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Robin Vos Eupdate: Economic Development Ideas Continued ~ April 9, 2010

Economic Development Ideas Continued

In previous weeks, I've mentioned I have an economic development plan that I've introduced to the Legislature. I recently wrote about my $1000 jobs deduction plan.  Another idea I circulated to the Legislature last week is an economic development superfund known as the Governor's Opportunity Fund to provide incentives to companies to relocate or expand in Wisconsin.

It's no secret that Wisconsin has a high unemployment rate and has lost well over 100,000 jobs in the last year.  The Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance reported that Wisconsin has lost 4.3% (6700) businesses between 2006 and 2009.  That's a higher percentage than the U.S., as a whole, and any surrounding state, including Michigan.

To stop this huge loss of businesses and jobs, Wisconsin needs a bold plan.  By creating a well-funded economic development incentive tool, Wisconsin will be able to rapidly respond and recruit prospective businesses to help replace the jobs and businesses we've lost because of years of anti-business policies. 

While the Department of Commerce has long claimed that they have the ability to recruit businesses quickly, it became evident via a legislative audit that most incentive funds at the Department are either too specific or too mired in bureaucratic red tap to be useful.  Further, the programs are underfunded.

The Wisconsin Development Fund (WDF), currently funded at $10 million annually, is one such underfunded economic incentive fund housed at the Department of Commerce. Additionally, it's often used as a slush fund to earmark money to specific projects. Just this week the Joint Finance Committee approved another new program to earmark even more money from the WDF for business loans for energy efficiency - further impinging on the flexibility of the fund to direct money for a very specific purpose that will not enhance economic development as a whole.

My proposal would allow for a fresh start with a new approach through a fund that won't be paralyzed by the bureaucracy. The Governor's Opportunity Fund will allow the governor to award grants and loans to businesses based on their job creation numbers and private investment commitments. The fund will also set aside a portion of awards for areas with higher than average unemployment and also for rural communities.

The fund will be a segregated account that I hope will someday exceed $100 million. While I understand that amount may seem implausible, especially in these tough economic times, I do have one idea that could provide existing funding through rooting out waste, fraud, abuse in government programs....but more about that next week.    

I truly believe that economic development should be our number one priority.  But right now, it's clearly not for the party in charge.  I'm sure when the Legislature debates my proposal Democrats will ask how government could possibly be asked to find that kind of money for economic development.  But compared to the big government social programs they've chosen to fund this year, any amount allocated to the Governor's Opportunity Fund will pale in comparison to what they've spent. 

And, what's more, if we had better economic development tools in Wisconsin, we probably wouldn't need to spend so much on our social programs.  Because there's no better social program than a good paying job