Old School Politics And The New Economy

The disconnection between Wisconsin’s growing tech sector and the state’s governing political dynamic has never been greater. This Isthmus story discusses how the Legislature’s decision to enact union-breaking “right to work” legislation left Madison area tech leaders puzzled and dismayed.

“As an employer, I can tell you this has zero bearing on my decision to stay in Wisconsin or to hire more people,” Dan Wilson, a founder of Moxe Health, told me. Other leaders had similar comments.

I write:.

It’s tempting to dismiss the comments of the techie execs as inconsequential because they represent startups and boutique businesses with small workforces. They are midgets compared to the titans of Wisconsin industry who have promoted right-to-work through their powerful lobbying arm, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

But ignoring the new kids is a big mistake.

“In every single state, in every single metro area, young firms create the most jobs. That’s true everywhere,” says Dane Stangler, vice president of research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which advocates for startup businesses.

The tech component has certainly paid off in Dane County.

It’s fueled, of course, by homegrown Epic and its rise as the dominant electronic health records vendor in the country. The workforce tops 8,000. Revenue in 2014 reportedly hit $1.8 billion. And because founder Judith Faulkner insists on running the entire operation through its fairyland campus in Verona, the region has boomed economically. Epic alone accounted for 27% of all the new jobs created here from 2001 to 2012, according to Kennelly.

The city staffer’s presentation on the Madison area’s economic dynamics makes a persuasive case that the Dane County metro area is impressively outperforming the rest of the state. With 10% of the state’s population, Dane County accounts for 12% of the state’s jobs, 15% of its economic output and 16% of the businesses created since 2000 and 73% of the net new jobs created in Wisconsin between 2004 and 2014.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentineldiced the numbers in a different fashion and came to the same conclusion: Dane County led the state in job creation between 2003 and 2013, with nearly 20,000 new jobs. That’s three times as many as second-place Waukesha County. Milwaukee County lost 19,000 jobs in the same period.

For anyone who still sees Madison as a cossetted government town — well, they need to think again. Kennelly’s report shows that the private sector is driving job and wealth creation in Dane County. “Our government workforce is effectively flat,” he says.

Even better, the growing industries here support good-paying jobs, namely in the biomedical/biotechnical and information technology business clusters.

“The Madison area is really an economic engine for Wisconsin,” Kennelly says. “State policymakers sometimes like to pick on Madison. A more constructive approach would be to say: ‘What are they doing right, and how can we replicate it in other parts of the state?'”

To read more, please go here.

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One Comment on “Old School Politics And The New Economy”

  1. GFBird Says:

    Hi, Marc —

    I just read your piece that appeared in the Journal/Sentinel. It so happens I’ve spent over a decade going to WTC sponsored events, etc. trying to do a tech start-up. I’m now working on a patent pending for protective headgear addressing military, sports, and occupational sectors. I’m still working alone.

    I spent 12 weeks from last Thanksgiving until March 3, hustling my invention in the world’s start-up capital, living in San Francisco near the Financial District. I got a lot of good candidates for first co-founder. I’m now back at my home in Milwaukee, saving rent money, and preparing my house to be rented. And, I’m taking the advice of my attorney that one may do business with the Bay Area without living in the Bay Area. I’ve been engaged in communicating with Bay Area prospects since the afternoon I returned home, Mar 20.

    Among my observations as a resident of Wisconsin since Apr 30, 1975, who has spent that time in San Francisco, is that the current regime touts its conservatism. However, conservatism by nature is constrained. Liberalism is inclusive and accepting, progressive and fair, and shares power. San Francisco is liberal – and it is booming. Silicon Valley workers don’t want to live in Silicon Valley because it is boring, and “Google Buses” crowd the roads and streets ferrying workers from where they like to live, San Francisco, to isolated dull boring suburban office parks that the area’s biggest companies are seeking to move from to closer-in venues.

    Please address this fundamental flaw in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin in your writings.

    Thanks — GFBird, Milwaukee


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