Posted tagged ‘Economic development’

Missed Opportunity

January 22, 2012

I make the case in this Isthmus column that establishing a passenger rail connection between Madison and Milwaukee  would  strengthen the state’s economy in the decades to come. Ain’t happening:

What was the single most important decision Gov. Scott Walker made in his first year of office? Hands down, the consensus judgment would be undermining the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

But 20 or 30 years from now? Wisconsinites will probably point to Walker’s fateful decision to reject an $810 million federal grant to build a passenger rail line connecting Madison and Milwaukee.

Chances are that the logic for the train will be evident to most everyone by then. The I-94 corridor linking Dane County with Milwaukee and Waukesha will likely be the state’s 21st-century economic engine. In turn, it will be a vital link in what technology booster Tom Still has called the “I-Q Corridor” — the 400-mile stretch of interstate connecting the heavyweight metropolises of Chicago and the Twin Cities.

“That corridor contains some of the nation’s leading research universities, well-educated tech workers and thriving tech-based companies at all stages of development,” Still, who’s president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, wrote a few years ago.

Now imagine an updated rail system carrying people from the Twin Cities to downtown Chicago in less than six hours — even faster than driving and on a par with a complicated airline connection.

Oops! Don’t consider it. That scenario is precisely what Walker killed when he gave back the $810 million — federal funding that would have paid the full capital costs of connecting Madison to Milwaukee.

Says Watertown Mayor Ron Krueger: “That decision will hurt the state of Wisconsin for decades to come.”

To read more, please go here. For a related column,check this. 

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Madison, Waukesha, Milwaukee–Partners?

November 6, 2011

Transportation corridors are obviously prime for for growth and development, but it’s funny how seldom this plain as the-nose-on-your-face reality is ignored by decisionmakers. I wrote  about the synergy of Chicago and Milwaukee  along I-94 for Milwaukee Magazine. (Read it here.)  Now for Isthmus I look at the Madison-to-Milwaukee corridor.  The column begins:

Who knows, but just maybe Madison’s future can be found on the first floor of the historic American Exchange Bank on the Capitol Square. Nine info-tech start-ups — focused on everything from gaming to fashion to medical care — are housed in a business incubator run by an investment group known as 94Labs.

The name is telling, as it highlights the I-94 corridor connecting the Madison area with Milwaukee and Waukesha County — the state’s biggest metro area. Eighty miles from the Square, 94Labs runs another incubator in Milwaukee that’s equidistant to Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and UW-Milwaukee.

The I-94 corridor “is a mega-region,” says 94Labs’ Greg Meier, using the phrase of celebrated urban theorist Richard Florida to describe the growing linkages of metro areas.

“The mega-regions of today perform functions that are somewhat similar to those of the great cities of the past — massing together talent, productive capability, innovation and markets,” Florida told a Tampa Bay paper earlier this year.

To read more, please go here:

A Troubling Change At City Hall

February 4, 2011

My reportorial interests of late have focused on economic development and the role of public employees. In the case of Tim Cooley’s resignation, the two came together in this column for Isthmus.

In government, bad news often comes on Friday afternoons, in hopes it will be lost in the weekend shuffle.

So it was telling that as the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend began on Jan. 14, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s office released economic development director Tim Cooley’s resignation letter — a mere two weeks’ notice.

Every City Hall employee knew the significance of Cooley’s announcement: His two-year probationary period was ending in February, and he was leaving before the ax fell.

Cooley’s departure is bad news on several counts. Most tellingly it revealed that, nearing his eighth year in office, the mayor has yet to put together a sustained jobs-growth strategy.

To read more, please go here.

Federal spending: Wisconsin needs more

November 28, 2009

I examined the state’s dreadful record in securing federal dollars in pieces written for Milwaukee Magazine and Isthmus, my old paper in Madison.

Here is the  start of the Milwaukee Magazine column:

Too Pure for Pork

Our politicians do a wretched job of attracting federal spending to Wisconsin. Why do we let them get away with it? by Marc Eisen

Tuesday 9/1/2009

Here’s a story that tells you something about politics in Wisconsin: In January, Madison utility executive Gary Wolter was named the head of Gov. Jim Doyle’s stimulus office to work on securing federal funding. Within 24 hours, he was dubbed Wisconsin’s “pork czar” in repeated blog postings.

As Charlie Sykes pointed out, what could be weirder than fierce partisan antagonists like Democrat and liberal Ed Garvey and conservative blogger Deb Jordahl both sniffing their noses at Wolter’s appointment? Then again, even the whiff of “pork” gets proper Wisconsinites red-faced and indignant.

Take Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. His initial response to federal stimulus funding made it sound as if the dollars were secretly dosed with smallpox, like those horse blankets the Army supposedly gave Indians in the 19th century. He’d have none of it! (Not, at least, until the County Board said otherwise.)

There’s something deep in the Wisconsin character, a Badger thriftiness and sense of political rectitude, that seems to recoil at the notion that politicians should bring home the bacon. No one understood that better than the puritan Bill Proxmire, whose long senatorial run was marked by his temperance crusade against government waste. Ever since then, Democrats and Republicans alike (take a bow, Jim Sensenbrenner, Paul Ryan, Russ Feingold, John Norquist, et al.) have anointed themselves with magical oils to protect the state from the corrupting influence of federal dollars.

They’ve been wildly successful. And that’s a problem. Wisconsin, as you no doubt know from first-hand experience, is mired in an economic slump. In per capita income and new jobs created, we badly trail some of our neighboring states. Ditto for economic growth. Meanwhile, we pay way more in federal taxes than is returned to us via federal jobs, research grants, aid to state and local government, and other programs.

The gap in fiscal 2007 was a staggering $5.6 billion, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. That’s right: We sent $5.6 billion more to Washington than we got back in federal spending.

Read more here.

Here is the start of the much-longer  Isthmus story:

State of chumps
Wisconsin has only itself to blame for losing out on its fair share of federal aid
Marc Eisen on Friday 10/09/2009

Todd Berry blames it on our genes. The president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance suggests the state’s chronic indifference to federal help is buried deep within our political DNA.

The Yankees who first settled Wisconsin, he says, “were suspicious of large, autocratic central government.” The Germans and Scandinavians who followed weren’t much different: They were “independent, hardworking, self-reliant…and suspicious again of a distant central government.”

I think the late Sen. Bill Proxmire — not genetics — is mostly to blame. But however you apportion responsibility, the legacy is the same: Wisconsin does wretchedly as a recipient of federal spending.

There are lots of bad measures to point out, but the key one is this: We rank 48th among the 50 states in federal aid, saved from last place only by Nevada and Utah.

This dreadful performance has a real-life impact on Wisconsin’s economic well-being. It means fewer jobs, poorer public services and a heavier state and local tax burden.

Federal spending in Wisconsin came to $7,132 per person in fiscal 2008, according to federal data newly analyzed by the Northeast-Midwest Institute. The national average was $8,904 per person — a $1,772 difference.

Do the math. Wisconsin’s population numbered about 5.6 million in 2008. Multiply each person by that shortfall and you come to $9.9 billion. That’s how much more money would have sloshed around the state economy if we had just hit the average for federal spending in fiscal 2008. Perish the thought we should score high, like Alaskans and Virginians.

Read more here.


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