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WisBusiness: Walker looks to boost small business in next state budget

By Gregg Hoffmann
For WisBusiness.com

LA CROSSE - Gov. Scott Walker says he hopes the 2013-15 state budget, which his office is developing right now, can include more initiatives to help small businesses.

Addressing the Governor's Small Business Summit in La Crosse on Thursday, Walker said he also hopes the state can review regulations on businesses, and when some have become “antiquated or obsolete” they can be eliminated.

While pushing small business development, Walker also emphasized that the environment has to be protected "from a tourism standpoint” and for other reasons. But, he said protecting the environment and economic development can be done at the same time.

Development of a workforce that has the skills for employers’ needs also was emphasized by Walker and some of his department secretaries. Citing the University of Wisconsin Flexible Degree program, Walker said about a quarter of the state population has some college credits, but no degree.

Through the flex program, people can take online courses and also test out in areas of competency, thus getting credit for work they might already be doing.

Walker also said that job growth “increasingly requires more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.” That puts emphasis on technical school certificates and other forms of training and education.

Walker and several cabinet secretaries emphasized small business as a key to economic progress at the summit.

Walker said the “Open for Business” sign at the bridge between Wisconsin and Minnesota is not just a slogan. “Something is happening here,” he said. “We are committed to helping you grow. We want to get out of your way when that helps and be a better partner for you when that is needed.”

Peter Bildsten, secretary of the Department of Financial Institutions, said the state has seen a 8.2 percent increase in startup businesses, to more than 30,000 this year. Small businesses generally create about 60-80% of new jobs in Wisconsin, and the nation, according to several department secretaries.

While acknowledging that some of his reforms created controversy, Walker said that support for economic development initiatives, especially those for small businesses, has been relatively bipartisan.

“There are no Republican or Democrat jobs; only Wisconsin jobs,” the governor said.

Walker said that while taxes have gone down in the state, revenue has increased because businesses are making profits, increasing business and therefore contributing more.

Some of the reforms have “made it easier for you to invest in your businesses” and help “grow the economy,” Walker said.

While running for governor, Walker said he would shoot for 250,000 new jobs in his four-year term. The latest statistics from the State Department of Workforce showed 1,500 new private sector jobs in September and 4,100 thus far in 2012. The state added nearly 28,000 jobs in 2011. Those figures are not on pace to come close to 250,000 by 2014, but Walker and his department secretaries remain optimistic.

Mike Huebsch, Department of Administration Secretary, said the results from the reforms of the administration did not immediately become evident and will grow in the future.

“By trying to run government more like a small business, we feel we can help you create jobs through your businesses,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who has made small business creation her main emphasis, said reforms in all state departments to make them more customer friendly, are starting to improve relations between the state government and businesses.

Ryan Murray, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., said the state is working to expand in international markets. “We’ve expanded from four to 12 offices serving international markets, and exports from the state are up,”

In breakout sessions and other question and answer periods, participants in the Summit could ask questions of department secretaries. Several were directed at Cathy Stepp, the Department of Natural Resources secretary.

“Sometimes we have to be the hammer,” Stepp said of the DNR, “But, we should be able to do less of that if we do our job of working with you on issues early in the process.” She emphasized that the DNR now has a business specialist on its staff.

In addition to those already named, other department secretaries at the Summit included Rick Chandler, Department of Revenue, Mark Gottlieb, Department of Transportation, Wyman Winston, executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, Reggie Newson, Workforce Development, Ben Brancel, Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, David Ross, Safety and Professional Services, John Scocos, Veteran Affairs, Stephanie Klett, Tourism, and Phil Montgomery, chairman of the Public Service Commission.

Steve Loehr, vice-president of Kwik Trip, also spoke to the group as an example of a small business that has grown and is successful in the state. The company added 600 jobs in the last year.

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