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Newson stresses government experience in his new role atop DWD

New DWD Secretary Reggie Newson shares the same goal as his predecessors -- connecting job seekers with job creators.

But he comes at it from a much different background. While his two Walker administration predecessors were, in order, a former co-owner of a staffing agency and a labor lawyer, Newson is a self-described "public servant."

Newson, who's earning the same $120,500 salary as his predecessor, joined state government almost a decade again in the Department of Transportation and says his government experience will come in handy.

“I know what buttons to push and what levers to pull to move things forward,” Newson said in a new WisPolitics.com interview.

Former Secretary Scott Baumbach announced last week he was leaving the agency, believing he could do a much better job addressing the mismatch between the skills of Wisconsin workers and the needs state employers have in the private sector. Baumbach, who left a Milwaukee law firm to join the administration earlier this year, said he was considering creating his own business to address the issue. Baumbach was secretary for just five months, after taking over in June for Gov. Scott Walker's first DWD secretary, Manny Perez.

Newson worked at Transportation as operations director for the agency’s Southeast Region and managed the state Disadvantaged Enterprise Program before he was elevated to executive assistant at the agency under Gov. Scott Walker. He joined DWD as deputy secretary under Baumbach this summer.

But Newson insisted there's no instability in the agency’s administration. He pointed out Baumbach and Perez were both in the private sector before joining the administration, likely taking pay cuts compared to their old jobs, and both cited a desire to return to the private sector to pursue opportunities as they left the post.

Newson compared that to his background as a civil servant with a decade worth of experience in state government.

“I understand the nuances of government, also the demands. Sometimes it can be a little unrewarding in terms of serving the public,” Newson said.

“I’ve been a public servant for many years, and now I’m committed. I made a commitment to the governor that I’d serve in this capacity as long as he wants me.”

Newson said his main approach to connecting workers and job creators will be the state’s Jobs Center of Wisconsin website, which now has more than 30,000 job postings.

“If we have that many jobs on (the site), we should have that many less people unemployed,” Newson said.

Newson also described a facilitator approach to the secretary’s job in which he would try to reach across state agencies as well as entities outside of government.

He also repeatedly promised to keep “plugging away” in every endeavor to create the 250,000 private sector jobs that Walker pledged by the end of his first term.

“We’re listening to those job creators, gathering input and we’re going to continue to gather input,” he said.

“We’re slowing making progress, plugging away. This is the tortoise running the race, not the hare. We’re going to continue to plug away, be diligent.”

Wisconsin has now lost jobs for three straight months, and the Department of Revenue last month released data showing Wisconsin would fall short of the guv’s goal of 250,000 new jobs by the end of his first term.

Newson, though, stressed the 40,000 new jobs the state saw through June while saying Wisconsin isn't immune to national and global factors economically. He also pointed out the state’s unemployment rate continues to be below the national average and Wisconsin is faring better than other states with significant manufacturing sectors.

“We’re seeing growth. We’ve made some progress, and we need to continue to plug away at jobs in the private sector,” he said. See Newson's bio at DWD.

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