Posted tagged ‘Tom Hefty’

Stronger UWM=Stronger Wisconsin

July 11, 2016

Sometimes one story leads to another. My Isthmus piece on the critical role of the UW System in rebuilding the Wisconsin economy got me thinking about the importance of urban universities in anchoring  prosperous metropolitan regions.

I make the case in this Journal Sentinel opinion column that a bigger state  investment in UW-Milwaukee would be a key ingredient in revitalizing Milwaukee.

A strong Milwaukee is good for us all — Madison, the Milwaukee suburbs and the state as a whole. “You can’t move the state forward economically unless Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin are leading the pack,” as former commerce secretary Bill McCoshen puts it.

Indeed, most prosperous metro regions — the Austins and Seattles of the nation — are usually enriched by strong central cities, research shows. The weakest — the Clevelands and Milwaukees — are hobbled by weak central cities.

Look no farther than Minnesota, which has soared ahead of the Badger state. Our median income of $52,622 a year is almost $9,000 less than our sister state’s. The contrasting impact of Minnapolis-St.Paul’s muscular economy to Milwaukee’s lingering Rust Belt decline is the key reason for the prosperity gap.

 

To read more on the history and important role of urban universities, please go here.

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UW Tech Transfer: Challenge and Promise

October 15, 2015

Few things are as important for energizing the listless Wisconsin economy than capitalizing on the great research conducted at UW-Madison. I write in this Isthmus cover story:

A game-changer is what UW-Madison sorely needs. Historically one of the nation’s leading research schools, the campus secures more than $1 billion a year in research grants. Yet between 2009 and 2014, Wisconsin ranked 42nd among the states in patents issued, according to federal data. And we were dead last in a survey of entrepreneurial activity taken by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Reality is that despite Dane County’s tech-led boom, the Wisconsin economy is in parlous condition. The state suffered the largest percentage decline of middle-class households in the nation between 2000 and 2013, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study. Median Wisconsin household income in this period dropped from $60,344 to $51,467 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Obvious questions follow: Why isn’t all this UW research igniting a wave of business and tech startups across the state? Why hasn’t the UW dynamo reversed the state’s economic decline?

UW-Madison, it’s fair to say, is feeling the heat.

The hostility of the ruling Republicans at the Capitol is as plain to see as the UW System’s $250 million budget cut and Gov. Scott Walker’s initial plan to gut the Wisconsin Idea, the university’s once sacrosanct pledge that its “beneficent influence” would extend statewide.

But that notion of “the boundaries of campus are the boundaries of the state” draws a sharp retort from skeptics who think UW-Madison’s reach seems to abruptly end at the Dane County line. Local folks may be proud that Dane County claims 73% of the new jobs created in Wisconsin over the last 10 years, but outstate observers see this as evidence of how UW-Madison beneficence is highly parochial.

Enter UW-Madison’s Discovery To Product program. I write how this bootcamp for campus entrepreneurs has nurtured a potential breakout campus discovery. Researchers Mark Cook and Jordan Sand have come up with a technique that could dramatically reduce the pervasive  use of human antibiotics in animal feed. That farm industry practice is blamed for producing deadly drug-resistant superbugs.

To read more about their discovery and the complaints that insiders make about UW-Madison’s hostility towards commercializing research, please go here.

Who Speaks For Tech?

September 23, 2014

So if Wisconsin is trapped in yesteryear politics and economics, as I argue in the story posted above, the business group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is the exemplar of this thinking.  Here’s how I began this related piece, also in Isthmus:

This is a problem.

The state’s most powerful business voice has conspicuously little contact with Wisconsin’s rising technology industry.

Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce, which claims more than 3,500 businesses as members, brags that “the success of the WMC government relations team in projecting and accomplishing a proactive business agenda has been second to none.”

Well, yeah. On the surface, WMC has never been stronger. The support WMC has thrown to small-government, pro-business Republicans has paid off big time, to say the obvious.

Wisconsin has a Republican governor, a Republican Assembly, a Republican Senate, a Republican-favoring Supreme Court and a Republican-dominated congressional delegation.

But critics say that WMC’s success is mostly in pursuing a savvy political agenda — not a savvy growth agenda. And the group’s legislative wish list tilts heavily to helping Wisconsin’s legacy manufacturers. The problem: These venerable corporate citizens usually burnish their bottom lines by adopting strategies that emphasize tax avoidance, lessened regulatory costs and dampened labor costs.

Do they add new jobs to the payroll? Not so much.

To read more, including how the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has embraced the tech industry, please go here.

The Corridor Strategy For Development, Cont’d

December 10, 2012

Earlier this year I wrote a piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel arguing that the Milwaukee-Madison I-94 corridor held great potential for economic development in the 21st century. I expanded the piece and gave it more of a Madison focus for this Isthmus cover story.

