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Alexander reflects on eight years heading Madison chamber

Jennifer Alexander, outgoing president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, hopes she will be remembered as someone who made sure the voice of business was heard.

“When I went for my interview, I asked ‘how would you judge my effectiveness in five years?” she said.

Alexander said Chamber board member Gary Wolter, who is also president and CEO of Madison Gas & Electric Co., told her that when a major issue is being considered in the Madison area, he wanted her to make sure Chamber was “included at the table.”

Alexander said she is confident she has achieved that goal in her eight-year tenure.

“That’s what I feel most proud of, that we have been very engaged in business and community issues. I think the profile and visibility of the Chamber has increased dramatically.”

She will leave her post at the end of the year to focus on caring for her elderly parents and help them stay in their home for at least a few more years.

“They have been wonderful parents to me ... so it will be a great privilege to do this,” she said. “My husband, however, thinks that retirement won’t stick. We’ll see if he’s right or not.”

Alexander said one of the high points early in her tenure was helping defeat a mandatory sick leave proposal, which would have required businesses in Madison to give employees a paid hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

“We’ve been an effective voice for business on business and policy and community issues,” said Alexander, who cited her group’s work with the Madison School District in its youth apprenticeship program.

Alexander said the Chamber also has become involved in endorsing political candidates.

“I’m also proud that we stay in touch with our members and that the views and positions we take on issues is consistent with our members,” she said.

Alexander said she is proud that the Chamber has become a stronger advocate for smaller businesses.

“We started the small business advisory council under my presidency and that has been really helpful in making sure what the chamber does is relevant to them,” she said.

She said she hopes the next president will build on what she has accomplished and become “more proactive on a legislative agenda, advancing the issues that businesses care about.”

Alexander is also stepping down as president of Thrive, a regional economic development group that was started in 2007. Paul Jadin, former head of the embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., took over as head of Thrive this month.

Alexander said she expects the Chamber and Thrive to work closely together to help business growth in the Madison area keep up with peer communities around the nation.

She defended the hiring of Jadin, who left the WEDC two months after Gov. Scott Walker shook up the agency in the wake of bidding process problems. Walker dumped several WEDC executives, but Jadin kept his job.

“We are very pleased and happy to have him (Jadin) on board. We put together ‘Advance Now,’ which is a very comprehensive regional plan and I think we are very well poised with the leadership of Paul to be able to move that forward.

“I have utmost and highest regard for Paul. I’m absolutely tickled he is here. He has experience as a mayor and someone who was part of starting New North. He has run a chamber and was involved in statewide (WEDC) plan and then led it. I can’t think of anyone who would have better experience to take Thrive to the next level.”

Though Alexander has had a number of public spats with Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, she said she respects him.

“There are things we agree and disagree on,” she said diplomatically. “That’s true of every relationship in the world.

“I like Mayor Soglin and I appreciate that we can disagree... without any rancor. Then we can just change (subjects) on a dime and work together on something we agree on.

“That’s a positive trait in a leader,” said Alexander, who also praised the work of Aaron Olver, Madison’s economic development director under Soglin.

She said the city needs to be more aggressive with its Tax Increment Financing policies, which are used to subsidize redevelopment and infrastructure projects with public money.

“Madison’s use of TIF has been very much on the conservative side,” she said.

-- By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com


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