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: