also an opportunity to make Wisconsin more attractive for world-class operations looking to relocate. WEDC, in its most recent Annual Report, highlighted $56.2 million in business assistance through 170 grants and loans, promoting 218 businesses and 23,759 jobs.

With Reed Hall as the new CEO of WEDC, there is great opportunity to transition the organization out of the transformation stage into a nationally recognized model of success.

Critics have rightfully pointed out some of the initial shortcomings of the WEDC. We can all agree it is imperative that the new CEO, Board of Directors and Governor implement corrective measures to ensure that the organization and the partnership transition successfully. CARW believes this will result in the organization becoming a key partner in securing business expansions within the state.

A number of aggressive goals were outlined by the Be Bold initiative, two of which were to become the nation’s top ten states to not only grow, but also a top state to start a business. While we are not there yet, tremendous strides have been made since the formation of WEDC in developing a business friendly perception not only within our State, but also on a national and global level. With the heavy lifting of the reorganization now complete, the agency must now successfully turn its attention to growing businesses within the state. While there are many issues we can disagree on, one thing we can all agree on is the need for 250,000 private sector jobs in Wisconsin. And our new economic development agency, WEDC, is sure to help Wisconsin achieve this goal.

Jim Villa, is president and chief executive officer of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin (CARW). He also was a member of then Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s staff before Walker became Wisconsin’s governor.

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