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Jadin: WEDC needed more time but still superior to old Commerce Department

Paul Jadin knew there would be mistakes in the creation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. He only wishes he had been on the same page with Gov. Scott Walker in terms of how many mistakes would be tolerated.

“If there was a mistake made by me, it was not going back to the governor and saying, ‘What is my charge in this and what is your tolerance for error?’” Jadin, the former WEDC CEO, said in a recent interview. “’And if there is no tolerance, then what is your tolerance for delay?’ Because then the delay was the issue. And we could have waited another year on creating the corporation.”

WEDC could have benefitted from more time designing the structure and duties of the public-private corporation, Jadin admits. But he dismisses claims from current COO Ryan Murray that there was a “lack of willpower” from leadership to address the problems once they arose.

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Walker, in a WisPolitics.com interview last month, dismissed suggestions that more time was needed for the transition from the Department of Commerce to WEDC, saying that delay would have only pushed off the progress in economic development it has made.

Jadin is the former Green Bay mayor and Green Bay chamber chief who left WEDC in November to head up Madison-area economic development group Thrive. Since Jadin’s departure, some Republicans have placed the blame for the agency’s woes on Jadin’s leadership and former COO -- and later CFO -- Mike Klonsinski’s financial management.

Two reports produced after the problems were discovered attributed many of the issues with loan tracking to outdated and ineffective software programs as well as a large amount of turnover from Department of Commerce staff.

Jadin defended Klonsinski, saying the former top WEDC officer was already well on his way toward correcting some of the internal financial issues by hiring new financial staff and working through issues with the organization. Jadin said he had no doubt that many of the solutions being solidified now were already in motion under Klonsinski’s direction.

Jadin said he hoped people watching the agency recognized it has succeeded in its economic development mission, adding that was his specific focus as CEO.

“To start the discussion of WEDC with ‘Why did things go wrong?’ suggests nothing went right,” Jadin said. “Clearly, that is a superior agency to the one that I inherited in 2011. Unequivocally.”

The annual WEDC report put out this month showed that WEDC has handed out $501 million in loans, grants, tax credits and bond allocation in fiscal year 2012 and has impacted 23,759 jobs either through retention, job creation or job training in the same timeframe.

**Jadin looks for investment bill to boost Madison region**

As president of Thrive, an economic development partnership for eight counties surrounding Madison, Jadin plans to connect the statewide innovation in economic development with regional efforts surrounding Madison.

Jadin is focused on marketing the resources and opportunities in areas like bio-agriculture, biotechnology and other entrepreneurial fields to business leaders across the country. The region needs to be more of an economic leader for the state, Jadin says, and a collaborative effort to cement a new strategy could help boost its business competitiveness with peer regions.

One of the biggest hindrances to development is lack of capital. Jadin says that’s one the reasons he hopes the Legislature finally gets an investment capital bill -- specifically, the proposal Jadin helped draft as part of a WEDC-led effort -- off the ground this session.

“When you look at that total package and what we recommended in October, there’s a potential for up to $200 million in new capital and another $200 (million) to $400 million from the private sector,” Jadin said. “If you look at $600 million potentially coming into this funnel for entrepreneurs and maturing businesses, that could be a game changer. And where it will change the game most is in the Thrive area.”

Some legislators have been wary of the role that WEDC plays in investment capital, something Jadin says should certainly be discussed. While WEDC will have to have a role in shepherding the funds, he noted other organizations like the State of Wisconsin Investment Board could lend expertise, too.

But Jadin says WEDC is in a better position to propel those efforts and others in the future. He said the Legislature should codify in state statute some of the voluntary steps the organization made to correct its missteps – such as ordering annual external audits – as a way of improving the accountability of the organization.

-- By Jason Smathers


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