This is the essence of the argument:

Simply put, that 80-mile I-94 corridor traversing Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson and Dane counties could be the muscle and brain of Wisconsin’s 21st-century economic renaissance.

It also, I would argue, holds greater economic promise for Madison and Dane County’s prosperity than does the Thrive region, the seven largely rural counties surrounding Dane County that community leaders have identified as Madison’s cohort for growth.

Those four I-94 corridor counties cover less than 5% of the state, but have one-third of its population, 44% of its college graduates and almost 40% of Wisconsin jobs, according to the UW-Extension’s Center for Community and Economic Development. The synergy of a great transportation corridor connecting the state’s two largest metropolitan areas seems obvious.

Tom Hefty, the retired head of Blue Cross-Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, made that case 10 years ago when he tried — and failed — to convince Gov. Jim Doyle to adopt a corridor development plan as part of the state’s economic strategy.

The logic: Milwaukee is the state’s finance and commercial capital. Madison is the political capital and home to a world-class research university. Waukesha County is a teeming entrepreneurial beehive. Already a good chunk of workers travel back and forth along the corridor. Major educational facilities, including a rising UW-Milwaukee, prepare the workforce.

“You combine an academic powerhouse with a commercial powerhouse, and you get job growth,” says Hefty.

Do you think that Wisconsin’s languishing economy could use more jobs? The answer is obvious, but the politics here are deeply dysfunctional. Talk about Mission: Impossible. It’s not just Milwaukee versus Madison; their shared liberalism is abhorrent to conservative Waukesha County. Lambs will lie down with lions before the corridor politicians ever work together.

For that matter, Gov. Scott Walker’s successful effort to kill the $810 million federally funded train service between Milwaukee and Madison is just one more nasty episode in that endless grudge match.

But before you turn the page, here’s the thing: The corridor is coming together without these feuding politicians.

To read more, pls go here.

The I-94 Road to Prosperity

June 13, 2012

Politically, Madison and Milwaukee are two Democratic peas in a pod. But culturally  they are like oil and water.  Go figure.

In a story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I make the case that the two cities need to pull together through an economic corridor along  I-94.

The story begins:

What is it about Milwaukee and Madison – that potent mix of mutual disdain, disregard and ignorance that characterizes their odd relationship?

“Only 80 miles separate them, but it’s like the cities are on different sides of the moon,” says James Rowen, who has worked in journalism and for mayors in both cities.

Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist who served for 12 years in the Legislature, offers another celestial view. “It’s the difference between Saturn and Jupiter. Milwaukee and Madison are on different planets,” he says. “Even as technology erases distances, the two cities remain impervious to cooperating.”

John Gurda, a Milwaukee historian and columnist for the Journal Sentinel, says Madison and Milwaukee are like estranged siblings who meet at Thanksgiving and then don’t talk for the rest of the year.

But enough metaphors – I have to blurt out something as loudly as I can.

Wisconsin needs Madison and Milwaukee to pull together.

Simply put, that 80-mile I-94 corridor traversing Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson and Dane counties could be the muscle and brain of Wisconsin’s 21st century economic renaissance.

The four counties cover less than 5% of the state but have one-third of its population, 44% of its college graduates and almost 40% of Wisconsin jobs, according to the UW-Extension’s Center for Community and Economic Development. The synergy of a great transportation corridor connecting the state’s two largest metropolitan areas seems obvious.

Tom Hefty, the retired head of Blue Cross-Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, made that case 10 years ago when he tried – and failed – to persuade Gov. Jim Doyle to adopt a corridor development plan as part of the state’s economic strategy.

The logic: Milwaukee is the state’s finance and commercial capital. Madison is the political capital and home to a world-class research university. Waukesha County is a teeming entrepreneurial beehive. Already, a good chunk of workers travel back and forth along the corridor. Major educational facilities, including a rising UWM, prepare the workforce.

“You combine an academic powerhouse with a commercial powerhouse and you get job growth,” says Hefty.

Do you think that Wisconsin’s languishing economy could use more jobs? The answer is obvious, but the politics here are deeply dysfunctional. Talk about Mission Impossible. It’s not just Milwaukee vs. Madison, but their shared liberalism is abhorrent to conservative Waukesha County. Lambs will lie down with lions before corridor politicians ever work together.

In that context, Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to kill the $810 million federally funded train service between Milwaukee and Madison is just one more smack-down in that endless grudge match.

But here’s the thing: The corridor is coming together without those feuding politicians.

To read the rest of the story, please go here.

To read a similar argument I made for Chicago-to-Milwaukee connection, please go here.

 

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:


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