By Brian E. Clark
The impending departure of Wisconsin Commerce Sec. Cory Nettles will leave a big hole in the Doyle administration. Nettles’ last day will be Dec. 31. He will return to the Milwaukee law office of Quarles & Brady as a partner.
“He will be missed,” said Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield. “Cory had a level head when it came to dealing with business issues and a solid understanding of the direction Wisconsin needed to follow.”
Nettles, a Democrat, has been Gov. Jim Doyle’s point man for the Badger State’s economic rebound. By most measurements, Wisconsin has come back strong from the doldrums of the past few years in which it shed an estimated 75,000 manufacturing jobs.
Kanavas worked closely with Nettles on Act 255, a measure aimed at boosting venture capital funding for new high-tech companies. Kanavas said he believed Nettles enjoyed his work at Commerce.
“I don’t think he was frustrated with the job, but he does get frustrated with bureaucrats and the fighting that you have in politics,” he said.
“Two years is a short time to head an agency,” Kanavas said. “But he will be sought after. He has the kind of skills we look for in private business. I wish him well.”
Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, called Nettles a “tremendous” commerce secretary.
“He will be a tough act to follow,” Still said. “He’s been an asset to Wisconsin. He consistently touted our strengths, addressed our challenges and has been a good friend to businesses and workers alike.”
Still also praised Nettles for working on initiatives to build capital, expand trade and work with a Legislature controlled by Republicans.
Tom Hefty, a prominent Milwaukee attorney and head of the governor’s Economic Growth Council, said Nettles had done a “great job” with the Doyle’s Grow Wisconsin plan.
“There is widespread agreement that the last legislative session produced the best economic development measures during the past two decades,” Hefty said. “Cory deserves a significant amount of the credit for that.”
Hefty agreed that Nettles’ tenure has been short. But he said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“You might wish he’d stay,” Hefty said. “But it’s important to get talented young professionals into government. They bring talent and energy. But then they need to get back to the business world, too.”
Jeff Bartell, a partner in the Madison office of Quarles & Brady, said his firm is glad to have Nettles back. Bartell said Nettles leaves the Commerce Department in good shape.
“He revitalized that agency,” said Bartell, who is a former Wisconsin securities commissioner and assistant attorney general.
“Cory focused his attention on business development and attraction and re-energized the department,” he said.
Bartell called Nettles a “wonderful representative” for Wisconsin in dealing with executives in other states and on trade missions abroad.
Presumably, not everyone will be saddened by Nettles’ departure.
In a September interview as part of a WisBusiness.com profile of Nettles, Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said public workers have been unfairly “scapegoated” by Nettles and Doyle.
“It’s false to say the economy has been buoyed by reducing the public payroll,” he said. “We may not see problems in the short term. … But I don’t think people are going to like it when the rivers run brown again because of polluters, when game violators rule the woods, when developmentally disabled youths are out on the streets or when inmates are released early from prison because we don’t have enough correctional officers.
“If anything, management is bloated with bureaucrats like Cory Nettles,” he said.