Green Bay Gazette
State Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin said Thursday a new, nimble Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will make the state more efficient at supporting job growth.
Jadin is overseeing the transition of the Commerce Department to the Economic Development Corp., of which he will be CEO. The change was among the first acts approved by the state Legislature as part of Gov. Scott Walker's economic development plan.
The change, which will see the department's regulation and licensing duties moved to other departments, is scheduled for July 1, the beginning of the state's new fiscal year.
Jadin, Green Bay's former mayor and former Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce president, said the governor could announce the corporation's 13-member board of directors in about a week, so the board could begin meeting in May. A strategic plan will be ready by June, he said.
The Legislature has not yet approved funding for the new organization. It is expected to get $192 million for the next two-year period, less than $20 million of which will be for administrative expenses, Jadin said.
Jadin said there are three keys to improving economic development beyond just changing the sign on the door:
• Transferring regulation and licensing responsibilities to other state departments. More than 275 of 395 department employees are dedicated to regulations and licensing, and only 60 have economic development duties, Jadin said.
• Reorganizing. Even if the Commerce Department were to remain, it would have to reorganize.
"There are so many things we don't do, like marketing and research," he said.
• Securing more money. The department's current appropriation is about $45 million a year, including only $22,000 for marketing.
The new marketing budget will be about $9 million, a little less than half contributed by the private sector.
Six vice presidents will head up divisions of the new organization dedicated to specific economic development sectors, such as entrepreneurship and innovation, marketing and business development.
"We've never had an economist on staff, which is unusual. We'll better understand those areas of our economy that are thwarting growth," he said. "We'll have a section that does nothing but deal with small business."
Jadin has mostly separated himself from the regulations and licensing duties. He admitted his focus on the economic development side of the transition resulted in him approving a Regulation and Licensing appointment that turned out badly.
Brian Deschane was hired through the Walker cabinet as the bureau director of board services within Regulation and Licensing. He resigned shortly after appointment under criticism he was unqualified and an apparent patronage appointee.
Jadin said the department recommended someone else for the post, but in the end he delegated responsibility for the hire.
"I said 'you take care of it. I'll sign it.' I shouldn't have said that last part," he said.
The Commerce Department has had five secretaries in seven years. Jadin said he's committed to serving at least four years.
"I can't imagine the frustrations my predecessors had. They had to deal with all that stuff that had nothing to do with economic development," Jadin said. "(Former secretary) Mary Burke spent three weeks dealing with a boiler issue."
Jadin believes manufacturing will lead economic growth in Wisconsin, which vies with Indiana as the nation's most manufacturing-heavy state.
"We have to get away from the image of manufacturing as dumb and dangerous. We still have a very strong manufacturing environment in Wisconsin, and we have to sustain it," he said.
In the near term, defense contracts with such companies as Marinette Marine and Oshkosh Corp. could be worth 30,000 to 50,000 jobs throughout the supply chain, he said.
"We need to make sure we are almost literally holding their hands through some of the processes they are going through and make sure the supply chain is available," Jadin said.
The state must get its share of defense contracts but must be prepared for a decrease in defense spending when that comes, he said.
Though Indiana is mentioned often as Wisconsin's biggest competitor, Jadin said Iowa and Ohio are of greater concern, while "Illinois is playing into our hands."
The state Department of Workforce Development and technical schools will be key players in the overall economic development effort. Jadin said budget cuts will be an issue, but technical college presidents have indicated they will be able to continue training in specific areas of need, such as welding.