WisBusiness: Kleefisch says she’s working to lure businesses to state
By Brian E. Clark
In the five months since Rebecca Kleefisch was sworn in as lieutenant governor, she’s talked with dozens of businesses outside Wisconsin about moving their operations to the Badger State.
She counts the move of one Illinois company as one of her successes and says her office hopes to make an announcement soon about a Minnesota company that will also be crossing the border.
Most of her contacts have yet to bear fruit, but she says she can point to Fatwallet.com, a former Illinois Internet-based business that has made the jump.
Kleefisch said she called the coupon company’s CEO after reading about a proposed tax change in Illinois that looked like it would impact the company's bottom line. He phoned back later.
“He was very interested in the greener pastures that Wisconsin had to offer when it came to growing jobs,” she said.
WisBusiness audioThe company has about $13 million in annual revenues, which it earns in commission when Fatwallet sends shoppers to the websites of retailers. The new Illinois law, which will take effect in July, would have cost the company about 30 percent of its business, company officials said.
Kleefisch said one of her main roles in the administration of Gov. Scott Walker is to recruit companies to Wisconsin and to serve as a sounding board for firms already operating in the state.
And she won’t let an interview go by without repeating the mantra of “Wisconsin is open for business.”
“One of the best parts of my job as lieutenant governor is getting prospects for our Department of Commerce,” Kleefisch said.
“I do it in a few different ways,” explained the lieutenant governor, who said she has met with the leaders of scores of companies as part of the 15 small business roundtables she has hosted in recent months.
She said she gets ideas from the “entrepreneurs and innovators who have already invested in the great state of Wisconsin. We need to make sure we are keeping an open ear to their concerns as we move forward.
“I take those concerns and ideas to the governor and we are able to craft good legislation that is going to help create jobs in the state of Wisconsin.”
Kleefisch said she has heard concerns from manufacturers about the state’s graying workforce because the first members of the Baby Boom generation hit 65 this year.
“Right now, they are concerned that they are not going to have enough workers to fill the jobs once they start to see the retirements,” she said.
“What we need to make sure that we are properly branding trade and tech education so our students and our displaced workers find (these) jobs exciting,” she said. “These are not just family sustaining wage jobs that offer good health benefits, for the most part, but also are exciting jobs for these people to transition into.”
Kleefisch said she believes “tech schools are doing a terrific job in many parts of the state in selling the idea of a two-year degree to high school graduates who are interested in portable credits, but also interested in going into the trades.”
She said business leaders have told her they want to make sure they have the best-trained workers possible so they won’t have to move their operations abroad.
“We, as a government, want to make sure that we can help them doing exactly that,” she said.
“As I go out, and sell the economic development climate in the state of Wisconsin, I want to be able to guarantee people that we have the best workforce here in Wisconsin. Not just the most eager workforce with the best work ethic, but the best educated.”
In other comments from the interview, Kleefisch:
- Could not offer any insight into why Manny Perez, the former DWD secretary, resigned after a short time on the job.
She said when she saw Perez recently, he told her he had accomplished “great things” at the department and is now looking at opportunities in the private sector.
- Said the state has gained 25,000 jobs since January, with roughly 11,500 of those in the manufacturing sector.
But she could not say how many of those positions are due to changes made by the Walker administration or because of the overall upswing in the nation’s economy.
“I can’t look at that 25,000 number and tell you which of those specific jobs was created because there was a really great order that went into a manufacturing company vs. the reduction in the litigious climate that a specific company has faced,” she said.
“Wisconsin is on an upturn. I’m bullish about our prospects and I’m convinced we will hit that 250,000 jobs number, just like Governor Walker promised in his campaign.”
- Said the travel industry remains a key industry in Wisconsin and should not be neglected.
“Last year, we saw $12.3 billion in travel expenditures in the state,” she said. “Tourism is not simply a ‘like to have,’ but is a must have in the state. It is something that we are investing in and is something that we want to make sure develops over the next four years.”
- Ripped Illinois and quoted Chief Executive Magazine, which said that state’s economy is in a “death spiral.”
“You have two choices when you face a big budget deficit like Illinois and Wisconsin were facing,” she said.
“One is you raise taxes on job creators and taxpayers. The other is you do a budget without raising taxes so that your job creators can flourish and add to the revenue in the state.
“Or can take a look at austerity measures and… grow your way out of fiscal problems. It is why Moody’s rated Governor Walker’s budget credit positive.
“And it’s why Chief Executive Magazine is saying that Illinois is in a terrible position while Wisconsin is making the biggest one year leap in the history of that magazine’s survey of CEOs who are talking about the best places in which to do business. In one year, Wisconsin went from No. 41 to 24. That speaks to the leadership of Governor Walker.”
- Backed a proposal in the Legislature which is aimed at providing $400 million in venture capital for the state’s start-up businesses.
“I think this is going to do great things when it comes to bringing investors to the state,” she said.
She declined, however, to speculate on the fate of the Jobs Now part of the bill, which has sparked criticism because it would give insurance companies big tax breaks.
“I can’t speculate on what the Legislature will do,” she said. “It’s not appropriate for me to guess what members of Senate or Assembly will do on a bill that is being considered.”