In a generation or two when a new history is written of Madison and Dane County, I’m certain that Epic Systems, the cutting-edge medical software company, will be prominently featured. The local start-up that grew into a global player will be cited not just for its huge role as a job creator, but for how the building of its world-class campus in Verona rather than Madison changed the development of Dane County in the 21st century.
I’ve periodically written about Epic since 2002 and have found it to be an utterly fascinating operation — it’s easily the closest thing that Dane County has to a Google or Microsoft.
I mention this because my recent story on the Madison mayoral election featured an online-only sidebar in which incumbent Dave Cieslewicz and challenger Paul Soglin recounted their biggest regrets in public life. Soglin’s answer is noteworthy for shedding new light on how Madison lost Epic to a cornfield site. That was one of the reasons he cited in regretting his decision to resign from the mayor’s office in 1997.
“A lot of things would be different” had he remained mayor, he told Rotarians. “Epic Systems would be in the city of Madison. Overture would not have become as difficult a challenge for our community.”
Soglin, who left the mayor’s office [after running] unsuccessfully for Congress, was succeeded by Sue Bauman, who handled the Frautschi family gift of the Overture Center and also the city’s unsuccessful effort to keep fast-growing Epic in the city. He later worked for Epic for nearly five years, and says Madison developer George Gialamas tried to find annexable parcels large enough to keep the medical software company in Madison.
“But George was in the same boat with Epic,” Soglin relates. “Nobody [in city government] was returning his calls.”
Soglin estimates that Epic has spent about $700 million on its Verona campus. “It will easily go over $1 billion.”
Had the software leader built on land annexed by Madison, the state-of-the art campus would be much closer to the urban core today, he says. Housing and transportation patterns would be far more energy efficient. “And the other private investment that’s pending out in Verona would be in Madison.”
You can read the full sidebar here.
For my 2002 story on how Epic wound up in Verona, please go here. You’ll see that back then the campus was valued at only $45 million.
Here’s another story from 2002 that describes how real estate speculators cashed in when they sold Epic the land for its new campus.
This cover story from 2008 exampled Epic as an example of “green sprawl”.
Here is a timeline up to 2008 that details Epic’s growth over the years.
This column from 2010 details how strikingly ignorant city leaders were when they lost Epic to Verona.
Has Madison gotten smarter in subsequent years? I’d like to think so, but I’m not entirely confident.
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