WisBusiness.com: UW Economic Summit on hiatus

By Mike Schramm

Budget cuts and a transition at the top of the University of Wisconsin System have led to the temporary disappearance of the UW Economic Summit, the 4-year-old university-sponsored forum on the state’s economy.

With UW System President Katharine Lyall stepping down at the end of the summer, the summit will be put on hiatus this year, and could be replaced entirely, depending on the inclination of Lyall’s successor. A $250 million cut in university funding this biennium also contributed to the decision, according to Doug Bradley, communications director for the UW System.

One fact remains clear, however: the UW System will continue to be involved in examining and improving the state’s economy.

“It doesn’t mean we are going to abandon that mission or those efforts,” Bradley said. “We’re not going to abandon our commitment to economic development.”

Lyall will officially step down in August, when she leaves for Stanford University, and the UW Board of Regents is working on finding the next System president. Lyall was a driving force behind the summits, Bradley said, and a new president would hopefully be similarly involved.

Already last year the focus of the summit was moving away from academic pursuits and toward more participation from private business, and the next summit would likely continue that transition. Last year Robert W. Baird & Co. co-sponsored the event, a development which former summit organizer Mark Bugher called a “breakthrough” at the time.

Bugher, the head of University Research Park in Madison, said Baird’s addition was “very important symbolically to show businesses that it’s not just an academic exercise,” and Bradley said the 2003 summit had more interest from private business than ever before.

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, said the UW Economic Summit has been a success, playing a big role in helping to drive discussion about how to improve the state’s business climate.

“The UW Economic Summit has been an enormous success — so much so that it achieved all its initial goals,” Still said. He said the summits got business and state leaders talking about regional cooperation, technology-based solutions and other building blocks to an improved economy.

“Now it might be time to move on to a more specific platform,” he said.

Still’s Wisconsin Technology Council has been already been more specific through events like the just-concluded Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee and the November Life Sciences and Venture Conference. Still says the council now is looking to add a science and technology summit to the mix and Bradley said the UW System has been involved in the preliminary discussions about that. Such a summit likely would take place sometime next year, Still said.